Speed And Gear
Are you aware of the speed limits for different classes of vehicles on different types of roads? Right click the link for a chart of speed limits in pdf format. Choose ‘save target as’ from the pop up menu.
Your choice of road speed is an integral part of the MS-PSL routine for dealing with any hazards that you encounter. As such, any time you consider changing speed, you should do so as part of a planned approach to your driving.
Many trainees fail to make this connection, simply assuming that the MS-PSL routine is for junctions and other such obvious hazards. This is completely incorrect. The routine should be used on an almost constant basis, throughout your driving, and the routine starts with mirrors, not speed.
The speed of your vehicle as you approach any hazard has a significant effect on how you can deal with it. What you need is time to react. Getting the vehicle to the right speed for the situation ahead of you will give you exactly that.
At 70 mph your car will need 315 feet to stop. That’s a long way, especially if you haven’t recognised the hazards ahead early enough.
The speed phase of the system may at first seem quite obvious, and beyond any further investigation, but lets look a little further . . . you may be surprised at how much there is to consider.
Many trainees will think about the speed phase of the system as nothing more than braking to negotiate a junction.
But the speed phase means any change of speed. That could be an increase in speed, as well as a reduction.
Think about leaving a 30 mph limit through a village, as you approach the national speed limit sign. There’s every chance that another driver could be inpatient with your adherence to the speed limit and may intend to overtake you as soon as possible. The change in speed limit is a hazard, as well as the other driver, because they both could cause you to change speed or direction. So, you have to anticipate what may happen, and run through the MS-PSL routine.
Also, do you always have to use the brakes to slow down? Brakes are never mentioned in the system, only speed, so any means of changing speed has to be considered as a part of a planned approach to hazards.
What other methods are there of changing speed? Well, in Advanced Driving (beyond the scope of this site at present) there is a well known technique called acceleration sense.
Acceleration sense refers to the drivers ability to anticipate the changing conditions ahead, and to vary the pressure on the gas pedal such that the vehicle slows down to reach the correct speed for the hazard, without the brakes ever being used. To see Police Class 1 Advanced Drivers using this technique is a real eye opener. They develop the ability to accurately judge exactly when to ease off the gas and ‘roll’ into position smoothly and safely.
But, can you see a potential problem with acceleration sense? The Police are well aware of it, and only use acceleration sense where it’s possible to do so.
The potential problem is that the vehicle effectively changes speed without ever signaling to another driver that it is doing so. Be careful about using acceleration sense where a brake light signal would be useful to another road user.
The use of acceleration sense may soon become a vital component of your driving. See the page on eco-safe driving, for details of changes to the part 2 driving test coming soon.
What About The Gear?
A subject very closely related to speed is the use of our gears. As with the brakes, gears are never mentioned in the MS-PSL routine, but they need to be considered at the speed phase of the system, as I’ll outline below.
Many trainees use a change of gear to reduce speed on the approach to a hazard. This is almost always a mistake, and for the purposes of part 2 should never be considered.
It is essential that you get the car to the correct speed for the hazard, then select the correct gear to match the speed.
To my knowledge, no driver has ever been involved in a collision simply because they were in the wrong gear, so long as the speed was correct. But many road users have been killed or seriously injured because drivers tried to negotiate hazards at the wrong speeds.
You should aim to have the car at the right position on the road, and at the right speed for the hazard, and in the correct gear for the hazard, before you reach the hazard.
If you try to take the gear first, you’ll invariably select the wrong one as you’ll be travelling too fast anyway, or something else will crop up, forcing you to run through the system again.
If you plan your approach to changing speed and gear, you can rid yourself of the bad habit of ‘going through the gears’ every time. This is not only unnecessary, but could be dangerous, as it takes a little of your attention away from the road ahead.
There is no reason whatsoever not to get the car to the right speed, then change form 5th gear to 2nd gear, or even to 1st gear. Taking intervening gears is bad practice.
When you approach a very blind, or closed, junction, you’ll already know that you’ll need to be in first to emerge. So, get the speed right down on the foot brake, then select 1st gear directly, even if you were in 4th or 5th gear to start with.
This is known as block gear changing, and the SE will be looking for it on your test.
You can block change up the gears as well. If you reach the speed limit in a lower gear, you can block change to a more appropriate higher gear, missing out any gears in between.
When changing down, you’ll find the whole process much easier and far more natural if you utilise a technique known as ‘brake gear overlap’
Brake Gear Overlap
It is not my intention to give a history of Advanced Driving here, or to talk too much about advanced techniques, but a few words about brake gear overlap may be of benefit to some trainees.
Brake gear overlap refers to the technique of braking to the correct speed, and at the same time selecting the appropriate gear for the speed. This is carried out by using the foot brake, and just as the car comes down to the right speed, but before the brake is released completely, the driver selects the correct gear. The braking is usually finished and the foot off the pedal before the gear change is fully completed. So, the gear changing is commenced just at the end of the braking.
The old ‘traditional’ method of Advanced Driving (Roadcraft) used to insist upon clear separation between braking and selecting the correct gear. You had to brake completely, take your foot off the brake, and then commence the gear change. Many Police Force driver training units argued (successfully) that this was not flexible, took no account of advances in vehicle design, and actually created the situation that the vehicle was at the correct speed but in completely the wrong gear, even momentarily.
This led to the acceptance of brake gear overlap as an advanced technique.
Practice block changing and brake gear overlap in your driving. Think about applying acceleration sense to smooth out your driving, but only use it where it’s possible to do so safely.