Keeping you alive on the road

GIVING up your entire weekend to learn how to drive sounds like torture to people who already have a licence.

But Roadcraft's Adult Driver Awareness Course, as I have learnt, is something necessary to stay alive on the roads.

Early last Saturday morning, eight of us filed into the purpose-built learning room at Roadcraft.

Most of us did not know what to expect, except Peter Millear who was refreshing his knowledge after a course he did back in 1995.

Mark Phillips is the course director and along with wife Jo, he managed to change eight drivers' attitudes during the two days.

Some were there because they had been given the course as a present, others for work and some just because they saw the value in it.

At first Mark and Jo taught us a bit about Roadcraft's history (it was set up by Rotary 33 years ago), then they asked us to rate ourselves as drivers.

Most people in the class said they were average or above average, rating themselves five or seven out of 10, but by the end of the two days everyone's perception was changed to a lower score.

And that's the best news Mark and Jo could hear.

Mark told the room 98% of people who did the course thought they were good drivers.

"Either they are," he said, or it's a "false perception".

"P-platers are over-represented in road trauma," he said.

"We all think we're above average. There are two things in life we all think we are good at," he said joking. "One is driving, the other I can't say."

In reality, on a scale of one to 10, most drivers are a one or two, even those with racing experience.

"Basic driving licensing standards are not high…people are taught to pass a test.

"There's always a lot to learn."

The course is about teaching driving behaviours that should be taught when getting your licence, like good observation instead of the "monkey skills".

Mark explained that even a monkey could be trained to push an accelerator or even steer.

One of the scariest parts of the course was on that first day.

We were all given a simple road rules test, the kind you would get during a learners exam.

You had to pick what car had right of way; I did not get any right and I was not the only one.

After seeing all the different answers, I started to realise that everyone had their own ideas of what the road rules were and I could not rely on those answers to save my life.

The Phillips' call vehicles weapons of mass destruction.

The statement was backed up with statistics: more than a million people die each year on the roads worldwide and every day in Australia, five people are killed on the roads and more are permanently injured.

By bringing your perceived skills into line with your actual skills and creating good habits, the Phillips' hope to help change those statistics and make better drivers.

They teach you to go against your "normal human behaviour" and not focus in on what's directly in front of you or the lines on the road.

"We can't perfect you in two days but we can show you how things work. There's no such thing as a perfect driver," Mark says.

"Most crashes hit right in front of the driver. We're designed to look at threats, it's programmed in."

Looking at targets is dangerous when you add speed and wheels. We learnt the hand will always follow the eye in the car.

Another shocking lesson was crashing or surviving can come down to only 2kmh of speed.

That was proven when we hit the skid pan on day one.

One by one we ended up in the "morgue".

But if you see early enough what is happening and are not driving too fast, you can do something to stop a crash.

"If you could see an incident one second earlier, up to 90% of crashes could be avoided."

We learnt travelling at 80kmh you cover 22.2m per second, doing 100kmh it's 28m per second and braking distance is multiplied by four when your speed increases from 40 to 80kmh due to kinetic energy.

And it could only take a quarter of a second (5m) to avoid a crash.

A key lesson from the weekend was "if you have got time and space it's not an emergency situation".

But if you do crash, "you have done something wrong" or "haven't done something you should have done".

During the course, participants said over and over that it should be a subject at school or mandatory for kids to get their licence.

We started our practical lessons doing figure eights, learning how to look ahead and make as little adjustments to the steering wheel as possible - which keeps the maximum amount of traction on the road.

But all that good technique goes out of the window when you are threatened.

This is something I learnt significantly on day two when we started to learn skid recovery.

I had never been in control of a car when the back was sliding out before and that's a good thing, because every time the car went into a rear skid I immediately took my hands off the wheel.

After the third time, I started to pick it up but I can't imagine what the consequences would have been in a real world situation or if I let go on the edge of a cliff.

On day one, I did not want to jam on my brakes in one of the exercises, the skid pan was wet and I was worried about hurting my car, but eventually it dawned on me that if I did not learn here I could endanger myself or someone else on the road.

When it came to brake and evade I thought I was going pretty well. They kept telling me to speed up. At about 80kmh in the wet with only a short amount of time to brake I hit them hard and the ABS locked up.

Mark told me to go into the morgue because without the ABS I would have "fallen off the cliff".

>>Roadcraft at Gympie regularly holds their Adult Driver Awareness Couse or defensive driving. Phone (07) 5482 8833.

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