Hazards and MSPSL
MSPSL stands for Mirrors, Signal, Position, Speed and Look. As a driver you will be doing this all the time whether you are approaching a junction, roundabout a parked car or even the location of a school. You must have heard of MSM, Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre? Well it’s a bit like that only we are preparing for an actual or potential change in speed or positioning of our car.
Firstly let’s look at hazards. Some hazards are actual features of a road like a bend, a brow of a hill, a junction and roundabouts etc. Some features are not always there like parked cars or road works. You might have bad weather affecting the surface of a road like heavy rain, ice, snow or even fallen trees in strong wind. Some hazards are even moving like a cyclist or a pedestrian crossing the road. The list could be huge but there is a routine you can follow when you identify a hazard to ensure it is negotiated safely.
Mirrors: Firstly check your mirrors, think about what you see and act on it. Do you know what the following vehicles intentions are? Is the following vehicle considering your own intentions?
Signal: Decide on whether giving a signal will benefit another road user in understanding what you are intending to do. If so, give the signal in good time. In some circumstances signal timing is crucial if you want to avoid it being misleading.
Position: Having assessed your surroundings decide on the best way to negotiate the hazard. Sometimes you may have to position yourself as to make your intentions obvious or even comply with road markings or signs.
Speed: Adjust your speed appropriately by either accelerating, decelerating or braking smoothly.
Gear: If necessary change to a suitable gear for greater control.
Look: This is the moment where you will make the final decision as to whether to continue your present course of action or change your plan depending on what you see. L.A.D.A
Look, Assess the situation, Decide what needs to be done, Act upon your decision to wait or continue.
Not everyone is asked to do an emergency stop on a driving test. Roughly 1 in 3 tests are required to do one, but nevertheless you should perfect the art of stopping in an emergency, as the need is sure to arise at some point. If you are required to do one on test the examiner will ask you to stop at the side of the road first to explain what they would like you to do. They may say something like “In a short while I will ask you to stop as you would in an emergency, the signal I shall give will be stop…(raised hand in the air), when I do this, stop the car as quickly as you can and in full control, as though a child had run out in front of you”. Then do as follows:
Drive as you normally do, don’t drive along really slow in anticipation. Obviously there shouldn’t be any cars following you and the examiner may or may not look over their shoulder out the back to double check. When the command is given don’t check the mirrors as there is no time, keep both hands on the steering wheel and brake firmly. As the weight of the car is thrown forward the steering will become heavy and harder to control. Just before the car completely stops put the clutch down to prevent the car stalling. You don’t want to put the clutch down too early, as it is good for the ‘engine braking’ to assist the footbrake (I will explain engine braking shortly). When the car has stopped completely put the handbrake on, select neutral and wait. The examiner will then ask you to drive on when you are ready. Prepare the car to go, check over your left shoulder (you may be far away from the kerb allowing room for bikes to pass on the left), check mirrors and then over your right shoulder. If it is safe, drive away. If a car is approaching you when you check around and it looks like they will overtake you, stay put, check again and drive on when safe. Once you are moving the examiner may say something like “Thank you, I will not ask you to do that again”. Job Done!
Skidding: When stopping the car in an emergency you need to brake firmly and progressively to slow the wheels as quickly as possible, almost to the point where the wheels may lock but not enough for it to actually happen. If you do lock the wheels and you skid it will take longer to stop. If you are skidding it may be necessary to release the footbrake for a split second and re-apply them. Hopefully the second time round you won’t skid! If the road is wet or you are on gravel the wheels may lock up sooner as the tyre loses grip, so the braking pressure may not be as hard as on a good firm dry surface. If you are driving on mud, snow or ice where it is virtually impossible to brake firmly, you may have to pump the brakes, quickly braking-releasing-braking-releasing and braking again, each time the car slows a little. This is known as cadence braking and is an extreme form of braking. Some cars are equipped with ABS, which is an Anti-locking Braking System. Basically if you brake extremely hard a sensor triggers the system into applying and releasing the brakes very, very fast. The point of which, means, that the wheels should not ‘lock-up’ as described above, and should allow you to steer whilst braking. The ABS being triggered has a distinctive noise, if you hear it don’t release the pressure on the brake as the system is just doing it’s job. It doesn’t mean you can stop any quicker than a car without ABS but will enable you to steer whilst braking heavily. It is possible for a car even with ABS to lose grip if the surface driven on is very slippery or loose. You should be guided by your vehicle’s handbook, or manual as to what kind of braking system you have and what type of braking style should be applied. If the rear wheels of a car lose grip the car may actually start to slide sideways as the rear of the car tries to ‘overtake’ the front which is braking with better effect. Try and steer into the skid, so if the rear is going to your right, steer right a little. Try not to steer too much as you are likely to over correct and spin the other way!
Engine braking: You have your handbrake, which basically pulls the back brakes on to stop the car rolling away when your stationary. You have your footbrake as described above. There is another kind of braking called ‘engine braking’. Have you noticed that when you take your foot off the gas pedal, the car starts to slow? Well when you do this, the fuel supply is reduced to the engine so it slows down, and slows the car along with it. This is why if your on a downhill slope and you engage a ‘low gear’, the engine helps hold the car back from rolling faster and faster. If you put the clutch down which disconnects the engine from the ‘drivetrain’, the engine braking is lost, and the car will freewheel and roll faster (don’t do it!). This known as coasting, your brakes need to work harder to stop the car too. When we slow or stop a car whether it being gradual or in an emergency, the engine braking contributes a great deal in stabilising the car and helping it to slow in a controlled way.
The Driver: When cars lose control it’s generally down to driver error. Learn how to recognise factors, which will affect either you or the handling of the car. Driving whilst tired or under the influence of drink or drugs is quite simply going to affect your reactions or ability to assess what the road ahead and is basically illegal. Some medicines carry warnings too that you must not drive if you taking that particular medication. If your reactions are not up to their usual speed, for example maybe you have a cold, recognise it and adjust your speed to give you more time to react. That way you can avoid having to stop in an emergency in the first place. With regards to car handling, think about the road and weather conditions. Look at the roads surface and think about how your grip could be compromised. Think about how rain and ice affect the distances needed to stop. Look at the slope or camber of a road, will the car try and slide in a particular direction if you were to brake hard? Is there a lot of activity by pedestrians either side of the road, or cars trying to pull out of blind junctions? Sometimes other people will force you into taking some action to avoid an accident. If your looking for the clues of what is likely to happen next, and drive at a speed so that you can stop in the distance clear ahead, identify whether the road surface is going to affect your braking ability, you can avoid most ‘emergency stop’ situations in the first place by being ready. If you find it hard to do, then keep your speed down.