Fleet News

Get on course to be a better driver

How many fleet drivers doubt their driving prowess?

If the statistics are to be believed: probably not many.

A recent survey of Lex customers showed that nearly 70% rated themselves as better than average drivers, due to their experience.

I, on the other hand, would rate my driving at the lower end of the scale.

Unlike some fleet drivers, I don’t have years of driving experience under my belt.

Until I joined Fleet News earlier this year I hadn’t driven for 18 months because living in London and owning a car just didn’t mix.

But all fleet drivers could benefit from driver training – whether they rate their driving prowess higher than they should or, like me, doubt their ability.

Driver training benefits fleet managers too – it addresses duty of care and can reduce fleet running costs.

Most driver training companies say that the money invested will be returned by a reduction in accident rates and the associated costs.

Added to that are reduced insurance premiums and the fact that many trained drivers achieve better fuel economy.

There’s also company image to factor in.

For those fleet managers who are interested in driver training, there are now many courses available.

Here, I put three different types to the test.

The classic approach

DriveTech’s ‘Real World Combination’ course could be considered the traditional approach to driver training.

The day starts with a presentation followed by on-road coaching, with trainer Peter Moore giving a demonstration before I take the wheel.

Peter has always taught advanced techniques and qualified as a fleet driver trainer more than 10 years ago.

Rather than reciting facts during the presentation, Peter gets me to guess collision and fatality statistics and I’m surprised to learn that 71% of collisions happen in urban areas, with only 4% on motorways. Some shocking real-life videos follow the statistics.

Before we take to the road, Peter goes through some vehicle safety checks using the anagram POWDER (Petrol/diesel level, Oil level, Water, Damage to vehicle, Electrics and Rubber).

Once we’re on the road

it’s time for another acronym: COAST (Concentration, Observation, Anticipation, Space and Time).

The route takes in the M1 as I had requested some motorway driving.

Peter teaches me to pull into another lane in good time and to be wary of blind spots – especially with left-hand drive lorries.

The day is rounded off with some tips about driver safety and my attempt to reverse park, with Peter showing me the best angle to position the car before reversing.

On the way back to the office, he comments that I seem more comfortable with my driving. It’s true, but I know I still need a lot of practice.

The off-road approach

On-course training

This course, ‘Advanced Incident Avoidance’, wasn’t off-roading in the sense that I took a 4x4 for a spin – it was off-road because it took place at Donington Park. And there was a skid car involved.

Trainer Mike Fletcher is ex- police and knows all about crash investigation. He has seen at first-hand the consequences of a vehicle going out of control. Just the man for the job then.

He explains that heavy braking when the wheels lock up is a common cause of skids and that it’s all about driving to the conditions.

Drive & Survive’s skid car is wired up so that Mike can adjust the amount of available grip to both the front and rear wheels independently, and thus replicate a skid.

After a demo from Mike I’m in the driving seat and learn how to control oversteer (when the back wheels lose grip) and understeer (when the front wheels lose grip).

The technique I’m taught is cadence braking, where you effectively throw the weight on to the front wheels to get grip.

Mike says that dropping the clutch is vital with both understeer and oversteer.

He also advises looking at the solution, not the problem.

In other words, if you’re heading for a collision with a tree then don’t look at the tree, look towards the open space beside it.

It’s all about ocular driving – our hands follow where our eyes are looking.

ABS is also on the agenda with a chance to see the benefits when straight line braking, and when you need to avoid an obstacle.

I experience how ABS gives the ability to brake and steer at the same time.

There’s just enough time to squeeze in some parallel parking, with Mike’s technique including using the number plate of the vehicle behind as a guide.

The psychological approach

“By the end of this course you’re going to love driving,” trainer Gary JosephBrain silhouette beams.

It’s a brave promise considering that Gary is armed with my results from the online
Fleet Driver Risk Index (FDRI) assessment, which shows that I dislike driving.

The FDRI was developed by Cranfield University after years of research into the psychology of drivers, and is run in association with Peak Performance.

It assesses your driving behaviour – whether you are aggressive, enjoy driving, suffer from fatigue and so on – and combines them with situational factors, such as your age, accident history and driving experience, to give an overall risk rating.

Peak Performance uses the results to tailor their ‘Behind the Wheel’ course to individuals needs.

My overall risk rating is medium but there is still plenty for Gary to address.

After a comprehensive vehicle check I head down the A1 from Peterborough and into Huntingdon, with Gary subtly assessing my driving.

He identifies that I need to plan more as I am rushing to join traffic queues and stopping too often at roundabouts.

He points out that good risk management is about good planning and that by looking further ahead and being more proactive I will feel less stressed.

We also look at road positioning and I discover how this improves vision.

Gary frequently asks where I am looking and gets me to spot hazards way into the distance, which I wouldn’t normally have noticed until much later.

When I encounter a tailgater Gary encourages me not to feel pressurised and to maintain a big space in front.

As if by magic, the tailgater drops back.

Verdict

It’s several months since I did my first driver training course and I’m pleased to report that my confidence in my driving ability has improved.

However, I still would not give my driving a rating of 10 out of 10 (particularly when it comes to manoeuvring), but then no driver should.

As Peter from DriveTech reminded me, the perfect driver doesn’t exist.
 

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