Racing Drivers Are NOT Road Safety Experts

Editorial opinion, by Eddie Wren, exec. director of Drive and Stay Alive, and policy director for Advanced Drivers of America

July 12, 2022

Without additional training, would you want a fighter pilot to fly the Boeing 747 that takes you and your family on vacation? Of course, fighter pilots are brilliant, but only at what they have been adequately trained to do!

Indeed, flying fighters and wide-bodied passenger jets are different skills and are carried out in different air space environments.

And so it is with racing on private circuits compared to driving in two-way traffic or, for example, through busy intersections on public roads.

So why is it, then, that many former racing drivers feel free to dole out advice for safe road driving? Is their undeniable expertise in speed, cornering techniques, and ‘winning’ relevant to sensible and safe driving in day-to-day traffic?

The sad fact is that not only do they get some critical things badly wrong about safety, but they also, on occasion, promote techniques that may be invaluable on a race track yet are positively deadly if used on a public highway.

But then, what is so difficult about driving a car on a public road? After all, most people who have never done any training other than the most fundamental driver’s education course or a few lessons with a proper driving instructor think that because they have been driving for 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, they must by definition be ‘good’ drivers. And this suggests that getting training from someone as glamorous as a racing driver will be beneficial and fun.

But they are all missing a critical point:  good driving (on public roads) is not only very demanding, but it is also a very complex skill in its own right.

The simple but sickening fact is that if — God forbid — a tragedy on the scale of the World Trade Center massacre occurred in the USA every 23 days, it would still kill fewer people each year than on America’s roads. And if that doesn’t get your attention, then nothing will.

Why are so many people killed on U.S. roads?


No. They are not accidents. That is a fallacy!

It is now accepted by experts worldwide that over 90 percent of all road crashes have human error as a causative factor.

Of course, it’s not the only one. Bad engineering (either of a vehicle or a road) is another, and component failure is another. But the latter example has to be qualified: For example, a new tire that bursts without warning (immensely rare) is a good example, but an old, worn tire that explodes is the driver’s fault — the tire should have been replaced before it got so bad.

In terms of current tragic results, the sad fact is that excellent road driving is not primarily about car control; it is about knowledge, experience, and attitude.

So here is the crux of the issue: Of course, racing drivers can teach every aspect of car control, and of course, an ability to control a vehicle reasonably well is necessary to help avoid harmful incidents, but a ‘reasonable degree of control’ probably only represents about 10 percent of the skills and abilities needed to be a truly good — as in proactively safe — road driver. And racing drivers generally have no more experience in these aspects than ordinary drivers.

The sad fact is that most drivers drift along in the entirely baseless belief that “it will never happen to me!” Does anyone seriously believe that many (if any) of the 42,000 people killed each year on America’s roads did think, “I will be killed in a traffic crash one day!” ?

Crash causation is a very complex subject in its own right, but let’s get back to our racing driver situation:

The ‘racing line’ used on racetracks is the fastest route through a curve, using the full physical width of the road. Is this a good idea for getting around curves on public roads? No, it is ludicrous, yet we have found it suggested online by professional people who merely think they know about in-depth road safety.

Is teaching young drivers how to correct a skid — using skid pad training — a good idea so they can hopefully get out of a skid the next time they get into one? It certainly seems like a good idea.

But it is not.

Research from various countries has shown that skid pad training can make young drivers less safe. It primarily serves to inflate their natural senses of infallibility and immortality to the point where kids who have done skid training have been shown not only to have more crashes afterward than their peers who did not do the movement but also that those crashes were more severe because the over-confident, skid-trained youngsters were driving faster.1

The second point about skidding relates to the fact that in the real world, it doesn’t happen on a big, safe skid pad, it occurs where there is other traffic, or there are roadside trees or utility poles that could kill you, or there are pedestrians and cyclists whom you might kill.

So here is one vital point:  Skidding is like being the victim of a violent crime — it is much better to avoid it altogether than to try to deal with it when it happens. And on a busy road or a curve with walls or trees nearby, a driver can try to get out of a skid in limited time and space.

This begs the question: Why do people insist that teaching young drivers how to get out of a skid is good? It is not!

Teaching young drivers proper advanced driving means they are taught how to avoid the vast majority of dangers they will encounter on roads. Keeping them thinking and planning also keeps them out of the ‘firing range’ regarding the many bad drivers we all face. Reading the road well means, for example, that a driver will not only slow down to avoid a skid on a potentially icy road but will also be constantly appraising the possibility of “what if the guy coming the other way skids?”  That is when one starts to get into proper advanced driving — knowing what another driver is likely to do, often before that other driver has even thought about it himself. It goes much beyond the skills generally taught as “defensive driving.”

This applies to avoiding skid situations, but it also applies to never hitting a vehicle that is traveling ahead of yours; it applies to reducing the chances of being in a head-on collision or of being shot from the side, and it applies to reducing the likelihood of your car being hit by another vehicle that is following you. And last but not least, it dramatically reduces the chances of you ever hitting a pedestrian or a cyclist — the most vulnerable people on the road.

And now a recent example:  Just four days ago (July 8, 2005) — in a press release titled “A Hurricane’s Forgotten Danger–Driving Conditions” — a former international racing driver who is now the chief instructor for the makers of a great sports car (including his work as an instructor for a street driving school and teen safety programs), wrote three different things that do not correspond to best safety:

1.   “[The] rule-of-thumb is leaving one car length for every ten mph, a three-second interval between cars at highway speed.”

