While even a beginner can steer a car through a corner without much training, the average corner demands more of your car’s tyres and suspension than any other routine driving manoeuvre.
Every time you take a corner, your car is exposed to strong cornering forces that can easily push your suspension and tyres beyond their limits and cause you to lose control of your vehicle. In addition, you’ll typically have reduced visibility of the road ahead, while oncoming traffic experiences the same challenges, which can create additional hazards.
Therefore, safely cornering a car requires avoiding increases in the forces acting on your car’s suspension and tyres while taking a turn, as well as understanding the best strategies to deal with the reduced visibility created by bends in the road.
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The basics of cornering
While cornering forces are unavoidable, and your car is built to withstand them, small changes in driver behaviour can amplify these forces to the point where they are dangerous. Similarly small adjustments in driving behaviour can significantly reduce the risk of losing control on a corner.
The basic rules of cornering are:
- Always brake to your desired speed before you enter a corner. Once you are in the corner, any braking will apply additional friction forces to your tyres, pushing these closer to losing contact with the road. Only brake on a corner in an emergency.
- Turn your steering wheel smoothly while you are taking the corner and avoid tugging it to one side.
- Never attempt to increase your car’s speed before passing the apex of a corner. Rather use the accelerator to maintain your desired speed while you are in the corner. Only accelerate your car gradually once it is past the apex of the corner.
Additional caution should be observed if your tyres are worn or the road surface is wet, as this reduces the threshold at which cornering forces can cause your tyres to lose contact with the road.
Once you understand the basics of safe cornering, you’ll reduce your risk of losing control of your vehicle. However, corners present other challenges that you need to address to handle them like a pro.
To manoeuvre through a corner skillfully and safely:
- When taking a corner to the right, hold a line towards the outside of your lane until you reach the corner’s apex, then move your car towards the centre of the lane. This will provide maximum visibility of the road ahead and allow you to maintain the straightest possible line through the corner.
- When taking a corner to the left, hold a line that brings you close to the lane divider, then move your car towards the outside of the lane once you pass the apex. This provides a relatively straight line through the corner and optimal visibility.
- Avoid allowing your car to cross the lane divider at any stage, as this can put you on a collision course with an oncoming driver.
Braking in a corner
There are two situations that can require braking while cornering:
- When you misjudge the angle of the corner and enter at too high a speed.
- When you are required to emergency brake.
Each scenario requires a different response.
If you find yourself travelling too fast in a corner do not slam on your brakes. Instead decelerate your car by releasing the accelerator and gearing down if you drive a manual car, as this avoids applying brake forces to the tyres.
In an emergency braking situation you will have no option but to apply the brakes with full force. If you car loses traction with the road and begins to spin, turn your steering wheel slightly into the spin and keep your eyes on where you want your car to go.
Avoiding emergency braking
Emergency braking is best avoided in corners altogether, due to the high risk of your car spinning out of control.
The best way to avoid having to emergency brake is to observe a comfortable following distance of at least three seconds behind any vehicle in front of you.
In addition you want to maintain a three second distance between your car and the point at which the road disappears from view around the corner.
If you maintain a safe distance you’ll have sufficient time to slow your vehicle down in the event a leading vehicle brakes on the corner, or something unexpected is lurking around the bend.
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