The following is provided for information only. Driving or riding can be a dangerous activity, what you do on your own time with your own vehicle is up to you. Always drive / ride safe and never do anything that would endanger pedestrians or other motorists. The roads belong to everyone; make sure that you, and everyone you pass, makes it home safely. By using this site you agree to release lateralg.org from any liability resulting from your actions.
So you've chosen a road, prepped yourself and your ride, and now you're headed out into the canyons. You've chosen to participate in a dangerous hobby, but there are thing you can do to minimize the risk. Below is some information that can help you to be as safe as possible. This information is provided for reference purposes only. If you speed or drive beyond the limits of the road, your car, or yourself you do so at your own risk.
GETTING TO AND FROM THE DRIVE
If you live in the Los Angeles or Orange County areas, you are going to have to spend some time on the freeway to get to any descent roads. If there are several cars headed out, it is important that the lead driver makes sure everyone gets to the destination. This means taking care when merging or changing freeways not to loose the cars behind you. It also means no crazy driving or racing each other; it would be pretty stupid to get a ticket before you even get where you are going. Even worse to get one on the way home.
Driving on the freeway with multiple cars following can be difficult, but there are several things you can do to make it easier. The first is to make sure everyone has good directions to where you are going. Even if you don't want to broadcast the specific roads you are going to be enjoying for security reasons, at least a meeting place that everybody knows how to find. Having a two-way radio in every car is a very handy way of keeping in contact, and can even be more important out in the canyons.
On the freeways, there are several things you can do to help people stay together. Limiting yourself to the right lanes and keeping your speed down helps straglers catch up. If you want to change lanes in heavy traffic, the lead car signals, the following car signals and moves over and makes a hole for the car ahead. On surface streets, if you make it through the light and some cars behind don't, pull off at the next convenient space and wait. As long as everybody is aware of these guidelines before you head out, you should have no problem arriving at the destination on time.
Ideally, you are driving far enough away from civilization that police presence and other vehicles. This allows you some freedom to drive faster, but unless you know for a fact that there is nobody coming the other direction, never cross the double yellow lines.
If you have at least 3 vehicles and some two-way radios, you can use spotters to make sure the road is clear. One driver is stationed at either end of the stretch of road you are driving and informs the driving vehicle if the road is clear or not. Even with the use of spotters, however, using the entire width of the road like a racetrack can be very dangerous. Think of this more as an added safety procedure than as an excuse to drive recklessly. The added benefit is to ensure you do not come across a police car at high speeds.
This setup would also work well for high-speed desert driving. In these kinds of situations line of site for oncoming traffic is not a safety issue, but it is very easy for a cop at long distance to get you on radar. Having spotters at either end would help insure you against an unwelcome visit from an officer of the law. However, it isn't advisable to remain in one place too long, the police may get suspious of sports cars parked by the side of the road for long periods of time with the drivers inside.
Always remember that at the end of the day it isn't the number of tickets that really matter, it's the number of accidents. Lateral G memebers have come back with tickets more than once, but never an accident.
When driving in the canyons, desert, or mountains it is always very important to keep your eyes open for road hazards or anything that may cause you problems. There can be anything from potholes, spilled oil or fuel, fallen trees and limbs, mud puddles, stopped or crashed vehicles, loose gravel, and rock-slides. If you are in a group, you should always be ready to inform them over the radio that a hazard exists, where it is, and the best way to avoid it.
Probably the one to be most concered with is rock-slides, as this is the one you will most commonly come upon during canyon and mountain driving. Rock-slides don't have to be large groups of boulders blocking the entire road. Most commonly you will see a small collection of rocks and pebbles lying on the road, typically on the lane closest to the hillside. While they might not look like much, even a small rock can puncture a tire and a patch of small gravel can cause you to break traction and spin. You might make it around the corner fine, but at high speeds your tire could throw the rock at the car behind and damage your friend's ride.
Small rock-slides happen all the time in the canyons and mountains, but it doesn't hurt to be aware of when they are most likely to be waiting for you. After heavy rains you can expect to find rocks and gravel all over the road due to washout. They can also be caused by the natural expansion and contraction due to heat, so when the hillside cools off in the evening or warms up in the morning you can expect there to be rocks wating for you.
The best course of action is to always assume that there will be something waiting for you at the exit of the corner, so be prepared for it. If you go through a corner at 10/10ths and something goes wrong, you will have no way out.
When (if you drive fast it's only a matter of time) you get pulled over here are some tips. These are not guaranteed to get you out of a ticket, but are simple tips I have heard in the past and I have had descent luck with. When you get pulled over, you may not be able to completely get out of a ticket but if you play your cards right you might be able to get the offense reduced.
As soon as you know the cop is going to stop you, pull over. Don't make him work for it. Anything you do to make his job easier makes it more likely he will be easier on you. If a cop wants to pull you over on the freeway, signal, move right, and drive in the right lane to the next exit if there is one available. Don't drive so far as to make him think you are trying to get away; make it clear you know he is there and get somewhere you both can pull safely out of the way of traffic. No CHP officer wants to see you try and merge from a standstill on the shoulder into high speed freeway traffic. It is much safer for everyone if you can get off the freeway.
Once stopped, turn off your engine, stay in the car, turn on your interior light (if night), roll down the window on the side of the vehicle the officer, approaches, and place your hands on the top of the steering wheel where the officer can see them. Never get out of the car unless ordered to by the officer. When the officer asks for your license and registration, inform them you are getting it out of the glove box before reaching.
