Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TopDriver - Car & Bike Driving Handbook - Naresh Raghvan

I know Naresh Raghavan for over three decades now and he is a dear friend, one of the few I really enjoy laughing with. If there is one thing a person is known for in a lifetime of living - then Naresh's unique identity would undoubtedly be his love for automobiles, bikes and driving. He loved his bikes right from the TVS50 that he owned when we were studying our Intermediate together at St. Alphonso's Junior College back in 1982-84 to the time he participated in the races at Sholavaram and won dirt track competitions and onwards until he started his own car garage 'Carz' in Hyderabad before heading off to the USA as a SAP Consultant. This was one subject he was always passionate about. Other than reading, listening to good music, having a good laugh and a good discussion (on happiness and the purpose of life) of course. So it's not a surprise that he authored a book on driving.

Fittingly TopDriver is dedicated to his father Mr. Vijaya Raghavan who loved cars and bikes and all things mechanical (he also loved his cricket and Uncle and I engaged in several rounds of discussions of how we fast bowlers - he was one too - can get batsmen out).
Notion Press, Rs. 249, 214 p

Naresh had conceived the idea of TopDriver or rather the handbook for drivers more than a decade ago. He was pretty clear in his mind what he wanted to write and why he wanted to write it. He normally is pretty clear about what he wants to do that way! In fact he wrote the book's first version then and we even got an illustrator to do some amateur illustrations. We approached publishers, Jaico was one of them, and nothing came of it. The idea went into the back burner until a few months ago and Naresh took the book up seriously, rediscovered his purpose and got it all done in a span of a few months. TopDriver emerged, published slickly by Notion Press, and Naresh came down from the USA and did a lovely launch at Taj Banjara on the 9th of June, and set the book and its noble idea rolling in India's crazy driving population. No better place to launch it than in Hyderabad I guess which has some of the most unruly traffic ever seen.

TopDriver is about driving safely without getting into an accident. Safe driving by design - and not simply by relying on Gods.  Even if you are a good driver you still have to account for a bad driver and TopDriver says that by following rules, learning advanced driving techniques and defensive driving techniques you can live out your life without getting into an accident. Good driving TopDriver says, is science and not chance. Naresh knows - having driven all across the world, having been trained by the National Traffic Safety Administration, USA in Defensive Driving and by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation in Defensive Driving Course in Motorcycle Safety.

1.5 lakh deaths due to road accidents per annum
The numbers TopDriver throws are staggering. In India there are 5 lakh accidents every year on the road that claim 1.5 lakh deaths - far more than deaths that occur criminally. TopDriver feels that in the pyramid of Driver education, Practice and Skill building, Road design and signage, License and Testing an Policing - the first one, driver education, if improved, could save a lot of lives. This is what TopDriver aims to do - save lives that are lost unnecessarily due to lack of the knowledge of sound driving practices.

Know Your Car
TopDriver is divided into two sections - Car and Bike. It starts with an education of road signs (which most drivers do not care for). I checked myself and in about 60 signs I could not for the life of me figure out what 15 of them meant. I never saw them and would not know what they meant until now. Then comes a chapter on the mechanics of a car  (engine size, cylinders, BHP No, suspension, disc brakes, electricals etc). Then an introduction to the heroes in the car, the ones we most intimately interact with, like the accelerator, steering, transmission and the villain of the piece, the brakes. Now we are all set to roll, but wait.

Safety accessories like seat belts (there's a nice visual of a guy shooting out of the front glass of a car like a projectile after impact and that kind of makes you think twice before asking - do the police catch you here for seat belt offences?), air bags (can suffocate you so please seat 10 inches away), head restraints are discussed in detail with do's and don't's. Like how air bags sometimes don't deploy if seat belts are not put on, so think about it rather than worry about cops catching you. Child safety aspects (don't keep the child in the front seats or on adult's laps, back seat and child seat belted), importance of rear view mirrors, seat adjustment (don't try to adjust after car starts moving), head lights, indicators, wipers, stereo, hand brake (never use while driving down on ghats), cell phone (don't sms, pull over and then do), tires, loose objects (like balls or bottles can get stuck under the brake and its curtains for you in typical cinematic fashion), hazard lights etc are discussed with respect to life and death situations. It might not look very stylish and cool but you won't look cool dead either so keep them on.

Stopping distances on highways
When speeding on the highway be prepared for braking in times of an emergency. It is here that knowing about stopping distances (0.5 seconds to 1 second) helps. The 2 second rule, which indicates that you need a distance of at least 2 seconds between you and the car ahead to brake safely, helps (count 1001, 1002 at a reference point that the car ahead has passed and measure it while you pass). I loved this 1001 and 1002 bit. Next time on the highway I am trying this.

