Drive as though you could die

Last updated 05:00 15/12/2012
DRIVE ON: Are New Zealand drivers to reckless on the roads?

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New Zealand drivers are arrogant and uneducated. It is not hard to see why we are some of the worst in the world.

My job is training police recruits how to become effective front-line police drivers. I've been doing this for seven years and in that time my training cars and I have covered more than 180,000kms. The only mishap I've had on a public road in that time was reversing in to a letter box.

One of the glaringly obvious things that I have observed during my time on the roads is the arrogance of the average New Zealand driver. You've probably seen it too. How many times have you pulled out of a side road when you thought you had plenty of time, only to see a car bearing down on you from your right, brimming with the attitude of 'oh well, if I hit them, it'll be their fault because they pulled out in front of me and failed to give way'?

The driver of that vehicle has gone from defensive driving mode in to the self-righteous mode. They no longer care that you or your passengers, let alone themselves and their passengers, may be injured in the impending serious crash they are about to be involved in.

But hey, as long as it wasn't their fault, it's ok right?

Wrong. If a crash can be avoided, it should be. End of story. Who cares if it was their fault or not? Are you going to feel righteous about the fact that the crash wasn't your fault as you lay in your hospital bed with crushed feet and legs and scars that Frankenstein would wince at knowing that it wasn't your fault? I don't think so.

The NZ Defensive Driving program has been going a long time in New Zealand. It not only teaches you how to look out for yourself, but also for other road users. It's a pity that the program isn't compulsory. The purpose of the program is to help you, as a driver, to identify potential and actual hazards and threats to your safety.

They also show you ways to defend yourself from the actions of less than competent drivers whose path you may happen to cross. This information is invaluable and it is something I teach my students on a daily basis.

We teach the recruits how to do a commentary drive. We encourage them to pro-actively look for potential hazards and threats. This involves focusing 100 per cent on their environment as they drive and commenting on everything they see and perceive to be a threat. We want to recruits to recognise hazards early and to be prepared to deal with them sooner. They shouldn't care who will potentially be at fault because their main priority is to avoid incidents so they get to the job they are going to in a timely manner.

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We give them skid training to prepare them with the knowledge of what to do should the car go in to a skid and to show them what causes the car to go in to a skid in the first place so they know what to do to avoid it.

We run them through a mock pursuit exercise on public roads (not exceeding the speed limit), where they have to 'catch' a target vehicle. This too is all about driving defensively while under pressure. They have an end goal to achieve while at the same time they are not to disrupt, impede or interfere with the general public using the road.

Our entire programme is based on defensive driving techniques.

The end result is measurable and it's rewarding to see the trainees' improvement in their driving skills, as well as their understanding of what it takes to be a safe and effective police driver.

It's a shame we can't open up our course to the general public, because I see drivers on a daily basis that would definitely benefit from attending one.

My advice to public road users?

Be nice to each other.

Be considerate of other road users.

Think ahead about what could potentially happen next. Be pro-active instead of reactive.

Drive as though you or someone else could potentially die in a traffic crash if what you are doing goes wrong... because it may just happen.

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