Interview with Quentin Willson our ADINJC Patron

This interview is taken from an original interview between Paul Caddick, editor at Intelligent Instructor magazine and Quentin Willson.

ADINJC 2014 National Conference

ADINJC 2014 National Conference

What are your memories of learning to drive and taking the test?

“For me it was life changing. Back then, in the mid-70s, it was a very important rite of passage and gave you the promises of adulthood, freedom and liberty and the open road, and I took it really seriously. I saw it as a skill, a craft and not just this piece of paper. I had this really good driving instructor who was the most formative influence, ex-police Class 1, so I got all that really good Roadcraft stuff and is something I can vividly remember to this day.”

From being involved in Top Gear and being a well known motoring correspondent, driving fast cars and so forth, road safety could be seen as the opposite end of the spectrum – what inspired your involvement in road safety and, in particular, young driver training?

“Cars are a narcotic to many people, and Jeremy, Tiff and I were really glamorising these fast cars and looning around in them, but we realised we needed to modify this message and show its cool to drive well – fast is easy, well is difficult. However you have to entertain if you want to get an audience on board to hear your message”

How important do you consider the work of ADIs to be when it comes to road safety?

“They are the entry point for everybody’s road safety awareness and driving skills, and collectively they save hundreds of thousands of lives a year because of what they do. It’s a hard job, a calling, and I think they are under appreciated, under represented politically, and we should celebrate and encourage what they do as a real social benefit. However ADIs can’t be complacent either: raising the professional standards is an important part of the process. It will only come alongside raising the status and kudos of teaching people to drive, the pay level and respect and bringing more higher quality trainers into this profession.”

What made you want to get involved with ADIs/driver trainers and the work of the ADINJC, becoming a Patron to the national driver training association?

“I want to help raise the profile of the ADIs both publically but also perhaps more importantly politically. MPs, who years and years ago took their driving test, don’t really think about it and are also often London-centric. We’ve got a driving skills crisis in this country along with poor roads, too many cars, too many road works, and you need much greater skills than you did when I learnt to drive.

But politicians will always point to the casualty figures and state that we are second in the world and doing very well, but there is never any room for complacency. As a first world economy we should have KSIs in the hundred, not the thousands. You have got to constantly be reiterating the message that driving well and driving safely is important to everybody in society. Just one life if you save it is such a noble thing.”

What do you consider to be the most important challenges in order to improve safety on our roads, or are we doing enough already?

“Driving is not a natural thing for us, and for most people, it is not something that we can learn easily. Many aspects, including looking properly in a 360 degree fashion is something more akin to muscle memory – it takes hours of constant training to make it a natural action, and so the tuition process is just so important. There’s this feeling that you’ve got to do it quickly, you’ve got to do it for the least money – fast lessons, fast test and get out there. This isn’t the way to do it; the more time you spend with your instructor the better you’re going to be, and that is proved by all the research in the world.”

Increasing numbers of road safety specialists are calling for road safety to be included in the schools’ national curriculum, but with schools and teachers under immense pressure already, and the timetable full to bursting, is this a /necessary viable option?

“Getting kids when they are at school and thinking about road safety, educating them when their minds are still pure is a crucial part of this process too, especially when there are so many competing pressures on kids senses: they live in an increasingly virtual world where on screen it’s okay to crash cars and drive completely recklessly without consequences. Increasingly you have people getting into cars and think that it’s a virtual world, and it’s something we really have to counteract in a powerful way.

Out of the three Es – education, engineering and enforcement – it is education that’s the most important, and trying to do this when the pupil is seventeen is really challenging. It needs to be at a much younger age, but of course that requires political will, especially when the school’s curriculum is already under severe pressure. I’m not talking about schools spending scarce resource on this, but we teach citizenship and cooking, we should be teaching driving as a life skill. You go back to this climate in Westminster where MPs just aren’t interested in this because it isn’t going to increase their popularity with constituents, but you are talking about saving hundreds of young driver lives every year. It will pay for itself financially if you think about the clearing up and medical costs of accidents, not to mention the terrible sadness, so the argument that we can’t afford to do it is nonsense – we can’t afford not to do it.”

