If a driver is ever to leave a country road and end up in a ditch, you can almost guarantee that it’s the result of poor cornering technique. It is quite possible to maintain good progress when driving through bends. You just need to follow some basic rules and plan the approach to drive through bends safely.
How Sharp is the Bend?
Firstly, assess the severity of the bend on approach and ensure that the speed is suitable. Entering too fast and braking while cornering is a recipe for disaster. A car is at its most stable when it is travelling in a straight line at a steady speed; it is only when the driver does something to alter that when things change.
Driving through a bend throws your weight to the outside of the curve. This centrifugal force puts the weight of the car onto the outside wheels. Braking here will also push the weight of the car onto the front axle. If you do this at the same time as cornering, you then force most of the weight onto the front wheel on the outside of the bend. Do this on a slippery road and you could easily lose control. The front tyre will grip and the back of your car may begin to slide.
So how do you assess how sharp a corner is? Firstly, if a view is available just look well ahead across the bend. If the road is visible then great, if not you can get an idea of where it goes because of the line of roadside hedges or telegraph poles.
When there is no view available then you can use ‘the vanishing point’. Look into the furthest point of the curve that you can see, where the two sides of the road appear to come together. If this point appears not to move as you get nearer, then the corner is likely to be sharp. Where the vanishing point appears to be moving then it is likely to be less severe.
Get into Position
You can increase your view into a bend by careful positioning. For a right-hand corner for instance, moving closer to the left may open up the view more. Though do be aware of the road surface, and do not do this where there is an adverse camber or damaged surface. You also need to be aware of any junctions or driveways from which others may potentially approach.
Conversely, moving nearer to the centre-line on a left hand bend will widen your view in the other direction. In this case do not move so far that you put yourself at risk from oncoming traffic. The advantages of this positioning will of course be increased on wider roads.
In a situation where you have a clear view of the road well ahead, and there is NO possibility of others emerging from side roads, then there is no reason why you may not cross a broken centre-line to increase vision and stability.
Get into Gear
Once you have positioned for the best view, and adjusted your approach speed, ensure you select an appropriate gear before entering the corner. You need a gear that will keep the engine pulling steadily and enable acceleration out of the corner.
Driving Through the Bend
Speed should be at its lowest before entering the bend, and maintained with a steady amount of gas as the curve is negotiated. Note the emphasis on ‘drive through bends’, the engine needs to be under power with use of the accelerator. Apply extra power only as you exit the curve and pull away on the straight.
What path should you take through the corner? In short, the one that gives the vehicle most stability. The straighter the line you take, the more stable the car will be. Therefore approaching a right-hand bend well to the left, moving nearer to the centre-line at its apex, then back to the left at its exit will serve to take some of the tightness out of the corner. Again however, you must always be aware of oncoming traffic before doing this. It is vitally important to plan well ahead to give yourself time to judge in order to drive through bends safely.