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.

Emergency Stop

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.


Stopping Distances

If your having trouble remembering stopping distances as quoted in the highway code there is a simple formula to work them out.

Firstly there is the ‘thinking distance’, which is the distance that your vehicle will travel in the time it will take you to see a hazard and then actually start to brake. Our reaction times are usually between 0.5 to 1 second but other factors can make them longer! The Highway Code quotes the thinking time at approx 0.7 seconds, the convenience of which means you will travel about the same number of ft (feet) as miles per hour that you are driving. So, if your travelling at 40mph you will travel about 40ft from seeing the hazard to actually engaging the brake.

We then have the ‘braking distance’. This distance is based on how far the average car would travel with the brakes engaged before coming to a complete stop. To work this out you will need to times the mph travelled by a steadily increasing figure (@), for example:

Speed (mph) Formula (@) Distance (feet)

  20         20 x 1        = 20ft

  30         30 x 1.5    = 45ft

  40         40 x 2        = 80ft

  50         50 x 2.5    = 125ft

  60         60 x 3        = 180ft

  70         70 x 3.5    = 245ft

By adding your Thinking Distance and Braking Distance together you will find the ‘Total Stopping Distance’.

Example 50mph : 50ft TD + 125ft BD = 175ft TSD

Don’t forget wet surfaces can double your stopping distance and ice and snow can increase it by up to 10 times.

Distances below are in feet. To convert to metres 10ft=3metres.

MPH  Thinking Dist + Braking Dist = Stopping Dist

 20              20                           20                             40

 30              30                           45                             75

 40              40                           80                           120

 50              50                         125                           175

 60              60                         180                           240

 70              70                         245                           315

Note that when you double the speed, the stopping distance trebles!

Keeping a safe distance

If every single driver was to keep a more than adequate distance from the vehicle in front of them at all times, the amount of traffic accidents could be reduced dramatically. As you have probably noticed, drivers fail to keep a safe distance and as a result, a rear end collision is a common sight. There are ways to protect your self from causing a rear end collision, or being involved in one.


The two second rule

If you keep at least a two second gap between you and the vehicle in front, you can reduce the chances of a collision should the vehicle in front of you brake sharply. You might ask why would the vehicle in front brake sharply if the road before them appears to be clear? Who knows, anything can happen and you have no idea how the driver in front might react. They may overreact to a situation before them, or misread a situation and brake harshly. Keep at least two seconds back and reduce the chances of being involved.

How to apply the two second rule.

When you are following a vehicle, look for something that is stationary at the roadside or on the road itself that you can use as a marker. A signpost or road marking is ideal. As the vehicle before you passes the marker say, “Only a fool breaks the two second rule”. As it takes about two seconds to say this, if you pass the marker before you have finished this sentence, you are too close. Fall back and try again. You should be able to say the sentence before passing the marker. If the road surface is wet, you will need to double the gap and say it twice, leaving a four second gap.

If your driving a fully laden vehicle, or a large vehicle or perhaps towing a trailer or caravan, you would need to compensate even more as it will be harder for you to stop.

Have you also considered that by leaving a suitable gap between you and the vehicle in front, it will help drivers behind you should they wish to overtake? The gap before you would allow a following vehicle a space to overtake you and take refuge, before overtaking the next vehicle. When drivers fail to leave gaps, it forces drivers who wish to overtake to try and pass many vehicles at a time creating a dangerous situation


The tailgater

There will be occasions where no matter how fast you are going the driver behind will still want to go faster. If you too are following a vehicle, it can be frustrating as to why a driver behind you, can’t see for themselves that your own progress is hindered, and keep their distance. If you are keeping your two second rule, you should be able to stop, but the vehicle following you will most likely be unable too resulting in your car being rear ended.

For a start try not to get worked up and brake in aggression, other than being dangerous it will aggravate the following driver who incidentally may not even be aware of the danger they are causing, whether it be due to ignorance or just lack of awareness. Just try to increase the gap in front of you to compensate for the driver behind you. Should the vehicle in front brake harshly, you won’t have to brake as hard, and therefore it should also allow the following driver to slow without losing control. It may even persuade the following driver to overtake you thus eradicating the problem completely! If a driver in front of you is tailgating someone else, still leave a bigger gap in front as the chances of an accident ahead are increased and will allow you more time to take action.

Tyres on tarmac, escape route.

