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Driver training safety

Are your motor skills going to save your life?

People are seriously injured and killed daily on our roads. In just this last week a handful of fatalities have occurred within 100kms of my front door and on roads I travel often.

In both recent cases vehicles crossed the centre line into oncoming traffic resulting in tragic outcomes. It is evident that the drivers were not paying attention and the innocent parties travelling towards them would have had little or no time to react.

As a provider of road safety training for over 20 years I have noticed that we are seeing more of these crashes. Previously speed, alcohol and lack of seatbelts were common factors leading to a fatal car crash.

With the general public mostly adhering to speed limits, alcohol use and the wearing of seatbelts we are now experiencing what could be an even bigger issue.

These latest crashes involved multiple vehicles, had a higher impact force and often the driver reacting to the hazardous driver had little or no time to respond.

The question is how can we prevent these crashes from becoming more frequent and why are they occurring?

Modern vehicles are now fitted with “lane keep assist” providing an alert or active steering to keep vehicles from wandering into oncoming traffic. Many roads now feature wire barrier fencing or similar to prevent vehicles from interacting head on. Both of these may help but we think that these alone are not enough.

The ultimate solution is to convince drivers to focus on the task at hand. Operating a vehicle that often weighs 2000kgs at speeds of 100km/h or more requires many decisions per second.

We are our own worst enemy. Once we learn a skill we can repeat it often without any real thought process – this is deadly when it comes to driving.

From Wikipedia – A motor skill is a learned ability to cause a predetermined movement outcome with maximum certainty. Motor learning is the relatively permanent change in the ability to perform a skill as a result of practice or experience. Performance is an act of executing a motor skill. The goal of motor skill is to optimise the ability to perform the skill at the rate of success, precision, and to reduce the energy consumption required for performance. Continuous practice of a specific motor skill will result in a greatly improved performance.

When we learn to drive we are programming ourselves how to drive a vehicle from A to B. The more we do this – the better we get at it, not in the terms of actual driving – but our brains and our bodies become more efficient. After a while we can actually drive with hardly any thought process at all!

We all know this is true because we get in, start the car and arrive at our destination without any real form of planning, check-lists or ‘heightened’ workload while driving. It becomes is simple as walking or talking.

This is why we can tune the radio, chat to friends or use our phones while driving. You certainly couldn’t do those things when you first started driving!

The good news is that we can also train our motor skills to perform other automated responses.

Like a sports person trains and practices to catch a ball or kick a goal – we too can improve our driving by practising safe driving.

In our opinion this requires two stages.

1. Normal driving practice – Operating safely with no distractions and being alert and responsive to other road uses or hazards. Avoiding distractions is a key component of this stage. Training ourselves to be focused and disciplined behind the wheel is perhaps the easiest but also most difficult task. This can be done alone or with the assistance of training or coaching.

2. Emergency driving practice – Gaining experience and skills so that you can promptly respond to a hazardous situation with the correct control inputs – potentially avoiding a hazard and hopefully preserving life.

Our programs look at both of these stages. We discuss distractions and how easy it is for us to make a mistake when we are on autopilot. Discussions bring up many stories among our participants that highlight how common crashes caused by even the smallest distractions are common. We are also alarmed by the amount of ‘near miss’ incidents that could have delivered tragic outcomes.

The practical side of our training is designed to provide some ‘programming’. Learning and experiencing how to manage a vehicle when faced with a hazard allows drivers to fill in the gap in the ‘software’ so that when faced with an emergency – they can respond quickly and without much thought.

Keeping drivers safe is our business and we are constantly developing our courses to reflect real life situations.

We are only one small part of the overall road safety picture but if you are driving around without any training you are extremely disadvantaged if faced with a life or death situation.

I have created this article to generate discussion about driving and encourage everyone to have a think about what the issues are and what solutions could be created to help drivers.

We would love to hear from you if you have read this far and share with us your ideas, thoughts or concepts. If you mention this we will send you a PDA key ring torch!

At PDA we are all passionate about driving and road safety and welcome constructive criticism or feedback. It is how we learn!

We hope that you might consider how you drive the next time you are behind the wheel and assess yourself.

Are you driving without distractions? Do you have recent training or experience in how you and your vehicle will respond in an emergency?

We will continue to deliver our programs across the country and hope to see you at one soon!