Cliché as it may sound, an individual who fails to prepare beforehand will eventually fail, and that holds especially true for driving.

Anyone can learn to drive simply by being taught how to move their arms and feet around to simply get a car going from A to B. That's easy. The hard part is teaching and inculcating the basics of safe driving, and a lot of that begins at institutions like the Honda Safety Driving Center, a driving school that aims not just to teach a person how to operate a motor vehicle, but prepares them with the essentials in safely and courteously driving a car.

The HSDC facility and its cars

Honda Safety Driving Center

First established in 2008 by Honda Philippines, HSDC aims to teach new drivers or even refresh experienced drivers about the importance of road safety and the application of proper driving practices and methods out in the open road. Aside from teaching how to properly drive, the HSDC also applies their teachings to motorcycle riders.

With 90% of traffic accidents occurring due to human error according to HSDC, their goal is to cut back on the rising number of accidents by educating both drivers and riders about road safety while also teaching them basic and advanced techniques that can also help them be better motorists.

The facility itself covers 24,000 square meters and features classrooms for orientations, a service garage for their fleet of test vehicles and motorcycles, a library and their own track where drivers can learn how to drive and park properly before going out onto public roads. The course itself features straight roads, curves, slaloms, crank courses, a controlled intersection with a traffic light, wet and dry surface braking, parallel and vertical parking areas and inclines that will allow students to safely practice driving without endangering the public.

Guided by a team of instructors, participating drivers will be oriented and taught the essentials in maintaining / driving an automobile as well as the importance and application of road safety in everyday motoring.

Orientation in HSDC

Offered Activities / Orientation

HSDC offers basic courses in riding or driving can teach individuals with little or no experience. This course involves multiple riding/driving sessions which will also be paired up with orientations that will guide each student.

The class lectures will mentor new and experienced drivers about the key functions of an automobile or motorcycle along with basic knowledge on how to safely navigate city streets.

Aside from the basic courses for new drivers / riders, HSDC also offers refresher courses for seasoned drivers and for those that are looking to have their driving skills re-evaluated either for work or for personal review. HSDC also has certification courses that will check and validate drivers if they are truly capable in handling their vehicle while also observing road safety and road signs. Certification courses are available for motorcycles, cars and trucks.

First Time Driving Mistakes

Like any new skill, one will have to start somewhere in order to get their bearings. According to HSDC drivers tend to overthink on how to operate and maneuver a motor vehicle which can actually deter them.

First timers behind the wheel immediately think that operating an automobile will be the most difficult part of driving. It is actually just the half of it as first time drivers tend to forget that they will traverse roads that are also being used by other motorists. Without proper knowledge and training in road safety and in operating the controls, a new driver can immediately become an inadvertent threat to other road users.

Even before new drivers get behind the wheel of an automobile, some do not even check the state of the vehicle and immediately just start the engine and go; some do not even warm up the system to allow the fluids to do their work. A very capable driver can be put in a dangerous predicament if ever the vehicle they're using is not road worthy.

Road courtesy is something that all should get to know early. Public roads are also used by other individuals, not only by a select few. It only makes sense that new drivers learn and practice early about this type of discipline. It is one thing to be a safe driver, but any motorist should also know how to be proper and decent to other road users.

Knowing beforehand the essentials in operating a motor vehicle is key before applying them. Without basic knowledge or a bit of training, first time drivers can easily commit mistakes and potentially get involved or even be a cause of a road accident.

Activity Proper

To get an idea on how HSDC teaches or refreshes drivers about driving and road safety, I applied at their driving center as a new student that undertook the 4 Wheel Basic Manual training course. Just to clarify, I myself already know how to drive an automobile but it has been quite some time since I drove a manual. So this test not only checked if my 2 years of driving is up to scratch, but it also served as my refresher in operating a manual automobile.

Checking the car before heading out

a) Pre-drive checkup

As with any automobile, the first thing that a motorist should do before entering the car is to check if it is roadworthy. Seasoned road users may argue that they know their car really well and a quick look around is not needed. That may be true but it doesn’t hurt to check for signs of wear on the tires (including the spare) and to see whether the body has suffered any dents or scratches.

Pop open the hood to check if all of the necessary fluids for the brakes, clutch (if it’s a manual), windshield washer, power steering (if hydraulic) and engine oil are at optimum level and are in good quality. Running low on any of the fluids can spell disaster in an event of an emergency. Using a fluid way past its recommended lifespan on the other hand can degrade overall performance of an automobile. It also worth checking the trunk for the tool set and early warning device should the driver need to change a flat tire.

Now it’s time to get in the car but before starting the engine, one should check if everything is accordingly set. Are the side mirrors properly aligned? Is the rearview mirror set properly? Is your driving position okay? Does the steering wheel force you to over reach your hands? Can your feet reach the pedals? Can you see the gauge cluster? All of these are necessary in ensuring that the driver can see out properly and can easily manipulate the controls. Let’s also not forget to put on our seat-belts and lock the doors for safety and security before heading out.

