View Desktop

The 3 worst things drivers do, according to top racer

Lorraine Sommerfeld asks Canada's top racing driver about the three worst things Canadian drivers do on the road.

Published March 3, 2011
0

Comment

We keep trying. Everyone writing in this section, every level of government, every police force — everyone.

We keep telling people how deadly our roads can be. And if it feels like the headlights are on but nobody’s home (when they’ve bothered to put their lights on at all), you would think we would get sad and bitter and shut up.

But we don’t.

Collision fatality rates are coming down, but that’s because car manufacturers are implementing new technologies that basically save you from yourself.

You’ll note I used the word “collision.” You should start using it too. There is essentially no such thing as an accident on our roadways. You may be on the horrible receiving end of someone else’s mistake, but driver error is never an accident.

I met a man this week who knows a great deal about driving. Generally acknowledged as Canada’s most versatile and long-running racing champion, Ron Fellows has won at every level of competition from sports car racing to NASCAR to the 24 Hours of LeMans, and competed on virtually every race track in North America.

His career spans decades; by the late 1990s he was moving into his role as the primary development driver for GM’s Corvette C5-R program and he remains one of the top technical advisors for GM Racing. He teaches at the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch near Las Vegas, while making his home here in Mississauga.

All of this is interesting, and attests to the fact that he is an excellent driver. But I wanted his take on the conditions of our roads for another reason: he wins a lot of Most Popular Driver awards from fans. He’s a helluva nice guy. I figured if readers are sick of the rest of us trying to explain why you shouldn’t drug and drive, or text and drive, or speed or run red lights or blow off stop signs, maybe you’d listen to him.

“Top three worst things drivers do,” I asked him. He exhaled heavily, eyes glancing around the coffee shop. You can tell he instantly knows the three things, but is searching for a way to make his words count. He has three kids; he knows people tune out instruction in general, and lengthy instruction in particular.

“Stay out of the left lane. Just, get out. If you’re not passing, get out of that lane. Period. And passing on the right. That’s insanity. Do not pass on the right,” he said.

I asked if this was one and two, or all one. “One and two. They’re that important,” he smiled.

“In Europe, you just don’t see this. You don’t pass on the right, because there is a passing lane. Here, we have badly trained drivers. They are trained to pass the test, but the level of instruction is abysmal.”

Fellows is a huge proponent of simulators being used in driver training.

“Kids are already familiar with doing things like this. It may be more of an adaptation for older people, but the level of skill involved is superior to any classroom and road-only training that most schools do. Look for training using simulators,” he suggests.

Before I can ask, he’s arrived at No. 3. “Awareness. There is a total lack of awareness on our roads,” he says, leaning forward. Distracted, inattentive and unprepared; with two of his kids driving and a third coming up, Fellows is facing the same concerns of many parents.

“Parents are putting high performance cars into their kids’ hands, cars that 12 years ago were race cars. Poorly trained drivers are operating race cars,” he says, shaking his head.

So, where does this all lead to? Every journalist, every instructor, every cop, every emergency room worker, every firefighter and paramedic and now this top-flight road racer, all keep having the same conversation: better driver training.

When do we start taking it seriously?

Lorraine Sommerfeld appears Mondays in Living and Saturdays in Wheels. Reach her at www.lorraineonline.ca