Driving Skills Fast and Easy to Assess
By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, May 2nd
Whenever I am in a vehicle, I like to be the driver, unless of course I am instructing.
For what will likely be obvious reasons, I think it is best for me to be behind the wheel. I feel safer knowing my own advanced driving skills. With the exception of my wife, who has been crash-free all her driving career, there are very few non-professional drivers who can give me the feeling of security as a passenger.
Every so often, someone such as a friend, family member, business associate or social connection will ask me to assess their driving. There are three activities that I suggest in order to make an immediate impression.
The best drivers on the road use their brakes the least. This is a simple fact.
I will first have a person drive their regular commute, going from home to work or any other place to which they would normally travel. On the way, I will count the number of times they have to use their brakes to slow or stop until such time as we arrive at our destination. At the conclusion of the drive, I will tell the driver to take the exact same route once again, but in doing so, try to reduce the number of brake actions throughout the second drive.
Immediately those same drivers begin looking farther ahead, timing the traffic lights and generally give themselves more time and space to manoeuvre their vehicles in both light and heavy traffic. They tend to look several vehicles ahead instead of only at the one they are following. By reducing the number of stops, they also reduce the likelihood of a rear-end collision, the most common of all collisions. They save gas, tires, brakes and general wear and tear on their vehicles, all while helping the environment.
The second activity is more fun and much more stressful.
I fill a regular-size fast-food takeout cup with water, put it between my legs, and drive around town in a rather innocuous route, selected for its less than obvious faults. Then I ask the person, who had requested an assessment, to do the same. They become rather suspicious when I insist upon putting a super-absorbent towel on the driver’s seat before they begin to drive. I must admit to being victim to such a drive in my instructional infancy. It made a lasting impression on me. It most certainly makes a significant impression on any unsuspecting assessment candidate. In almost every case, the driver needs a change of trousers, but they do seem to drive much more smoothly on their second attempt. A smooth driver has far fewer crashes due to the “no quick action” type of driving. The whole point of the exercise is to emphasize the perfect speed for each turning manoeuvre and the smooth and predictable acceleration and deceleration. Any professional driver worth his salt can easily do this drill. The typical driver usually has a very difficult time.
The third drive involves never using reverse gear. A driver can reduce the chance of a low-speed collision by as much as 30 per cent when avoiding the seemingly necessary reverse gear. The drivers subjected to this sometimes tedious task must show great planning skills as they negotiate trips to and from their most travelled destinations. Shopping malls, schools, work and other common destinations must come and go without the use of a single back-up action.
Many institutions have a reputation for site planning that eliminates the need to back out of parking spaces. “Reverse is perverse” when it involves backing.
Steve Wallace is the owner of Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C. He is a former vice-president of the Associated Driving Schools of the Americas, a registered B.C. teacher and a University of Manitoba graduate.