A column about driving, drivers, safety and learning

March 12, 2013
by Alan Sidorov

From the January-February print edition of Fleet Management

Welcome to what is planned as a semi-regular column in this publication. I am a racing driver, and currently run Sidorov Advanced Driver Training, based in Whistler, British Columbia. I’m also chief instructor for the largest resource road driving program in this province. Previously I worked with the top racing and advanced driving schools in the world, including Jim Russell International Racing Driver’s School in the UK and Skip Barber Racing School in the US. I’ve also done a lot of development testing for various manufacturers, precision driving for films, and belong to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

You will be forgiven, at this point, for asking what this has to do with fleet management. I have a small fleet of vehicles, which we use in our advanced driving courses, but more significantly, a large part of my company’s work involves training drivers for organizations with much larger fleets, which often use the vehicles in difficult conditions. Beyond that, many of the skills we use in racing cars can have benefit when applied to daily driving.

Let’s examine the racing aspect. To be any good in a racing car you have to learn to be efficient, to get the most out of a vehicle with the least possible abuse. I started in racing with no money of my own, so developing a reputation as someone who typically brings the car home in one piece was a critical career-building skill.

Fuel management is important; team managers love a driver who can nurse an extra lap out of a car while maintaining pace. Consider how this could apply to your own vehicle use, as well as to fleet management. Going with simple math, let’s say you are spending $100 on gas or diesel every week. Improving efficiency by 10 percent means more than $500 in your pocket each year. In our eco-driving clinics we have achieved even better results than this, while actually reducing travel times. Any reduction in fuel usage is usually accompanied by reduced wear and tear overall. Side benefits are fewer collision claims, because driving efficiently, which is to say driving better, means paying more attention.

The problem with encouraging operators to improve driving skills is that, if surveys are correct, just about everybody in North America already believes he or she is a better than average driver. Leaving aside the mathematical impossibility of this notion, there is a reason for the delusion. Driving a vehicle in Canada is a low probability/high consequence activity. It is possible to be completely inept behind the wheel—for a long time—and survive. The flip side of the coin is that when crashes do occur, the consequences can be devastating.

Two things illustrate our cultural view of driving. The first is the use of the convenient and forgiving term “accident” for a motor vehicle crash. In reality, 99 percent of so-called accidents are avoidable. A true accident might be a puppy peeing on the carpet; it does not compute when someone has been trusted with the operation of a potentially deadly instrument. The second is how we view other motorists, the maniac-idiot syndrome. Anyone going much faster than we are is a maniac, someone going slower is an idiot, or words to that effect.

I’ll be using this column to highlight driving skills, as well as cover certain areas of vehicle preparation and maintenance. We’ll review ideas about staying fit to drive, how diet affects performance, and more. I’ll also be doing road tests from a fleet perspective. A key element will be the interaction with readers, and if my other columns are any indication, you will have plenty of interesting questions as well as observations from your own experience. I’m looking forward to it.