BMW prides itself on building dynamic cars for the enthusiasts. Whilst this trait is often associated with performance driving, there is also a safety aspect to it: a vehicle with sound dynamics loses control less frequently and is therefore less of a liability in an emergency situation.
Yet, as the saying also goes, a vehicle is only as safe as its driver; which is why BMW regularly organizes driver training courses at various locations across the world. One of the most highly sought after driver training programmes in the market, the BMW Driver Training course has established itself as a firm fixture in BMW Group Malaysia’s customer activity calendar with several trainings held each year conducted by certified instructors.
There are a number of other defensive and advanced driver training programmes from third parties and other car makes as well. If you have the time and money, we highly recommend spending a weekend at any one of these courses to pick up some useful driving tips that can one day save your life.
Additionally, these driver training programmes provide a safe and controlled environment in which you can explore the outer limits of your driving capabilities without putting yourself or bystanders in danger. Besides, they generally are a lot of fun.
We spent a day last week sharpening our skills at the Advanced level of BMW Driver Training programme, and here’s what we learned:
Course Structure – Lesson begins with an hour-long theory session teaching participants the basics of good driving. The theory class concludes with a demonstration on proper seat adjustment before participants adjourn to the practical exercises.
The modular nature of the programme mean that instructors mix and match the sequence of events in the best way to give each participant maximum allowable practice time for every exercise.
- Slalom: Always the first exercise in any defensive or advanced driving course. The slalom is used to get participants started on using the correct steering technique. A good driver should be able to negotiate the entire length of the slalom without needing to use the brakes.
- Emergency Lane Change: Accelerate along a straight line up to 60km/h and swerve (without using the brakes) to avoid an obstacle cone placed along the path. The surrounding directional cones only give about 3 metres of maneuvering room either side of the obstacle cone. Three metres may seem wide, but at 60 km/h, it is an exceedingly slim margin. Of the many defensive/advanced driving course exercise I’ve tried over the years, this is one of the most challenging ones; out of half a dozen run, my car was able to successfully avoid the obstacle only once. If there was to be one exercise in the programme that needed more repetitions, this would be it.
- Straight Line Hard Braking: Straight forward exercise also featured in almost all driving courses we’ve attended. Accelerate along a straight line, and slam the brakes hard to bring the car to a complete stop. Objective of this exercise is to get participants to experience utilizing full braking force in an emergency situation. It also serves to illustrate how braking distance increases with speed, and also to demonstrate the vehicle’s stability in being able to keep a straight line under severe braking.
- Brake-Steer-Avoid: A combination of the emergency lane change and straight-line hard braking exercises. Driver accelerates along a straight line, slam the brakes hard and steer to bring the vehicle to a complete stop at the adjacent lane. This exercise serves to demonstrate how ABS helps a vehicle retain directional control even under full braking.
- Skid Pad – Understeer: Driver enters a long-sweeping slippery bend at progressively high speeds. This exercise illustrates how excessive speed into a corner leads to understeer regardless of the vehicle’s drivetrain configuration.
- Skid Pad – Oversteer: Opposite to the exercise on understeer, the driver enters the same long-sweeping bend at low speed with electronic stability control deactivated and then asked to abruptly apply full power on the turn. As is the case in most driver training programmes, this exercise is typically most enjoyed by participants.
- Timed Gymkhana: Putting the day’s lessons to use in a simple gymkhana exercise featuring slalom, long-sweeping bend, and precision hard-braking to completely stop the vehicle inside a designated box.
- Track Fascination: Taxi ride round Sepang track by the instructors.
- Runflat Tyres Cannot be Repaired: BMW vehicles have been fitted with runflat tyres for over a decade now. The stiffened sidewalls of these tyres allow them to be driven at speeds up to 80km/h over a distance of 80km – allowing you to get yourself to a nearby tyre shop without having to stop. BMW regards this is as much a feature of safety as it is convenience, but they do come at a price though. Besides being costlier than regular tyres, runflat tyres are also not supposed to be patched after a puncture because the integrity of the sidewalls would have been compromised. That two-year tyre warranty certainly comes in handy.
- Importance of a Good Seating Position: The BMW Driver Training programme places strong emphasis on finding a good seating position for the driver. A properly seated driver is able to exert the appropriate level of strength to effectively operate the relevant controls at all times – particularly useful in an emergency. Also, a good seating position minimizes injury risk in the event of an accident.
- Why BMWs Don’t Come with Adjustable Seatbelt Anchors: All BMW vehicles, right up to the 7 Series, do not come with height-adjustable seatbelt anchors. This omission is not an act of stinginess on BMW’s part, but rather the company’s belief that a fixed anchor holds the passenger more securely in a crash than an adjustable one, even if a locking mechanism is in place.
- Steering Technique – Push-pull vs 9-3: There are primarily two schools of thought with regards to steering technique. Driving schools advocate the push-pull method, whilst others favour the 9-3 hand-over-hand approach. In my personal experience, I alternate between both, but the BMW curriculum firmly favours the latter. This approach, they argue, allows the driver to better judge the amount of lock applied to the steering and also to respond quicker in an emergency.
- Oversteer vs Understeer: Many people assume that understeer is inherent only FWD vehicles and oversteer applies only to RWD vehicles. Truth is that a FWD vehicle is more likely to understeer and RWD more likely to oversteer, the opposite is just as likely to happen. In the simplest terms, understeer happens simply because the front tyres lose grip whilst oversteer happens when grip is lost at the rear.
- Braking Distance: For the science buffs among us, kinetic energy increases proportionally with the square of your velocity. Your vehicle’s stopping distance, meanwhile, is directly proportional to the amount of kinetic energy which your vehicle is currently carrying. In English, it means doubling your speed quadruples your stopping distance in any given vehicle; a speed increase from 50 to 70km/h doubles yours stopping distance.
- Importance of Electronic Stability Control: Other than the oversteer skidpad exercise, it is worth noting that all the practical modules of the BMW Advanced Driver Training programme were performed with the vehicle’s electronic stability control switched on. Because of the rapid and precise nature which this system works, it can stabilize the vehicle in a way that most human drivers could not manage. The message simply, is this, don’t switch your vehicle’s stability control systems off unless you are in a controlled environment.
The above tips are useful pointers which you can put into practice or keep in mind for your everyday driving, but nothing beats experiencing it yourself. As driving enthusiasts, we wholeheartedly recommend participation in the BMW Driver Training to anyone with a driving license. Life is a continuous learning experience, and safe driving is one subject that we indeed should never stop learning about. Programmes like the BMW Driver Training gives you a safe and controlled environment in which you can explore the outer limits of your driving capabilities guided by the hands of professionals.