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Safe-Driving Takeaways From Classic Car Ownership

Written by Mike Widdes –

            In recent years, we’ve seen tremendous advances in the electronic engineering that goes into automobile manufacturing.  Modern cars are equipped with any number of systems that will alert the driver of potentially dangerous situations; many cars now coming standard with lane departure warning systems, extensive blind-spot monitoring, collision-avoidance software, and even autonomous capabilities. Even with all of these aids, there is still only one system that maintains sole responsibility for the safe operation of the vehicle, the driver.

It’s no question that classic cars require a more involved and engaged approach to driving than do modern cars. As any car enthusiast will tell you, there is much to be learned about the physical act of driving from operating a classic vehicle.  As I see it, the most valuable safe-driving takeaways from operating a classic vehicle are an elevated sense of awareness on the road, a minimization of distractions, and a higher level of preparedness.

Elevated sense of awareness

We all have seen the crash safety test videos where an airbag “saves the life” of a crash dummy.  The fact of the matter is, airbags weren’t adopted by most large-scale manufacturers until the mid 1980s.  The lack of airbags in classic cars means there’s little room for error.  It makes the driver more heavily consider the consequences of an accident.  Without the lane departure, blind spot monitoring, and collision avoidance systems, drivers must be in-tune with the traffic around them to ensure a safe commute.  This encourages awareness and well-mannered driving.

Until the late 1970s, the large majority of cars did not have anti-lock braking systems, or ABS.  This means significantly longer following distances.  The faster you’re traveling, the farther the distance the vehicle will need to come to a stop.  When highway driving around an urban area, the driver must pay utmost attention to what’s in the distance ahead of them, because having to stop on short notice may very well prove disastrous.  In a car without ABS, the driver has to pump the brake pedal when coming to a stop, in order to prevent the wheels from locking up and sending the car into a slide.  When the driver pumps the pedal, they are able to steer the car between pumps, ensuring the car stays in a straight line. This can be nerve-racking in poor weather.

Another electronic system that we take for granted all too often is traction control.  Most of the time we don’t even notice when the system is at work.  When you drive a car without traction control, however, you come to appreciate the safety net that traction control provides.  Without traction control, wheel spin is plentiful, no matter how powerful the vehicle.  On wet roads, drivers need to be extremely gentle when getting on the throttle, especially when exiting a corner.  While mild oversteer in a controlled environment may be a little adrenaline boost to the more experienced driver, oversteer can bite back, hard.  It’s very easy to put your car into an uncontrollable spin once the rear wheels begin to slide out from underneath you.  Traction control serves to counter wheel-spin, the system will limit power to the wheels that are beginning to slide until traction is regained.

img_6889  Fuel economy standards were not always as strict as they are today.  Modern cars are constructed with lightweight materials and sophisticated aerodynamics in an effort to maximize fuel efficiency.  Many classic cars, particularly American ones, were designed with comfort being the ultimate goal, rather than fuel economy.  These classic luxury cars have lots of suspension travel, allowing the cars to glide over speed bumps and potholes.  While this can be nice for city commuting, as speeds increase, the car can take on a bit of floating feeling.  At highway speeds, this floating feeling needs to be effectively managed to ensure the car stays in between the lines.

Minimization of distractions

31-img_6121          Not all classic cars are equipped with manual transmissions, but many of them are.  Cars with a third pedal are a dying breed; most large-scale auto manufacturers are doing away with the manual option on many of their cars.   Manual transmissions require more driver input than automatics do, the driver needing to be more aware of their surroundings to make the ride smooth and seamless, with no bucking or lurching in traffic.  Manual transmissions require some finessing to operate smoothly, which forces the driver to focus on the act of driving much more-so than in an automatic-equipped car.  This need for focus discourages cell phone use and encourages keeping your eyes on the road ahead.  Distractions while driving are habitual, so someone that is used to driving a classic will likely continue to avoid cell phone use while behind the wheel, even if they transition into a more modern car.

Classic cars are not fitted with the same creature comforts as today’s cars.  For instances in which the whole family is riding together, there are not entertainment systems present to keep the kids in the backseat occupied.  This could mean a noisy ride.  Classic car owners will develop an elevated threshold for distraction.

