Going back to the driving seat
Ask ten of your friends who drive cars how they
assess themselves as 'safe drivers'? I bet all of them would confirm
that they are good drivers because they underwent driver's training
courses and obtained the licences legitimately. Tell them that's fine
and ask them once again whether they have been exposed and trained how
to drive in a rainy or stormy weather. I bet none of the hands would
How does this make anyone a 'good competent driver'? Young people
especially need to understand that driving is serious, and requires
attention and the right attitude.
The price we pay for ineffective driver training in Sri Lanka is
colossal. The recorded total of fatalities caused by road traffic
accidents in 2009 was 2200. The number of cases of grievous injury
caused by such accidents during 2009 has increased to 400.
The United Nations declared the years 2011-2020 as the "Decade of
Action for Road Safety" last November in Moscow, with the goal of
reducing the number of people killed on the roads by 50 per cent.
Currently, around 1.2 million people die and 50 million people are
injured in road accidents worldwide each year. Sri Lanka's total death
toll was over 2200 killed last year or 6 people daily.
And now, Government intends to introduce stringent new laws to crack
down irresponsible drivers. The laws will cover speeding, reckless
driving, driving under influence of alcohol and using mobile phones
I have spent my life driving cars. I have a passion for driving...
driving well. What I have learnt in the past 5 decades is that in Sri
Lanka we have spent billions of Rupees importing safer vehicles, but we
have spent barely a nickel on making safer drivers.
We Sri Lankans think of driving as a God-given right, not a
privilege. Typically, if you wish to become accomplished at something,
you take lessons and you practice: (for e.g. golf, piano, tennis).
Unfortunately, while most driver education instructors are well meaning,
they are also misguided. They know the rules of the road-that red means
stop and green means go-but they are poorly informed in the fundamental
mechanics of teaching someone how to drive correctly, things as simple
as how to position yourself in the seat and how to hold and turn the
And I would bet that not one instructor in 1,000 understands that
every input the driver receives about how the car responds is a direct
result of what is happening underneath four tiny patches of rubber
acting on the road surface. Those of us in the know refer to that as
tire management, and understanding and controlling what those four tiny
patches of rubber are doing at any given time and in any situation is
what driving and saving lives while driving is really all about.
Incidentally, one of my nephews, who was in an European country for
some time, has attended a driver training school that taught the basics
of threshold limit braking, with and without ABS; cornering on a skid
pad to experience the limits of a car under controlled conditions and an
autocross where the lessons of accelerating, braking, steering and
cornering could be integrated and applied. These are car control skills
that the typical Sri Lankan driver will never learn, practice or employ
when driving in the real world.
There is a terrible finality to the words in that previous sentence
because there isn't a day that goes by when one or more of these skills
could be used to avoid an accident and to save lives. Imagine the
following very common situations: (1). A driver jams on his brakes in
front of you, (2). You're driving on a wet road and encounter slippery
leaves or a patch of sand, (3). You're driving down the highway and the
truck in front of you dumps a box in your lane, (4). You encounter
gravel in the middle of a turn on an otherwise dry road.
The list is endless. And more often than not the results of not
having proper driver training are tragic: an accident, injuries... often
If you've been out on the roads, you know that not everyone drives
well. Some people speed aggressively. Others wander into another lane
because they aren't paying attention. Drivers may follow too closely,
make sudden turns without signalling, or weave in and out of traffic.
Aggressive drivers are known road hazards, causing one third of all
our traffic crashes. But inattentive driving is becoming more of a
problem as people "multitask" by talking on the phone, texting or
checking messages, eating, or even watching TV as they drive.
We can't control the actions of other drivers. But learning defensive
driving skills can help us avoid the dangers caused by other people's
Defensive driving is keeping in mind that your hands should be
anywhere else but on the wheel and that safety is not an extra but a
primary concern when it comes to being a driver. The defensive drivers
are always on alert for any untoward events. They are focused on the
road ahead and avoid distractions such as loud noise like music,
chatting, smoking, eating and using the cell phone while driving.
The human factor is still the key to road safety and if you think
that your skills need refreshing go ahead and enrol in an advanced
driving program. Fortunately for drivers today, (though not yet
available in Sri Lanka as yet) services such as driving simulator
software are on the line with the mission of making sure that you are a
skilled and responsible driver.
The driving simulators educate drivers about the dangers of driving
while impaired. It is a significant educational and accident prevention
device. Not only does it provide a valuable and cost-effective lesson in
a safe computer generated environment, but it also it makes participant
drivers aware of the consequences of impaired driving in the real world.
How does it work? You sit in real-world driver's seat. A 360° panoramic
view of the road and surrounding area is presented to you via virtual
reality goggles, the Head-Mounted Display. The scenery is
computer-generated by virtual reality simulation software running on the
simulator's computer. The software receives data from the wheels and
pedals of the vehicle to provide an extremely interactive experience
recreating various driving situations.
The simulator will advise the driver that it is ready to start the
drive and prompt the driver to press a button to start. The driving
scenario will cycle between several different preset scenarios that will
be randomly assigned so that no driver will see the same scenario in
succession. All the scenarios will have a couple of places where
anticipation and rapid response will be necessary to avoid an accident.
Nominally 20 different short (1-2 minute) scenarios will be provided.
Additional scenarios based on specific user requirements may be
included. The response of the simulated vehicle to the driver's inputs
as well as the visual field-of-view will be degraded based on the
simulated level such that it will be difficult to avoid an accident when
the driver is "Driving under any influence (liquor, insufficient sleep,
stress etc). Accidents are simulated with a cracked windscreen and the
sound of crushing metal and breaking glass. Driving simulators are being
increasingly used for training drivers all over the world. Most of the
car manufacturers have their own stimulator programs.
So what makes a safe driver? How do you think driving laws could be
safer for adults? Should there be stricter laws and more law enforcement
on the road? Does insurance need to cover more things for a driver? Do
you think the courses involved with drivers training programs and the
license issuing need to be stricter? The answer finally boils down to
one critical fact : the key to reducing and preventing motor vehicle
accidents is the proper and qualitative screening, selection, training,
testing, and granting of driving privileges to drivers.