When was the last time you thought about how you drive? Do you know how to survive a blow out on the highway? What if your brakes fail? Do you really know how much to inflate your tires, or do you just estimate? Our guests – a tire specialist and a race car driver who is also a Hollywood stunt driver – share advice on these and other important driving issues.
Anne Forristall Luke, President and CEO of the Rubber Manufacturers Association
Ben Collins, race car driver, Hollywood stunt driver, author of the book, How to Drive: Real-world instruction and advice from Hollywood’s top driver
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Marty Peterson: The summer driving season is here, with cars, SUVs and campers all heading out for vacation destinations or just a weekend away at the beach. We thought it would be a good time to bone up on some safe driving and maintenance tips so we enlisted the help from two driving professionals. First, Anne Forristall Luke, President and CEO of the Rubber Manufacturers Association has some advice on four of the most important pieces of equipment on your vehicle – your tires. Luke says that no matter if you’re heading off on a long vacation or just tooling around town, you should always be aware of the air pressure in your tires.
Anne Forristall Luke: Once a month, and certainly before you get on a long trip, get out your trusty tire gauge and check that each one of your tires is properly inflated. You should definitely stick with the correct tire pressure as set by the vehicle manufacturer, and you can find it on that little label or sticker on the driver’s side door jam, inside the driver’s side door or in the owner’s manual. Don’t look at the tire sidewall. People make the mistake of looking at the tire sidewall, but the pressure listed there is the maximum pressure for the tire. So, you want to make sure that the pressure is checked with the tire gauge, don’t go by the alert on your tire pressure monitoring system, and make sure that you’re checking all four tires at least once a month.
Peterson: Many people do go by the tire pressure signal on the dashboard and don’t bother with filling their tires before it lights up. Luke says that by the time this happens, your tires are probably way under inflated.
Luke: The tire pressure monitoring system in a new car is an important safety tool, but it’s no substitute for your checking your tire pressure yourself with that tire gauge. Most people don’t know that by the time the alert goes off on your tire pressure monitoring system, your tires are already twenty- to twenty-five-percent under inflated, and driving around on an under inflated tire is not safe. So, there’s no substitute for that tire gauge.
Peterson: Luke says that there’s an acronym for tire maintenance that all drivers should memorize and take to heart: PART – pressure, alignment, rotation and tread. She says that the last one – tread – can be checked using the old “penny test.”
Luke: Take a penny, turn it upside-down so President Lincoln’s head is pointed down, insert the penny into a tread-groove, and if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head, it’s time to replace that tire; it’s worn out.
Peterson: Flat tires are always a hassle, and trying to fix one yourself with a plug can seem like the quickest and least expensive way to take care of it. Luke says that if you pick up a nail and have a fixable flat, you should go to a tire repair professional because the damage could be more extensive than you think…
Luke: If you pick up a nail, or something like that, it’s important to make sure that your tire is properly repaired. It’s not enough to just plug it. You have to make sure that it’s healed properly on the inside, so water and air cannot get in there and cause corrosion, and you will always find that the proper safety inspection can be done by that tire care professional. The tire has to be removed from the wheel for inspection and repair. Some damage to that tire, you might not even be able to see it; it’s on the interior, so again, that professional’s gonna be able to tell that for you. You’ve got to fill it with a suitable vulcanizing material or rubber stem, you have to fill that injury and keep moisture out, and then, finally, as I said, you’ve got to seal that inner liner with a patch to prevent any further loss of inflation and keep the moisture out, so you don’t have corrosion problems.
Peterson: But what about a blowout on the highway? How do you handle that kind of emergency when you’re driving at 60 or 70 miles per hour? Ben Collins has experienced his share of blowouts on the racecourse and in films. Collins is a veteran race car driver, appeared as The Stig on the BBC’s Top Gear television show, and has worked as a stunt driver in the James Bond movies, as well as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Dark Knight Rises, and other action films. So what do you do if you blow a tire on the road?
Ben Collins: Pretty much, nothing, which is a surprising response, but sometimes when these things happen, you hear a big bang – it sounds very exciting – and the tire blows. It’s not common that it happens, but it can happen. And some people overreact, and they hit the brake pedal, which is the worst thing to do because what happens is the weight in the car shifts because the tires aren’t there anymore, the car is able to tip much more rapidly and heavily onto the side that’s missing the tire, and that can cause it to turn, to spin around, and you’re in a dangerous situation. So, really what you need to do is you ease off the gas and you just gradually, gradually steer because if you make a big steering input, again, big weight transfer onto a missing wheel and, again, it will want to tip over. So, just doing it very gradually, gentle steering, find the pass shoulder, and slowly then brake once the big speed’s off, but at freeway speed you need to do it very carefully.
Peterson: Collins instructs drivers about what to do in emergency situations and in normal driving in his new book, How to Drive: Real-world instruction and advice from Hollywood’s top driver. He says that just because you have a driver’s license, that doesn’t mean you’re prepared to drive in any situation. In fact, he says that he’s still learning about the nuances of driving different vehicles on various surfaces and in all kinds of weather. For starters, he says that no matter how long you’ve been behind the wheel, there are some adjustments you need to make every time you get into the car.
