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Safe Driving Off Road & On Pavement - Limited Articulation

Posted in Features on July 1, 2002
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Contributors: Jon Thompson

I've a very dear friend, a real bright guy and a confirmed motorhead, but he and I recently had a discussion that revealed that we disagree on at least one thing.

My friend-we'll call him Paul-is outraged over the handling characteristics of four-wheel-drive vehicles. He believes they're inherently dangerous, and that if something doesn't handle "safely," like a proper passenger car, it ought to be reengineered until it does handle that way.

My position is different. It is that drivers must adapt their driving technique to the vehicle at hand. I believe that drivers ought to be sufficiently sophisticated, and sufficiently aware of the hardware they're in control of, to recognize the different approaches required of drivers of different types of equipment. So you might drive a car expecting one set of behaviors, but if you're smart, you'll expect a completely different set of behaviors from a four-wheel-drive vehicle, be it a stock Suburban or a lifted Wrangler. And you'll drive with those behaviors in mind.

This seems perfectly logical to me, but it's becoming clear that it is not perfectly logical to a considerable number of non-'wheelers.

Will SUVs and 4x4 pickups crash or roll over? Yep, they will, if driven beyond their design parameters. Are their stopping distances longer than the stopping distances of, say, a Taurus, a Camry, an Impala, or an Accord? Yep, they just might be. But that's because they were built to travel over difficult territory, and to haul cargo. So they've got truck tires, and they've got higher centers of gravity, and they'll go lots of great places over roads that would destroy a Taurus or a Camry or an Impala or an Accord. That's the whole point of the things. They tend to be comparatively heavy, so there's no way that the laws of physics will allow them to behave as nimbly as a vehicle less tall, less heavy, on softer, more performance-oriented tires.

So the reality is that not all motor vehicles are created equal. Especially, some of them do better on pavement than on others. Conversely, some of them do better on dirt than on pavement-indeed, they absolutely shine when the pavement ends and the driving surface becomes rough, rocky, and rutted.

All of which is of no importance. All that it means is that we need to be aware of the edges of our rigs' performance envelopes. For the same reason that we probably would hesitate to tackle Moab, Tellico, or the Rubicon in an Accord, we also use some sense when we have to 'wheel our rigs on the pavement. It's perfectly OK that different kinds of vehicles have different driving dynamics because we as drivers are smart enough to recognize those differences, and to account for them in our driving styles.

I mean, we are, aren't we? I like to think so, at least, and that's what makes me so crazy when I get into this discussion with my friend Paul. We'll be driving somewhere and he'll see a Suburban with a mild lift and mumble, "They oughta outlaw those damned things.

But by that kind of thinking, any sort of vehicle that a human can crash ought to be eliminated. That sure would solve the problem. We'd be walking, since it's possible to fall from horses, or to crash buggies, street cars, trains, planes, etc. Come to think of it, I've stumbled and fallen while walking, and I bet others have done that too, so that form of transportation also needs to be outlawed.

See where all this brings us? It brings us right back to reasonable and rational use of whatever form of transportation we're using. Which seems like a pretty good idea to me. I'll have to remember this next time I talk with Paul.

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