Driving Tips From A Professional Stuntman

Driving is an everyday part of life for most Australians. Whether it be commuting to and from work or doing weekend trips, we innately call on our driving abilities to get to our destinations and keep us from danger. But do you know some of the vital skills that could save your life when you get in trouble on the roads? We spoke to a professional stunt driver to find out what they are and got behind the wheel of a sports car for some stunt driving advice.

Once you get your full licence, there really isn't any mandatory requirements for you to do refresher courses to ensure your driving abilities don't go stale with age. You are kind of expected to pick up skills on your own with little to no guidance. At a recent event for Furious 7's Blu-Ray release, we spoke to to Russell Frost, who has been a professional stunt driver for 28 years. Considering he is still alive after doing some crazy car stunt work in a bunch of Hollywood movies, he knows a thing or two about being safe while driving.

We picked his brains on driving advice distilled from his years of experience in cars.

Basic skills every driver should know

Being so adept at driving, Frost is acutely aware of the kind of skills many everyday drivers lack. These include:

  • Basic countersteering: If your car is sliding out in one direction, turn the wheels into the direction of where the car is sliding out to. This isn't a skill that you can just pick up instantly and will require practice.

    According to DrivingFast.net:

    "Applying corrective steering needs to be done rapidly to catch the back of the car before it slides to a point which may be difficult to control. Once the slide has been controlled and the back starts to fall back in line, it's also important to get the steering correction off quickly too, otherwise you might find your self with oversteer in the opposite direction due to the resulting pendulum effect."

  • Threshold breaking: This is slowing down as quick a possible with good brake pedal control, maintaining brake force at the optimum level.
  • Knowing how to apex a corner so you don't cut into it too much: The apex is where the car reaches the furthest point inside of a turn. This will determine where the arch of your turn begins. If you apex too early, you end up cutting the corner too much.

Don't drive at 100 per cent

Most people use their driving skills to the fullest when they're on the road and, according to Frost, that is not going help you in hairy situations.

"Most people drive at 100 per cent, so when they make a mistaken then there is no room for error," he told Lifehacker Australia. "We (as stunt workers) are always told to drive at about 80-85 per cent so that way, if you're in trouble, you always have a little bit of skill up your sleeve to get out of that situation.

"If you drive right on your limit, if something goes wrong then you're out of your depth."

Oversteering and Understeering

Oversteering is when the rear tires lose traction before your front tyres. This causes cars to spins out and drivers would see their lives flashing before their eyes. There are several causes for this including worn back tyres, entering a turn too fast and braking too hard while in a turn.

Frost says countersteering, which is one of his three basic skills every driver should have, is the solution for oversteering.

Understeering is the opposite of oversteering. It's when the front tyres lose traction before the rear tyres, causing the car to slide straight off the road. To combat this, Frost recommends easing off the throttle until you can get your steering back.


Got any driving tips you've found particularly useful? Share them with us in the comments.


Comments

    I've driven and ridden motorbikes for a while now, and picked up a few things along the way...here's a couple:
    1: Situational awareness and thinking about where you are looking: This means not fixating on the car in front of you if you are behind someone, and being aware of what's around/behind you. It means turning your head when changing lanes (look for motorbikes!) etc, and keeping your eyes up - especially when trying to drive quickly/through corners; a common mistake is to look at the road just in front of the car, or to fixate on the corner (rather than looking through the corner).
    2: Keep your cool: If you tend to get angry/"road rage" while driving your ability to drive safely will suffer. Try imagining that person who just cut you off is your best mate, or your mum. Imagine that they just left their husband/wife and three young children. In other words, humanise them. Road rage tends to involve a dehumanising process (it's the same process that let germans send jews to the gas chamber, and it's why they put hoods on firing squad victims - if you can't see the faces, they are less human, therefore easier to shoot). Ask yourself - "If I was at work, or at home, or with people who cared about me would I behave like this?". Breathe slowly in through your nose. Or try humour - make a joke of it, laugh it off....Chill out - you'll get to work or home eventually, and getting pissed off isn't going to make it happen any quicker.

