November 29, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Rubber side down 

Pique's guide to winter driving

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When it comes to winter driving, or any driving for that matter, advanced driving instructor Alan Sidorov says we do ourselves a disservice by assuming we are good drivers. You can be a skilled driver or an experienced driver — and Sidorov is both, teaching advanced driving and skid control classes, also racing and doing high-speed development testing for manufacturers. Alan points out, though, that doesn't mean he is always a "good driver." Coming home from teaching a course in Prince George, Alan said he was aware of some concentration lapses, and had to force himself to keep scanning ahead. He also stopped along the Duffey Lake Road and spent a couple of minutes skipping rope to wake himself up.

Alan says, "Okay, some people will find that extreme, but any stretching and exercise can help concentration. My old BMW owner's manual actually had a page of calisthenics recommended for rest areas on Autobahns. If you're zoning out behind the wheel, even a little bit, you have to find a way to fix it. However, sometimes only a nap will do.

"Apparently something like 96 per cent of North Americans think they're better than average drivers — now I hate statistics most of the time, but I love it when they're mathematically impossible, blunt and beautiful like that. In reality it is highly unlikely that anyone will always maintain the levels of awareness, skill, and attitude required to be a good driver. You're only as good as the amount of attention you're bringing to the task at that moment.

"It's like anything, whether you're skiing or riding a mountain bike, on some days you're just more on your game than others."

Everybody has a comfort zone, and training is what helps us when we are beyond that level. The brain needs a program it can follow. Sometimes even the teacher needs a bit of self-nagging.

Once, Alan was driving a prototype Ferrari at Pocono Raceway when the right rear tire blew at 160 miles per hour. He remembers having to coach himself through the skid corrections and to keep himself looking down the track rather than at the guardrail. "Fastest skid I've ever had to correct," he says, "especially since the tire took out the rear suspension. I did not want to be remembered as the driver who crashed a million-dollar prototype."

To that end, Sidorov says it's better to be honest with yourself, to recognize faults and realize that bad things can happen at almost any time.

"It's better to always have a slight level of apprehension behind the wheel. It sounds funny, but if you're too comfortable while driving you get too complacent and you won't be noticing enough. The problem is that driving is a low probability/high consequence activity. It is one of those things at which you can be incompetent for long periods of time until the consequences catch up. When someone tells me they are an experienced driver, I inquire what they have been learning or working on in their driving. Experience alone is just time served."

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