Driving around the track with other student drivers

b) Driving Proper

After making sure everything is set, it’s time to start the car and begin driving. The car can have 2 or 3 pedals, depending whether it is an automatic or a manual. These are the gas pedal (right-most), brake pedal (middle) and clutch pedal (left-most, for manuals only). In operating the brake and gas pedals, one should remember that these are not switches that can easily be turned on and off. Gradual application of force or pressure is needed to properly dictate how much stopping power or acceleration will be required.

The clutch functions differently as it is the one responsible for gear changing and disengaging the power from the engine. The clutch pedal has to be fully pressed before switching gears. Depressing the clutch on the other hand will make the car move forward but it is not that simple. Totally depressing the clutch in first gear will stall the engine and one will have to start it up again.

One has to find the 'working level' of the clutch by slowly releasing pressure from the clutch pedal and then applying a bit of gas in order to make the car move forward or backward if you're in reverse. It takes a bit of getting used to and perfectly execute it but like any skill, it will eventually become second nature given enough time and experience.

Handling automatics is easier as you only need to control the brake and the gas pedal. For the automatic transmission itself, the main gears that you need to be mindful of are P (Park), R (Reverse), N (Neutral) and D (Drive). Changing gears on the automatic can be done by fully pressing on the brake pedal and then selecting the desired gear. Be mindful of automatics though because once the car is set to R or D, the car will immediately begin to move by itself albeit slowly.

Practicing road safety inside HSDC

c) Safety first and fast nerves

A great pair of eyes along with fast reflexes is a must when driving since so many other cars are also using the roads, not to mention pedestrians that try to get across. Switching lanes look easy enough but on a busy road, proper timing is essential so as not to cause problems with other motorists. Proper use of turn signals when trying to change lanes or making a turn is a must as it will inform other road users of your intentions.

Keeping an eye out on road signs is needed as it will inform motorists with necessary information like navigation, mileage, speed limit and other rules and regulations of the road.

How fast should one go? This question has varied answers since it depends whether one is traversing a highway, a city street or a tight side street. But with safety always in mind, it is highly recommended that a driver must follow the speed limit imposed on a specific road.

Careful application of speed is necessary as the faster a car is going; the harder it is to be slowed down. Controlling the steering wheel at great speeds differs from a slow moving car as a slight turn of the wheel on a fast moving vehicle has a great effect on the direction of the car is going towards to. Getting to your destination fast is great but safely getting there outweighs the need for speed.

Pedestrians can sometimes be us so remember to give way to them. No matter how strong the temptation is to teach a few ‘delinquent’ pedestrians about being disciplined in crossing the road, it is better to ignore what they have done and just carry on driving as it will only hamper you.

Drive defensively and give proper road courtesy. The open road is populated by careless drivers, short-tempered individuals and even people that don’t know how to follow rules and regulations. Always be aware of the surroundings and keep your eyes along with your other senses focused on the road. A skilled and safe driver is better than someone who can just drive fast.

Evaluating one's driving performance

Result and effects of the driving activities

After completing eight sessions of driving along with two orientations and a final assessment, I was able to pass the test though not in flying colors. The instructor told me that even though I handled myself well, I still needed a bit more practice on my clutch control which is not a surprise.

As I've said earlier, I've been driving for 2 years now though I am not what you might call a daily driver because I still take commutes when I have to go somewhere. Personally, I feel confident that I am doing all right overall. After refreshing myself at HSDC however, a few mistakes surfaced which reminded that there is still room for improvement especially when driving a manual automobile.

Going back to driving school again also opened my eyes to some of the mistakes that I still tend to do while driving. For example, when I overtake, I lack to put in as much space between myself and the other vehicle I'm overtaking which can be dangerous as the other car may suddenly switch lanes or a pedestrian might suddenly try to cross. As much as they are to blame for their ignorance, we are still held accountable for our actions as we are the ones that are using an automobile.

I also sometimes forget to use my turning signals when switching lanes or when overtaking. I tend to think that what I'm about to do will only take a few seconds and I need not use it. But since I did not notify others of my intention, my careless action may become the cause of an accident. Instructors also noticed that I still have the habit of being a clutch driver. I'll need to work on that.

Almost anyone can be a driver given enough time and practice. Proper and smooth driving is an acquired skill that can only be achieved with time and experience. It also counts that a daily drive will be helpful to any motorist as what can be learned will soon become muscle memory.

HSDC driving session along with motorcycle riders

Importance of Road Safety in today's motoring

With so many distractions both inside and outside the automobile, it is no wonder why the statistics of dangerous accidents is increasing. And the reality that many new drivers can easily get licenses without even needing to take a clearance or test to prove that they are skilled enough in operating a vehicle add to that statistic. That's why Honda Safety Driving Center’s mandate is to prepare new drivers, young or old, with the proper knowledge and essentials to operate a motor vehicle safely.

Our roads are already populated with bad and careless drivers. Those who plan to get behind the wheel in the near future have to remember that being able to carry a driver’s license is a responsibility to be respected, not a right that you are entitled to.