About How to Drive
Driving is one of the most pleasurable things we do on a daily basis. It is also the most dangerous, and it doesn’t matter whether you drive on the right or the left, using an automatic gearbox or a manual: the fundamental principles and physics of driving are the same everywhere.
The number of vehicles on the world’s roads now exceeds 1 billion. Car crashes kill 50% more people than malaria and the World Health Organization predicts road deaths will rise 52 per cent by 2030, overtaking HIV/AIDS as a global killer within the decade.
Perhaps that isn’t so surprising. Whichever country you’re from, you want to go from being a learner to a driver as fast as possible. Having tackled a tough multiple-choice questionnaire, reversed round a corner and successfully navigated a supermarket car park, you tear off your L-plates or probationary stickers, and take a ton of speeding metal out onto the open road.
Millions of drivers will receive their licences this year with less than eighteen hours’ driving experience under their belt. A Starbucks barista receives twenty-four hours of training before being handed the keys to an espresso machine.
The robotic syllabus of the driving test itself remains painfully inadequate, not so much in what it contains as how much is left out: controlling a skid, driving on a motorway, tackling a corner, driving at night, overtaking… the list goes on. Of those who pass, less than 1 per cent receives further training.
Governments, road safety groups, even the Green lobby want to wrap us in cotton wool and then pull it over our eyes. They would have us believe that speeding, among other things, is the biggest danger facing modern drivers, but 700,000 police road accident reports gathered over the last five years tell a different story. The real killer is simply poor driving.
Exceeding the speed limit contributes to less than 14 per cent of fatal accidents, but driver error is a significant factor in more than 65 per cent. Poor turns, dodgy manoeuvres and failing to negotiate slippery roads contribute to four times more road deaths than mobile phones. Losing control of the car is the primary cause of driving fatalities, while failing to look properly causes the most accidents.
In the past, insurance companies only concerned themselves with information you can find on the electoral roll. Recently they started looking into driver telemetry to see if there was a link between how you drive and accident probability. There was. Drivers who jerk the steering or stomp the brakes and throttle like they’re putting out a fire are high risk. Smooth drivers are less likely to crash, because driving smoothly requires you to control the machine properly and look further ahead.
How to Drive provides these missing chapters in your driving education. and I plan to share the skills developed and employed over a twenty-year career at the cutting edge of motorsport, from Le Mans racing to NASCAR, driving the Batmobile and dodging bullets with James Bond, as well as eight years’ duty as The Stig for Top Gear.
The skills I describe were honed on racing tracks by the greatest drivers in the world. As we’ll come to see, their philosophy of speed is really one of economy of motion, and with that comes greater fuel efficiency, safety and control. It’s about driving better, not faster. Whether you’ve been behind the wheel for the best part of 30 years or you bought your L-plate ten seconds ago, this is the stuff your instructor missed, your dad forgot and your mates pretend to know… but don’t.
The journey begins with understanding why we drive the way we do, and how we can improve. You won’t believe this, but the majority of the world’s population is driving on the wrong side of the road because of a simple misunderstanding. Our system of learning has been little different.
Stage two involves getting your hands dirty as we open up the machinery that will transport you to heaven and back. Despite what Google thinks, the ultimate operating system riding onboard this marvel of engineering is you, not the damned computer.
Then we hit the open road and I’ll show you how to drive smoother than a jazz band surfing a soap dish down a butter mountain. To avoid any slip-ups along the way, you’ll learn to see the road through a racing driver’s eyes: looking so far ahead that you’ll know what your great grandchildren will be having for breakfast in 2115.
Once fate is firmly in the back pocket, we’ll venture into the parts of life we can’t always master but can learn to control: driving on ice, handling skids, dealing with emergencies and still managing to enjoy the ride. And we’ll finish with some soul food: stunt driving.
The Highway Code it isn’t, but with How To Drive you’ll learn to read the road, take control of the car with confidence and develop a driving style to be proud of. Driving is about becoming the master of your fate, and, believe me, there’s no better or more worthwhile journey.