Nigel Mansell: Safety is earned, not bought

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Indy Lifestyle Online

This year I visited the Motor Show for the first time since I became president of the IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists). And my new focus on the IAM's work started me thinking about car safety.

Like all the other ExCeL show-goers, I was looking forward to seeing what's new. It's good that manufacturers are not slow to come up with a marketing take on anything that increases punter appeal by making the product safer.

In years gone by it was all speed and glamour with barely a mention of the in-car safety features. Improvements to the safety of F1 cars eventually trickled down into commercially available motors - and that must have been a major contribution to road safety.

Likewise, the safety features on the Motor Show's top-of-the-range models will start to become more commercially available for new, cheaper models.

Seat belts were a quantum leap in road-safety engineering terms - and more recently, we've seen airbags, ABS and run-flat tyres. But "engineering" can only do so much.

Any car is only as good as its driver. So if I have a take on this year's Motor Show, it is this: you can't necessarily buy all the safety features you need to avoid a crash.

One thing I have learnt from Formula 1 is that driving expertise isn't just for the racetrack. You can't buy that expertise - you have to earn it.

It may not feature very highly among the show's glittering chrome and the glamour - but if anything, it's more important.

Every time one of us gets behind the wheel of a car, it is in our gift to drive well, or to drive badly. And certain driving skills are just as important every day as they are for the big set-piece races. Concentration, observation, interpretation and control are all advanced driving skills every bit as important to road drivers as to racers.

Learning to be an advanced driver is a challenging experience. If you have driven for years with barely a scrape, you may think, why bother?

But UK roads are busier - and, some would say, more potentially dangerous - than they were. A surge in unlicensed, uninsured vehicles is one factor. Drivers who refuse to turn off their hand-held phones are another.

These days, advanced driving is as much about defensive driving as anything else. And if you take the course, you are up against the toughest competition - yourself.

But it has its rewards. No champagne. No podium. But a real sense of achievement. And you will enjoy your driving more.

My grandfather always said, it is no good lying on a hospital bed saying "but I had right of way". That is why drivers can gain so much from preparing for their advanced driving test: it is defensive driving at its best.

Long before government road-safety targets, traffic calming and the breathalyser, the IAM understood that drivers cause crashes, not cars and not roads.

So if you're planning to visit the show, prepare to be dazzled and impressed by the safety features that are built into modern cars. Butone key component hasn't changed since the first motor show back in 1902 - and that is the "nut" behind the wheel.

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