Brakes To Slow, Gears To Go

This week’s initiative to offer an advanced driving scheme to “white van man” was greeted by everybody - except, predictably, the people it was aimed at.

Nobody likes to be told that possibly they could improve their driving. And when the news broke, White Van Men took to the airwaves from their cabs to protest. They claimed they were being picked on - and that there are plenty of other drivers who are equally poor (mini cab drivers, 4 x 4 owners for example).

But despite this initial hostile reaction to Transport Secretary Alistair Darling’s initiative, common sense tells us that there is some excellent thinking here.

First of all, any driver education has to be welcome. There is no such thing as a perfect driver, and we can all gain from refreshing our skill at the wheel, without exception.

Mr Darling has pledged a £1.3m fund for Safe and Fuel Efficient Drivers (SaFED). Saving up to £500 of diesel per vehicle should appeal to white van drivers, even if the road safety or environmental benefits don’t.

Interestingly, one of the key course techniques is better use of gears. By avoiding over revving and missing out unnecessary gear changes, drivers can not only reduce fuel consumption, they can also cut down wear and tear on the transmission.

Those of us taught to drive years ago were conditioned to move our way up and down the gear box systematically - 4, 3, 2 and 1. But that’s because vehicles in those days had inferior brakes and we needed to bring the cars to a halt by using the drag of the transmission.

These days, we recommend “block changing”. Use the brakes to slow down, then, when the speed is right, choose the gear that is best for that speed. So you may move from fourth, say, straight to second, after you have finished braking. Brake pads are cheaper to replace than clutches. You can also block change to move up, skipping intermediate gears.

So remember - “gears to go, brakes to slow”.

For further information and other driving tips, visit the IAM website at

27 January 2006 Staff

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