Friday the 13th felt like a good date for putting my life in the hands of the Ford Driving Skills for Life team.
Promised a range of activities from gravel track to skid pan to driving simulated under the influence of drink, drugs or distraction, a group of about 30 bloggers and influencers descended upon the Killarney race track in Tableview.
If the welcome was anything to go by – we were greeted with fine coffees courtesy of Barmotion or the opportunity to cycle-blend your own smoothie via Blendavenda and a Ford cap to protect us from the baking sun that Friday was throwing at us – we were definitely in for a stunning day, which proved to be the case.
Driving Skills for Life
When everyone had arrived we got down to the serious work at hand.
We were welcomed and then a representative from Ford got up to do an impressive presentation. We were told that the Ford Driving Skills for Life programme – which is FREE – is in fact an international programme.
“If I could change everyone’s attitude we could change the streets. It’s all attitude. We become something different when we climb into this metal box”
That quote stands out for me even a few days later as i think back to three idiots overtaking me [and other cars, across solid lines and in one case almost into incoming traffic] just on one trip home at night after an improv show. The few minutes gained [and it really is just a few] by a moronic act like that could literally be exchanged for someone’s life and a whole world of hurt.
We were alerted to the two biggest causes of accident and death. Drinking and driving which wasn’t a surprise to anyone. But then distracted and driving which probably was, even though it is so obvious when you think about it for even a moment. But we like to justify that ‘quick text’ or ‘necessary phone answer’ and the truth is it adds some level of distraction to every one of us. This might be fine if everything else goes according to plan, but the moment there is something unexpected like a car braking in front of us or dog running into the road, that momentary lapse might be everything.
We were invited to take the #YourRoadOurRoad pledge which commits to not drinking and driving or texting and driving.
We were also reminded that safe economic driving means eco-friendly driving. The more fuel we save, the better it is for our environment.
Another thing which stood out about this particular day – disappointing as it may have been to the macho twitchy-footed race-driver-wannabes among us – was the statement that ‘Ford isn’t about the fastest lap time. It is about safety.’ While that might not met our adrenalin-seeking aspirations, it is a great message to hear as we head into what is always such a dangerous time on our roads as the year nears its end.
The Hashtag for the event was #GoFurther and Ford continued with a Powerpoint presentation with Ten Tips designed to help us do just that. From the more obvious ‘Use Safety Restraining Belts at all times’ through ‘Avoiding Distractions while driving’ all the way to the less obvious ‘Switch off the engine selectively’ and ‘Remove weight and unused racks’.
From this presentation, probably the point that struck me the most was the moment the presenter said ‘No-one can multi-task’. Obviously an inward raging response of ‘Clearly this dude hasn’t met me’ which was immediately stopped in its tracks by the explanation. If you are using five percent of your focus to check on a text message then that is five percent that has been taken away from your full attention on the road [Bad example though, cos that would clearly be a lot more than five percent, but you get the point]. Which does make a lot of sense. And reiterates the need for total attention on the road.
Even taking a phone call with a hands-free kit means that some of your focus is on the conversation and so you might think you have 100% on the road but that’s impossible. You are thinking of what to say and responding to what has been said and to some degree distraction is taking place. The suggestion was to answer a call and say “I’m driving so please call me back later” and let that be the extent of any call-taking you do on the road.
The presentation was really good and made more effective by being done by a paramedic who sees a lot of hectic stuff as first responder to accidents in Joburg. He told us that if he took us on just one night with him, we would all likely give up driving. That kind of perspective hopefully encourages all of us to take the distraction thing a lot more seriously – we tend to think things like that always happen to someone else.
Ford Driving Skills for Life Activities
Then it was about being broken into five groups with different colour arm bands [team orange!] and taking turns doing the 5 activities they had set up for that day, three which were in cars and two which were using simulated parameters.
A series of cones were set up to make a track and at a certain point a row of cones simulating a bus was directly in front of us. The first time we drove full speed towards the bus and when directed we slammed on brakes and swung the wheel fully to the right and then once we passed the bus straightened out again and continued driving. The second time we did exactly the same except without touching the brakes.
GRAVEL DRIVING/4 X 4 OFF ROAD EXERCISE:
Using Ford vehicles, the drivers will drive over a series of obstacles and sand. We used a beautiful Ford Raptor for this exercise and got to experience and then drive ourselves a variety of off-road conditions using descend control, adaptive cruise control, diff lock and experiencing the difference between high and low ratio.
Two Ford vehicles – Ford Mustang and a Ford Everest raced against each other through an identical course of cones. Each driver was asked a question before setting off and at the end of the set course had to park in Gate A or Gate B depending on their answer to the question. The purpose of this exercise was both to reinforce safety tips we had learned during the presentation and with the pressure of racing plus thinking about the question, the chance of distraction and how it might affect.
REACTION BOARD DRUNK /DRUG DRIVING ACTIVITY
This was one of the inside activities and probably the one which surprised the most people. Participants would engage in a thirty second attempt to hit the lit button out of eight that would randomly light up at different heights on both sides of you. [Average first time round was between 30 and 45 and i managed an impressive 46!]
The second time round we did the same thing but wearing goggles that simulated being drunk or drugged by seriously impairing your sight. When participants were wearing these scores were typically half what they had scored the first time and often they would miss the buttons completely having an idea where the light was coming from but with blurry enough vision to not quite be on point [I scored 18 which is a massive drop!]
SLEEP SUIT ACTIVITY
The last activity, which i sadly due to time didn’t get a chance to try out, was the sleep suit activity. With a weighted suit plus weights attached to their arms participants would walk out a short path responding to the trainer who had a Stop or Go sign to tell them when to move. Then they repeated the activity using some distracting goggles similar to the activity before and it was fascinating to watch how much less successful their second attempt was.
The objective is to highlight the importance of getting enough rest the night before heading out on a long trip. If you are planning to go away in December, remember to take regular breaks, as fatigue plays a huge role in vehicle collisions, so rest every 200km or every 2 hours on a long trip.
Wrapping it up
i hope that gives a glimpse into the complete vibe that the Ford Driving Skills for Life day was for all of us. This didn’t even go into mentioning the incredible Gelato that BarMotion had waiting for us in between activities or the finest ribs and chips that i had for lunch via Rocky’s BBQ plus a stream of non-alcoholic [obvs!] drinks waiting to quench our thirsts.
Combined with the opportunity of meeting some really interesting people involved in a wide range of activities from wedding or landscaping photography to a group of super charismatic black sommeliers from BLACC [whose story i am hoping to share early next year!] and lifestyle bloggers and more this really was such a life-giving day.
Huge thanks to the friendly staff at Ford who were unbelievably generous in both their time and disposition and whose value of safety seems to flow through everything they do. Ford hosts these Driving Skills for Life days around the country so check out their page and drop them a mail and see how you can get to the next one that happens near you.
[For another way that you can be intentional about driving more creatively in South Africa, check out this post]