Young drivers are over-represented in crashes, so good driving habits need to be formed early – Ford Driving Skills for Life launched in Australia.

EVERY SO OFTEN car companies make a big fuss about community engagement and launch some programme or other to “help”. And every so often these programmes are actually useful to society. Such is the case here, with Ford stepping into the gaping void left by our government-controlled driver “training” programmes which are mostly focused on passing the test and haven’t been updated for modern cars.

This is the Ford Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) programme, and while anyone may participate, it’s focused on younger drivers who have at least 40 hours of practice to date. Why younger drivers? Because according to Ford, “traffic crashes are the second-highest cause of death for young people aged 15-24, and the No. 1 killer of young males according to the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare.” These statistics come as no surprise to anyone following road safety matters, as they are consistent year to year and across countries.

Now driver training is something that everyone has an opinion on, but it’s a good idea to base your actions on research. Ford spent some time figuring out exactly what skills younger driver lack, and came up with four key areas:

  • hazard recognition;
  • vehicle handling;
  • distracted and impaired driving; and
  • space and speed management.

That’s a good list, but many driver trainers would argue there’s a big omission and that’s attitude to risk. Hazard recognition is identifying a problem, risk attitude is your view of your own skills and willingness to handle that problem or take risks. That’s a different concept and one that forms the foundation of the “low risk” approach to driver training, as distinct from skills-focused. Anyway, the DSFL program has been specially designed to address each of four areas through hands-on driver training:

  • Hazard Recognition – a discussion that educates participants about the fatalities on Australia roads, the importance and significance of reaction times and simple things like the correct seating position.
  • Accident Avoidance – a braking exercise that teaches participants how to brake in an emergency at speeds of up to 100km. In this exercise they weave through cone exercises and learn emergency lane changes.
  • Vehicle Handling – in a controlled environment they experience what it feels like to lose control of a car and how to correct themselves if found in this circumstance.
  • Speed/Space Management – a defensive and preventative exercise that aims to help them control speed variants on the road.
  • Impaired Driving/Distracted Driving -an out of car experience where they physically feel what it is like to be impaired by the effects of alcohol and fatigue.

Ford says students who participated in the inaugural events in 2015 reported increased confidence behind the wheel and that there is evidence that their driver training has had a knock-on effect to their peers who did not participate.

Practical Motoring visited the DFSL event in Melbourne for an introduction to the programme, and here’s what it looks like in pictures:

Ford DFSL cones
The vehicle handling exercise.
Can you see the lesson here? It’s vision. Looking ahead in the direction you want to go. This is an important racetrack principle applied to the road, even at low speeds like this one. The correct seating position and use of steering wheel is also being demonstrated.

Here we’ve got a demonstration of the life-saving technology, ESC or Electronic Stability Control. The driver is on a wet, slippery surface and has turned the steering wheel pretty much full lock to the right.


The car is ploughing on more or less around the corner. There’s not enough grip to turn like the driver asks, but the electronics are doing their best by individually braking each wheel.

Now look at this, with ESC switched off:


Same steering lock applied, but now the rear wheels are nearly locked, and the car is spinning as the back end tries to overtake the front. This was all under controlled circumstances, but it does nicely highlight the huge safety advantage of ESC which is why the Australian government has rightly mandated it in new cars. Even in sports cars you shouldn’t turn ESC off on public roads, and for 4WDs leave it on until you’re in low range terrain or surfaces like sand.

Our favourite part was this quite brilliant following-distance demonstration.

Let’s say you’re following another vehicle at 60km/h, and you are one-second behind it. Then the car ahead brakes hard, forcing you to brake hard too. This will happen:


Clear proof you can’t stop in time if you’re following one-second behind. These two cars are side by side so there’s no crash, but you get the idea.

So what’s going on? At 60km/h you cover about 17m a second, or about four of these car lengths. So a one-second gap is four car lengths, what many people would consider acceptable.

But the driver’s reaction time at 60km/h is a bit over a second – that’s the time taken to recognise a problem, react and get your foot to the brake. During that time you cover 25m or a bit over 5 car lengths according to the Queensland Government. So you’ve pretty much hit the car in front before you’ve even started braking, even allowing for the fact the car in front is moving, and also assuming your reactions are at least average.

