How to handle four hairy driving situations like a pro: racing driver’s tips

Published Mar 27, 2024


Being a professional racing driver is not just about the need for speed.

Victory is based on the skill and technique of the driver in manoeuvring the vehicle, making strategic decisions, and maintaining precise control. It’s a balance of technical expertise, physical fitness, mental strength, strategic thinking, and passion that enables one to excel in the competitive world of motorsport.

In South Africa, there are approximately 800,000 road accidents every year according to the National Roads Agency. To reduce the carnage, motorists could take a page from the pro driver’s book.

According to Hannes Scheepers, a professional VW Polo Cup racer, who will be sponsored by Dialdirect for the thrilling 2024-season, most human handling errors on the road are caused by mistakes in coordinating brake pressure, accelerator movement and steering angle.

He provides the following tips for some of the more common hairy situations that motorists find themselves in:

Loss of control: When you start to lose control of a vehicle in reaction to an emergency, or due to a change in road surface, it’s important not to slam on the brakes, to gradually lift off the accelerator, to have “soft hands” without any sudden, jerking steering movements, to gradually counter steer in the opposite direction than the vehicle wants to go and then, once the vehicle is relatively stable, to gradually accelerate.

Understeer: When you experience understeer, where you want the vehicle to turn, but it wants to continue straight, it’s wise to lower your speed into corners by gradually braking and also adjusting your steering angle more gradually to make the turn.

Oversteer: When you experience oversteer, where it feels like the rear of the vehicle wants to slide to either side or pendulum around – which more frequently happens with, but isn’t limited to, rear wheel drive vehicles - it’s also wise to not hit the brakes, to adjust your steering angle more gradually and to slow down until the vehicle is under control and then accelerate gradually out of a possible spin.

Swaying trailer: When you tow a trailer or caravan and it starts to sway, do not hit the brakes, unless there is an imminent risk of hitting something. Braking will worsen the situation, because the towed unit will want to continue at its current speed and will likely “jackknife” your vehicle. Also, don’t try to “steer yourself out of it”, because your reaction to a vehicle’s and towed unit’s behaviour is always delayed and will mostly make the sway worse. Rather ease off the accelerator until the unit that you’re towing stabilizes and then slowly accelerate again.

If you experience sway, it’s wise to rather pull over to make sure that your towing set-up is correct, with good hitch height, proper weight distribution and correctly inflated tyres. It’s also wise to make sure that your vehicle and towed unit are checked and tweaked by experts for optimum stability.

When asked about what tops his list of tips that he’ll give South African motorists to be better, safer drivers, Scheepers shared the following:

Make sure that your vehicle is in an all-round good condition

Ensure that the lights and electrical system, windows and wipers, wheels and tyres, brakes, suspension, battery, belts and chains, cooling system, filters and fluids, exhaust system, body panels, mountings and accessories, as well as safety and warning equipment are in tip-top shape. Having adequately inflated tyres with sufficient tread – 1mm at the absolute least – is one of the most neglected, yet crucial factors in preventing accidents.

Observation is K53’s rule number one for a reason

Always keep a focused eye on road and weather conditions. Always maintain situational awareness and be clearly aware of drivers in front of, beside or behind you. Anticipate what they will be doing and plan ahead.

Eyes off the phone. Distracted driving remains one of the leading causes of fatal crashes in South Africa. That text message or call is not worth your life or that of another road user.

Learning to drive from a young age is hugely beneficial. For more experienced drivers, completing an advanced driving course is a very wise investment.

Enemy number one

“Enemy number one is the adage that ‘it won’t happen to me’, because all too often it does, causing irreparable loss,” says Martin van Wyk, spokesperson for Dialdirect. “We urge South African motorists to pay careful attention to these tips and to practice them, as it could very well save their lives, that of a loved one, another motorist or pedestrian.”