      As a rider, situational awareness is severely lacking in car drivers. The majority don't see obstacles up ahead - thereby exacerbating the blockage. Look ahead and change lanes - don't change lanes when you get to the blockage!

        As a rider, I _completely_ agree with what you're saying. It is easy to criticize though, on a bike you're instinctively more aware of your surroundings. Not only are you always aware that if there is a crash, no matter who's fault it is, you're coming off second-best - but you're able to see better than most cars, you can see through traffic far further than most cars (and depending on your bike, over most of the traffic), and since you're far more capable of accelerating and maneuvering through traffic - your attention tends to be far further in front to anticipate which gaps will be available to you if need be.

        Conversely, If you've spent your life in a low-powered car, there's no point reading the traffic - first, you're basically unable to do anything about changes in traffic without someone else making a 10-second gap available to you, and second, if you do try to do anything, you're just reminded of how utterly uninspiring your car is (sorry, guy I just cut off who was over the horizon when I started this move into the right-hand lane, yes, I know it doesn't look like I'm speeding up, but I assure you the pedal is to the metal). While it's still absolutely no excuse for not knowing how to use an indicator or merge, it's understandable why these drivers just give up trying and don't pay any attention to the road.

        I really think there should be different road-rules for bikes that give them far more freedom to travel as they see fit - (eg. making lane filtering legal was a great step in the right direction) - but generally speaking, if a motorbike and a car are in an accident - it's because the motorbike rider failed to account for the car.

        (ie. The law should better reflect the real-world fact that motorbikes are invisible to cars, and that a motorbike is just as able to avoid an accident at 160km/h as a car is at 100km/h ).

        This is the most frustrating part about the high amount of SUV's on the road, as it makes it difficult to see the conditions ahead, once you're sitting behind one.
        This is not a snark about SUV's but rather how you can't see through the cabin if you're in a car.

          Yes. If I am going to die on the road, I am sure an SUV will be a contributing factor. So many close calls due to the reduced visibility either through the windows or over the top of the car.

          It annoys me that they are subsidised by our tax system. They instead should be slugged with a safety tax when they have a residential metro postcode.

    “Most people drive at 100 per cent, so when they make a mistaken then there is no room for error,”
    That is dubious. I'd suggest many (not most) people drive at 0% in that they don't know how to use merge lanes, have forgotten what an indicator is, etc, etc.

    Learning this stuff is good, but I would be more than happy if drivers did just the basic things right. For instance, what about yellow lights? This means stop if you can safely do so, but for most drivers it actually means speed up and see if you can go through before the light turns red. I see this every day on the road.

    And what about tailgating? That happens consistenly in every road in Australia, and it is frightening when the vehicle right behind you is a big truck. You know that if you need to brake, you are dead.

    And then what if drivers stopped changing lanes for no reason at all, just trying to save up a couple of seconds? What is the point of doing that?

    Aggressive drivers are like the plague. Everytime I see a blue car with a young male driver I know he is going to do something stupid and I am almost always right.

    Last edited 09/10/15 11:00 am

      If someone's tailgating you, they probably want to get past. They're probably aggressive because you haven't checked your rear-view in the past 5 minutes, and they've been there the whole time. The solution to aggressive drivers is simple: Pay attention to your surroundings, and when you see someone coming up behind you substantially faster than you - pull over or get out of their way.

      As someone who changes lanes "for no reason at all" it's generally to get around a driver who's tootling along at 5km/h below the speed limit for no reason at all, and is utterly oblivious to the fact that I've been stuck behind them for the past 5km. That "couple of seconds" could be the difference between getting through the next set of lights, or being stuck behind someone vacant driver in a car with less power than a sewing machine who's preparing to stop while the light's still green.

      Speaking of: slowing down for green lights in anticipation of them going yellow, then coming screeching to a halt the second they do is a fantastic way of getting rear-ended.