Is graduated driver licencing really a sensible way forward to improve young driver road safety, or should we be improving their driving skills before they get on the road through better training, and ensuring that all drivers have a specified level professional training and on the road experience before they can take the driving test?

“Post-test, graduated licencing etc., is another popular area of discussion. While curfews and restrictions are a hopeless way forward, bringing the insurance industry on-board and incentivising better post-test driving is really a necessity. Accumulating insurance points that can lower the cost of driving is the way forward. I think telematics will play a very large part in driving and bringing insurance premiums down for all drivers, because you can’t just do it on age or a post code; it’s completely wrong. Money is the biggest influencer, you can tell people and give them all the facts, but it won’t bring about change. However, saving them money in their pocket, and suddenly it does, and then you can change behavioural patterns

With the government moving towards introducing more privatisation into the driver training and testing market, how do you think this will affect standards?

With the privatisation ideologies of the present government, it is unlikely that our industry will be left untouched. In fact, test centres closing and examiners now using accredited locations such as B&Q and Halfords, it is already in the mix. So how far will it go or should it go? The government’s unlikely to invest in increasing driver training schemes and I think the private sector has to come in and raise the standards. That’s the most important thing so I wouldn’t be against it as long as those standards are arguably higher than the ones we have at the moment. And if it means it gets on the radar, and it means we get a higher level of driver training, higher skills with ADIs, and that’s translated into better awareness for drivers, then that’s got to be a good thing.”

Driver assistance technology continues to dominate car design – is it a good thing, and are drivers capable of utilising these technological marvels or should there be more training?

“Technology – while you still have a steering wheel, you must train people to understand new technology otherwise the aids will cause their own problems and dangers.”

What is so great about driving?

“Driving is something truly special the 20th century’s most amazing thing; freewill, going where you want, endless horizons, or at least it was. It isn’t the case now unless you can find a clear piece of road. Its unique among all those things that human beings can experience – speed and noise and the idea of controlling this object and being able to literally go wherever you want to go is the democratisation of personal liberty and that’s why people get so emotional about it. And the joy for me in all that personal liberty and free will, is this knowledge I can do this because I’ve got this really high level of skill, and anything that’s new and rich and strange and wonderful sensation it throws at me, I can cope with because I am a skilled driver. That makes the whole experience so much more intense, emotional, rewarding is because of that high level of skill that make you really confident at the wheel.

With all the recent fuss about diesels, where does the blame really lie and where do you think drivers should be looking to fuel their new cars – petrol, diesel, electric, hybrid, hydrogen, LPG…?

“Electric cars. I have had a Citroen C zero for a number of years and use it every day. The outcome from the VW emissions scandal is that we really have to sort this out. Now is the time for electric cars, hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells, and we’ll see manufacturers really putting serious R&D into it”.

If you get into an electric car you get a completely new sensation that is silent speed. They are in their own way more fun because it something you have never experienced before – silent speed. Speed is a manmade sensation, and it’s always been accompanied by noise. But if you’re in an electric car, which is just eerily quiet, you sit there thinking this is the future, this is the way. I am a complete advocate of this new technology which will clean our air, and make our mobility cheaper and more affordable, and that has to be a good thing.”

What’s your favourite car?

“The AC Cobra, an original 7 litre. It made you drive on the knife edge, everything you did had an immediate consequence. Your skill set is tested; you were grinding your teeth with fear and excitement, and adrenaline just shooting through your veins.”

What’s your favourite drive?

“The Pacific Coast Highway from LA to San Francisco. I’ve done it in an array of different American classics, and it’s just great with the sea on the left hand side, and then all these hills and Hollywood houses on the right, and it’s a dream drive with the hood down and the Eagles playing Hotel California on the 8-track.”

What’s your motto?

“How can this person hurt me? You have to drive thinking every other driver is a whack job, how are they going to hurt me, and be prepared.”