Rain, water, snow, sleet
How to drive in the rain, how to handle hydroplaning (when your car skids in water uncontrollably), handling waterlogged roads (don't let water get into the exhaust, keep accelerating to keep it out) knowing fording depths and why not to over load are discussed. The dangers of exiting the car wrongly, of Carbon Monoxide and a painless silent death (remember Norwegian Wood, the movie, or the deaths that occurred in Chennai rains some years ago when the occupants fell asleep and died after CO crept back into the car through the air conditioning because the exhaust was blocked by water), being aware of men at work and handling railway crossings (I lost two friends who died on unmanned railway crossings in the USA), driving in snow and sleet, car sickness, valet key. Lane discipline, the 3 point check, driving wrong side (not a good idea if you ask me but most of Hyderabad does not agree with me here and in fact zooms by at greater speeds on the wrong sides) are discussed.

Advanced tips
Advanced tips include Engine braking, cornering, skid control (under steering and over steering)
Junction rules, reversing, how to handle the car when stuck in loose mud (traction, push and don't spin), night driving (cut speed, take breaks, every 2 hours, low beam, adjust lights, 200 ft to 300 ft)
flyovers (no overtaking - unlike some of our pals in Hyderabad where they honk and insist on overtaking on the flyover). Why are they in such a hurry? What kind of jobs to they have?

Handling slopes - parking and waiting
Parking on a slope - I am always worried about this and at times put stones behind the car tires. TopDriver says use hand brake, turn wheel against pavement at an angle which is better than a small stone (heard of a friend who parked on an incline and found his car at the bottom of the road, crashed into a wall, totalled). The pleasures of parallel parking are discussed (go half way past the car beside you, turn steering fully, slide in left rear wheel, should be 2 feet from the sidewalk to clear the first car, straighten for one feet, go right fully and slide in). I am still not too good here but let me take some tips from the man himself.

TopDriver throws in a word of caution of how to handle stopped school buses, children (saw one heartstopping incident recently when a kid ran out from the front of his bus and almost ran into another school bus and just stopped in time). TopDriver addresses the most stressful part of driving - the Hill test which is about how to handle the car on an upward slope when you have to stop on a slope - do not balance with clutch, use hand brake, go into neutral, release brake, accelerate. The compassion that one must have comes to fore when TopDriver advises you to yield when approaching a main road. When dealing with two wheelers - try not to break their momentum. In ghat driving (choosing the right gear is the most important part),

Youth and Speed
For youngsters who form a major customer segment for TopDriver there is a word of caution about succumbing to peer pressure which results in over speeding, or listening to loud music. TopDriver explains what a good driving ethic is - put your ego aside, don't fight, use indicator every time and let the person behind know, minimum honking, slow down on wet road and don't spray others, stop at pedestrian crossings and control your road rage.

Driving and Alcohol
An important aspect of safe driving is driving and alcohol. The first thing that alcohol does to you when imbibed beyond permissible limits is that it slows down your reflexes. TopDriver gives you charts on permissible amounts of liquor and how it affects your driving.

Defensive Driving
In the chapter on defensive driving TopDriver urges you to scan continuously for danger. You could be right - but watch out for the one possibility of someone being wrong and causing an accident for you. Because it does not really help to argue and prove you were right if you are the one who has broken limbs or worse, are dead. Your frame of mind could affect you as well and it will impact your decisiveness. Have an intention of driving safe and defensively and you will be safe.

Increase your Mileage
To get better mileage from your car - check tire pressure and see if it is right, refrain from revving engine, from over speeding, long idling, always look for smooth acceleration and deceleration, use correct gear, shift quickly to top gear and keep air filter clean

On the maintenance front TopDriver advises you to check oil, overheating, coolant, battery, jump start, wheel alignment and advises you on what to do in a breakdown. TopDriver also advises you on how to go shopping for a car to hiring and managing a chauffeur which could a highly stressful experience.

The section of Bikes has many similar advise but the one's where it stresses are on footwear, hydroplaning, saree guards, driving in water logged roads, off road driving and highway driving
keeping an escape path open, safe distances, defensive driving (never fall off a bike says TopDriver).

By now you'd have got it that Naresh put in a lot of thought and detail, a lot of love into this book. It's something he is very passionate about and I do hope it finds the right kind of traction and becomes the kind of a book every family buys, every car keeps in its glove compartment (or whatever they are called in India because we don't certainly keep our gloves there).

The book has loads of pictures and illustrations. It is written with great care. Clearly Naresh wants to ensure safe driving and cares deeply for lives of drivers on the road. Some details are very intricate and that is what shows his thoughtfulness, that with this one detail perhaps, a life could be saved. One can constantly hear his voice as one drives - each time I reverse I now get off and check what is behind the car - and that is straight effect of naresh's book. Similarly I know now what to do in a hydroplaning incident - keep the tires going in the direction of the spin as opposed to against. Naresh gently and cogently gets his points across. Well done Naresh and here's wishing TopDriver a long and safe journey in the bestselling lists. In my mind it is already a winner for its content and its intent.

Many youngsters have already bought the book and several more are buying it as sales show in the Amazon site. I have gifted one copy to my niece Pooja and she was excited to receive ti from the author. Naresh  has already spoken in several schools and organizations. I believe this is a book everyone should carry in their car and read it once in a  while. It could save lives surely. To buy the book please click on http://www.amazon.in/TopDriver-Car-Bike-driving-handbook/dp/1947202235/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1498546642&sr=8-1&keywords=topdriver

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