      Also, the yellow light gives right-hand turning drivers the opportunity to clear the intersection, so a quick lesson for people turning right without a filter light: when the light goes green, drive into the center of the intersection and wait. If you're still there when the light goes yellow, then it's time for you and the two cars who've followed you into the intersection to turn right.

      Man it annoys me the bewildered look of people's faces when they get the horn at a yellow light after they've sit behind the white line waiting for an entire cycle for a clear opportunity to enter the intersection and turn right.

      When you're out for a Thursday morning cruise in your Toyota Starlett, remember, indicators are not just for economists; and other people may want to get around you so that they can reach their destination on time.

        Sadly, your response was predictable and wrong.
        "If someone's tailgating you, they probably want to get past"
        Quite probably true, but doesn't condone piss poor driving skills, and tailgating is just that. Regardless of the reason, there is no excuse to be an asshole, let alone when driving a ton of metal travelling at 100km/h.
        Plenty of times I've had some idiot sit on my tail when I'm in the middle lane, with a clear fast lane. The only reason I can logically account for, is that they have got so used to tailgating, it is now the norm for them, regardless of traffic conditions.

        "Speaking of: slowing down for green lights in anticipation of them going yellow, then coming screeching to a halt the second they do is a fantastic way of getting rear-ended"
        Which is exactly why tailgating is both poor driving and illegal.
        Yes, braking suddenly at the lights is idiotic, but we can't control their driving, just our own.

        "That "couple of seconds" could be the difference between getting through the next set of lights, or being stuck behind someone "
        That attitude is what kills people on our roads every day. If you can't plan your journey with enough time to accommodate traffic, slow drivers and other delays, then get a taxi.
        The journey should not be about beating time or viewing other drivers as obstacles, but as a method of getting from A to B.
        Save the clock racing for video games.

        "when the light goes green, drive into the centre of the intersection and wait."
        Some actual sound advice. However, the prevalence of orange light speeders makes it a dangerous proposition to be turning into the traffic, and can get the patient driver a red light ticket if they have to wait for the idiots who zoomed through on orange.

        Disclaimer: I'm as guilty as anyone of all the things I've just condemned, however two things in my defence:
        * I don't justify my actions by blaming other drivers. I hold myself responsible for my driving.
        * My new girlfriend has recently shown me the benefits of driving a car, instead of steering a rocket with wheels.
        As a result, I'm a lot more sane on the roads and am better equipped to deal with unexpected situations, as well as contributing to a safer driving experience for everyone else.

    When catching a slide, as the yaw neutralizes (the moment before it wants to change direction), stab the brake pedal sharply. This will massively increase your window for removing the steering input.

    I have used this in everything from formula Fords to rally cars. It has saved my bacon countless times, and it's something I discovered by using racing simulators.

      Speaking of, if you induce power understeer, ALWAYS wind off your steering input before you lift off the throttle.

      It's worth more losing a couple of metres of your radius to recompose than it is to catch the ensuing snap oversteer!

    Top Gear had an episode in Finland where they showed how young drivers there are tutored in how to control their vehicles in various conditions.
    Personally, I think it's a brilliant idea, and not just because I'm descended from the Finns, but because I think we should have something similar here.
    Having kids do 100 hours is all well and good, but nothing beats professional advice in dealing with situations on the road.

    Just on the video - is there a longer version, so we can see the full lesson ?

    Last edited 09/10/15 4:07 pm

    I'm reminded of a corner I took once - only to discover a truck had dropped gravel on the road.
    Front wheels lost grip, understeer problem.
    Front grip returned, back wheels lost grip, oversteer problem.
    NOT fun at the time.

      I had a similar experience on a bike, taking a corner in a rural area a lot faster than I should have been, and there was a substantial amount of gravel mid corner.

      Luckily I could pick up the bike mid corner enough to save it, but it taught me to approach blind corners with more respect.

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