Morgan Tait

Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's consumer affairs reporter.

Driving skills sharpened up

Classes show young people safety tips and how to cope with emergencies on the road.

Hamilton mechanics student David Randall-Leon about to take off wearing goggles that simulate what it's like to drive while intoxicated - all under the watchful eye of instructor Stu Owers. Photo / Richard Robinson
Hamilton mechanics student David Randall-Leon about to take off wearing goggles that simulate what it's like to drive while intoxicated - all under the watchful eye of instructor Stu Owers. Photo / Richard Robinson

Fifty youngsters took to the track at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park in Waikato to test-drive a road-safety course which aims to teach vital skills.

The Audi Driving Academy is backed by the New Zealand Transport Agency and is the first of its kind to be tested here for drivers aged from 18 to 24.

Participants were taken through safety exercises by professional drivers that included lane changing, braking with Anti-locking System Brakes and normal brakes, skid pan driving and learning how to react to sudden distractions.

Audi New Zealand general manager Dean Sheed said: "We tried to show the real-world effects of driving, to teach them the basics that they won't have achieved getting standard teaching.

"Thing like techniques you need to have to avoid getting into trouble in the first place, but if you can't avoid it, how to deal with it positively."

Mr Sheed said the company subsidised the cost of the course for participants, most of whom were customers or their children. However, 40 per cent of the group were not associated with the brand, and Audi paid for them to travel from around the country to participate free.

Depending on feedback, the course may be rolled out nationwide.

"Part of our business is driver education and I think a lot of people have a role to play in increasing driver education in the community."

Racecar driver Andrew Waite, 24, spoke to participants, drawing on his own accident at the V8 Supercars in Pukekohe last month.

"You never know what's around the corner, whether on the race track or the road, and developing the right driving techniques can be the difference between life and death," he said.

Hamilton student David Randall-Leon, 18, said he had been driving since he was 15, but learned a lot yesterday.

"It was great fun and experience too. You learn skills that you didn't think were possible.

"I learned about vision, like how having to look just not one or two car spaces in front of you but planning out your next step before you get to it."

The Wintec mechanics student was also surprised by the difference safety features played, and said cars with modern technology felt safer.

Day on track helps break bad habits

Pretending a row of blue road cones is a small child running in front of your car can be distracting, especially when you knock down a few of those cone "children".

But apparently, as my professional driving instructor Tim Martin said, that is okay.

"You don't want your first practice run to be that accident; you need to know how to get yourself out of trouble."

It was a far cry from being behind the wheel of my Honda Civic on the suburban streets of Auckland, but the skills learned during the trial at the Audi Driving Academy were valuable.

The instructor took me through three safety exercises: braking, changing lanes and improving vision.

Speeding at up to 80km/h on the Hampton Downs Motorsport Park track, I was instructed to slam the ABS brakes as hard as I could and steer the car around the cone "children". It's a manoeuvre that could have dire consequences if I was in a vehicle without a decent set of brakes.

"A race track is just somewhere that has no oncoming traffic, it is somewhere that gives us a closed road, somewhere you can make mistakes," Mr Martin said. And a place where important lessons can be learned for the 18- to 24-year-old drivers whom the pilot programme targeted.

During the lane change exercise I was again instructed to build up speed and dart around more cones on a wet surface before coming to a halt after the obstacle.

Further laps of the course concentrated on vision and looking hundreds of metres into the distance instead of a few car lengths ahead.

Since the lesson, I am more conscious of my driving, whether it is changing lanes, turning corners or paying attention to potential hazards.

- NZ Herald

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