While there is always debate within the car community, we can all agree on two things:
Motorized vehicles are awesome.
Enjoying twisty ribbons of pavement that carve through beautiful scenery is bliss.
Whether you live on the touge, Japanese for “mountain pass,” or travel hundreds of miles to enjoy these scenic roads, there are some unspoken rules that all motorists should be aware of.
STAY IN YOU LANE – This should go without saying; you could not pass your driver’s test if you failed to keep the vehicle between the lines. Crossing lines on the mountain roads does not make you cool. On the contrary, it suggests that you are incompetent in your abilities to drive and control your vehicle.
Especially on twisty roads with blind turns, hairpins, and long sweepers that encourage oncoming cars and bikes to speed, staying within your lane is the most important action to ensure the safety of you and those around you. NEVER pass another vehicle unless there is a passing zone with sufficient room. Even if a slower car in front waves you around, do not pass them if it requires crossing the center line; just be patient.
You came to enjoy the curves of the road, so do not try to straighten them out.
Do not drive at or beyond your limits – The track is the only place to test your limits, or better yet, a racing simulator that does not put physical cars at risk. Never experiment with your limits on public roads.
Even when the road is wide open, there is no reason to push yourself to 100%.
I am defining “100%” as driving at the limit of your skill set: last minute brake zones, hitting apexes, high RPMs and full throttle whenever possible. In other words, driving techniques that you would save for the final lap of a grand prix.
For many, driving at a comfortable 70% of your capabilities will still allow you to have spirited fun. Most importantly, driving within your limits allows you to have an emergency “out” in the event that you need it. Just because you are diligent about staying in your lane does not mean an oncoming motorist is doing the same. Always being prepared with a way out of a dangerous situation can be the difference between life and death.
By no means am I encouraging others to exceed the speed limit. Any mountain road can provide fun, technical, challenges to a driver without the need to break laws.
Driving is like playing an instrument and over time, you will become better and your limits will increase. After hundreds of hours of honing your skills and learning your car, what you consider to be 70% in the future could be well beyond your perceivable 100% today. While I am not encouraging that you drive faster or intentionally expand upon your limits, know that your 70% is different from a novice driver’s 70% and a racecar driver’s 70%. We all have different skill levels and it is important to only drive within our own.
Have nothing to prove – Public roads are to be enjoyed, not raced on. With ranging levels of experience and skill amongst all drivers, you should never start your engine with the intention of “proving” your abilities. Unless you are a top-ranking Formula One driver, there will always be a faster driver and there will always be a faster car.
Ask any real touge enthusiast and they will tell you, respect is given to those who drive safely and exhibit complete control over their machine, not to those who are trying to show off. The mountain pass is a humbling road where horse power figures are rendered meaningless due to tight corners and narrow straights. Big horsepower will only compensate for timidly slow cornering.
Do not drive at night or in inclement weather by yourself – Whether you are enjoying a spirited run or simply going for a slow night cruise, never drive the mountain roads by yourself; always have a friend in another vehicle. Mountain roads are often secluded and a midnight accident could go unnoticed until dawn. If conditions are less than optimal, always drive with another. Especially in the rural areas with weak phone service.
Be respectful of the public road and laws. No littering – Just because you may take a vacation to a fun or scenic driving road does not mean it is a theme park or tourist destination. There are people who use these roads for commuting.
● Be mindful of the speed limit, especially through national parks or areas with homes.
● Educate yourself on local laws, such as passing bicycles or who has the right of way.
● Do no litter! Keep the planet clean and the roads free of trash that could prove detrimental to motorcyclists.
● Remember that the mountain roads are not a racetrack.
Give the mountain road the respect of a racetrack – But did I not just say the mountain roads are NOT a racetrack? Yes I did, but that statement does not come across clearly to everyone. Whether you are in a sports car or a minivan, always drive the touge with the alertness and respect that you would give a racetrack.
Breathtaking scenery should be enjoyed, but you should enjoy it from scenic overlooks and pull offs. You would not slow down on a track just to observe the scenery when motorists behind you are setting lap times.
Despite your willingness to obey the unspoken rules of this list, there will always be cars and bikes that are treating the public road like their private racetrack. While their actions may be illegal, your personal safety can still be in jeopardy by their behavior. Be mindful, drive alert, do not drive significantly below the speed limit on roads with blind turns, and never enter the road without double and triple checking for cars and bikes. All public roads should be driven with track-like alertness.
Do not tailgate – This should go without saying, do not tailgate anyone. Driving closely behind another car may push them to drive faster and beyond their skill level or it may encourage them to slow down and begin holding up traffic. Do not tempt someone to brake check you. Drafting behind a trusted friend can be fun on track, but this does not provide sufficient braking distance on public roads where animals or debris could warrant an emergency stop.
If you ever come upon a slower vehicle and they are respectful, they will utilize a pull off to get out of your way. Give them a courtesy wave when you pass by. If the slower car gestures for you to pass them but there is not a passing lane, be patient and stay behind them. Only pass when it is legally safe to do so.
If the slower car fails to acknowledge you or get out of your way, then sit back and enjoy the cruise. Not every drive needs to be spirited. Who knows? Maybe they are keeping you safe from something unexpected up ahead.
Use pull offs – As stated, there will always be faster cars and faster drivers. Frequently check your mirrors for anyone coming up behind you. If a car or bike is coming up fast, be courteous and use pull-offs to get out of their way.
Until you get to a safe area to pull over, do not allow a faster trailing car to encourage you to speed up or push beyond your 70%. You have nothing to prove to them. Just maintain your steady pace.
If you are aware of dangers ahead, try to signal with hand gestures or high beams. But do not behave in such a way to encourage road rage, aggressive driving, or illegal passing.
Do not drive a broken car – Race tracks require safety inspections before allowing cars to set out on track. Canyon roads are open to the public and any jalopy can be driven.
A vehicle that is leaking fluids or has loose parts can be dangerous for you and everyone else on the road. You do not want to break down in the canyons without phone service or in areas that may take hours for a tow truck to arrive.
Listen to your car. If it is not ready, then you are not ready. If something feels off, do not ignore it. Communication between man and machine is a vital aspect to improving as a responsible driver.
● Do not belittle someone because they were slower than you. Rather, commend them for driving within their limits.
● Do not brag about what makes your car better. Instead, compliment other peoples’ cars and bikes, being accepting of any compliments they give in return. If others want to know what modifications you have done to your car, they will ask.
● Do not boast about your driving experience. Be humble and let your driving speak for itself.
Car enthusiasts are a rare breed and while we disagree on virtually everything, we all love our machines and driving them on fun roads. Enjoy the comradery of partaking in drives, always have fun, and always stay safe.