My driving instructor, Eddie, was a jovial but strict tutor in the ways of the motor car. He was as ready with a joke as he was to tap fingers with a wooden ruler should they do anything wrong with gearstick or handbrake. He had much advice to impart but there was one thing he said that still stands out in my memory:
“Any idiot with arms and legs can operate a car, but not everyone can drive a car.”
It’s a sad fact that many new drivers are taught little else other than how to pass their driving test. Most receive less time with their instructor than Starbucks give to a new barista, and after a few hours they’re given that precious piece of paper that says they know how to operate a car. That’s when they’re let loose on the roads and the real training begins. That’s when they start to really learn how to drive.
This is the premise of Ben Collins’ new book, How To Drive. The ex-Stig, racer and stunt driver has collected his years of wisdom into 269 pages of advice and explanation. This isn’t a series of tales from his Top Gear days but a guide that’s intended to make us all better drivers.
Collins covers everything from the basics of clutch control and steering inputs through to advanced braking techniques, with the odd physics lesson thrown in for good measure. He explains how we can read the road conditions to predict trouble and how to spot incidents before they happen by observing the behaviour of other road users. What could be a dry and boring subject is delivered in a light-hearted tone, with the occasional anecdote from his career to help make a point.
Remember the tunnel chase in Quantum of Solace, where Bond’s Aston Martin DBS is chased by machine-gun wielding baddies? Collins was at the wheel through this technically difficult scene, including the section where the DBS dodges oncoming traffic in the narrow confines of a mountain tunnel. This is used to teach us a lesson about the dangers of overtaking which, as Collins explains,“is one area where you may not live to regret a mistake”.
Or what about the Top Gear episode where James May drove a 1000bhp Bugatti Veyron Grande Vitesse at over 250mph? Collins was at the wheel for some of the tracking shots and received a sphincter-puckering lesson in the dangers of aquaplaning.
“The Bug flicked sideways, and I found myself facing left towards a welcoming grass bank. They say it takes years to build a reputation but you can throw it away in a moment. This was one of them.”
If you’ve seen Collins on the front cover and assumed that this is another irreverent Top Gear book you may be disappointed. This isn’t a lesson in how to drift a supercar through the Follow-Through, it’s a guide to smooth car control, good observation and, above all, driving safely. Although, if you are interested in drifting there is a section at the end that covers this and more.
If you’re still learning to drive or have recently passed your test then How To Drive is required reading. It’ll help to fill in the important bits of knowledge that your driving instructor won’t have mentioned. Did they tell you how to deal with a tyre blowout? Or a sticking throttle, sudden brake failure or a bonnet flying up and smashing your windscreen? This book offers sensible solutions that might just save your skin.
Maybe you’ve been driving for years and think you know it all already. If so this might serve as a reminder that we’re never far from potential disaster and we could all do more to avoid it. At the very least it’ll make you think twice about some of your bad habits.
Ben Collins How To Drive is a great book and worthy of inclusion on any driver’s reading list.
How To Drive: The Ultimate Guide – From The Man That Was The Stig by Ben Collins, published by Macmillan £20
Thanks to Macmillan for providing a copy of the book for this review.