Now if the gap is increased to three seconds:


You now have your second to react, and two more seconds to brake, so there’s enough time to stop.

At three seconds at 60km/h you’re about 50m behind the car in front. You need about 25m to react and 20m to stop the car, so that makes 45m (source: Queensland Government).  That’s why you can stop the car about where the car in front began braking, and of course the other car has moved on a bit. Safer, don’t you think? The bigger gap also means better fuel efficiency as you’re able to better set your own speed, you can look around the cars in front, and it’s generally more relaxed. Worth a try.

Still on the subject of braking, can you see what’s unusual about the car below?


It looks a bit nose-heavy. That’s because it’s being braked at its maximum. This is another exercise students get to carry out in a controlled environment, and at the same time myths that were true yesteryear can be dispelled – for example cadence braking is a dead technique. Today’s cars have a simple braking technique – smash your foot onto the brake pedal as hard as you can and let the electronics take care of the rest.

Another big factor in road incidents is alcohol. Here’s the Drunk Suit.


Ford developed this suit to simulate drunkenness. Vision is reduced, as is movement, and the body is unevenly weighted. As a result, coordination is  impaired and tasks like walking on a white line or catching a tennis ball become very difficult indeed.

Headphones designed to reduce your hearing effectiveness…part of the Impairment Suit to simulate drunkeness.
Here’s the vision-impairing glasses.

Finally, there was this:


Not directly a part of the programme, but an interesting demonstration of virtual reality technology. The system puts you in the driver’s seat of a virtual car, and you can look around, up and down… anywhere, as the car moves around a modern city. There’s no driver control, but it’s an impressive demonstration of technology to come and you can see how with a bit of development virtual reality could become a very useful training tool.

But back to today. Cars change over time and so does our knowledge. Unfortunately, we’re only trained to drive once in our lives, so the DFSL programme also includes a chat about modern driving techiques for parents who may well need to update their skills and knowledege. 

“Ford research has shown that parents and guardians have incredible influence on the driving behaviours of newly-licensed drivers,” said Graeme Whickman, Ford Australia CEO. “We saw an opportunity to improve the skills of young drivers and also show parents and guardians the role they play in keeping their kids safe on the roads.”

As an example, here’s three things that may have been right back in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, but have changed now – Steering wheel hold, braking technique, and use of stability control. 

Lend them half the car…

Something else that has changed since parents learned to drive is technology. Ford has introduced MyKey teen safety system which allows Ford owners to program a key that can limit the vehicle’s top speed and audio volume to less than half of the maximum. It can also encourages safety-belt usage through unlimited warnings if drivers are not belted and can sound special chimes at pre-set speeds. But no, there’s no curfew warning!

Ford Driving Skill for Life Dates: 2016

  • Geelong Driving Skills For Life – Nov. 25-27
  • Canberra Driving Skills For Life – Dec. 2-4
  • Sydney Driving Skills For Life – Dec. 9-11

There are 250 free spots in each city, but advance registration is required. The programme takes three hours. The DFSL programme is run in partnership with the Australian Council of State School Organisations and Ford plans to reach around 1000 young drivers.

Sign up here:

Practical Motoring says

Young drivers and their parents should definitely do this programme, and Ford is to be commended on bringing it to Australia and investing in road safety. If only other manufacturers would direct their marketing budgets to such useful programmes we’d all be a lot better off.

We reckon DFSL attendees will learn useful, potentially life-saving skills, it only takes three hours, and it’s free and it’s fun. What’s not not to like? The only concern we’ve got is a lack of focus on attitude to risk, so that needs to be covered off elsewhere.

Scary Young Driver Facts

Some facts from Ford:

  • Australians aged 17-25 are responsible for a quarter of all deaths on our roads, which is alarming given they make up only 13.5% of our driving population, making them the most at-risk demographic. (source data: TAC).
  • 45 per cent of all young Australian injury deaths are due to road traffic crashes.(source data: Young Driver Fact Database)
  • Traffic crashes are the second-highest cause of death for young people aged 15-24, and the No. 1 killer of young males. (source data: Young Driver Fact Database)
  • A 17 year old driver with a P1 license is four times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than a driver over 26 years (source data: Young Driver Fact Database)

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