Are You Sitting Comfortably?
Once you get used to whatever car you’re driving, it becomes an extension of your body, of your mind even. When you’re completely in tune with it, you lose awareness of rudimentary controls like the pedals. All that is left is your perception as you float through a colourful universe where the present meets the future.
To achieve Zen, the car should fit like a glove. Conversely, a bad seating position can turn a car into a torture chamber on a long journey. Chiropractors rub their hands with glee at the sight of drivers resting their noses on the top of the steering wheel, or with their feet so far from the pedals that only telepathy can link them to the road. Optimizing your driving position is the first step towards optimizing your drive.
It’s your feet that operate the pedals, not your whole leg. If I’d known this at the age of four, I’d have averted my first major crash. Having achieved terminal velocity aboard a sit-on lawnmower in a neighbouring farmer’s field, I realized that I was hurtling towards the chicken pens. Emergency braking alone stood between me and a giant omelette, but my foot could barely reach the pedal. Ditching the machine into some pig wire was the only option and not one I’d wholeheartedly recommend.
It goes without saying that choice of footwear, whether stilettos or hobnail boots, can present a similar challenge. Manufacturers spend millions on ergonomics and modern vehicles mould the instruments around you. It’s worth spending a few minutes to tailor them to your particular needs as you’ll be more comfortable and drive better.
Adjust the seat to position yourself as low down in the car as possible. The lower you are, the closer to the centre of gravity you become and the more you will feel part of the machine. Just make sure you have a clear view above the steering wheel.
If your legs are straight when you press the brake pedal, you won’t be able to use it fully. Maximum braking requires a strong continuous force on the pedal, which simply isn’t possible without a 15-30-degree bend at the knee.
With your heels on the deck, you should be able to easily move your feet, not your whole leg, between the pedals. Most cars have a footrest to keep your left foot out of the way. This enables you to brace yourself in a corner.
You should be able to relax into the back of the seat and find that your arms are still bent when you hold the steering wheel. Driving with straight arms only uses a fraction of their strength and you won’t be able to turn the wheel properly. Sit too close to the wheel and you will look ridiculous, and most likely break your nose on it some day. Ideally, your hands should be level with your shoulders in the quarter-to-three position on the wheel face. If you can’t find a comfy seating position, start over until you can.
A third of passengers killed in the UK are not wearing a seat belt. It prevents your core mass from turning into a projectile. A friend of mine called Tony Harris, who lost half his leg courtesy of the Taliban, was competing in the world’s most gruelling rally: the Dakar. His team of exhausted former soldiers was commuting between stages on a placid stretch of carriageway connecting the dusty planes between Peru and Chile, when a taxi driver coming the other way decided it would be a great idea to overtake and drove headlong into their vehicle.
The lads could have been forgiven for not wearing their belts and catching some shut-eye after all they had been through. But they did wear them, so they all survived, while the unbelted occupants of the taxi did not. From a driving perspective the belts offer a convenient way of staying in the chair, especially if you have to swerve to avoid something. In any form of racing, the belts are crucial for feeling what the car is doing through the divining rod that is your backside. If your butt is rolling around like a marble in the seat, you’ve got no chance.