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Blessed safe driving courses

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Pablo Mayo Sanz
@pablomayosanz
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I remember that it was really hot on that asphalt esplanade, and I was practicing several things, from simple parking maneuvers to get a slalom in reverse. Every time I pulled a cone I had to put it in place, which made me wake up. There I was able to practise things as silly as bringing the car to a complete stop without stalling the engine, applying the brakes and clutch hard. Look at that, how silly! Or was it not so silly? Well, no, dear friends.


That course I took helped me to put into practice things that I had only seen in theory and that were not easily reproducible in driving school, for a simple reason of budget. One of the stages of learning is to experience something in your own flesh in order to internalize it, be it a problem of linear equations of the second degree, or learning the art of counter-steering. Then, when the time comes, it will come to us by itself, and we may not even have to think about it. This is the spirit of safe driving courses, to experiment first to be prepared for the real thing.

When I rode with my teacher on the right side, driving like a student who aspires to drive legally after the DGT's approval, I did everything in a normative way: thinking about every traffic rule to the letter. The truth is that, if we don't get out of it, a car that lacks any safety system - well, brakes are allowed - and may have a suspension with a million kilometres on it or tyres that have been worn down, the dynamic demands on the car are minimal.

One day soon, autonomous cars will do something similar, driving according to traffic rules, like a student learning, taking nerves and inexperience out of the equation. Will that mean the end of safety systems? Absolutely not, because there will still be an unforeseen, ever-present factor, which even if it only accounts for 1% of driving situations, the vehicle must be prepared to deal with it.


Autonomous cars are not going to eradicate traffic accidents, although they will reduce them by a huge amount.

Out of every 10 traffic accidents, the human factor is involved 7-9 times. Even if we eliminate the human factor, there will still be environmental factors, such as the road or the weather, and obviously the condition of the vehicles involved. Therefore, we will all agree on this point that safety must always be present in any driving activity.

From manual driving to real driving

If there is one thing I have learned in the many driving courses I have taken, it is to learn to drive myself, and also the machine. I've had to learn to cheat my perception, like when I learned to take curves looking where I wanted to go, and not in a straight line. I've also learned to anticipate events, preparing myself for possible situations that don't usually happen, but when they do, I'm already on my guard.

Some people think that safe driving courses, sport driving courses... end up encouraging people to do more crazy things with the car, because they learn to control it. This is not always true, far from it, but I do admit that if you are going to do something crazy, it is better to know what you are doing. Improvisation is not usually a good travelling companion when we need to make the best decision in tenths of a second, our head can't take it any more.

Once, at the Jarama circuit, I was driving a Porsche Boxster Cup -a racing car- and I was quite hot when I faced the corner before the Bugatti descent. I made a rookie mistake, entering with the car very lean, and very fast, so the rear axle lost grip and the car went away from me. Nothing happened, I was on a circuit, the only thing they made me stop in the pits to calm down, that was all.


I may have been driving at 160-180 km/h at the time, but the lesson can be applied by taking a roundabout at a speed well above the legal speed, and doing it successfully. Imagine the typical dual carriageway that ends directly at a roundabout with its 50 km/h limit.

There are people who simply run into that situation, haven't adjusted their speed properly, and get into trouble with our neighboring physics.

An inexperienced driver who panics will tend to brake hard at the last moment, trying to turn, but the car will turn less than he thinks it will, it will understeer. If he keeps looking straight ahead, he will steer more to the right, and I'll tell you how it ends: either he will crash into a car that was already on the roundabout, or he will hit the statue/monument commissioned by the mayor of the day inside the aforementioned intersection. Who goes onto the grass or kerb, in plain language.

If an experienced driver does the same, and is already going very fast, he will try to brake hard in a straight line, reducing the speed of entry, and then loosen the pressure on the brake so as not to enter with the car leaning excessively on the front wheels, in order to avoid a possible oversteer. You'll position the car better, look where you want to go, and not pull into the inside of the roundabout. Your wheels may squeal a little, but the worst that will happen is that you will run into a couple of Guardia Civil who will sing you a good night's sleep.


On driving courses, you learn to become more intimate with physics, and to understand its apparent vagaries.

Things like weight distribution (and weight transfer), centrifugal and centripetal force, tyre grip... are very useful concepts in the racing world, but also on real roads. Even if we are the most cold, calculating and responsible drivers, we will have to learn these lessons at some point, and if we have internalized them, there are more scares than visits to the body shop.

I've lost count of the number of times I've saved the day by knowing what to do in a compromising situation. Sometimes those compromising situations were exclusively "my fault", like going into a 60 km/h corner at 115 km/h with a two-ton car, other times it was the fault of third parties. The preparation beforehand is fundamental and can make the difference between nothing happening and something happening. With my second press car I had to do a 120-0 km / h by the fault of an imbecile, without pressing the clutch we would have crashed, but I had a few meters to spare.

One of the best advices I can give you, and I don't care about your level of experience, is to take driving courses. When you know the limits of physics, the limits of the machine you're driving and your own, you know which red lines not to cross. Below those red lines is the safe zone, and that's where we have to move. That's what real control is, not showing off when you've had three or four well-filled drinks. Control is really knowing what you're doing, not imagining it or fantasizing about it.

