Editor’s Note: This article is in response to ISDA Member Glen Edmund’s post Road Training vs. Track Training
Having driven in some of the highest-risk locales in the world over the course of the last 30+ and, now, having taught evasive driving skills in 35 countries on 6 continents, there are a couple of points that I feel are worth adding to the conversation:
First, when you find yourself in what we, we being Vehicle Dynamics Institute, define as a behind-the-wheel emergency (which includes both potential accidents as well as security incidents such as a carjacking or full-on deliberate ambushes), and as Glen pointed out, there is no manner or amount of defensive driving skills that will contribute to your survival at that point.
Why is that? Because as Glen noted in his post, those particular techniques are intended to reduce the chance of being confronted by an emergency, as opposed to driving one’s way out of those high-stress, high-risk situations once the driver finds themselves in those situations.
Secondly, the stress that the driver is placed under in those situations typically has a debilitating effect on the capability of a driver who has never been placed in a similar situation or circumstance and, therefore, has had no prior exposure to those stressors and/or high levels of stress.
The physiological responses to those stressors include rapid narrowing of the field of vision, audio occlusion, loss of fine motor skills, and potential loss of cognitive abilities at or above 170 bpm heart rate. Those responses can ONLY be tempered through the proper integration of human performance training techniques which allow the student to buffer those effects in real-world situations. The ONLY way to impart the ability to do so in a manner that is durable, sustainable, and achievable by the student is incorporating those stress buffering techniques into experiential training which replicates, as closely as possible within necessary safety parameters, the defining elements of behind-the-wheel emergencies and incorporates specific stressors.
Let me be clear on this next point, as it is not meant to disparage but educate… I am in absolute agreement with Glen that no amount of defensive driving training, nor the application of “commentary drive” based on-road training will ever provide that level of stress, nor introduce the driver to the factors that define a behind-the-wheel emergency, all of which are absolutely necessary to develop the knowledge, skill, and ability to manage such emergency situations. Why? Because that’s simply not what defensive driving courses, nor the techniques they are based upon, are designed or intended to do.
Having said that, and, again, as Glen’s excellent post so clearly states, it’s factual that without defensive driving training a driver is more likely to find themselves in a behind-the-wheel emergency. But just because a driver has defensive driver training doesn’t mean they will never, ever find themselves in such a situation. But, if their training portfolio is limited solely to defensive driving techniques, when they find themselves in a behind-the-wheel emergency, it is equally factual that the outcome is, in many instances, all but preordained. To that very point, AAA conducted a study that found 85% of drivers killed in crashes over a three-year period had never had an accident. They were, by the layman – or by some defensive driving instructors – the definition of “good” drivers. That is, right up until the point that they found themselves in their first (and, tragically, last) behind-the-wheel emergency.
The second point, which anyone who has attended a VDI course over the last nearly 20 years – or our predecessor, the Scotti School’s courses dating back to 1974 – will tell you has been driven home (pun intended), is that if you are foolish enough to attempt to apply techniques intended to overcome a behind-the-wheel emergency in everyday driving, you will likely be fired, arrested or, perhaps, divorced should you do so with your spouse in the car.
Just as no one with an ounce of common sense would apply high-performance driving or racing techniques to everyday driving, nor should techniques that have proven to provide the knowledge, skill, and ability to survive behind-the-wheel emergencies be applied to everyday driving …it’s simply not what they are intended for. Similarly, once one finds themselves in an emergency situation, common sense alone dictates that the time for – and applicability of – defensive driving techniques is long past.