Posted - 05/07/2007 : 11:10:05 AM
Convoys are an impressive sight when all the vehicles are in close formation. Here are some tips on planning the convoy, keeping it together, and having fun along the way. I wrote the first version of this article in preparation for The HERD's convoy to I2K. Since then, I came across a similar article written by Ken Humphrey of Heart Of Texas Super Sports and have included some of his wisdom. Thanks Ken!
As always, each situation and each caravan will be a little different, so use as much of this advice as you think will work for you.
Part I -- Before the Convoy Begins:
- Plan the route in advance. Don't rely on everyone being able to follow the leader!
- Include checkpoints along the way where the convoy can regroup and stragglers can catch up. Highway Oases, Rest Stops and Way Points all make good choices. Large truck stops can also be a good spot, but try to be considerate of the business owner. They may be overwhelmed if their entire parking lot is suddenly taken over by men in black cars!
- Set a schedule of when you plan to depart each stop and arrive at the next. Try to remember that things always take longer than you expect, be generous with the amount of time you plan for breaks.
- Print out route information in advance. Make sure there are enough copies for everyone in the caravan plus extras for the right-seat navigators, drivers you pick up along the way, etc.
Part II -- On the Road
Designate a convoy leader. Ideally, the leader should already be familiar with the route, have a CB radio and/or cellular phone, a radar detector, blink-blink turn signals, GPS and a right-seat navigator.
Designate a driver (or two) to bring up the rear. Like the leader, this driver should already be familiar with the route and have a CB radio and/or cellular phone, yada yada yada.
For everyone else, take a position and then stay there. It pisses people off when someone zooms up from behind and inserts himself between them and the person they feel comfortable following.
Keep the convoy speed within an agreed range. If everyone could travel at exactly the same speed that would be best, but it's almost impossible to achieve. Picking a speed, then staying within 5 mph of it will help minimize the "accordion factor" of bunching up then spreading out again.
High speed driving & convoys generally don't mix well. If the leader is setting a pace faster than everyone in the convoy is comfortable with, drivers will sporadically fall behind and that will be the death of the formation. Driving at or near the posted speed limit may not be the most exciting way to get to an event, but if you choose to be part of a caravan it's a concession that will help keep the procession organized.
Keep up! If a driver in the middle slows below the travel speed, everyone following him will also start lagging behind. This is why it's important to select a speed everyone is comfortable with before the caravan hits the road, then maintain that speed.
The easiest way of encouraging convoy crashers to get out of the caravan is to drive the posted speed limit. Most crashers will get frustrated after a minute or two and speed off. Remember though, you don’t want to be altering the agreed on cruising speed without everybody in the procession informed of what's happening. If most of the drivers have CB radios, the convoy can do a temporary speed change on the fly. If not, it's best to stay at the pre-selected speed.
Monitor your interval. The NHSTA's currently recommended method for judging a safe interval is the Two Second Rule. As the car in front of you passes a fixed point, begin counting "one-one-thousand-two-one-thousand". If you are making it to three, you're inviting non-participant drivers to break into the convoy. If you cannot count out a full two seconds, you are too close. If you are only getting to "one-one-thou…", you may be scaring the hell out of the driver you are following. If you know who you are following , have talked it over ahead of time and know they don't mind, then have at it. If not, the two second rule is always a safe bet.
If a non-participant driver signals to break in, please let them. They probably just need to make an exit and will be out of the formation shortly. If the formation is tight to the point where it is obstructing other traffic, that's grounds for the state police or highway patrol to stop the entire formation and cite everyone. A little courtesy goes a long way.
When to use turn signals: Any time the entire convoy will be making a change, such as exiting at rest stops or exiting to another highway. Generally, the convoy leader will initiate the signal and all other drivers will repeat it.
When not to use turn signals: If you need to break away from the group and do not want the entire convoy to follow.
Drive with your headlights on. This isn't about tricking other drivers into thinking the caravan is a funeral procession or government formation, it's about seeing the convoy drivers behind you as well as the ones in front. If you can spot stragglers behind you, you can adjust your speed and help them catch up.
