To drive smoothly we have to take one lesson from racing drivers: use the smoothest line around the corner. We’re not going to be braking and accelerating as harshly as racing drivers, though, just steering like them and using moderate brake and throttle inputs.
The racing line
There are two main ways of cornering: the way the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) teaches you, and the racing line. The IAM way is safer and should ideally be used where you can’t see through the corner; the racing line is smoother and can be used safely when you can see the whole way through a corner. Looking at this diagram it shows what the racing line would be if the vehicle has to stay in the left-hand lane, which is what we (should) do in New Zealand. It’s a right-hand bend so as you approach it you move to the left. This has the added bonus of giving you a slightly better view around the corner.
Brake while you are still travelling in a straight line. You can do a gentle amount of braking while you are turning, but it’s more comfortable for the passengers and less wear on your suspension to do it while travelling straight.
As you start to turn you may need to depress the accelerator pedal a little to maintain your speed, or if you need to reduce speed you can lift off the accelerator or use a bit of ‘trailing brake’ – gentle braking. Aim the vehicle for the apex which is shown on the diagram. This is the centre of the corner. It can take a bit of practice to judge exactly where the apex is, and in practice some corners have two of them, while others are really long and you’ll end up hugging the inside of the curve for longer than just one fixed point, which is what the apex is usually defined as.
As you pass the apex, give the vehicle a bit of gas and let it move back out towards the outside of the lane. If, in the corner you see that there is a heavy vehicle coming towards you, it’s not such a good idea to have your wheels kissing the centre line; leave a bit of space to give the other driver room to make an error. Motorcyclists should make sure their head is not across the centre line when cornering.
If you are a motorcyclist in the wet, you might need to adjust your lines slightly because certain areas of the road are more slippery when it’s wet, white lines being one of them. It’s not such a good idea to be braking and turning on a bike as you only have two contact patches. If you’re driving a heavy vehicle, or towing a trailer, be aware of where your trailer will follow and where you are in relation to other vehicles.
The IAM way of driving will see you holding your line for longer and only turning in towards the apex when you can see through the corner. Even then, you don’t move so close to the apex because on a right hand turn it’s too close to oncoming traffic, and on a left hand turn it will put your wheel into the rough tarmac and rubbish on the inside of the corner which puts you at more risk of picking up a puncture. Once you can see through the corner you can positively drive into your lane space rather than letting it drift. It’s not as fast as the racing line, but you shouldn’t be pushing your vehicle to its absolute limits on the road, anyway.
Anticipating the road ahead
When you are looking ahead you can judge the road and what speed is appropriate. There may be a pedestrian crossing coming up, or traffic lights, or a blind corner. Knowing what’s coming up in the next 10 seconds of your driving allows you to plan your actions to be a much smoother driver.
As you come up to a corner you can lift off the throttle a little earlier and brake more gently. If you are coming up to traffic lights try to anticipate when they will change (but don’t hold other drivers up).
Use the right amount of acceleration and braking
In a manual car you can use the gearbox to help you decelerate a bit – engine braking. Don’t change down too quickly, though, as this will just wear your gearbox out. Hybrid cars often have slightly more engine braking than other cars because they capture the power from deceleration to feed into the battery.
When accelerating don’t hold other traffic up because frustrated drivers make erratic decisions. Try to get a balance between not dawdling and not racing.
The other thing you can do is help smooth out traffic on the motorway in rush hour. Rather than constantly accelerating and braking, leave a slightly bigger gap and anticipate when the traffic ahead is slowing by watching 6-8 vehicles ahead. While you will get some people pulling in front of you in your lane, you’ll be helping traffic maintain a constant speed which actually reduces the effects of rush hour.
The consequences of not driving smoothly
Every time you accelerate or brake you put stress on your vehicle’s components – tyres, suspension, brake pads, brake discs, axles, CV joints, bearings, etc. By doing this more gently, you reduce the wear on them, so it’ll cost you less in the long run.
Your passengers will be grateful because smoother drivers cause less motion sickness.
You are at more risk of having an accident when you drive more erratically because you put more stress on the vehicle and push it slightly further towards its limits. For example, braking earlier gives you much more of a buffer should someone step out in front of you.
The final consequence is that driving more erratically can be both slower and more tiring for you. You are constantly having to react urgently rather than anticipating, and by progressing in a stop-start manner, you slow down traffic in general. Using the racing line will help you travel more quickly, but more comfortably through the corners.