Higher level of preparedness

Classic cars truly feel like the sum of their parts, rather than one singular unit, as modern cars do. When one of these parts is not functioning properly, there’s no warning message flashing on the dash to indicate a particular system failure, it’s a viscerally observable noise or feeling that you must diagnose. While there are exceptions, generally speaking, classic cars are not quite as reliable as new cars. For this reason, owners must put some thought into preparing for potential failures when gearing up for a long drive. This preparation may be as minor as doing a quick Google search for common issues specific to their particular make and model, or as significant as keeping a box full of spares and tools in the trunk.  Even the smallest bit of mechanical understanding can go a long way when something goes wrong.  It can come into play in all sorts of situations, anything from helping to get your buddy’s road trip back on track to instilling a newfound confidence in your own handiness.

In summary, cars have changed a lot in recent years.  However, it’s not just the cars that have undergone change, it’s the act of driving in and of itself.  Those who have significant experience behind the wheel of a classic car are the most alert, aware, and conscientious drivers on the road.

Safety Adaptations for Disabled Drivers

hand-controlDisabled people face a number of challenges, and driving is perhaps the problem more of them have in common than any other—you usually control a car with your whole body after all, so there will be something to overcome no matter what their disability.

Some might assume these difficulties would make disabled drivers more dangerous on the road but according to studies less than one per cent of accidents involving disabled drivers are caused by their disability. So how is it ensured that they can drive safely, and how is their safety ensured? There are many different adaptations that can be placed on a car to accommodate their safety needs. Here are some examples:

Adapted Controls

To be able to drive safely disabled drivers need to have the same command of their vehicle as an able-bodied driver. There are a number of adaptations to assist with this, including hand controls for braking and accelerating for those without motor function in their legs, handles on steering wheels to allow for greater ease of turning, and modified gearshifts.

Many standard variations, like power-assisted steering and automatic gear transmission can also help disable drivers to stay in control, and thus safe.

Accessibility and Adapted Seating

Accessibility may not come into play while a car is being operated but it’s still a real concern. For those with limited mobility, trying to get into a vehicle without a ramp or winch to help load them in could be dangerous. There are also adapted seats that swing out of the vehicle and can be adjusted once they are back inside. This last feature is vital; it would be unsafe to operate a car in a position that was uncomfortable or from which your view was somehow restricted and both of these would be real problems for some disabled drivers were they to use a regular seat.

Deafness Adaptations

Deaf drivers face unique challenges, since most drivers take in a lot of their information about the road aurally. Panoramic mirrors that offer a full view of a car’s surroundings offer them a greater array of visual information, and many use electronic panels that light up to indicate the presence of different sirens and horns.

These adaptations are often expensive but made more affordable through the Motability scheme, whose vehicles are available from dealers like Robins and Day.

Ford KA review

ford-kaWith a focus on safety on the roads, I sometimes like to have a look at various cars and their safety performance. The Ford Ka is a small, cute car that is often bought as a first car for young drivers. Since they are your most precious cargo, I wanted to have a thorough look at the Ka’s safety performance.

Small but perfectly formed

The KA is a small car, which means it’s good for young drivers or as a small family vehicle. It’s nippy for getting around the city too. Kas are cute cars, and reliable too. Ford is a trustworthy make, meaning it is easy to replace parts and small cars are fab for negotiating into little parking spaces.

Safety First

Driving in a Ford Ka feels safe because its small engine means that you actually cannot drive too fast. For this reason, I can see why it makes a good first car. But how does it fare up in real road testing? The NCAP report gives it four stars, particularly good on passenger protection and front on collision, which is respectable, and there are certain measures you can take to be sure that it is being driven safely. The size of tyres used on the Ka can help to make it safer. For example, investing in high quality, thin tyres means you will again naturally be ensuring that speed limits are more than adequately adhered to.


Despite being a small car, the Ka is a comfortable ride. A firm suspension means it handles journeys well, although the back seat space is minimal. For a first car, usually containing only two passengers, this is ideal. And their buddies will just have to get used to occasionally squishing into the back if they want a ride!

Getting around the cost

Some report that a Ka is a little on the expensive side when purchased brand new. This is why visiting a reputable second hand dealer, such as Motorpoint is a good idea. They can ensure that you have the safest tyres and all requisite checks, and get an excellent deal.

The verdict

Overall, the Ka is a cute and comfy little car, which, if driven safely, can be an excellent car for a first time driver. It is cheap on parts and labour, so if you successfully purchase one at a reduced cost, then it is a sound investment.