Backing Up Fast

One of the most valuable driving skills to have in a high-risk environment

Backing up fast is hard and, if not done correctly, dangerous. But with that said, it is by far one of the most valuable driving skills to have in a high-risk environment. Unfortunately, backing at speed is not a skill taught or practiced at most driver training programs. Along with being hard to do, it is hard to teach and, again, if not taught correctly – dangerous. What makes it hard and hazardous is the definition of fast. How fast you can drive in reverse is limited to the gearing of the vehicle; in most vehicles, you can drive as fast in reverse, or a little faster, as you can in 1st gear. Depending on the vehicle you’re driving, that speed would be about 30 mph to 45 mph, and those speeds in reverse are an exciting experience.

What creates excitement is that cars are designed to go forward. Automobile suspensions possess a quality known as “caster.” Caster is the force that helps to straighten out the front wheels after turning a corner. Caster also gives the car stability while traveling forward. Unfortunately, this stabilizing forward force destabilizes the car while it’s in reverse. Also, what adds to the difficulty is that while driving in reverse, the steering wheel will not center automatically. If you loosen your grip, it will stay in its last position. This is a characteristic of “vehicles in reverse” that creates an unstable vehicle.

The issue is that since the car becomes unstable while traveling backward, small changes in steering wheel movement cause significant changes in the way the car reacts to your inputs. Of course, the faster you go in reverse, the more difficult control becomes. There is nothing you can do about caster. You need to understand that it’s there, live with it and learn to control it.

Also, adding to the excitement of driving in reverse is that the correct direction in which to move the wheel can be very confusing. The problem is mainly perceptual. The proper way to move the wheel is really quite simple: Move the top of the steering wheel in the direction you wish the car to move. It’s no different from what you do while driving forward; it just feels different in reverse.

SUGGESTIONS – When things go bad, and the decision has been made to reverse out of the Kill Zone, the following suggestions might prove to be helpful:

If the scenario requires that you must reverse out of the kill zone, the more distance you can put between you and them, the better, the quicker you get yourself going backward, the better off you are. If we use 30 MPH as an average back up speed (that’s fast in reverse), every second is 45 feet of distance you put between you and them. In three seconds, you will be 135 feet away from the problem. If you sit there for 1.5 seconds and contemplate your navel, you have given up around 68 feet of distance.

Back up as fast as you can and as straight as you can for as far as you can since backing fast straight is much easier than backing up while turning. There will be scenarios where you may have to back around objects, which will be addressed later.

Even if there is an opportunity to turn in a short distance, don’t, since you want to put as much distance between you and the enemy before you turn the vehicle as possible. If you are in their range, you do not want to expose the side of the vehicle to the enemy.

If you are conducting training and have X amount of time to devote to driver training, don’t spend the time you have doing Boot and J Turns. They have their place, but Iraq and Afghanistan are not those places. Spend the time driving in reverse around obstacles – practice right and left hand turns in reverse. It is much harder backing up and turning to the right (passenger side) than backing up to the left (driver side). When turning to the right, use your side mirrors to guide you. Practice slowly and gradually build up your speeds with gradually being defined as 2 to 3 mph increments. The laws of physics that apply to driving in reverse, state that a 10 % increase in speed will produce a 20 % increase in energy pushing on the vehicle. Increasing speed from 20 to 25 mph is a 25 % increase in speed, but it will produce a 50% increase in the energy pushing on the vehicle.

A vehicle handling characteristics in reverse vary a great deal from vehicle to vehicle. If you have to back up around obstacles – never combine a great deal of steering wheel movement with a heavy foot on the gas pedal. The faster you travel in reverse, the more sensitive the steering becomes, and the greater the chance for disaster. If you have to drive around an obstacle in reverse and are in the fast mode, decrease your speed before turning the wheel. The correct amount of steering and speed in reverse can only be determined through practice. Please keep in mind that, because of the caster mentioned above, and the instability it creates, it doesn’t take much to flip a vehicle moving in reverse. (Unfortunately, I speak from experience)

As mentioned above, the handling characteristics of a vehicle in reverse is not the same as driving forward. Because a vehicle handles well going forward is no indication of how it will handle driving in reverse. For example, if a vehicle moving forward can drive around an obstacle at 60 mph, the same vehicle going around the same object will lose control while driving in reverse at 20 mph.

