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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


Is it the car, or the driver?

When a race car driver achieves success, some say it was because he or she had the best car.  While difficult to quantify, the question perpetually looms in racing circles:  What’s more important for a winning formula — the car or the driver?

For sure, the biggest racing teams spend a lot of money to assure that their driver has the best possible equipment.  But in the end, I think that it takes both.  No driver can win with a lackluster racecar, and a fast, good handling car will never reach the winner’s circle with an inadequate driver at the wheel.

One can legitimately ask a similar question in regard to everyday driving.  Is driving success (not having or causing accidents) more attributable to the car or the driver?

While approaching a four-way stop last week, I was reminded of this quandary.  And the incident occurring at that intersection lent credence to the thought that the driver may be the most important factor in successful street driving.

We were a trio of vehicles, me at the rear, travelling along an arterial covered with a recent snowfall.  It was around 32 degrees, so tires had packed the driving surface into two shiny, slick ruts.  As the driver of the lead car attempted to stop at the posted sign, his SUV slid right past it and into the intersection.  I and the driver just ahead of me had already instinctively and simultaneously moved our vehicles to the right so that our tires were in the “fluffier” snow adjacent to the slickened ruts.  We both stopped easily.

That’s because there is more adhesion available in the soft snow than in the packed ruts.  So even though the lead car was nearly new and equipped with anti-lock brakes, the thirty-year-old two-wheel-drive pickup with marginal tires ahead of me stopped better.

That driver and I stopped effectively because we had properly “read” the road surface, and adjusted our vehicles’ speed and position accordingly.  In this case, we, as drivers, were more effective than what we were driving in attaining desired results.

Short of piloting an ill-running heap with bad tires and brakes, proper daily driving, I believe, depends more on the driver than the car.  And even if the equipment has major shortcomings, the everyday driver can compensate.

Whereas eminence in racing may depend equally on driver and equipment, the “weighted” requirement of a good driver for passenger vehicles has much to do with the way success is measured.  For racing, wins or high finishing positions are the guideline; in street driving, effectiveness is attained by “doing no harm.”

If a race driver has a bad car, the resulting accommodation will disallow a noteworthy finishing position.  Since success in street driving should not be based on speed, a driver can make up for vehicle shortcomings and “win” by bringing a car home safely.

Your vehicle should always be as maintained and ready as possible, but it can’t see ambient conditions or make the observations qualified drivers can make with their eyes.  Therefore, please bear in mind that you, as the driver, are the most important factor in traffic safety — both for you and others in your proximity.  As a consequence, driver fitness is essential.

A “fit” driver does not take the wheel while tired or otherwise impaired.  Drivers should be mentally ready to devote full attention to the driving task, with a mind “emptied” of distracting thoughts and problems.

Especially during winter, drivers must practice to become adept at “reading” the road surface and adjusting speed accordingly.  Differentiate between dry snow, wet snow, packed snow, black (clear) ice, frost, wet and dry surfaces, and adjust speed to suit.  Make smooth and gentle inputs when accelerating, turning and stopping.

And remember, unlike auto racing, being the first to arrive will win you no prize; in fact, attempting to do so has already landed many in the ditch this winter.  Drive the speed limits when conditions allow, but when adhesion or visibility deteriorate like they do in winter, be worthy as the most important factor in driving — you!

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at