IF YOU have never felt particularly at risk in your car, you will do after a defensive- driving instructor has got to you. Having spent two days with a European Security Consultants trainer I now imagine hijackers on every corner, road blocks round every bend and bombs in every cigarette packet. If, however, you are a member of an organised crime group or a businessman trying to avoid one, ESC will certainly give you a few handy driving tips.

who teaches defensive driving?

ESC says it is "a specialist security company set up to provide an elite service to combat the international growth of terrorism and the criminal element", which means it channels its energies into keeping its clients alive by whatever means necessary.

All ESC's staff were trained by the security forces and most are former SAS or Royal Marines - no messing with these boys.

They work for British and European businessmen and diplomats anywhere in the world, particularly in Mafia danger zones such as Russia, Kazakhstan, Colombia or Italy. In this country they train frightened families in security techniquest.

ESC also offers close-protection training, anti-piracy training, covert surveillance andprecautionary advice on kidnapping; ESC also employs hostage negotiators and hostage rescuers. One of the features of self-preservation for all their clients is defensive driving.

what does it involve?

First, a broad-shouldered gentleman whose nose has been broken more times than he can remember will assess your basic driving skills. "Simple stuff really," says the formidable Barry, "whether you look in the mirror enough, if you check the brakes routinely, if you are comfortable in your seat - the more comfortable you are the quicker your reactions will be. We try to drum all the rules into you so that they become a habit."

what to look out for

Bombs. Before you get into your car you may want to check for improvised explosive devices. You will need a torch and a mirror to search behind the wheels, under the wheel arches, in the bumper cavity and around the frame. The device will probably (as if you didn't know) be triggered with mercury or by electronic remote control and can be as small as a matchbox. It is likely to be magnetic and will have been placed rapidly by the saboteur in order to avoid risk to himself. (The Speed scenario is highly improbable as it would take a lot of risky and laborious work on the part of the terrorist).

Anything suspicious around the vehicle needs to be thoroughly checked as well - you may think it's just a discarded cigarette packet... To avoid attack you need to keep the car in a garage, vary the timing of your regular journeys and make sure you never use the same route twice.

how can we be safe in our cars?

Always keep the doors locked while you are in the car, have the windows open to a maximum of two inches and keep the sunroof closed or on vent Keep to well-lit main roads and know how to "pulse brake" by tapping the brake pedal - you will stop more quickly and without losing control. In traffic keep far enough away from the car in front to allow yourself room to escape, but near enough to prevent another car getting into the space between you. Make sure, especially if you are driving someone else (such as the prime minister), that you have planned your route, that you know alternative routes should a problem arise and that you are aware of any possible safe havens along the way. (If you take your "principal", say, John Major, to a restaurant make sure you are sitting away from the entrance with your back to a wall near an alternative exit. You need a good view of the place in case of unwelcome intruders). You will also need to feign insanity by keeping up a verbal commentary to yourself as you drive - tell yourself how many cars are behind and in front of you, what the scenery is like, which direction you are going in and what turnings are coming up. "It increases your general awareness," says Barry, who used to be "in intelligence" although he will only admit it in a whisper. "You have to be ready for anything."

how do you know if you're being followed?

You check. Go round the roundabouts twice and see if the suspected car mimics you; indicate one way and then suddenly change your mind; stop and do a U-turn; on a motorway take an exit and then come straight back on to the road. If you are being followed head for a safe haven - perhaps a police station, or a service station.

how do we get out of a dangerous situation once we are in it?

Learn to drive accurately at high speeds on the skidpans provided by ESC. You need to know how to decelerate without using the brakes so that you keep complete control of the car and to change direction with a handbrake turn of a J-turn (in reverse). Never cross your arms on the steering wheel as you need one hand free for the gear stick. "It's only a matter of a second but that second counts," explains Barry ominously. If you are trapped in a situation where there is a road block and people are firing at you, you may wish to "debus" (get out to you and me) and run away while providing yourself with covering fire from your 9mm semi-automatic pistol.

how to ram your way through a road block

If you feel that "debussing" might not be the best bet, you could ram the obstructing cars. If two cars are blocking the road end to end you can ram the far corner of either one with your wing (you are looking for minimum damage to your own car and this way you will only lose a headlight). The offending car will spin and provide room for you to pass. "No one believes it works until they do it, but it does," nods the weathered instructor. Has Barry ever needed any of these techniques himself? "Yeah! Loads of times! If you do everything right the chances of anything really terrible happening are, shall we say, slim." If you know the drill, he says, you perform it automatically.

what not to say

"Oh my God, who's the guy in the shades over there?"

8As a special offer for IoS readers, European Security Consultants are running a three-day course for the reduced price of pounds 380-pounds 400. This includes car, fuel and instruction. Call 01303 266539, stating that you are an IoS reader