LOOK MUM – NO FEET. – David Horrocks

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All cars have pedals. Every driver knows that, and once they learn to drive, they promptly forget about them. But they are important, very important. There are either two or three in the vast majority of autos; even the new ‘sparkies’ (electric models) have them. For this little exercise, we are only interested in the two right-hand side ones. If the third pedal is present, it doesn’t come into play in the following dissertation.

Now, of important note here is that every time you push down with your foot onto one of the primarily rubber-coated devices, it’s costing you money and the harder you push, the more money you’re parting with. Environmental concerns are also at play, especially if you are green-inclined. If that’s of importance to you, well, again, the more often you push and the more vigorous the application, the more you pollute. See, you don’t have to spend millions on a new ‘Sparkie’ to help save the world; modify your actions.

The car will proceed if you don’t have a foot on a pedal – uh! That’s what is called ‘coasting’ or ‘freewheeling’. Note the term ‘free’ because although it is not completely free travel, it is as near as you can get in this world. In the days of old, some cars had a control on the dashboard marked ‘free wheel’. I once travelled in, I think, a 1948 model Rover so equipped. By turning this knob, you engaged or disengaged this facility; a modern car we have just acquired has this feature, but it works automatically – no fancy knob these days – all done with electronics now.

The two pedals we are talking about are the accelerator (the ‘go’ pedal) and the brake (the ‘wo’ pedal). If, whilst moving along, you take your tootsies off both and just concentrate on the steering, you will still proceed, albeit at a slowing pace. Now if you put thought into this ability, you can save the planet (a bit), but more importantly, you can save cash – why? All the time you are pushing the go pedal, you are pumping fuel into the engine, and the harder you push, the more you pump. You may have noticed that especially of late, this fuel stuff doesn’t come cheap, so it’s worth thinking about all this, unless you’re super rich of course.

The same thing applies when you push the ‘wo’ pedal. In this case, your pushing makes some items like brake pads or linings start to ‘wear’ by pushing them onto items made from steel, a substance that doesn’t wear, at least not very much anyway. This activity on your part causes friction that effectively slows down the car. The energy displaced goes into heat – don’t put your hand onto the inner wheel area of your car; if you’ve driven and stopped a lot, it might hurt! These ‘wearing bits’, often called ‘sacrificial elements’ by engineers – get the idea – they ‘sacrifice’ themselves to achieve a result – a lot like mothers do with kids. Again, the harder you push, the more the wear occurs, so the nearer you get to receiving a bill for the repair work to replace them; again, if you’re mega-rich go read another article.

Now, how do you get to win out with this ‘freewheeling’? Well, if you do what a lot of folks do and drive always with a foot on either pedal so that you push the ‘go’ right up until the instant you push the ‘wo’ pedal, then you’re a loser. If you’re a thinker and a winner, look ahead of the car, way ahead, and what’s going on a distance ahead. If you see a roundabout, a red light, or a build-up of traffic, then lift your size nine off the ‘go’ and rest it on the floor as the car still runs ahead but slows, getting ready to handle the coming obstruction. Be alert and ready to apply the ‘wo’ if something unexpected happens.

Now there’s a side effect to saving dosh and saving the planet (a bit). If you put mental effort into planning ahead with your car control, it keeps your mind on driving and away from the myriad of other worries in your life. Tell a lie here and swear that you never let your mind wander as you drive and sometimes can’t remember how you got to where you are right now. I’ll tell a truth and admit that when I was working and was trying to make the world a better place (that’s maybe a little exaggeration, but I’m writing this, so let’s call it poetic license), I often drove halfway to work with no recollection of the journey. Now if you believe the boys and girls in blue, it’s speed that kills. I reckon that it’s inattention; if it is speed, then why is there not mayhem on the German autobahns? I’ve been in the Fatherland and driven at over 180kph – it’s exhilarating to drive at very high speeds and believe me, your mind is so alert you notice everything.

The other thing is that it’s fun to see how accurate you can become at judging distances and seeing how your ability improves over time. You don’t get bored, frustrated or agro when using your skill to smooth the way. Aeons ago, when I lived in NSW and travelled very often to visit a business friend in ACT – a boring drive before the advent of motorways the friend who also made the same journey, and I had a competition to ease the boredom. We competed by noting the moment we passed the Liverpool highway sign and the moment we entered ACT at the border. The competition needed sportsmanlike honesty (that did exist in those far-off days) to declare how few times you touched the brake pedal over the journey. To take part in the game you had to be on full alert all the time. It was amazing how successful you could become.

Drive safe, save money and maybe the planet (a bit).