Monday, September 8, 2014

Drivers who are scared of acceleration.

I read a great article by Neil DeGrasse Tyson a few weeks ago about how you can't 'feel' speed, and that drivers who "love speed" really love acceleration - the forces they feel through accelerating and braking, lowered suspension and cornering forces. That's me - I love all those things and I understand the limits of my car and its tyres. I know where all four corners are, I know how wide it is and I know how quickly it'll stop (that last one is pretty important). Sadly, where I live (Utah) it would seem I'm one of only three people who are in this category. For as far as I can tell, everyone else is so deathly afraid of feeling any sort of g-force that they'll do anything to prevent it. Braking far too far away from traffic lights and intersections, "accelerating" by taking their foot off the brake and letting the engine idle them up to 15mph, and cornering so slowly that in some cases you would swear they'd actually parked mid-corner.
It comes down, once again, to driver education, or in this case a total lack of it. Americans, and Utahns in particular, are given such scant education when they learn to drive that it's laughable in comparison to other western countries. No night driving, no freeway driving, no explanation of how a car works - nothing. These are all things they're left to learn on their own, and for the most part you can tell. Everyday I follow people who are attempting to steer their car in a straight line, which of course means they're weaving all over the road. Just let go of the wheel if you have that much trouble. Short of a major mechanical issue, the car will steer itself in a straighter line than you're managing to. People driving along with their left foot resting on the brake, so that those of us behind have no idea when they're actually about to slow down because we're driving in a sea of permanently-illuminated brake lights. People coming to a gap big enough to get the Queen Mary through, but then parking their Corollas and Camrys because they think the gap is too small (because they have no idea of the extents of their car).
This stereotype was illustrated to me years ago when a colleague of mine invited me to drive his new car - a Mazda Speed 3. It was a fun little scoot - we took it up the nearest mountain road about 5 miles, turned around and came back down, and by the end of it he was white. I'd been driving like a European on a twisty mountain road. Like I do in my car. Or when I ride my motorbike. We'd been overtaking people on the broken yellow lines and hugging the corners because the Speed 3 was a very capable machine. Apparently though, in his 50-something years of living here, he'd never once driven these roads like that, and his parting comment was "don't ever drive my car again". I'm not sure his car ever went over 3000rpm after that.