The best answer to these two questions is zero and never. However, the reality of driving on public roads is that you’re unlikely to avoid a full ABS stop at some point in your driving career. It could happen just once in decades of driving, but amongst the hundreds of thousands of kilometres we all spend behind the wheel, those few meters of an emergency braking manoeuvre are arguably the most important.
This alone is why attending a defensive driving course is vital for all drivers. It doesn’t matter if you are a learner driver, P-plater, middle-aged and stuck in a school run rut, or a seasoned driving veteran – everyone can benefit from these courses.
Even if you rate yourself as the best road user in the world – one who never gets anything wrong, and is perfect all the time – you should still attend a defensive driving course. These courses are as much about dealing with unpredictable drivers around you as they are about refining skills.
It is for this reason I found myself refreshing my skills on a brisk day at Sandown. In fact, this was my third defensive course since I was handed my P-plates as a fresh-faced teen. The day is broken down into two distinct parts; theory and practical. Don’t be turned off by the theory, as it is arguably the most important – it’s better to avoid an accident in the first place than know how to deal with one as it happens. But the on-track practical skills will push you as a driver – this is you are taught how to activate the ABS (or not lock up if your car doesn’t have it), as well as take evasive manoeuvres. It is tough, you will kill more than a few orange cones, and you will overestimate your abilities. But that is what this course is about.
The most important takeaways from a defensive driving course are the ability to stop swiftly and safely, as well as best practice techniques for ensuring you and your vehicle are at their best on the road.
The opportunity to practice emergency braking in a safe environment cannot be undervalued. It’s impossible to guess what it will feel like and what your brakes can handle, and these courses provide a safe space to do just that.
Throw in expert feedback from veteran driver trainers, and it is difficult to argue against taking a defensive course. You may only need to use the skills you learn once, but that should be all the justification you need.
At the end of the day, you and only you are responsible for your safety on the roads. If there is a course you can take that can teach you pre-emptive skills to avoid accidents, as well as how to appropriately deal with an emergency situation while driving, shouldn’t you take it?
If authorities are really serious about road safety, mandatory defensive driving courses are the place to start.