Fleet News

Face to face: Nigel Mansell

Ex-motor racing champion Nigel Mansell talks to Fleet News about fleet safety on the roads.

What has a racer got to say about fleets?
WELL my new role this year as president at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has started me thinking about driver safety in a fresh way, so perhaps you will see the connection.

This year’s Motor Show saw fleet professionals wooed at a business day for the first time. Topics covered, such as corporate liability and driver education, may not seem to have much to do with F1 race cars, but they contribute to safer roads for all of us.

Was safety a priority for you and your teams?
Hmm. In my F1 days, it was all speed and glamour with barely a mention of in-car safety features. Improvements to the safety of F1 cars eventually started to trickle down into commercially available motors.

Likewise, the safety features on top-of-the-range models at the Motor Show will be on cheaper cars in the future.

Seatbelts were a quantum leap forward in road safety. More recently, we have seen airbags, ABS and run-flat tyres. I am sure that the new models at the show will be trying to add to that list.

Do safety features make drivers feel too safe?
Engineering can only do so much. It is education that makes a difference in terms of keeping occupational drivers safe. Any car, no matter how well specified or beautifully presented, is only as good as the driver.

So if I have a take on this year’s Motor Show, it is this: you can’t necessarily buy all the safety features you and your company need to avoid a crash happening in the first place.

But how can you, a racing driver, help fleet managers whose drivers trundle up and down motorways?
Driving expertise isn’t just for the racetrack. You can’t buy expertise of course – you have to earn it.

Fleet and HR managers can help drivers through the process as they do for many clients at IAM Fleet and with sister company Drive & Survive. It may not feature very highly among the glittering chrome and the glamour of the Motor Show or the GP circus – but if anything, it’s more important.

Every time one of us gets behind the wheel of any car it is in our power to drive well, or to drive badly. That applies as much to a race around Silverstone as it does a trip to the supermarket.

Driving skills are just as important every day as they are for the big set piece races.

What kind of skills are we talking about?
Concentration, observation, interpretation and control are all advanced driving skills that are as important to road drivers as competitors on the racetrack.

Learning to be an advanced driver is a challenging experience. If you have driven for years with barely a scrape, you may think ‘why bother?’.

But the roads in the UK are certainly busier, and some would say potentially more dangerous, than they were in years gone by.

A surge in unlicensed, uninsured vehicles is one factor. More impatient drivers who refuse to turn off their hand-held mobile phones is another.

These days, advanced driving is as much about defensive driving as anything else. And if you take the IAM course, you are up against the toughest competition – yourself.

But it has its rewards. No champagne, no podium but a real sense of achievement and a greater enjoyment of driving.

My grandfather always told me that it is no good lying on a hospital bed saying ‘but I had right of way’. That, in a nutshell, is why drivers can gain so much from an advanced driving course. It is defensive driving at its best.

‘Long before Government road safety targets, traffic calming measures and the breathalyser, the IAM understood that it is drivers who cause crashes. As a father, I was delighted when my two sons Leo and Greg got through their advanced tests.

‘If you are going to the show, you’ll be impressed by the safety features that are built into modern cars. But bear in mind that there is one key component that hasn’t changed – and that is the nut behind the wheel.’

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