What was an avid cyclist doing in a place like this?
I like to ride my bicycle but sometimes I have to drive.
Over 40 years ago on dirt roads and snow in Vermont, I learned to steer into a turn; to manage the situation when a car loses traction, rather than to blank out or panic.
I shot the video above recently, in a class with hands-on driver training which goes well beyond that. All of the instructors are racers. They test the limits of traction at every turn on the racecourse. But here, they are teaching skills for crash avoidance on the road.
My son took the class with me. He had taken a conventional driver training course and already had his driver’s license, but he had no experience handling a car at the limits of traction.
The InControl course begins with a classroom lecture. Our instructor, Jeremy, explained that driver training is broken in the USA: that over 40% of new drivers have a crash within the first two years; 93% of crashes result from driver error and so, are preventable. He also explained that he would be teaching about steering, braking, hazard perception and avoidance.
Jeremy handed a quiz sheet with 16 questions to check off, true or false. We were told to hold onto our quiz sheets because we would review them later.
The most compelling part of the course is the hands-on practice. It is conducted under safe conditions on a closed course, in a huge, empty parking lot, in cars with a low center of gravity; an instructor is always in the car. As shown in the video, we did the slalom — at first with an instructor driving; then each student took a turn driving. We learned how great the effect of small increases in speed can be on the ability to maneuver. We practiced emergency stops, then swerving while braking; we had the backing demonstration and the tailgating test, as shown in the video.
To learn how to anticipate potential hazards takes time, and experience. The InControl class can discuss this but not teach this. A driving simulator like the ones used to train airline pilots would help to build that experience under risk-free conditions. Video gaming technology is approaching the level that it could do this at a relatively low price. Computers are up to the task, but they would need multiple visual displays and a special “driver’s seat” controller. Lacking that technology, I have traveled many miles with my son, both as a driver and as a passenger, coaching him. His many more miles of experience stoking our tandem bicycle were a fine lead-in.
What did I learn in this class, with my nearly 50 years of experience as a licensed driver? Several things of importance — among them:
- Despite my decades of experience, I answered several questions on the quiz incorrectly. I’m not going to provide a crib sheet– go take the course.
- There is a very significant advantage to having different tires for summer and winter use, due not only to snow but also to temperature difference. Winter tires have “sipes” — small grooves –to develop a “snowball effect” — actually picking up snow so it will adhere to other snow, and improving traction. Tires should be replaced when tread is still twice the height of the wear bars.
- Side-view mirrors should be adjusted wider than I had been accustomed to — so their field of view starts where the windshield mirror’s field of view ends.
- The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s standards for a 5-star safety rating are lower for SUVs than for passenger cars, as a result of industry lobbying (Any surprise?)
- Importantly, that antilock brakes do more than allow shorter stops. They allow steering during emergency braking, and we practiced this as shown in the video.
- Most importantly, to me as a cycling instructor, that learning to manage risks is essentially the same for bicycling as for driving a car. The attitude is the same, and hazard recognition and avoidance are similar. One important difference is that a well-trained cyclist’s brain is the antilock braking controller on a bicycle.
As I write this today, my son has driven himself to his classes at the local community college 12 miles away. Like any parent, I cross my fingers every time he goes out the driveway, but I am pleased to report that he has is cautious and calm as a driver and that his driving inspires confidence, with exceptions at a very few times.
I wish he didn’t have to drive. I don’t like the environmental burden it imposes, and I don’t like the risk. If public transportation were at all reasonable, he would be using it. If the college were half as far away, he’d be riding his bicycle at least on days with good weather. For now, his getting a college education wins out over those concerns…