Put yourself in the officer's shoes. He doesn't know if you might be drunk, high, have a gun, whatever. Make it obvious you are cooperating by keeping your hands visible, no sudden movements, and make sure that you are plainly visible inside the car. Be polite and curteous, even when receiving a ticket. Being polite might not get you out of a ticket, but being rude can easily get you a bigger one.
If you are in a line of cars and one vehicle gets pulled over, make sure all other drivers know to keep going; do not pull over at the same spot. If an officer pulls over a car and sees 5 to 10 sports cars pull over at the same time, it isn't going to make life any easier for the driver he just nailed. Keep going and form a meeting spot far enough down the road that it isn't too obvious you are in a group.
If you have accident while out driving there are several things you should think about. First and foremost is to make sure that everyone involved is safe and unhurt. If there are injuries the most important thing is to get medical help. If it is simply a single car accident, and nothing more than some body work and an ego are damaged, everybody but the accident driver and possibly one friend should clear out. The last thing you want is a cop to show up and fill out an accident report with a bunch of sports cars sitting around. The report won't go in your friend's favor.
It is also important to make sure that your group is spread out enough going through the curves so that if a car does spin out, the vehicles behind do not become part of the accident. If everyone in the group is carrying a two-way radio, you can warn all drivers so that the entire group slows down, no matter where they are, and be prepared to help on-site or go to find the emergency crews.
Someone, ideally every car in the group, should have warning flares or emergency triangles to warn other motorists of an accident ahead. The most dangerous situations involve an accident on a cury road where there is no visibilty around the corners. In this case at least two people are needed to slow motorists down before they reach the accident they can't see so they do not hit any stopped vehicles or oncoming traffic. A minor accident on a canyon road can become much worse if the next car coming up the road doesn't see the stopped car around the blind corner.
BRAKES AND HEAT
When driving in the canyons you use your brakes, a lot. This means they get hot. This is not usually a problem if you are driving up a mountain because you are using gravity to slow you down. But when you head down the other side remember that you are not going to stop as fast as you did on the upward side, and your brakes are going to get a lot more work and so build up more heat.
My car has pretty good (stock) brakes and I rarely have to worry about brake fade. I have driven in the canyons in rental cars, however, and one particular incident almost saw me drive off the edge because I forgot I wasn't in my car. I hit the brakes and not much happened. Even in my car on very hot days after repeated heel-toe braking around corners I could detect some loss of grip from the pads.
Another important thing to remember is not to use your parking brakes when you stop for a break or to leave your foot on the brakes on the pedal at a stop if you just came off the mountain. Holding the pads against the rotors as they try and cool will cause them to dissipate heat unevenly and can warp them. If that happens the only thing to do is buy new rotors.
Canyon driving isn't the same thing as spending the time on the track. There are no run-off areas, sand pits, tire walls, and emergency crews in case something goes wrong. In the canyons you only have one chance to get it right, on a corner you may have never driven before. At the track you repeat the circuit faster and faster until you are comfortable at full speed, and probably only drive for less than an hour at a time. In the canyons or the desert, you probably drove for several hours just to get to the road you want. Because of all this, the backroads of the canyons and the desert are not the best place to push your car and your self to the limit. There just isn't any room for error. You can have drive fast and have fun, but always leave yourself some room to maneuver in case of an emergency.
Since none of us want to crash, this means you have to pay close attention to the signs that you pass. The best roads, the ones out in the middle of nowhere that don't go anyplace, have no traffic, no cops, and usually no warning signs and bad road surfaces. Even state highways, which are usually have pretty good signage, may not always be consistent. The following are descriptions of the common corner warning signs and what I have found them to indicate. This is my personal experience and should be tested under safe conditions before you try them yourself.
All of the signs below are yellow and are therefore warning signs. Any posted speeds are a warning speed, not regulatory. That does not mean, however, that you cannot get a ticket for going faster than what the sign says. A cop can give you a ticket for exceeding the "safe, reasonable" speed given the circumstances he finds you driving under.
This is the sign you most want to see, and the bigger the number on the bottom the better. The problem with this sign is that road maintenance crews put up this sign as a way of warning you about every corner for the next 7 (or whatever the number is) miles. Most likely, none of the corners in that distance will have a warning sign "of its own". It is up to you to use caution until you are out of that zone. Driver awareness and skill are very important when you see this sign. The good news is that this sign is usually used on out of the way back roads where there is little traffic.
This sign is used on individual corners to warn you of the speed you need to have for this corner. Once through the corner you can accelerate for the next corner. The gradual arrow usually indicates shallower curves.
This sign is similar to the one above, but the sharper arrow usually indicates a sharper corner. In this case, without a posted speed, it is simply warning you of a tight corner and to slow down.
This sign is used on a specific section of curves. The thing to remember with this sign is that the posted speed is for the slowest corner in the series, not necessarily the first one. Don't power out of the first corner forgetting what the posted speed was, thinking you have already past the corner you were warned about.
This sign is used simply to warn of a tight corner or permanent obstruction in the road, like a shifting curb. On state highways these signs are usually used to indicate large corners like switchbacks or hairpin corners, and are used in a series as seen above.
The indicated speed on all of the above signs are designed for vehicles much larger and heavier than a sports car. I have found than in my sports sedan I can take these corners at least as twice as fast as posted. Again, this is my experience and it is up to you to find the limits of your own car. One note of caution, any corner posted less than 25mph is usually best taken at the actual indicated speed. Try taking a corner indicated at 15mph at 30mph and you will probably find yourself in the field by the side of the road.