Passing on the Backroads
Because we are so blessed in this country with freeways and limited-access highways, the old techniques of passing have largely been forgotten. They’re rarely taught in driving courses, except to emphasize not to cross a double-yellow line, and there aren’t many opportunities to practice the technique.
However, the more time you spend exploring the two-lane byways, the more often you’ll find yourself in a situation where you really do want to pass that slow-moving vehicle up ahead. To make a pass safely on a two-lane road just requires keeping a few guidelines in mind, then cultivating your ability to gauge the “closing speed” of your vehicle and the one coming at you from the other direction.
Obviously, there can never be any passing across a double-yellow line, or when there is a solid yellow line in your lane. To emphasize this, in most states there will also be a roadside sign stating “No Passing Zone” wherever visibility ahead is too limited to permit safe passing, and “End No Passing Zone” when there is sufficient visibility ahead to permit safe passing.
The first point to keep in mind in passing safely is that you need enough room to accelerate to a speed faster than the car immediately ahead of you, then you need to get far enough ahead of them to be able to safely return to your lane without forcing the car you just passed to slow up abruptly. You could work out the math, but a typical pass will require a minimum of half a mile, so you must be able to see at least that far down the road to make sure traffic is clear and there is enough space to complete your pass.
It is possible to pass even when you can see a vehicle coming toward you from the other direction, but the best strategy is to wait until they’ve passed you, at least until you are confident of your ability to determine the passing distance required, and to estimate how long it will take for the distance between you to close.
Here a second tip applies. When getting ready to pass, you don’t want to be right on the bumper of the car ahead. Instead, you want to have enough room so that you reach your maximum passing speed before you leave your lane to pass. That way, you will spend as little time as possible in the opposite lane before returning safely to your own lane. To do that, you should be at least two to three car lengths behind the car in front of you when you begin your pass.
If there is a vehicle coming from the other direction, and you can see far enough up the road to make sure that there will be space to pass after the oncoming vehicle passes you, then you should prepare to make your pass before the oncoming vehicle gets to your point. To maximize the amount of time you have to complete your pass, you should begin to accelerate as the oncoming vehicle approaches. If you’ve timed things properly, you will be at your maximum speed and ready to move into the opposite lane just as the oncoming vehicle passes you.
When passing, it is worth keeping in mind that it is illegal in all states to exceed the posted speed limit on any road or highway under any circumstances. In other words, if the speed limit is 65 mph, and you come up behind a farm truck going 45 mph, you’re permitted to go up to 65 in order to pass it, which isn’t a difficult pass. On the other hand, on that same road, if you find yourself behind a cautious driver doing 60, if space permits, you are allowed to accelerate to 65 to pass him. However, you can be ticketed if you have to accelerate to 75 mph in order to pass him.
Touring the Back Roads
Even if there aren’t any opportunities for track days or autocrossing in your local area, or you just don’t feel comfortable putting your new MINI through that kind of ordeal, touring can be a great way to enjoy time with friends, see the scenery and sights in your region, and have some fun with your MINI.
But even on pleasant grand tours, there are some advanced driving tips that can make your time on the road safer and more fun.
When The Route’s Brand-new
One major difference between driving on a track or autocross course, and driving on a tour on public roads is that you can’t learn the course in the same way. Even if you’ve driven a section of road frequently, you still can’t memorize the turn-in points and apexes of each corner the way you might on the track. So your mind-set must be different for touring. When you can’t be sure what the rest of the corner will look like, the major goal is to keep your car under control, rather than attempting to push its limits.
In particular, on roads that are new to you, you need to be aware that the curvature of the corner may change as you come around it. What was a reasonable speed when you entered the corner may be too fast for the radius of the curve on the other side.
Similarly, you may find that the easy corner is followed, right around the bend or just over the next rise, by a much tighter corner that you aren’t ready for. Generally, that means staying well within the limits established by the road and geography, rather than those determined by the car.
Old hands at road rallying suggest a trick to deal with blind crests that can help a little bit. If you’re coming up a rise or hill, and can’t see where the road goes after the crest, look at the telephone poles or tree line. Generally they’ll give you a clue to whether the road curves over the crest, and in which direction, or continues to go straight.
Nonetheless, whenever traffic permits, the twists and turns of a good backroads route can still allow you to enjoy the handling and power of your MINI. Generally, it can be more challenging to drive a two-lane back road near the 45 mph speed limit, than it is to drive a divided highway at 70 mph.
Be Ready for the Unexpected
Unlike the race track, out on the road, you don’t have a person with a yellow flag standing right at the apex to warn you if there’s an obstruction right around the bend. Instead, you’ve got to keep your speed limited to the level where you can use your reflexes and brakes to bring the car to a safe stop, or steer around the obstacle, without violating the laws of physics.
To be safe, you simply need to be aware of those times when you can’t see around the corner, and so need to slow down to the speed noted on the caution sign and be alert to what’s on the road as you do round that blind corner.
Don’t forget that you can drive around many obstacles rather than trying to stop to avoid hitting them. Often the safest course is to make a quick, slight direction change, rather than trying to stop.
As you drive, try to be conscious of what the sides of the road look like, as well as the road itself. If you do encounter that recreational vehicle stalled in the middle of the road, you need to know whether your only option is to slam on your brakes, or if you can safely go off on to the shoulder to avoid hitting the RV.