Many people consider themselves to be a safe driver but believe driver errors, such as lack of experience and poor behaviour are the leading causes of road collisions.
We turned to racing driver Scott Mansell and racing coach Bradley Philpot to get a professional’s view on what it means to drive safely, and how on-track safety techniques translate to everyday driving.
Scott Mansell, Racing Driver and Driver Coach
Former professional driver and coach from Driver 61, Scott first stepped into an F1 car when he was just 16 years old. Since then, he’s won numerous European championships, holds 5 outright lap records across Europe and spent thousands of hours coaching racing drivers on circuits.
Speed and vision
Becoming a safer driver is “all about being more visually aware” says Mansell; “there’s a lot of information coming to you when you drive, a lot to process.” In fact, vision plays such an important role that “it’s the first thing we need to correct when someone drives on the circuit.” Mansell mentions that this holds particularly true when it comes to new drivers, or people who are learning to drive, stating that “their vision becomes very narrow and focused due to all of the new information and excitement of driving.”
If you feel that things are a little too frantic and you’re overwhelmed, slow down. Just by slowing a fraction, you give yourself so much more time to process and make sense of information – thereby not going over your mental capacity. Scott Mansell – Racing driver and coach
However, safety issues may arise “when people aren’t visually aware or there is too much information coming to them.” Mansell suggests that “the simple way to resolve this is to drive slightly slower, so you have more time to process the visual information.” On the road, this could be the difference between detecting a hazard that could lead to a road collision and missing it. Whether it’s on the road or on the circuit, “if drivers can process all of the information, and stay below their mental capacity, there would be fewer crashes.”
Bradley Philpot, Racing Driving Instructor
Racing Driver Instructor at Brands Hatch, Bradley began his career driving karts at the age of 8, and is still going strong 23 years on. His achievements include winning the Red Bull UK Kart Fight, the Toyota MR2 UK Championship, the Silverstone 24-hour, and beating F1 legend Sebastien Vettel in the Race of Champions Skills Challenge.
Know where you’re heading
“Drivers need to realise that a car will always go where the front wheels are pointed, which means maintaining correct hand position is key,” says Philpot. In higher speed situations, such as when driving on a motorway, “it's vital that the driver knows precisely which way the front wheels are pointed.”
To achieve this, the driver must have “a consistent grip in the same place on the steering wheel, at quarter past 9, with their hands directly opposite each other.” This means that “when the driver straightens their hands, the front wheels are immediately straight without the imprecision and tardiness of 'feeding' them straight.”
According to Philpot, one of the most common mistakes made by drivers, particularly those who are relatively inexperienced, is to “apply too much steering lock for a given speed.” This occurs when a driver thinks their vehicle isn’t turning enough, and consequently turns the steering wheel too far in one direction. Philpot states 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.”
Drivers can avoid this by “reducing the power (i.e. lift off the throttle) and maintaining, or even reducing, 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.”
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. Bradley Philpot – Racing driver instructor
Anger is the emotion which most affects driving. Philpot highlights that “a negative or angry attitude can have drastic implications on a drivers’ performance,” emphasising that “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.”
From track to test
In addition to their top safe driving tips, Mansell and Philpot also offered their opinion on what could be added to the current driving test. Their answers were unanimous: car control.
“I think some form of car control test, as seen in some Scandinavian countries, would be very useful,” says Philpot; “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.”
Mansell echoes the statement: “I think that new drivers should learn what to do if/when their car skids. Many accidents could be prevented if drivers had this tool set. It’s training that many drivers receive in Germany.”
The never-ending road to safety
Whether you’ve recently passed your test, or you have years of experience under your belt, it can be helpful to periodically brush up on your skills. Philpot and Mansell are proof that even the best drivers in the world are constantly learning.