We Teach Driving Like Your Life Depends On It

How you can test your driving skills

By Steve Wallace, Times Colonist, June 30, 2011

Can you tell how fast you’re driving without looking at the speedometer? Professional drivers can judge their speed within three kilometres per hour.

Every driver dreads a driving test, whether it is mandatory, re qualification upgrading or an assessment.

Here is a creative way to self test. It is not a rudimentary rules-and-regulations based test. It is a combined safety, skill and performance exercise. It is not only fun but also a very telling indication of a driver’s ability to adapt, change and improve.

The water test: Take a regular size to-go cup from your favourite fast food outlet. Fill it halfway with water. Put a lid on it for your own protection. To start with, put the cup in a holder. Do your driving on roads with which you are very familiar. A professional driver will be able to drive virtually everywhere without spilling a drop. You will know how well you are doing by checking to see if the underside of the cup lid is wet. When you can drive without getting the cup lid wet, then remove the lid and try driving your most familiar routes. The exercise will make you a much smoother driver. Your stops and starts will be gentle and the turns and cornering will look and feel effortless. Show your family and friends how proficient you are at this task.

When you are really confident and you have practised a lot, put the cup between your legs and complete the same familiar drive. When someone brags about their driving skill, make them do the half-filled to-go cup test, cold turkey between the legs without the cup lid. They will likely be educated and you will be entertained. (P.S.: Make them use their own car and bring some towels.)

The no-stop test: Most of us drive the same route over and over. It is boring at best and commonplace to zone out at worst. In order to be more attentive to our driving, there are a few simple drills every driver can try.

Count the number of times you have to use your brakes on a prescribed route. It is common knowledge among the pros that the best drivers use their brake the fewest times. Try to reduce the number of stops by looking farther down the road.

Anticipate the change in the traffic lights. Use your gears, even in an automatic, to time the streetlights, pedestrian crossings and other impediments to a nonstop drive. You might want to adjust your route to get away from the necessity of a stop at stop signs. Truckers do this to save on fuel, brakes, tires and the threat of being hit from behind. The average driver should be able to reduce the number of unscheduled stops by at least a third.

The blind speedometer test: Professional drivers can judge their speed to within three kilometres per hour without looking at the speedometer. Have a passenger cover the speedometer for a short time when driving on the highway. Call out a speed you intend to go and see if you can duplicate the pros’ speed prediction.

This exercise is best done on quiet, low-traffic-volume highways. It reduces the boredom of a tedious drive and sharpens awareness of speed and space. Better still, after travelling for at least 10 minutes on the highway, have the passenger cover the speedometer and try to slow to a school zone speed of 30 kilometres per hour (make sure you are the only vehicle on the road when you do this exercise). You will not be able to do this at first, because you have been “velocitized.”

You will be accustomed to the upper speed and have great difficulty judging the lower speed. I have tried this drill with over 10,000 drivers, always in safe and secure circumstances, and have seen only 18 of them successfully go 27-33 km/h on this drill.

Practice makes perfect. Good luck.

Steve Wallace is a member of the College of Teachers and the owner of Joan Wallace Driving School on Vancouver Island and the Interior of B.C.

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