August 17, 2016 @ 06:40 PM

Practice makes perfect

Driver education is a lifelong lesson of learning and a driver training course is the perfect 101.


One of the gravest issues plaguing the nation’s roads is the false sense of competence behind the wheel that most motorists fallaciously bestow upon themselves having completed the rather vague theoretical and practical driving test in the country.
                                                                                                     
Further compounding the predicament is the fact that the good drivers think they are better than they are but the atrocious ones place themselves on a pedestal; sitting high and mighty above all that share the road with them and believing they have nothing left to learn.



Having been in this line of work for almost a decade now, yours truly would fall squarely between the two case studies mentioned above. With a resume that spans a few hundred cars of diverse segments in a variety of conditions, it would not be entirely ambitious to fire off a statement along the lines of being a safe and predictable driver.
 
Truth be told though, how often are we censured for our driving? The answer is not often and even then, it is voiced by concerned passengers that our egos conveniently brush aside as paranoid.



Nonetheless, the stark separation factor between the good drivers and the atrocious ones would be that the latter knows no matter what, there is always something new to be learnt behind the wheel of a car.
 
This is precisely why driver education should be a continuous and never-ending pursuit, regardless of the type of driving you undertake every day.



If you are ever presented with the opportunity to attend an advanced driving course, grab it. Drop whatever it is in your hands like it is hot and wrap your grubby fingers on that entry form because you will come out a safer, more intuitive and generally well rounded driver.
 
Courses such as the BMW Advanced and Intensive Driver Training programme should be made mandatory or a part of the driving curriculum for all drivers before being granted a license. Unfortunately, the world does not dance to that tune; and we wonder why the accident rates keep climbing every year.



The Intensive course is still essentially an entry-level course although it is the most developed one offered in Malaysia by BMW at the Sepang International Circuit (SIC); with the stepping stone into this world being the Advanced course.
 
One thing you need prepare for though is bring criticised. It is not that the instructors have taken a disliking to you although it would not hurt to be on your best behaviour but the cardinal purpose here is to send you out the door after the two-day weekend course a better driver and the only way to do that is to nitpick on every single negative trait behind the wheel until its completely purged from your subconscious.



So do us all a favour and leave the ego at home for this one.
 
The first item on the agenda is not chalking up some fast laps but chalking up the blackboard with about an hour and a pinch more spent in a physical classroom for theoretical lessons with chief instructor Wong Kah Keen.



In the classroom, Wong points out some of the most common harmful practices behind the wheel. Everything is simplified for the participants to understand and digest before taking to the track. The importance of the right seating position, proper hand placement on the wheel and looking where you intend to go is repetitiously preached throughout the theoretical session.
 
As the last slide hits the projector, we are all instructed to head down and get in our respective cars with your assigned partner. Previously, the weapon of choice was the 328i but this time around BMW Group Malaysia prepared a baker’s dozen of 120i M Sport hatchbacks that seemed like a better fit for fast driving.



Proper seating positions locked in, walkie-talkie checks and off we go for the start of some actual driving, of which Wong explains there will be plenty of over the two days.
 
First up is a slow slalom designed specifically to induce the right steering technique that was taught in the classroom. Instructors stand in the middle of the oval-shaped course and monitor the hand movements to assess if the right arm-over-arm technique is practiced during the tight U-turns and all hands are loosely gripped at the nine and three o’clock positions.



Once Wong and is team are satisfied, the dozen cars are split into two teams with each heading for a different lesson before swapping over. We started off with the emergency braking and lane change that may have seemed simple on paper but it should be noted that some cones were hurt in the lessons that followed.
 
Drivers speed up to around 80km/h before executing a swerving lane change and melding the brake pedal to the floor in a controlled environment to display the functions of the stability control and ABS.



Next up was the showmanship side of things and the only lesson over the entire weekend that necessitated the complete deactivation of the stability control; the skid pad.
 
A large radius U-turn is set up and a healthy amount of some secret sauce that consists primarily of soap and oil concoction is poured on the surface. Then you enter the turn, floor the pedal to kick the rear wheels out and try to maintain the drift until the end.



Naturally, understeer is more prevalent in daily driving and when faces hits the fan but on the occasion that oversteer kicks in, having some experience in dealing with it would definitely be the difference between a new pair of pants or a new front end.
 
Following that, it was time to tackle some braking in a corner. With the advent of ABS and stability control, hard braking in a corner has become less of a skill and more of a knee-jerk reaction knowing that the electronic nannies will keep you alive; most likely.



Speeds are gradually built up from 80km/h to 100km/h before attempting it at a nerve-wracking 120km/h. Even with ABS, as speeds increase not only does the stopping distance but you as a driver will need to periodically ease off the brake and get back on it to allow the car to change direction a little quicker.
 
Even with the stern electronic nannies on hand, negotiating a turn at braking hard at those speeds asked a lot of the participants.



For the final act before the hot laps, the instructors brought us to the double lane change layout; also answerable to the call of the Moose Test. The course is designed to replicate avoiding a moose or any stray animal that would mimic a deer-in-the-headlights situation that you would have to swerve sharply to avoid and then once again to return to your lane.
 
Cones were killed, lessons were learnt and reaction times improved within just a few tries as the instructors pointed out the mistakes drivers were making.



With that done and dusted, it was time for some hot laps. Before that though, Wong wound up the high-strung nature of the situation a couple of turns more with the announcement of a timed gymkhana and track sector for participants to full employ their newfound talents behind the wheel. It certainly achieved the desired result; coaxing out the competitive edge in everyone.
 
Before taking on the whole of the newly-resurfaced course, each group would take on the north and south loop of SIC to learn the racing lines, braking points and apexes in spoonfuls rather than shovel loads.



Each driver gets to follow behind the instructor’s car to learn the lines and some of the changes to the track after the resurfacing exercise that transformed some corners into off-camber turns.
 
After the initial warm-up and familiarisation, the instructor picks up the pace and you learn the tackle the turns quicker and quicker. Gradual braking is practiced instead of hard braking as the stock discs tend to warp over a weekend of being flogged on track and brake judder has to be minimised. Turn one after the long straight is the biggest culprit here.



The track sessions are perfectly scheduled to allow for sufficient time in the pits to evaluate each driver and get some pointers from the instructors. Having attended the Advanced course, there were plenty of familiar faces and it was quite obvious a number of them were comfortable making haste around the circuit.
 
Before the testosterone battle in the form of a gymkhana and timed sector, each and every driver is put in the hot seat; a lap of the full circuit with the instructor tailing and pointing out your mistakes. Commendations are few and far between but we are not here for pats on the back and gold stickers for your scrapbook. We are here to prevent accidents on the road.



Although the Intensive course is the toughest one on offer in Malaysia, it doesn’t stop repeat offenders as no matter how many times you attend one of these, you always learn something new.
 
Attending a course like this is as much about showing what you can do as it is about showing what you cannot do. Learning your limitations in a controlled environment sets you up nicely for the uncontrolled one that you call your daily commute.



The course will set you back RM3,688 if you are not a BMW owner and RM3,388 if you are. It might sound like a hefty sum to some but considering the amount of track time you get and the lessons learnt, it really is quite a bargain. Furthermore, can you actually put a price on safety?
 
Driver education is a never-ending pursuit and the biggest mistake you can ever make on the road is thinking you have nothing left to learn. So if you get the chance to attend one of these, I implore you to do it.

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