When going through toll plazas, use all available lanes. It will break the formation, but you can restore it after everyone passes through.
Restoring the formation: Once the leader is through, he should move to the right lane and reduce speed to about 5 mph below the agreed cruising speed, or to the posted speed limit, whichever is higher. This gives the remaining drivers the opportunity to re-form the convoy without seriously obstructing other traffic. All drivers need to remember to monitor their interval. Once the last driver is through, he passes a signal to the leader to resume normal cruising speed. If both the leader and the rear car have radios, that is the best way to communicate. If not, the rear car can flash his high-beam lights, with each driver from back to front relaying the signal to the lead car. As always, signals like these are only meaningful if they are agreed upon before hand and all drivers know what to do.
The technique above works well anytime there is a need to restore the formation. Some examples are changing highways where the off and on ramps have significantly reduced speed limits and driving through rural areas where there may be traffic lights on the highway.
Part III -- Miscellaneous and Fun Stuff:
- For those drivers who just can't keep their concentration sharp at slow speed, Leap Frog can break the boredom. Drop to the end of the pack plus a little extra, then leap forward and take the position just behind the leader. Do NOT even THINK about doing this if it has not been discussed among all the drivers before the convoy rolls. If the caravan is going to allow this, there has to be an agreement for which position the leaper takes (just behind the leader, third behind the leader, etc.) and an understanding that you have to let new leapers into position. If you are going to do this, it's also easier on the formation if the convoy leader speed up a bit to make the hole rather than having the entire convoy slow down.
- If you still have to drive faster than the formation and have a two-way radio, you should consider taking point a mile or two in front of the convoy. In this case a radar detector is a must. With a driver on point and most or all of the other drivers in radio communication, you can probably raise the convoys cruising speed and still have everyone feel comfortable. Yet another reason to install a CB radio in your SS!
- If a driver gets pulled over by the police, do not stop the entire convoy. A Highway Trooper who is unexpectedly confronted with a dozen or more cars may feel uncomfortable and decide to escalate the situation. Either designate a driver in advance to fall out and stay with the unfortunate traveler or let the chase driver who is bringing up the rear drop out and stay behind.
- Synchronized lane changes. This is just silly, but it's also a lot of fun. If everyone has two-way radios and the lanes are clear, try calling out lane changes. Small groups (4 - 6) look impressive when all cars move at exactly the same time. Larger groups (more than 6 cars) can have each driver move sequentially, with the leader calling off marks at one-second intervals. As in the case of Leap Frog, do NOT even THINK about this one without first discussing it before the caravan rolls. All drivers MUST be aware of what will happen and be in agreement. Finally, each driver is still responsible for making sure they conduct a safe lane change. The excuse "Someone else told me to do it." will not carry any weight if a driver makes an unsafe lane change and causes an accident.
- Two-way radios make a tremendous difference and should be used whenever possible. The subject of radios is a huge one that deserves an article all of it's own, but here are some highlight.
* CB radios are the tried and true standby. Their range is more than enough to make it from the front of the caravan to the end, which it the primary objective. A side benefit to CB's is listening to truckers, who on occasion, will actually talk about road conditions, traffic and police activity along the route.
* Marine band radios have much longer range and less congestion, however they are illegal for highway use. If you don't own a boat or are not a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, know that you are using it at your own risk.
* Family Radio Service (FRS) and General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) radios are poised to become the CB radios of the 21st century. They are most often sold as hand-held radios (e.g. Motorola TalkAbout) but there are a few mobile/vehicle configurations on the market too.
* Whatever type of radio you use, the single most important factor controlling its' range and effectiveness is the antenna. When hand-held radio is used inside a car, the range is usually reduced due to the antenna also being inside that metal cocoon called a car. Adding a real antenna, magnetic mount or clamp-on, outside the car will dramatically improve any hand-held radio's range.
As with most things, planning and communication will make or break the convoy. The time you spend planning the caravan in advance and communication those plans with all drivers will directly translate into more time to enjoy the ride once the convoy is under way.
Copyright © 2000 Garry T. Forman