BACKING UP SAFELY

Many accidents happen while the car is in reverse. More often than not, these result in fender benders, not dramatic accidents, but nonetheless annoying and expensive.

First of all, understand why it is difficult to back up. 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. Un-fortunately, this stabilizing forward force de stabilizes the car while it’s in reverse. While driving in reverse, the steering wheel will not center automatically if you loosen your grip on it, as it will when in forward motion. Another little quirk of caster is that the car becomes unstable while traveling backwards; when small changes in steering wheel movement cause big changes in the way the car reacts to your inputs. Of course, the faster you go in reverse, the more difficult control becomes.

The only safe way to back up is slowly. Make sure you can see where you’re going. Don’t try to drive fast. Use smooth applications of the brake, steering wheel, and accelerator. Keep in mind that as you maneuver backwards, the front of the car swings out to the side each time you turn and can hit someone or something.

Admittedly, there are probably as many ways to back up as there are drivers. No matter what backing-up technique you use, you must meet these simple goals:

You must be able to see where you’re going. It’s never advisable to drive by Braille. You must be able to reach all your car’s controls. It’s a little foolish to hike yourself up in the seat for good visibility, put the car into reverse, and then discover you can’t reach the brake pedal.

While this may sound a bit foolish, make sure the car has come to a complete halt before you put it in reverse. Dropping an expensive transmission out of a car by slamming it into reverse can ruin your whole day. Keep a foot on the brake while putting the car in reverse. There’s nothing like shooting out of a parking space and into the path of an oncoming car to add a little spice to daily life.

Remember: Always look! Another problem with backing up is knowing what to do with the steering wheel. The correct direction in which to move the wheel while in reverse can be very confusing. Actually, the problem is mainly perceptual. The correct 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 actually no different from what you do while driving forward; it just feels different in reverse.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when backing up:

1. Never combine a great deal of steering wheel movement with a heavy foot on the gas pedal. You will surely lose control of the car.

2. Before you put the car in reverse, make sure the area in front of the car is clear. If you have a car with a long hood and a broad front end be careful when backing up, turning in one direction, the nose of many large cars swing out to the side dramatically.

3. No matter how short the distance you wish to travel in reverse is, look where you’re going and drive slowly.

4. Most cars feature a blind spot or spots to the rear large enough to hide a small child. Blow your horn, get out and go look for yourself. But whatever you do, be absolutely sure there is no one behind you when you back up.