I had the privilege recently to watch a group of adults who had driven for many years greatly improve their car control and collision avoidance skills.
Over a few short hours, they went from being at daily risk, to knowing how to react and what to do should something unexpected occur in front of them while driving.
In each case, these drivers gained newfound confidence in themselves and in the vehicles they drive. In turn, they were rewarded with a new enthusiasm for driving that had long ago faded from memory.
Further, it instilled hope that roads and highways won’t always be populated by woefully unskilled motorists who couldn’t navigate around an unexpected obstacle to save their lives.
What really stood out was the extent to which they recognized their own bad driving habits — in most cases, habits learned and reinforced over many years — and came away vowing not to repeat them. Several even expressed a desire to enroll in a full-blown advanced driving course to further enhance their driving skills and to increase the pleasure they derive, or don’t get at all anymore, from driving.
The occasion in question came during a recent driving event wherein four couples from across Ontario were brought to a central location for several days of driving and evaluating a new vehicle — in this case the new Ford Focus. The resulting ‘special section’ produced provides Ford with an early view of the vehicles as seen by average drivers, as opposed to professional auto writers.
Before turning the guests loose on public roads, they were treated to an introductory driving skills upgrade course, conducted by professional instructors and racing car drivers. Over three to four hours, they learn skid recovery, vehicle handling and collision avoidance techniques, the benefits of which should be readily evident to anyone who’s ever spent time at the wheel of a car or light truck on Canadian roads.
This low-speed “skidpad school” was conducted by Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, race car driver and professional driving instructor Guy Lahaie, who admits to gaining tremendous satisfaction from seeing how quickly and easily most people improve their skills. The enthusiasm that almost always accompanies their recognition of new skills learned is both infectious and invigorating, he says.
All of which is a rather long-winded way of saying that, on par, driving skills among most motorists in Canada barely earn a ‘pass’ rating. There’s a great deal more to driving safely and well than knowing how to parallel park and obeying speed limits.
If more Canadian drivers would sign up for advanced training beyond the bare minimum required to secure a license, the roads would be infinitely safer.
Accidents (more accurately, collisions, as accidents generally are events that are considered unavoidable) would be much fewer and further between, insurance rates would fall by necessity and countless lives would be spared from a too-early demise.
The downside to having a nation of capable drivers would be a reduction in the businesses of towing and auto body repair, but the benefits to society overall would be incalculable.
It’s not rocket surgery, but as a number of the Ford Focus Challenge grads volunteered afterward, it was surprisingly easy to achieve a higher level of driving skill by applying only a few, common-sense techniques.
So here’s another ‘challenge’: Try advanced driver training yourself.
You won’t be disappointed, you stand to have a great deal of fun in the process, and the life you save might be your own.