Good Driving Starts Before You Turn the Key
We’re going to start with the absolute basics. How do you sit in your car? As you go faster, you’ll be surprised at the importance of your basic sitting position. We realize it may seem cool to have the seat reclined to the point where the only thing showing above the door sill is a reversed baseball cap. But from that position it is impossible to stay in control when the motoring gets interesting.
As soon as you get in, push your butt back into the seat until your lower back is against the backrest. Now slide the seat forward or back until you can push the clutch pedal all the way to the floor with your left leg straight but your foot at a right angle to your leg. That should put your right foot on the accelerator with your knee slightly bent.
Now adjust the seat back until your wrists can touch the rim of the steering wheel with your elbows straight. In that position, your hands will rest comfortably on the sides of the steering wheel rim with your elbows slightly bent, making it easy to turn the steering wheel. Most important, there should be at least 12-14 inches between your chest and your steering wheel, so that if the air bag explodes it won’t hit you in the chest before it does its job of absorbing your forward momentum.
With you and your seat in the proper position, now adjust the rearview mirrors. The center mirror should show the entire rear window, giving you as much vision directly to the rear as possible.
The Mini Cooper sideview mirrors are there for a specific purpose. They allow you to see the blind spots beside you that you can’t see out of the corner of your eye or in the center rearview mirror. To adjust the left door mirror, lean over until your head is right against the side window. Now adjust the door mirror so that you can just see the left side of your car on the inside edge of the mirror. Adjust the right door mirror by leaning to the center of the car, then adjusting that mirror the same way, so you can just see the side of your car on the inside edge of the mirror.
Now check your whole field of view. The view in your left-hand outside mirror should just overlap the view in your center mirror, and that view should just overlap the view in your right-hand outside mirror. If this is the case, then you’ll have no blind spots in which a car can hide to cause problems when you change lanes or later, on the track when you get ready to make that pass.
You can check this when you get out on the highway. As you pass a car, as soon as you can’t see it out of the corner of your eye, it should be squarely in the sideview mirror. As it passes out of the sideview mirror, it should be completely in view in the rearview mirror.
Now, you can start the car and head out, comfortable, confident, and in control of your car.
Wait a second. Where should you put your hands? Of course, you’ve been told to keep both hands on the wheel – no cruising along with one arm on the window sill and one wrist lazily draped over the rim of the wheel – but at what position? When you took driver training in high school, we’ll bet you were told to keep your hands at “ten and two o’clock” thinking of the wheel as a big clock face. That may have been all right years ago, with large steering wheels and no air bags, but in today’s cars, that won’t work.
For everyday street driving, the best position for your hands is at “four and eight o’clock.” This position is comfortable, allows you to keep both hands on the wheel for quick response in an emergency, and most important, the air bag can deploy without hitting your arms and throwing one through your side window and the other knocking your passenger unconscious.
We should note that if you take the car out on the race track, you’ll probably move your hands up to a “nine and three” position, like your favorite race driver, but on the track you only need to move your hands a few inches each way for most turns, and you want the maximum possible control to cut that corner apex neatly.
One more thing about those hands. A light grip on the wheel is all you need. Squeezing the rim hard and flexing those biceps isn’t going to make the car hold the road any better around the corners. All you will do is tire yourself out.