I once got an insurance quote for £37,480, like many 17 year olds I had yet to pass my test but was getting insurance quotes on cars I firstly couldn’t possibly afford or even drive legally.
The quote was based on my 17 years of age, having no driving experience (except from my test) and trying to get insurance on a 1.8 litre turbocharged Audi TT Roadster. At the time I got very upset as the car in question was only £5000 on Autotrader, thus meaning (by my maths) that I was going to write the car off more than seven times in one year or approximately every 52 days.
However; dare I say it, now at 21 years of age and in my slightly older, experienced and ‘wisened’ state I now realise that the driving test in the UK truly doesn’t prepare you to be a safe driver on the road.
For example it was reported in 2011 that at least 40% of 17 year old male drivers have an accident in the first 6 months after passing their test and road accidents are now “the biggest killer of 15-24 year olds in the UK”.
This makes you wonder why it is only now that the government is trying to raise the minimum driving age to 18 and adapt the teaching aspect of the driving test to a year long endeavour, rather than the 25 hours behind the wheel that I completed before my test.
There is a simple reason why the driving test is inadequate in the UK. It doesn’t have enough content or allow enough time to elapse for a young driver to build up enough experience in a safe and controlled environment.
This leaves inexperienced drivers vulnerable to panic or to having an adverse reaction when a dangerous situation arises, which statistically is causes a high rate of accidents. In comparison Finland; a country where young drivers are statistically much safer drivers, has a more in depth learner driving program, which for example includes skid pan sessions to learn how to handle a car in changing weather conditions.
These help prepare young drivers for the challenges that lay ahead of them as well as providing essential experience that could save the lives of many young drivers.
Thus this brings me nicely on to the why I am writing this article. I was very fortunate to be part of a group of people invited along to a course run by ex-touring car champion Robb Gravett, who has founded an advanced driving company called Ultimate Car Control . The companies mission is to teach young, experienced, fleet or performance drivers a range of ‘unique and dynamic skills’ that will help them become safer drivers through enhancing the control of their vehicle.
They currently offer a range of courses to suit the type of driver you are, I went along to the DEK (Driving Encoded Knowledge) course, which is designed to teach owners of high performance cars to remain in control of their vehicle in high speed situations.
After a briefing the first exercise involved a slalom course to teach weight dynamics and an advanced braking technique. Needless to say I was rather nervous having not stepping behind the wheel of a car for nearly 3 years. To add to this, my first vehicle would be a rampant V8 supercharged 510hp Jaguar XF business saloon.
Thankfully the staff are very reassuring, possessing a confident calmness even when you are hurtling around a corner with tyre smoke billowing from the back wheels. The exercise was great fun and it taught an important skill; braking in a straight line. This is important as later demonstrated by the DEK team.
By braking while traveling in a straight line then releasing the brake and turning, you stop in a shorter distance and turn tighter with more control compared to breaking and turning at the same time. This could make the difference between dodging a sudden incident that happens in front of you and crashing.
The second exercise built on the first, teaching us how to brake from a high speed and then avoid lines of cones replicating two potential incidents. This was when I had an epiphany, the distance between the braking zone and the ‘incident’ was quite large when you walked it, yet even when braking in a high performance vehicle from 50mph the cones seemed to magnetically fly towards the front bumper with alarming speed.
If it hadn’t been for the training in the first exercise and the infectious calming effect my co-driver emitted I would definitely have panicked, stamped on the brakes and turned hard. Which, in a real situation on an a road with two real vehicles stationary, would probably resulted in me having an expensive coming together.
The final driving exercise comprised of a course made of cones, designed to make us apply the techniques we had learned to a real world situation.
The instructor helped us find ‘a road within a road’, this means that you find your own path within the twisting contours of the road. For example when approaching a corner you find a straight breaking line by using the full width of your lane safely, allowing you to break quicker and with more control.
The course is viewed by many as a bit of fun that allows you to run around in high performance sports cars and giving you pub bragging rights of ‘having been taught racing techniques from a Touring car legend’. However I took away something far more valuable a new found respect for speed and car control, it also makes me think twice before allowing myself to get carried away behind the wheel on the public highways.
I would strongly recommend the course to anyone who wants to become a safer driver, I can promise you that it won’t ruin your love for driving, but it will give you an invaluable skill set, that might just save your life one day…
To find out more about Ultimate car control and the courses they offer please go to: http://www.ultimatecarcontrol.com/