Keep your driving skills fresh – and our roads safer

Date:18 August 2014 Author: Anthony Doman Tags:, , , , ,

Regular driving refresher courses are a requirement for members of the Guild of Motoring Journalists. These courses aren’t necessarily designed to develop the cornering abilities of an Alonso or a Hamilton. We’re far better than that. Well, in our minds, anyway.

No, these courses are aimed at honing the skills needed to ensure that every journey is a safe one.

Frankly – and I’m doing my best not to sound preachy here – we would all be better off if we subjected ourselves to the scrutiny of a regular driving check-up. You’d be surprised at the bad habits that can creep in. Then again, perhaps you wouldn’t be surprised. Often, it’s the seemingly trivial things that can make a vast difference in driving safety.

Distraction certainly doesn’t help. The recent release of data gleaned from the Discovery Insure Challenge app has highlighted the perils of mobile phone use while driving, for instance. But there’s a lot more to it.

So, last week, it was briefly back to school for me. And, because driving is 85 % mental and 15 % physical (yes, I was paying attention) my half-day defensive driving course started off by drumming some theory into my head. To make his point, the instructor included plenty of gut-churning video – only some of it staged. There were lots of very broken cars. Lots of gore, too. A colleague was moved to comment that he’d rather not watch any more, thank you.

Of course, we had to submit to a drive evaluation. Not to check double-declutching technique or to discuss the finer points of quarter to 3 vs the 10 to 2 hand position on the wheel, but to assess that vital 85 % mentioned above. I can report that, with one brief exception, my technique got the thumbs-up. That exception was an abrupt stop to avoid going through an amber light. “Should have anticipated that,” I frowned. “Still better than accelerating through the intersection,” came the comment from the passenger seat. The dash-cam’s unblinking eye was non-committal, but its ever-recording accelerometers will tell the story.

I mention this because stopping, if you didn’t already know it, is a rather critical part of the driving business. Whether it’s planned (much the preferred way of doing it), unplanned or totally unexpected.

If there is one thing that stuck with me from my course, it’s this. In a sudden stop – the kind caused by hitting something head-on, for instance – an unrestrained body in the seat behind you keeps moving forward. That movement translates into an effective force of three tons. Think of being smacked in the back by a speeding elephant – a small one, but an elephant nonetheless. I’d prefer it if little Jumbo were restrained, and so does the Road Traffic Act, which obliges all a car’s adult occupants to wear seatbelts

But this is less about observing the law than about observing common sense. Just buckle up all round. It’s a habit worth encouraging.