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The Defensive Ride of a Lifetime in a BMW

The Defensive Ride of a Lifetime in a BMW

It was a Monday. Just another mundane Monday. Except I wasn’t sitting in an hour of traffic next to forlorn Gauteng drivers, behind the friendly neighbourhood taxi cutting me off on Jan Smuts.

Words by Carina Borralho

That Monday didn’t smell of exhaust fumes and agitation, nor did it sound like hooters and whistles. Instead, it was filled with the fear of knowing I was about to be thrown around on a wet road in a high-speed German car. So naturally, my stomach was throwing itself around in preparation.

I drove 45 minutes past vistas of our not-so-far-away countryside and fields that smelled of manure (a nice change from the carbon monoxide), all the way to Zwartkops in Pretoria. I was welcomed by RoadCover, who arranged a Defensive Driving Experience with BMW in an attempt to encourage safety on our roads. And considering the statistics, who can blame them (see bottom of article).

We started the day with tea/coffee, snacks and a theory session on safe driving. It was an eye-opening lesson and a sobering reminder of how quickly things can go wrong on the road.

According to the BMW defensive driving team, the top 5 causes of accidents on South Africa’s roads are:

  1. Alcohol
  2. Not checking blind spots
  3. Texting while driving
  4. Not obeying robots at intersections
  5. Not keeping a safe following distance

We then headed out – each taking a turn to drive, while an instructor pointed out the bad driving habits we’ve developed over the years (we all have them).

Next, it was time to buckle up and start acting like 18-year-old Subaru drivers from Edenvale (insert prayers). A group of us headed out to the tracks, where we would test the ABS on the BMW 340i’s we were assigned. Grouped in threes, I was put with the only other two females – one a hard-core petrol head, and the other a girls girl, with absolutely no desire to go fast in a piece of metal. So I guess I was somewhere in the middle.

The walkie-talkie announced “go!” and off I went at 80km/h toward a puddle of water and a couple of orange cones. I slammed on brakes, only to get told over the same walkie-talkie “don’t quit your day job”.

Despite my bruised ego, my second and third attempts were better, and I started to get this weird feeling like… I was actually enjoying this.

After lunch, the Everest of car challenges awaited, and we sat in the same BMWs where we were told to slowly approach some cones at an angle, then slam our foot down on the accelerator before making a sharp turn into wet road, causing the tail of the car to swing out. The point was to teach us how to control a vehicle under difficult conditions so that we don’t spin around in circles and into ditches in everyday life situations.

A deep sigh before being totally awesome (and doing better than half my male counterparts).

There are no words for how fantastically awesome it was. After the first turn and a brief pep talk from the instructor, I really gave it my all and my fear was replaced with adrenalin and pure, cavewoman-like pleasure.

But this course wasn’t just about getting my kicks. The Defensive Driving Experience by BMW helps you learn to identify hazards, escape routes and external factors that could impact your safety on the road. By addressing your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll improve your ability to react quickly and safely. You can also attain certification by passing the test three weeks after the course concludes. It also means lower insurance premiums.

I highly recommend this course or a similar one to all drivers. An improved level of confidence and a better awareness of those around you can only make you a better driver.

Safety Tips on the Road

  • Keep a safe following distance between you and the car in front of you (count 3 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of you).
  • Brake so that you can see the bottom of the tyres on the road of the car in front of you. This should measure about 3 metres.
  • When travelling long stretches of road, try commentary driving, where you call out what you see. Not only will this make you more aware of what is around you, it will also lengthen your concentration span and reduce your reaction time to any possible risks.
  • Don’t forget to check your blind spots. Most of us think blind spots are just something to tick off to pass your drivers, but it could actually save your life.

For more safe driving advice and for the experience of a lifetime, visit BMW Driving Experience at Zwartkops and book your defensive driving course.

Frightening figures posted on Arrive Alive from a statement by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters:

During the festive season for the period between December 2015 and January 2016

  • Small motor vehicles accounted for 47.9% of total crashes during this season, followed by light delivery vehicles at 22.7%, minibuses or combis at 10.1% and trucks contributed 4.8%.
  • The majority of people who died were passengers (38.3%), followed by pedestrians (34.9%). Drivers contributed (23.9%) of the fatalities and cyclists (2.8%).
  • The age group most affected for drivers as well as passengers and pedestrians between 25 to 39 years accounting for about 47.9% for drivers, passengers 38.5% and pedestrians 34.3% of the fatalities respectively.
  • Children aged from O – 4 contributed 10.4% of pedestrian deaths.
  • The gender mostly affected was males with a contribution of 74.4% to total fatalities. Females contributed 25.2% of the fatalities. Of this number 81.4% is apportioned to Blacks while the remainder varies between Coloured, Whites, Asians and Foreigners.
  • The gender of a 0.4% of the people was undetermined because they were burned beyond recognition.
  • Weekends continue unabated to pose a major challenge as ably demonstrated by the recent festive season reality. Most crashes occurred on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The highest fatal crashes were recorded on Saturday at a percentage contribution of 22.2% of the total fatal crashes, followed by Friday and Sunday with 18.8% and 16.9% respectively.


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