Our friends at Aviva Car Insurance recently sent us a couple of great interviews with some tips on safe driving. The first is with racing driving instructor Bradley Philpot.
Name: Bradley Philpot
Job Description: Racing Driving Instructor
Can you briefly describe your career and any high points?
I raced karts from 8 years old right up until present day. I won the Red Bull UK Kart fight, won the Toyota MR2 UK championship, raced as a factory Peugeot driver in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, won the Silverstone 24 Hours, and recently beat Sebastian Vettel in the Race Of Champions Skills Challenge.
What is the most common mistake you see learners and new drivers making?
Obviously from my perspective a learner driver is someone new to driving fast. I would say the most common mistake I encounter is the wrong reaction to understeer: namely, applying too much steering lock for a given speed. Drivers unfamiliar with the experience of the limit of grip often turn the steering wheel too far, with the mental process essentially “the car isn’t turning enough, therefore I should turn the wheel more.” This is a situation often encountered in normal road driving when a new driver attempts to drive too quickly around a corner and ends up effectively going straight on.
The appropriate course of action is to reduce the power (i.e. lift off the throttle) and maintain or even reduce the amount of steering lock. This allows the front wheels to connect with and rotate in sync with the tarmac, giving control back to the driver.
Please describe some of the techniques you use to show professional drivers how to control their car?
Firstly, drivers need to realise that a car will always go where the front wheels are pointed, which means maintaining correct hand position is key. Unlike slowly manoeuvring a car, parking for example, where the driver is very unlikely to be near the limit of grip, in a higher speed situation it’s vital that the driver knows precisely which way the front wheels are pointed. This requires a consistent grip in the same place on the steering wheel, at quarter past nine, with the driver’s hands directly opposite each other. In short, when the driver straightens their hands, the front wheels are immediately straight without the imprecision and tardiness of ‘feeding’ them straight. Without this foundation, it’s almost impossible to move onto more advanced techniques.
What do you think is missing from the current driving test?
I think some form of car control test, as seen in some Scandinavian countries, would be very useful. As it currently stands, the first time a driver feels the sensation of their car sliding is more often than not immediately before they have their first accident. When you ask them what happened, the answer is almost always ‘the car skidded’, demonstrating that nothing has been learned about how to avoid the same scenario next time.
Can you elaborate on some situations where your techniques would benefit the average road user?
Driving at normal speeds in low grip conditions (rain, snow or ice) is essentially the same as driving at high speeds in dry conditions. The same techniques as we would use on track, such as using the full permitted width of the road in order to minimise the angle of a corner, judging the correct speed for a given amount of grip, or even maintaining an acute awareness of where the front wheels are pointed as mentioned above, would all be of benefit to the average road user and help to prevent accidents.
What are your views on vehicle tech and its rise in usage?
I think it’s a well-known fact that driver error is the number one cause of accidents on the road, so I’m fully in favour of driver assistance technology on the road. Having seen for myself how the average driver responds to certain situations behind the wheel when something goes wrong, I’m more than happy to know that there are intelligent electronics working away on many road cars to help keep people safe. In terms of other technology, such as in car entertainment systems, provided they work to prevent distraction rather than cause it, I support it.
What out-of-car techniques (things that can be taught in a setting other than driving) do you use to improve driver skill?
For performance drivers, we would make sure they are fit with regular trips to the gym, as well as circuit familiarisation using racing simulators. Simulators can also be useful for learning car control without the associated risks of real driving. However, there’s no substitute for seat time in a real car.
How do you think attitude affects the way people drive?
I’ve seen for myself that a negative or angry attitude can have drastic implications on a driver’s performance on circuit. A happy driver is a quick driver. It’s important to not allow situations to affect you mentally as concentration can start to lapse and that’s when mistakes begin to creep in. This is as much true on the road as it is on track.
How can drivers avoid accidents?
This is quite simple. By driving at the appropriate speed for the conditions as well as avoiding distractions and giving the road in front of them their full attention.
If you could give one piece of advice to learners, what would it be?
Remember that passing your test doesn’t mean you are yet an expert, so be willing to learn more each day of your driving life.
For more great driving tips, check out Driving like a pro: keeping road safety on track.