We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

Braking exercise leaves lasting impression

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, May 25, 2012

I was taught to be a driving instructor by the best in the business. Three driving-school owners, with a cumulative 100 years’ experience, taught a three-week instructor’s course that was uniquely comprehensive.

It started with an assessment drive for each of the instructor candidates. My drive was so bad that every passenger in the van agreed I was travelling much too fast. Despite my justification of the supposed speed violation, the conclusion was unanimous.

I explained that I was the youngest in the group and had superior reaction time when quick stopping was required.

I was driven to the Boundary Bay Airport in Delta and asked to demonstrate my superior braking and stopping ability.

The instructor told me to carry a loosely bound hay bale down the runway to where I thought I would be able to stop at a particular speed. When the stopping distance exercise took place, I hit the hay bale with what seemed like reckless abandon.

I had obviously been going far too fast to stop in a controlled and safe manner. To my amazement, the instructor granted me another attempt.

I was sure this next try would be successful, because I had walked twice as far down the runway. But I hit the hay bale once again. By this time, my hay bale was beginning to look like some sort of mangled straw man.

I was given an unprecedented third attempt. I walked the mangled straw man to the end of the runway and conceded my complete and total ignorance as to how far it would take to stop at the assigned speed.

The instructor acknowledged my total bewilderment by offering to teach me about the nature of braking distance, a lesson that has remained with me to this day.

Once I realized that braking to avoid a crash was very unlikely, the second most important lesson of my driving-instructor career began.

We were asked to drive a pylon-and-cone course, again at the Boundary Bay Airport. It seemed very easy to complete the task without hitting an obstacle.

Then the exercise became much more difficult. We were asked to race through the course as fast as we could without losing control of the vehicle. I was only too quick to accept the challenge.

After a short break from the driving demonstration, we were instructed to drive the course at a slightly reduced speed, with a half full cup of water between our legs.

The success of the exercise would be very evident to all present as each candidate exited the vehicle at the conclusion of the run.

None of us did very well on this particular drill. Everyone was drenched, except for one person.

A woman wearing a dress was allowed to put the cup of water on the dash. On the first rather violent turn, the cup slid across the dash and out the open side window of the vehicle. The instructor then took the wheel and did the course without spilling a drop. I was amazed.

As the course proceeded, we all learned how to stop and swerve with the greatest of control and confidence.

The lessons that day have stuck with me throughout my whole driving-instruction career.

It formed the basis for what I and my instructors teach in the car every day.

Managing speed and space, time and distance, is the essence of driving instruction.

Steve Wallace is a certified B.C. secondary school teacher and the Owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and in the Central Interior of B.C.


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