Some European vehicles have a device called “the governor,” which limits the speed while driving in reverse. The time to find out that you have a governor on the vehicle, preventing you from driving fast in reverse, is before you’re in the stuff. As a test, put the vehicle in reverse and accelerate; if there is a governor on the vehicle, the engine will misfire at around 10 MPH.

Vehicles that are heavily loaded to the rear have a higher chance of losing control; however, since in most scenarios, there isn’t much that can be done about having a vehicle loaded in that manner, the driver needs to be aware of what can happen.

It was mentioned earlier that while driving in reverse if you loosen your grip on the wheel, it stays in its last position, and if you want to move the wheel, you have to move it. A hint, with the front wheels, pointed straight, put a piece of tape on the top of the steering wheel. If you start to lose control, it will tell you where straight ahead is. If you look at an in-car camera shot of a NASCAR car, you will see tape on the top of the steering wheel.

There are as many methods of teaching backing up as people are teaching it. But keep in mind the underlying theory that the quickest way to reverse out of the kill zone is to back up as fast and straight, and as far as you can. In a perfect world, there would be nothing behind you to drive around, but that’s not always the case. Therefore practice driving around obstacles, which should be placed at varying lengths and on both sides of the vehicles, and keep in mind, that in my opinion, backing up fast is one of the hardest things you can do in a car.

An instructor needs to be outside the vehicle with a radio watching the tires during the exercise, and if there is any indication that the tires are starting to lift, then radio the driver to get off the gas pedal and straighten the steering (the tape).

Put your hand on the tape (top of the steering wheel), lock your arm in and back up by starting slow and building up speed.

If you are conducting training and it is known that the student will be driving an SUV armored or not armored, make sure to mention the enormous difference between the two vehicles when attempting to drive in reverse.

Never put five students in a vehicle and do anything that requires backing up or spinning, especially if it is an SUV. That is a disaster looking for a place to happen.

TURNING AROUND

At some point, you will have to turn the vehicle 180 degrees and drive off into the sunset. For decades the preferred method of turning 180 degrees while in reverses has been J Turns. J-Turns have their place in security driving, but driving in Iraq on a narrow road covered with potholes is not that place. There is a world of difference between doing a J Turn on a race track or airstrip in a Crown Vic and doing them in an SUV on a narrow road covered with potholes.

Doing bootleggers or J Turns are great, but if you are driving an armored SUV, Boots and J’s are not a complete waste of time but close to it. After a great deal of consideration, the State Department has decided they will not be doing those maneuvers in their training programs.

If you can’t do J Turns, how do you turn around?

TURNING AROUND

At some point, you will have to turn the vehicle 180 degrees and drive off into the sunset. For decades the preferred method of turning 180 degrees while in reverses has been J Turns. J-Turns have their place in security driving, but driving in Iraq on a narrow road covered with potholes is not that place. There is a world of difference between doing a J Turn on a race track or airstrip in a Crown Vic and doing them in an SUV on a narrow road covered with potholes.

Doing bootleggers or J Turns are great, but if you are driving an armored SUV, Boots and J’s are not a complete waste of time but close to it. After a great deal of consideration, the State Department has decided they will not be doing those maneuvers in their training programs.

If you can’t do J Turns, how do you turn around?

THREE-POINT TURN
The police version of the 3 point turn is great for the police, but it won’t work in a High-Risk Environment. The standard 3 point turn requires the driver to drive forward and back up, which means you are driving into the kill zone. Not a good thing.

Pic Backing2

Position One

Back up as fast and a far as you can. When you feel it is safe to turn around, slow down and move the steering wheel a little; remember, the faster you are moving, the more sensitive the steering gets.

Position Two

The steering wheel’s initial movement can create a huge problem since it does not take much steering wheel movement to move the vehicle or to flip the vehicle. At position two, it would be a good idea to slow down before moving the steering wheel.

It may seem trivial, but I suggest you practice moving the gear lever from drive to reverse and reverse to drive without looking at the lever.

At positions two, three, and four, you are the most vulnerable with the side of the vehicle exposed. This is the area you want to practice being quick at. If you are out of range, it’s not a problem, but I would not gamble and always assume you are in range.

 

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