What Defines a Good Driver?

As a road safety educator with many years experience teaching and coaching people how to get the most out of themselves and their motor vehicle, we are often asked “What makes a good driver?”

It is an interesting question, when we are talking about racing drivers this can be answered with drivers falling into several categories, outright fast, reliable and extremely talented. But for road driving this is vastly different.

Let me explain.

Having competed for many years in dirt rallying, I honed my physical driving skills in the forests across this great nation of ours, no electronic aids to assist me, like ABS brakes, stability control or even traction control. In fact sometimes no traction was a benefit, allowing me to dance the vehicle between trees, gaining the maximum speed possible. I was lucky enough to be successful in this form of motor sport with the bonus being I really loved it.


My Peugeot Group A Rally Car

But does that automatically make me a good driver on the road? The quick answer is no. They are two completely different driving environments and yes while my ability to read a tree line and control a vehicle may be still very good, that alone does not constitute a good driver for public road driving. My reactions are still sharp and this does help on occasion, but is not required for 99% of our regular road driving needs. Technique is another aspect that is important and I will discuss that later in this blog.

This got me thinking, what does constitute a good driver for driving on public roads?

In essence it is a thinking driver, a driver that is completely switched on, aware of their surroundings and makes decisions based on the traffic, road conditions, driving environment, the vehicle they are driving and other road users. One who employs a defensive driving mindset that uses those techniques to ensure they are always positioned in a low risk situation.

Put simply a driver that can anticipate risk, put measures in place to avoid that risk or at the very least reduce it, that is a good driver for public road driving. But lets go a little further than that, what did my motor sport background teach me about driving on the road? Put simply, one word – limitations. We all have limitations, as do our vehicles. Overstep these limitations and there are serious consequences, trust me I have rolled three vehicles during my racing career each of them causing me considerable expense and on occasion pain!

In a race car we are surrounded by exceptional safety equipment, 6 point harness (seat belt) with 100mm webbing, chrome molly roll cage, seam welded joints, silhouette plating for strengthening, approved helmet, triple layer fire proof driving suit and the list goes on.

We don’t have this equipment in a road car, so the risks are significantly higher the faster we travel without any thought of what would happen if it all went wrong, call that complacency.

Our road cars have limitations, as do the drivers we share the roads with, this means our driving environment is ever changing. Add in distractions like the radio, mobile phone, passengers, boredom, kids, traffic congestion and your mind can easily drift away from the task at hand.

As we progress in our road driving career we build up a subconscious vault of near misses and potential crash scenarios we have seen along the way. Young drivers are yet to develop this, hence the over representation in significant crash rates for young inexperienced drivers.

Now back to driver competency, we see every day drivers that don’t understand this concept, they tailgate close to the car in front, they run red lights, they change lanes without indication, they drive while texting on their phone and certainly don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to driving.

Other common mistakes are not looking in the right place (far enough ahead), turning their head enough while cornering and focussing on objects they are trying to avoid (potholes as an example). This falls more into the area of driver competency.

We have established a good driver for the road, is an aware driver that looks to always minimise their risk and that of others. A driver that has the ability to stay focussed, scan ahead, anticipate and make decisions, despite the challenges we have already covered.

The cognitive physical aspect of driving is also important, this used to be referred to as skill. This also depends on the vehicle you are driving, what technology it has and how you apply that technology. For instance 95% of drivers who attend our Drive to Survive® defensive driving programs don’t understand how to use the antilock braking systems properly. Failing to apply it the right way or using old brake techniques that no longer apply is a common problem. Only generally identified at a training course or in the event of a crash when it is too late to change the outcome.

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Using technology correctly  and understanding it makes all the difference

Before ABS we would teach cadence braking, this is also referred to as threshold braking. Most commercial vehicles even into the late 2000’s have no brake lock assistance, so this is still relevant even today for some vehicles. A good driver understands the limitations of the vehicle they are driving and what is required to use the systems that vehicle is equipped with.

We need to start by recognising the issues, the training methods used to pass on bad habits, the lack of commitment by the average driver to be a better driver. In Europe driving is taken very seriously and to be a good driver over there is somewhat expected of you. Here we seem to have the idea that driving is our right to do so as opposed to it being a privilege.

When it all goes wrong we have no idea that our actions causing death can lead to gaol time, apart from the obvious fact that killing someone will be on your conscience for the rest of your life.

Our driving programs teach methods that keep your attention on the job of driving safely, and other techniques that are extremely helpful. Learning some tried and tested safe driving methods will help you Drive to Survive®.

So next time, you find your mind wandering from the job at hand, ‘driving’, ask yourself this one thing, am I a good driver right now at this point in time?

Safe travels.

Stewart Nicholls

Business Development Director

Ian Luff Motivation Australia


Stewart Nicholls

Stewart Nicholls

Business Development Director at Ian Luff Motivation Australia Pty Ltd
Stewart is a qualified motor mechanic who started motor racing at a young age. Being a key CAMS official and working with driver development programs for many years helped Stewart understand driver’s risk. His involvement with Road Safety Expert Ian Luff has resulted in developing new strategies for risk mitigation and staff management.

With many business awards and a focus on working with people Stewart’s ability to relay an important message about road safety is welcomed.
Stewart Nicholls

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