Collins: Just how you position the seat in the car really affects how you can drive and how relaxed you are, how much tension you have on a long journey, but critically, how much you can control it when you have to. A lot of people sit too far away from the pedals – some too close – but if you’re too far away and your legs are straight then you physically can’t press the brake pedal hard enough when you’re coming to an emergency and you have to make an emergency stop to avoid an accident, so that’s a painful way to find out that you’re sitting in the wrong place. Much better to get the thing optimized and have a bend at the elbows, too, so that you can control the car properly with the steering wheel. So, driving like a gangster with one hand on the top of the steering wheel with a straight arm doesn’t really pay off when you hit some ice.
Peterson: One of the biggest fears of drivers is that their brakes go out. Not being able to stop is scary, but Collins says you need to keep your wits about you and take control.
Collins: The best thing is to just straightaway jam the gears down to the shortest gear you can get. Get it into first gear, the engine braking will reduce the speed of the car and that helps take a little speed off. Hopefully, enough speed that you can bring it to rest in the hard shoulder count your blessings. It depends really what’s causing the problem; sometimes you can hear the problem by pumping the brake pedal a few times and it comes back. If that doesn’t work, you got to react quickly: get it down a gear and find a safe place to pull over.
Peterson: Stopping suddenly in vehicles with ABS – anti-lock braking systems – can feel strange to drivers who aren’t used to them. Collins says that there are some misconceptions about how ABS brakes work and how to use them.
Collins: Actually, ABS, it prevents the tire from stopping when you brake extremely hard – it prevents it from coming to a complete stop and skidding down the road, making blue smoke – but it doesn’t mean that it can stop faster. People tend to follow too closely and, actually, ABS has taught us a lot of bad habits, but the trick is, in fact, if you really need to stop quickly, push the brake pedal as hard as possible and manufacturers have designed the brake in a way that it modulates the pressure for you, so you don’t have to adjust the brake pressure, so that you still have some steering left, but it means that the pedal cracks and bangs and does all kinds of unpleasant things under your foot. Sort of like treading on an angry dog or something. And it makes a lot of people want to come off the brake pedal when actually you need to keep your foot hard on the brakes and steer around the terror in front of you.
Peterson: Along with knowing how to brake effectively, knowing how to drive “smoothly” is another way to avoid an accident. Collins says that it’s all about anticipation and knowing when not to brake.
Collins: It’s kind of like the opposite of riding in an Uber cab. Quite a lot of taxi drivers need to take this course. They jump on and off the brake pedal a lot and smooth drivers don’t do that because smooth drivers look much further ahead. You read the traffic flow and you haven’t got to hammer the brake pedal until your passengers throw up in the backseat, so it means being much more effective. You waste a lot less energy by being smooth. You only brake when you have to, you do it gradually, and that way you don’t have to keep accelerating to catch up to the traffic all the time, and that saves around twenty-percent of your fuel. It also means that by looking further ahead, you’re less likely to have an accident. That’s been proven by insurers who notice that drivers who are smoother are only able to drive more smoothly when they’re paying more attention, so they have less crashes. And on the racetrack, like if you ever watch any onboard footage of NASCAR or IndyCar, you’ll see the drivers aren’t throwing the steering around in a crazy way. It’s gradual, it’s gentle, and that enables the car to be more stable, it performs better on the tire, and as a result, you’ve got more grip, so it’s a safer way to drive.
Peterson: Collins has been in a lot of hair-raising situations as a racecar driver and in films, and developed his instructions through experience and his knowledge of automobile engineering. What was the scariest thing he’s ever done in a car?
Collins: I worked on Fast & Furious 6 and I wrote about this in How To Drive because it was relevant in terms of controlling a car when it’s sliding. We had to drift these two cars around Piccadilly Circus – which is like London’s equivalent of Time’s Square – and I was doubling Vin Diesel for that and had this crazy Dodge Charger, had loads of power, but in fact, so low in the suspension you could hardly turn the steering wheel. The tires would rub on the body work. So, that made it really hard, and I had to fling this thing around at sort of seventy miles an hour through streets that were packed with people. We had the situation under control as much as we could, but still there were lots of public around fairly safe areas, so the tension was pretty high. We got it; it looked great, but when it was over I drove home a lot slower than I was on set.
Peterson: Collins has worked as a stunt driver on the James Bond films Spectre, Skyfall, and Quantum of Solace. Actor Daniel Craig played Bond in those films, and we wondered how well he did behind the wheel of those sporty cars.
Collins: Daniel is a great driver and he’s passionate about these cars, so he took to the Aston Martin very quickly. He’s a bit of a natural and we gave him a crash course of evasive driving and high speed driving. This Quantum of Solace is when I first met him, and he was doing really everything with the stunt team from all the martial arts, dangling upside-down off of ropes and cables, and really going through life as Bond in real life. It’s really cool to get him behind the wheel, and we had a lot of fun.
Peterson: At the end of the book, Collins includes instructions on how to perform some of the stunt driving he does in films but cautions that these maneuvers should be done on a track or other suitable space not on the road. You can read up on how to drive safely in all kinds of situations in Ben Collins’s book, How to Drive, available in stores and on the website, HowToDrive.co.uk. He also invites listeners to his website at BenCollins.com. For information on tire care and safety, Anne Forristall Luke says to log onto the Rubber Manufacturers Association site at BeTireSmart.org. To find out more about all of our guests, log onto our site at Viewpoints online.net. You can find archives of past programs there and on iTunes and Stitcher.
Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our productions directors are Sean Waldron and Reed Pence. I’m Marty Peterson.