By Jim Kerr
It’s an interesting phenomenon, that when it comes to driving, we (by which I mean you and me) are always a better driver than everyone else on the road. They may make careless lane changes or cause accidents, but we seldom do. The truth of the matter is that no matter how good a driver you are, there is always room for improvement and most of us are not as good as we think we are.
There is a reason race drivers go out for practice laps, and while I am not suggesting we go racing, there are ways of improving your driving skills so that you not only don’t cause accidents, but you prevent them as well.
A driving school is a good way to hone those driving skills. BMW and Porsche offer driver training in select locations across Canada. Some of the more advanced courses are tailored to the driving enthusiast, but they also run courses for everyday drivers who are just commuting to and from work. These courses place an emphasis on driver awareness of surroundings, vehicle control in emergency situations and effective braking.
You can also take driving lessons from thousands of driving training schools across Canada. The majority of these are geared to learning how to drive so you can pass the provincial driving exam and get your licence. One of the organizations that provide driver training is Young Drivers of Canada, who not only provide training for young drivers but also, under the Collisionfree! Banner, offer driving improvement programs for experienced drivers and company personnel. One of the more interesting parts of this training is their emergency manoeuvre training.
As well, Young Drivers of Canada has made some driver awareness training available online in support of our 2011 National Year of Road Safety. This training is in the form of a National Driving Test. The test is available here, takes only a few minutes to complete and I would challenge all drivers to try this out regardless of skill level. I did the test and was far from perfect, but did beat the national average. Hopefully your scores will be better than mine!
The test has four parts. The first is a simple game where you match the colour of a moving ball to the blocks surrounding it. It is a simple task of clicking on the correct blocks but when they start doing it with two balls and two sets of blocks it becomes much more difficult. This test identifies your ability to deal with distracted driving. With cell phones, MP3 players, CDs and even heater and radio controls distracting us from the important task of driving, this test quickly and simply shows that dividing your attention can have serious impact on your ability to drive safely. Studies of driving skills by Ford in their Virtex driving simulator have shown that young drivers are less able to divide their attention between driving and another task but that all drivers miss something when multitasking.
The other three parts of the National Driving test focus on awareness. Video clips of traffic are shown and you have to identify the risk levels and what the risks are at select points in the video. It is actually fun to do, but it also is great practice because the driving situations shown are typical of those we experience every day. Driving is as much about attitude and mental awareness as it is about physical dexterity and the practice you get during the driving test will improve your driving.
As a skilled driver, you have the knowledge to not only avoid a collision but also prevent them. It can be as simple as honking your horn to alert another driver, or slowing down when driving through intersections when other vehicles are stopped on a side street. It can also involve more dramatic action such as driving onto the shoulder or off the road to make room for oncoming vehicles. Skilled drivers need to think and act like fighter pilots, always scanning the horizon for signs of trouble and planning a safe “out” for every situation. The sooner you can spot a problem, the easier it is to avoid. And avoiding that problem will get you home safely – the only goal that’s truly important.