First off we started at the skidpan; many of you, (me included) prefer the track stuff because we get to drive what is usually quite a fast vehicle around a well prepared track, in anger. The problem is, we usually forget about the safety aspect of the day and focus on tearing around as fast as we can. I don’t blame you; safety can be quite a boring subject, especially when there’s a fast car waiting to be burned.
The skidpan is where you learn the most at one of these training courses; it’s where the instructor allows you to put the safety training they’ve lectured on into practice.
Our first drill was the use of an ABS braking system, which demonstrates why this has to be a standard feature on all cars. On a vehicle without ABS the harsh application of brake force will cause the pads to lock the disc, which causes the wheels to lock and the car to slide forward without the driver having any control. ABS allows the wheels to rotate once you’ve slammed on brakes. We saw the benefit in this when we had to approach a set of cones, slam on the brakes and swerve to avoid them; with ABS we were able to brake and steer away from danger.
Then we had the opportunity to deal with oversteer which is when the rear end of the vehicle wants to overtake the front which usually results in a spin. In a front-wheel-drive car the best way to avoid this is to steer hard in the opposite direction to which the car is sliding and then once the car has turned back towards where you were steering, you apply the throttle to straighten it all out. It sounds simple but you certainly need to practice it.
The majority of passenger cars sold in SA are front-wheel-drive. However, if you have a rear-wheel-drive and you find yourself in an oversteer situation (great fun by the way) it’s recommended that you steer in the direction you wish to travel in, in a less vigorous manner than with the front-wheel-drive, which is known as countersteer, while staying away from the throttle until the car is going in the right direction.A similar procedure is used with four-wheel-drive cars. However, these are far less prone to oversteer.
From there, we moved on to the high speed oval where we learnt how to adjust our seating position so as to optimise our ability to take preventative measures against an accident. To ensure that you’re in the right proximity to the steering wheel, make sure that when you sit with your back pressed against the seat, your wrists can touch the top of your steering wheel and that you’re able to fully depress your clutch (if you drive a manual vehicle) without having to stretch.
Then we used a cone slalom to help teach us the importance of looking ahead and planning for your next driving move. If you enter the first slalom without thinking about where the next one is, you’ll hit the next cone which, on the real road, could mean that the action you take to prevent one incident, could lead to another. It’s intended to make you a more intelligent road user.
Finally, the most eye opening part of the day had to be the braking test. The instructors line you up on the straight, on the side of the pit, while another drives the car down the straight and brakes at a set place from various speeds. The instructor asks you to measure where you think each car will stop.
This is where it got interesting… from 60km/h my predictions were fairly close. However, from 120km/h to zero, I was way off. The car takes at least four times longer to stop at twice the speed and this only multiplies as the speed increases. It goes to show why speed limits are there. Braking from 100km/h versus braking from 60km/h presents a massive difference in stopping distance which could mean the difference between life and death in many instances.
I highly recommend that you attend one of these safety training courses. Most vehicle manufacturers offer them and you can often select either a full-day package or just a half-day session.