#Ford Driving Skills for Life day at London’s ExCel

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Me dressed as an idiot trying to recreate the feeling of being drunk at the Ford Driving Skills for Life event

Today I’ve been at The ExCel Centre in London’s Docklands on an interesting and educational driving day held by Ford. Called Ford Driving Skills for Life, it’s an event aimed at younger drivers who are more likely to crash their vehicles in their first 12 months of holding a licence than at any other time in in their lives, largely through inexperience.

The event has been going for 4 years in the UK but around 10 in the US and it’s a good opportunity for young drivers to improve their skills in a safe environment in situations that they may not yet have encountered. It also shows them the dangers of using a mobile device at the wheel and how drugs and drink can impair their driving performance.

Various activities were on offer free of charge to those who had pre-registered and although I didn’t try them all out, I did try out a few including the one above where I had to simulate the effect of drinking by literally putting on a pair of ‘beer goggles’ and various weights and restrictors around my joints including elbows, ankles and neck. I then had to try walking along a white line before kicking a football at a target as fast as possible.

Not surprisingly, it was all a little bit tricky especially the kicking the football bit which I completely missed first time round – although some people who see me play 5 a side on a Thursday night will say there’s nothing unusual in that!

I also tried out the drugs simulation kit which involved wearing noise cancelling headphones which made some strange sounds, a different pair of goggles and a device that was strapped to my wrist which vibrated the whole time. Very odd, although like the earlier drunk test it didn’t improve my football skills at all and my balance was even worse.

In another activity – which is quite topical given the recent decision to increase penalty points and fines for using a mobile phone while driving – I had to drive around a course with various distractions.

One of these was to try and take a selfie while navigating around a course of cones – I just about managed it at very slow speeds but it was blurred and I can only begin to imagine the carnage I would have caused trying to do it at 70mph rather than 10mph.

I also had to tune the radio into 5Live while turning the wheel and turn the volume up full which was particularly tricky as well as distracting. I will upload the video on Monday so you can see me completely distracted behind the wheel.

I also interviewed quite a few people. Here’s an interview I did with Eloise Peabody-Rolf, Young Driver Ambassador of I Am Road Smart all about the dangers young people face when getting behind a wheel for the first time.

Stopping phoning/texting while driving. Can technology provide an answer?

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This week police begin a clampdown on using a mobile phone while you are driving – and not before time. This follows a series of high profile cases including a lorry driver who killed four people in a car (a woman and her three children) because he was scrolling through his phone looking for music while driving.

As a result of this case, and many more, the law is changing from next year so that anyone caught using a mobile phone while driving will get a fine of £200 and 6 points on their licence, rather than the current 3 points and £100 fine. It’s all a step in the right direction, though arguably still not enough of a deterrent.

But it got me thinking. I seem to remember a conversation I had with Ford a couple of years about technology they were working on to block the driver from being able to make/receive calls, texts etc while they are at the wheel of a car without preventing passengers from using their phones.

It strikes me that, generally speaking, car manufacturers have done an awful lot in helping people integrate their mobile phones into cars, primarily for entertainment purposes, but perhaps not enough to deter them from using them to make and receive calls.

Likewise, telephone manufacturers make it awfully tempting for some people to check their emails etc. at the wheel thanks to pings and chimes that aren’t always that easy to switch off.

Personally, I think the only way you are going to prevent people from using their phones at the wheel is at the very least to make the phone default to the Do Not Disturb setting so the driver isn’t tempted to take a quick peek at the screen.

But I think that’s probably not enough. A much better solution would be to introduce a jamming system that prevents the driver from using the phone at all.

I’ve been reading about a solution here which was first announced four years ago, but I wondered if any car manufacturers have actually implemented such a system yet. I’m not familiar with any solutions yet, but hopefully it’s only a matter of time before common sense prevails.