Driving habits

3 March 2014

Skills should suit the vehicle

Today's vehicles demand different driving habits to vehicles from previous eras, but this can be a problem for people who occasionally drive other vehicles than their usual one. This is according to the Automobile Association, which has pointed out how modern vehicles are gradually changing the way we drive.

“A frequently-used example of how driving habits change is the old habit of changing down through the gears to 'save the brakes' when slowing down,” said the AA. “This was a habit that developed in the early days of motoring when cars had inefficient brakes which drivers couldn't rely on.”

Until around the early 1970's, new vehicles were frequently fitted with drum brakes all round. Since drum brakes overheat fairly easily, using the gears to assist the brakes was a sensible and widespread habit at the time. However, disc brakes have since become standard fitment on almost all vehicles, and brake failure or fade is rarely heard encountered under normal use.

The AA pointed out that nowadays, habitually changing down through every gear when slowing down simply wastes fuel and causes additional wear on the clutch. There's no longer any safety benefit to justify the habit.

Many things which drivers previously had to do for themselves were now being done by technology. In cars with active cruise control, the vehicle automatically keeps a safe following distance and even adapts to changing traffic speed, meaning the driver no longer has to count off their following distance in seconds. And vehicles with electronic blind spot monitoring systems inform the driver when the lane next to them is clear. In many cases it's no longer necessary to turn one's head to check the blind spot in these vehicles.

However, this technology is not yet widespread and this presents a conundrum for the modern driver: what if one car in a household is fitted with these safety systems and the other isn't? When drivers change from one car to the other, they need different habits to ensure safety, and a driver who has become used to a vehicle taking care of things like following distance and blind spots might find themselves following too closely or not checking it's safe before changing lanes when driving a car without these systems.

The AA commented that motoring was currently in a transition phase where many safety skills were being taken over by the vehicle itself, but until this technology became widespread, drivers were vulnerable because of the different habits needed in different vehicles. “The best advice we have is to read the owner's manual of your vehicle carefully. Understand what your vehicle can and can't do, and when you drive a different vehicle, be prepared to fall back on more basic driving skills to compensate for the lack of technology which you've become used to in your everyday car."

Automobile Association of South Africa (AA)
General enquiries:
011 799 1000
Media enquiries:
083 386 6954                                   

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