Car Advice

The only thing you need to know to be a better driver…

Crash cams, Facebook pages… there’s always someone else to blame for a car accident, but theRE’s only thing you need to know to be a better driver.

POST AFTER POST. It’s the same thing – a crashed car with the driver explaining what happened, and everyone else saying how sorry they are, how glad they are everything’s ok and yes, how terrible it is that whatever caused the accident, caused the accident.

But there’s one thing that’s almost always missing, the one change that could avoid the next problem for the driver in question and perhaps others.
That would be the driver admitting fault.  Because the given cause is always the other car.  Or a road problem, technical issue… everything to blame but the nut behind the wheel, the one component that always, yes always, has to shoulder some of the blame.  And usually a lot more than said component would like to admit.
Let’s take some common scenarios.  Hit someone head-on around a corner on an unmarked road?  How about anticipating that people don’t keep to their side of the tarmac on such roads?  Skidded off the road due to a puddle, or black ice?  How about simply not reading the conditions right and thus driving too fast?   Rear ended someone because they stopped too quickly?  How about you look where you’re going, anticipate traffic and not follow too close?  
The last road-driving course I attended as a student even put the blame for rear-enders on the driver in front.  Say what?  It’s called managing the gap and slowing such that even the most absent-minded drivers can see you’re losing speed.
This course also dispensed with the term ‘accident’ and replaced it with ‘incident’, because what we call accidents aren’t – they are all preventable, avoidable, with very few exceptions.  The term ‘accident’ means couldn’t be foreseen or prevented.   Study air-safety incident reports and you’ll see how it works – careful analysis leads to root causes, and the conclusion never seems to be “shit happens mate, yolo” – the genesis of the problem is invariably traced to human failure.
Now here’s a little-known fact.  Safe road driving is not achieved by developing hyper-skillful car control.  Instead, all you need is an attitude change so you do everything possible to avoid an accident, regardless of whether it’s your fault, your legal right or way or whatever else. 
Entering a crosswords on green?  Look left and right, before you enter.  Someone wants to join the freeway?  Ease off a bit and let them.  And every time you drive, analyse what you do and ask yourself if you could have been safer and smoother.  Either the answer is yes, or you’ve got tickets on yourself.  
Remind me again how good it’d be to have “I had right of way” on your tombstone.
This attitude-based focus is is a different way of driving.  Car-control courses are worse than useless for on-road skills as all they do is give people false confidence they can skill their way out of any problems.   There’s no evidence, anywhere, to suggest car-control courses produce safer road drivers, yet there’s plenty to suggest attitude changes lower road incident rates.
Now it’s easy to preach from behind a keyboard, but I also understand, especially being a bloke, the primeval need to impress and am minded of Sir Stirling’s quote about two things a man cannot admit he cannot do.  So here’s a tip  for all you testosterone-fuelled young bucks (and some buckesses), assuming you’ve had the patience to read this far.  To impress people just drive very smoothly and calmly.  That really works, just as surely as you cannot impress via speed on a public road – all you can possibly do is scare people which is not the same thing at all, so the effect you create is very unlikely to be the one you desire.
And lest anyone think I’m talking from a position of purity let me assure you this is far from the case.  I have rear-ended another vehicle due to lack of attention, reversed into stationary objects, pulled dumb overtakes, drowned vehicles in mud, drowned vehicles in water, broken transmissions, attempted to impress people in a car then failed publically, and generally made every possible mistake with, in and around vehicles up to and including a backflip. (And I’m not immune either, I was in an Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series in a road rally when I, carrying a little too much speed, turned into a corner way too late. The road was narrow and slippery. I knew that. But I stuffed up and ended up parking the thing in a fallen fence in the long grass by the side of the road… and, another time on an overseas 4WD launch was trying to impress the other 4WD journo while driving on sand hills and carried too much speed right up to the top of the hill and didn’t back off. We left the ground. Luckily we landed the right way up and kept on driving down the hill… There are more, but you get the picture – Ed).
I also fully understand the need for speed and the delight of danger, so I’m never going to say don’t do it, that’d be like trying to repress sexuality and that I think in 2015 we’ve finally realised basic human desires can’t ever be prohibited by killjoys.  
But there is a time and place to indulge hoon instincts and just like sex, it’s not on public roads but in environments where that sort of behaviour is allowed, encouraged and safely permitted.  
I speak here of grass-roots motorsports – every weekend there’s at least two events close to you, where you can legally, cheaply, and safely, go wild.  Switch off those electronic aids, build the revs, dump the clutch and cut loose…it’s just the best fun and if things go wrong you won’t be looking a day in court or a lifetime of regret starting with a white cross.
Stay tuned for an article on how to get into grassroots motorsports. Until then drive smooth, drive cool and don’t be a bloody idiot.
This is a great place to switch off your electronic aids and see how the car really handles. No trees, no oncoming traffic, use the full width of the road…what’s not to like? Well, I suppose you need to pay around $200-$300 for the day. Bit cheaper than defending a court case though.
You can’t miss the signs at every event – MOTORSPORT IS DANGEROUS. Well, nobody, least of all me is going to say don’t do it. Instead, manage that risk by learning how to drive on racetracks, such as with the excellent BMW Driver Training programme. It seems expensive, but actually think of it as cheap insurance. And an M-car around a racetrack…what’s not to like!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper