Avoiding road dangers with the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience

The new B-class. (Photo from www.Cheryl-Tay.com)

What are some of the main causes of driving errors?

Peter Hackett, Australian racing driver and chief instructor of the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience, touched on them in a presentation recently.

Developed in Germany to teach participants how to recognise and avoid dangers while experiencing the luxury car brand brand, the Mercedes-Benz Driving Experience is a series of full-day driving programmes, one of which I attended.

The event was held in Singapore from 17 to 26 August at Changi Exhibition Centre, hosting about 330 participants in total.

In Peter's presentation, he said the biggest cause of driving errors is inappropriate speed, followed by failure to observe right of way, maintaining of insufficient distance, errors when turning off, incorrect use of road and influence of alcohol.

Inappropriate speed, Peter explained, is the inability of the driver to recognise the speed for the environment. For example, there are speed limits on public roads, but within the temporary track for our driving course, one can go at 240km/h but would that be appropriate?

Another thing he brought up was how one of the most dangerous things about driving is how one does not know about the stopping abilities of the car — that is, how long and how far it takes to stop.

He went on to explain some of the technological innovations that Mercedes-Benz has, which are designed to monitor your driving style in real time and thus, adapt the car to your profile.

Pushing the ABS system to its limits. (Photo from www.Cheryl-Tan.com)

For instance, if you are the kind that is more aggressive with your right foot, the car will shift gears faster and make the pedals more sensitive. By observing and understanding the way you drive, it will then be able to respond to you faster in times of emergencies. Like if you brake harder than usual, or step off the gas quicker than usual, it will recognise that you might be in trouble and prepare systems such as the ABS and Brake Assist to brake with you.

After the class, we then proceeded in our respective groups to try out the different exercises where we could test these road safety skills with various Mercedes-Benz cars and learn how to handle the car safely to respond appropriately in critical driving situations.

Qualified instructors Josh Hunt, George Miedecke and Charlie-Ro Charlz managed the respective stations where we went through exercises on evasive ABS braking, tight cornering, sudden lane changing and slalom steering, with and without the use of electronic aids to feel the difference. At the end of the day, the stations were all combined into a track layout where participants applied the techniques learnt and compete for the fastest time.

Some of the exercises we did include:

1. Slalom
Essentially steering the vehicle around a row of cones as quick and smoothly as you can, the objective is to realise the importance of holding and controlling the steering wheel correctly, while maintaining a correct driving position.

2. Sudden Braking and Sudden Lane Change
This is to simulate a dangerous situation where you have to suddenly brake hard to avoid an obstacle, before stabilising the car.

3. Evasive ABS Braking
This is designed to push the ABS to its limits, and also to see how speed and incorrect reactions such as excessive steering movements can result in different consequences. Participants learn how to co-ordinate hard braking and smooth steering movements to prevent understeer or skidding.

4. Cornering
A common fear most drivers face is taking an unknown corner too fast and ending up at the side of the road. It is always better to go in an unfamiliar corner slow. In this exercise, participants could experiment the speeds to take the corner, understand causes of understeer and oversteer, and how driver behaviour affects cornering.

The instructors of the course I attended conduct about 200 of such events a year, going through similar courses for different markets and different types of drivers.

Interestingly, they found that Singaporeans tend to have greater enthusiasm compared to other countries. Expanding on their comments, I think the reason for that is probably because we don't have a purpose-built circuit here for us to drive cars to its limits and driving courses like these don't happen often.

To add on, our car prices are too high and most would not be willing to even test their cars to the limit. Thus, once the opportunity is given, it is treasured and much appreciated.

Fees for the courses were $300 for Mercedes-Benz Singapore customers and $400 for the public on weekdays, $500 for Mercedes-Benz Singapore customers and $600 for the public on weekends and public holidays.

Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.

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