      This is partially right, but only if a dry road (see below). However, the bit about car lengths is (and always has been) completely unacceptable. Firstly, nobody ever says what size of the car is being discussed, so let’s assume that it is 17 feet long, and let’s also believe that the highway in question has a 70mph limit. Going by the above formula, 70mph needs a following distance of 7 car lengths, so 7 x 17 feet is 119 feet.

      But at 70mph, a vehicle travels at 103 feet-per-second [fps], so seven car lengths — 119 feet — would put you just 1.16 seconds behind the vehicle ahead.

      The three seconds suggested above are excellent on a dry, clean road surface. Indeed, for an alert driver, just two seconds is acceptable (which would give a following distance of 206 feet — double the fps figure shown above).

      Judging car lengths accurately from one end of a line of imaginary cars is, in any event, difficult. But if appropriately taught, gauging distance by counting full seconds is effortless. (“One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…” etc.)

      But one last point remains: The subject of this former racing driver’s press release was hurricanes, a situation where one can expect substantial rain. And on wet roads, the minimum safe following distance doubles to at least four seconds, and many informed drivers prefer six seconds. (See reference two below for guidance on following safe spaces in any conditions.)

2.    “Mathematically, rear-enders don’t have to be driver error necessarily,” he says. “In a string of 11 cars and assuming perfect braking reaction time of .3 seconds (to the brake lights directly in front of you), the 11th car inevitably must strike the 10th. Usually, these crashes begin at car three or four, and the pileup continues, a combination of reaction times and short intervals.”

      Irrespective of mathematics, ALL rear-end collisions are entirely due to driver error. There are no exceptions!

      Ice, for example, is certainly no excuse. However, if the weather is sufficiently cold for ice on the road surface, a responsible driver will know that fact and allow a much longer following distance, five to ten times further than on a clean, dry road.

      The only acceptable excuse for hitting the vehicle ahead is that you had stopped your car but were shunted forward when struck from behind by another vehicle. On any other occasion, if your car hits the one ahead, you followed too closely for the conditions — period!

      As for the “perfect braking reaction time” of 0.3 seconds, this is effectively confined to a race track. For decades, when calculating stopping distances, it has been allowed that the average alert driver has a reaction time of two-thirds of a second. Still, research has shown that one full second is typical. (For stopping distances, see reference three below.)

      It is misleading to associate the reactions of an experienced racing driver, running on full adrenaline, with those of a laid-back driver who has never received any in-depth driver training and is merely guiding his vehicle from point A to point B, as he will tend to do every day of his life.

3.    “Adjusting rearview mirrors CORRECTLY for full 360-degree awareness eliminates that legendary ‘driver blind spot.’ We’re taught to adjust outside mirrors to see the edges of our car but to eliminate blind spots and the need to check over our shoulder during a turn (more dangerous in severe weather), move the mirrors out and away just a bit. Sweep your vision from left to right. You’ll be able to see a full 360 degrees without turning your head.”

      There are eight reasons why the exterior mirrors on a vehicle should NOT be set wide, as advocated above, and there is not one good reason why they should be set wide. (See reference four below.)

There is no denying that vehicles are getting safer nowadays. However, it must be added that this is an outcome that has been pulled along primarily by Volvo and Mercedes for many decades and, more recently, by Renault and Honda. But crash testing by the IIHS and NHTSA has undoubtedly forced the pace here in America, too.

So why is the annual death toll in the USA stubbornly refusing to fall?

Please don’t tell me it is because vehicles are increasing. The number of cars has risen similarly in other ‘Heavily Motorized Countries’ [HMCs]. Yet, in all other developed countries, progress has been made in reducing the number of road deaths each year that America cannot match. To put it into figures, the average reduction in the annual death toll in all of the other 21 relevant member countries of the OECD for 1992-2001 was 25 percent. In contrast, the USA saw a fall of just four percent, the lowest reduction.5

In many places, road engineering could be radically improved. For example, median guardrails could be introduced on all divided highways, and better road signs and markings would be fantastic, too.

Expensive? You bet!

Worth it in the number of lives that could be saved? You bet!

But where does that leave the ordinary American driver? How can you best protect yourself and your family?

There I.S. is a proper form of advanced driving that has been around for 80 years — yes, eighty years. It is based on something known as The System of Car Control, which has been continually developed throughout that period, and it is the sole method used to train traffic patrol police officers in Britain — drivers who are said by experts to be the best-trained and safest road drivers in the world.

That I.S. advanced driving.

Playing around with skid pad training and emergency evasion techniques is NOT advanced driving. If taught at all, these techniques should come at the end, after a person has been taught the best way to entirely avoid dangers — even those that would typically be hard to predict. The safest driver is the person who has been trained in great detail to anticipate everything.

Unless they have been explicitly trained in safe road driving, anybody who professes to teach safe driving may do more harm than good.

Is truly good driving easy? No. Anybody who tells you that safe driving is easy is ill-informed, to say the very least.

Is it worth it?……………….. That is best answered with a question:  How much is your life worth? 6

The writer’s background for writing this article may be viewed here.  


1. (e.g.)  Evaluation of an insight driver-training program for young drivers,  T. M. Senserrick & G. C. Swinburne (Monash,

     Australia); 2001:  “Traditional driver-training programs that aim to improve vehicle-handling skills, including maneuvering

     exercises and skid training, have tended to be relatively ineffective in reducing crashes. Introducing skid

     training into driver-training programs has been found to increase certain crash types for young drivers. This has been

     attributed to associated increases in confidence that resulted in greater risk-taking….”





6. Advanced Drivers of America, Inc.