Advanced driving techniques were of the utmost importance in the old cars, which didn't have the electronic aids they have today. It was the era of "with a rear-wheel drive you risk your life" or "never brake violently in a corner". Modern cars are more and more forgiving of mistakes, so much so that our grandmothers may be able to drive a Nissan GT-R with no problem at all.

Electronic braking aids don't violate the laws of physics, but they do go a long way to helping you stay in control.

These aids don't eliminate the need for driving lessons, it's the other way around! It is precisely in these courses that you can learn what they are really for, and test their effectiveness in a safe way. And if we, as humans, work together with them, the effectiveness will be as high as possible. The father of a friend of mine still has it in for me for showing him that his Qashqai can change lanes violently in a second, at 100 km/h, thanks to ESP, he didn't believe that such a thing was possible. And yes, he ended up taking revenge on me, we're even now.

Besides, don't forget something very important: any driving aid is not able to cope with 100% of the situations, maybe only 95%, and for the rest, there are still us, the drivers. I don't care whether we are talking about ESP or emergency braking assistants with forward collision warning, we are still talking about aids. These aids are of little use to us if we don't know how they work, or what they're based on, and you don't have to be an engineer for that.

When we go to buy a modern car, the salesman is supposed to have gone through a training course in which he has been explained the vicissitudes of the inventions of his product, although we all know that this is not always the case. If the course has been done properly, they may have seen for themselves the effectiveness of these aids.

That knowledge is rarely 100% absorbed by the customer, even if the customer is a car burnout.

All the more reason to learn more about these systems. Some brands offer training courses for their customers, where they can test how these systems work. Sometimes these tests or demonstrations are done in the "filler" space at an event, like when a group is split into subgroups and others are doing the cool activity. I'll tell you one thing, it's not filler, it's one of the most important parts.

The truth is that the vast majority of today's car customers have no idea how all the systems in their car work. Sure, more than one can master all the functions of the touchscreen infotainment system, but what's wrong? It's not really meant to save our lives, it's just meant to liven up the journey or keep us hooked on the world's best designer drug: the Internet.

In a previous article I lamented the lack of car culture, and that people should be more concerned about these things, about everything that makes them maintain or extend their life expectancy. Well, it is essential to become familiar with the paraphernalia of safety, but not only active safety, but also passive safety. The difference is enormous, active safety prevents the accident from happening, passive safety minimizes the consequences of the accident when it is going to happen.

Automobile engineers have been racking their brains for decades to reduce the consequences of traffic accidents.

In the 20th century alone there are 35 million deaths, and that is more than the sum of all the military casualties in the Second World War. And let's not forget the injured, 1.5 billion, about the same number of people who lived on the planet between 1880 and 1900. Those are pretty big numbers, aren't they?

As a result of this research, systems such as three-point belts, airbags, programmed deformation structures, active head restraints and a whole host of other things have been developed. They tend to occupy the first pages of owner's manuals, one of the great unknowns of standard equipment, just like turn signals or tools to change a wheel. Come on, be honest, how many of you have read the whole manual in that section?

One of the things I like most about my regular car is the seatbelt buckle indicator, so I can tell when a passenger is too smart and is loose in the back seats. I don't care if the reason is ignorance, stubbornness or indomitable spirit: "either put it on, or get out here" - it sounds rude, because it is. Safety is of no more concern to us than it is to a few of us.

When a person tells you that the most important thing for him or her is safety, he or she is probably just posturing. Guillermo already explained to us that maximum security does not go with us, it is not comfortable. It is something that happens in all areas of our lives, be it food security, computer security, sexual security or financial security. People tend to be comfortable and not worry about what is really important.

I JUST GOT A WHATSAPP, IT MUST BE IMPORTANT!

Sorry for the digression, I continue. There is an old teaching motto from a bygone era in our history, that of "the letter, with blood, goes in". We can extrapolate its meaning to what I am telling you, that until we suffer a very unpleasant experience or a good scolding, we do not finish learning. I had several scares at the wheel the first year, and fortunately I was able to learn from all of them, and not repeat them again. Others have not been so lucky.

One of the best investments you can make in your life as a driver is to sign up for a driving course. I don't care if it's organized by a car club, a magazine or your company. It is money very well spent, it can even be considered an investment. For the equivalent cost of changing a whole front bumper, with paint, we can save the whole car, hospitalization, disability, burial expenses and so on.

It can also be VERY desirable to be actively concerned about our training, going back to the driving school to give complementary classes, something VERY important in the case of people who hardly drive, like the typical student who got his license at 18 and in the last 5 years has only driven 1,000 kilometers a year? We can get angry at the DGT and the mother who gave birth to them, but nobody can take away our individual responsibility to be trained, and daddy state can not be aware of everything, like our mothers.

Maybe one day you will remember these words and think of me, I hope it will be for the best! I give thanks almost daily for all those who taught me how to drive better, and made me learn the hard way. The miles and years give experience, but not all experiences can be had by just kicking distances. Besides, in all that time we could have been doing it wrong or badly, but as nobody corrected us or we didn't know it, we remained in ignorance.

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