When you stop behind a vehicle, leave enough room to be able to pull out and go around the vehicle in front should it fail to move away due to breaking down. It can happen, and if everyone is nose to tail there is gridlock, and will necessitate the driver at the back of the queue to reverse followed by everyone else, you can imagine the mayhem! When you leave an adequate gap you should be able to see the rear tyres of the vehicle in front in contact with the tarmac. There are other reasons for this gap. If an emergency vehicle approaches from behind, it will leave enough room for you to move forward and to the side without having to wait for the vehicle in front to move forward too. If you are unfortunate to be hit from behind, it will reduce the chances of you hitting the car in front of you. Less people involved and less damage to your car. With the right planning you may be able to move out of the way of a following vehicle failing to stop in time.

Leave a safe gap, monitor the following traffic, plan your escape route and prepare to use it! Expect the unexpected!

Pedestrian crossings

There are four types of pedestrian crossing, a zebra, pelican, puffin and a toucan. Approaching any type of crossing can be hazardous as the need to stop can be at short notice and drivers behind may be too close or not as quick at reacting as you. On approaching any type of crossing it is important to observe the situation behind you by checking your mirrors in preparation of being required to stop at such short notice. Think about what you see and act accordingly. Will the following driver stop in time if you do? Would it help to reduce your speed a little? Is anyone waiting to use the crossing? Is the grip your tyres have on the road surface compromised by rainwater? There are many factors that can affect your approach to a crossing and the whole situation needs to be assessed.

Crossings usually have zig-zag lines on the road surface leading up to and away from the crossing. This is called the controlled area. You are not allowed to overtake or park within the controlled area. Doing so is a serious traffic offence and you can be fined as well as having points endorsed on your licence if you are caught. Parking on zig-zag markings can obscure a drivers view on approach to the crossing which endangers people who may be already on a crossing or about to cross. Always keep crossings clear, even if you are in very slow moving traffic, if the traffic stops, don’t stop on the crossing itself, keep it clear.

When you stop at a crossing apply your handbrake to secure the car. Try not to rev your engine, as pedestrians may feel intimidated. Don’t wave pedestrians to cross as you may endanger them if another car is approaching. Wait until the crossing is clear before you continue.

Pelican crossing

Pelican crossings are controlled by pedestrians who having once pushed a button, will activate a set sequence of lights which will stop the approaching traffic. The sequence would be green, steady amber, red, flashing amber, green.

Green– Traffic proceeds as normal

Steady amber – Stop if it is safe to do so

Red– Stop

Flashing amber – Go if the crossing is now clear

Green– Traffic proceeds as normal

The amber light can be confusing if the crossing comes into your view half way through a sequence, is it changing to red, or going to green???

A simple way of remembering the meaning of the amber is the steady amber light is like a firm hand being held up to say stop. A flashing amber light is like a hand beckoning you to proceed!!

Puffin crossing

Puffin crossings will look identical to a pelican crossing apart from sensors sitting on top of the light column. The sensors can keep track of pedestrians and traffic approaching. Once a pedestrian pushes the button the lights would turn to red as they do a pelican crossing. The lights will continue to stay on red halting the traffic, until the crossing has been cleared of pedestrians. Rather than a flashing amber light being given for you as a driver to make a decision to proceed, the crossing will show a red and amber light together for you to prepare, and you would then drive on when the green light shows.

The sequence would be green, steady amber, red, red and amber, green.

The idea of such crossings are to prevent traffic being held up on a red light once the crossing is clear, and also to help protect pedestrians who may find it difficult to cross without the danger of drivers moving on whilst they are still crossing.

Toucan crossing

Toucan crossings again will be similar to a pelican and puffin crossing. The difference is that there will be also a cycle lane that can cross from one side of the road to the other allowing cyclists to use the crossing too. There is often a post with a button for the cyclists to use. You can remember this crossing by saying “two-can cross at the same time” (toucan). As with the puffin crossing there is no flashing amber phase.

Zebra crossings

Zebra crossings can be identified by the black and white stripes you can see on the road. There will also be orange flashing beacons on black and white striped posts. The beacons will flash all the time and a pedestrian will merely approach the crossing to use it. Take care when approaching a zebra crossing, as there are no extra warnings to tell you to stop. You will need to identify whether pedestrians are passing by or wishing to cross. If it is obvious the crossing is going to be used slow down and stop. Do not continue until the crossing is completely clear.

Other crossings

School crossing patrols will hold up a circular sign saying stop for children sign. You must obey the sign and only drive on when instructed by the patrol. There are sometimes flashing amber lights on approach to such crossings attached to a warning sign.