Driver skills training and the perception of risk.

Since the studies of the 1990’s on Nordic Skid Pan Training, there have been many discussions on whether driver training should focus on skills training. The general consensus is that it is preferable (from a driver safety point of view) to focus instead on fine tuning the perception of risk.

All driving courses include an element of risk perception. The ‘Look, Assess, Decide, Act’ (LADA) routine as described in ‘Driving: The Essential Skills’ and the integration of the Information part of ‘Roadcraft’s’ IPSGA throughout  manouevres are both focussed on anticipating risk.

Driver Training and increasing risk perception

However, many courses still appear to the candidate to be about improving ‘advanced driving’ skills, whether they be cornering or overtaking techniques on road, or descending steep slopes on off-road training courses. Some companies still see skid pan courses as useful training, rather than as a very small part of a larger picture with regards to driver development.

This is because learning new skills and testing one’s ability is fun! We can sell excitement. Everyone wants to slide a BMW around an airfield, or drive a Land Rover over what looks like a cliff-edge. Selling risk assessment and risk perception courses isn’t quite so simple!

There are several studies showing that a successful driver safety programme must be assessed carefully before being implemented, to ensure that candidates’ confidence in their skills is not raised higher than their abilitiy to accurately percieve risk. All of the driver training courses and 4×4 training designed for the Beyond Driving group are aimed at increasing the anticipation and understanding of risk.

More can be done. Rather than handing out pointless feedback forms at the end of training sessions, which the majority of candidates will tend to fill out quickly and without thought, we need to give them time to reflect on the experience and respond. Where possible, follow-up assessments should be made, to find out whether an increased perception and understanding of risk at the end of a training session is still in evidence some months down the line.

Drivers who lack the ability to accurately recognise hazards and assess potential risk, will find it impossible to plan how to negotiate them.

This skill is undoubtedly the single most important goal of any driver training course, but for many years in driver training, especially in the off-road driving world I work in, the cart has traditionally been put before the horse.

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