So how good a driver are you?

Posted on September 4th, 2007 in Opinion by Julian Edgar

gear-knob.jpgPerhaps driving self-evaluation is like social class.

How? Well, whenever surveys are taken that asks people to list what social class they belong to (ie lower, middle or upper), the vast majority of people put themselves into the category of ‘middle’. And the interesting thing: there’s no correlation between a self-belief in belonging to a middle class and income. People others might call impoverished still think they belong to the middle class; many of those anyone else would call wealthy also think they belong to a middle class.

In the same way, an awful lot of people believe themselves to be good drivers. Or at least, well above average.

In fact, you need only read web discussion groups to see people, either explicitly or implicitly, boasting about their incredible prowess. Slippery roads, powerful engines and rear wheel drive without traction control on public roads? Ahhh, that’s just fun. Cars that are twitchy and unforgiving at the limit? That’s why you need real drivers, not these pathetic attempts who prefer front wheel drive and are good for driving only shopping trolleys.

Over the years I have ridden with quite a few excellent drivers, including former Australian open wheel and rally champions. I have also ridden with drivers who are very good completely away from motorsport: one in particular who was always, in my opinion, extremely unlikely to have a crash in an urban environment as he was always so very watchful.

But there’s one thing about good drivers that is universal. Firstly, they never ever say that they are good drivers. Why? Because they’re always so well aware of their deficiencies. Secondly, they want in their cars predictability, consistency and communication. Someone who finds a challenging car fantastic fun in difficult conditions, and who tells everyone about it, is very likely just a wanker.

I think that it’s very important when evaluating your own driving that:

1) You never denigrate those who confess to being less than excellent in their driving skills. Instead, this self-analysis is to be applauded.

2) You constantly evaluate your own driving standard – taking the role of a make-believe critical passenger, if you like.

3) If you ever get a chance to, go for a drive with a really brilliant driver. It’s a reality check second to none.

19 Responses to 'So how good a driver are you?'

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  1. Gordon Drennan said,

    on September 4th, 2007 at 12:52 am

    It is not impossible, statistically speaking, for most drivers to be above average. Half have to be above the median and half below, but that’s not the case with the average. All it takes is for some drivers to be really really bad for substantially more than half of drivers to be above average. And the evidence from crash and offender statistics suggests that they’re right. The large majority of drivers have no significant offences or crashes to their name, whilst quite a small minority have a disproportionate number, especially of the more serious kind. Of course where you’re right is that a lot of them consider themselves to be the ones who are “above average”, and they’ve just had “bad luck” to get caught or crash.

  2. Henri Helanto said,

    on September 4th, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    According to what I’ve observed, by far the best drivers are those who want to become even better drivers all the time. Realizing that you’re not nearly as good as you could be is a huge step towards improving your skills.

    As Julian pointed out, going for a drive with a pro is an eye opener. Personally I love to race (sanctioned events, mind you) against very, very good drivers just to keep my perspective in check. I still don’t know how they do it but I practise as much as I possibly can, hoping to be able to keep up with them someday, or at least have as much fun as possible trying.

  3. Darren Roles said,

    on September 5th, 2007 at 9:04 am

    Couldn’t agree more, I feel that I am an above average driver (touchwood, never had a crash) but certainly not a good driver. I have been in cars with people (Men and Women) who were far better drivers than I will ever be and it is a sobering experience. I used to race motorbikes and feel that this activity contributes significantly to how fast a person can react to a situation and how they can feel what a car is doing as motorbikes are a lot more difficult to control. I agree that these so called experts who think thay are fantastic drivers would do well to go a racetrack, even a local gymkana event and have a look at some of the skills on display by the most unlikely people and vehicles.
    A friend of mine from the UK once remarked to me that he couldn’t believe how much people in Oz, generally are more interested in losing traction than gaining it. He (and I) felt that wheelspin in %95 of situations is a bad thing, you don’t have anywhere near as much control over a vehicle as you do when traction is lost. Even the gun drift guys would agree on that surely?
    I’m about to purchase my first RWD car in 18yrs and my biggest concern is unwanted wheelspin even though it does have traction control.

  4. Bret said,

    on September 5th, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Here’s a quick way to judge a careful sensible street driver that’s independent of vehicle, how often do they NEED to brake hard?

    If you have to brake hard (like an emeregency brake, not just steep hill brake), either you did something wrong or you failed to anticipate somebody elses mistake.

  5. Ben Styles said,

    on September 5th, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Thanks Julian…great topic – I have been working very hard on my driving over the last 10 years after wrapping my first modified car around a tree, and am constantly frustrated by friends who think they are good drivers, and refuse to open their minds/ears to ANY advice or technical information.

    I thank the Gods for that accident, as since then I have done countless track days in a variety of cars, completed basic Formula Ford courses, and even spent A WHOLE WEEK at the Nordschliefe (old Nurburgring) in Germany in an eternal endeavor to increase the amount of fun I am having whilst reducing the risk I am putting myself in.

    Recently I was on a holidayt with a friend in NT, and was terrified as my (non-performance car driving friend) sat on 170km/h with one relaxed hand in the six’oclock position on the wheel, and then told me that the brakes on the late-model commodore were “broken”. He then shut-off when I tried to explain that all stock cars experience brake fade and that he needs to learn to anticipate it and drive accordingly…He just ignored me and said “Holdens are shi* then!”

    Accident waiting to happen.

  6. Chris said,

    on September 6th, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    It is an interesting observation.

    I have completed a defensive driving an advanced driver course and finally the freebie driving course from Mazda after buying my mps. I am below average in driving skill. That is using the experience from the above courses as a guide.

    Now that is my true assessment, but to rate my self as compared to the average road user leaves a large question. What is the average ability of the road user and is it sufficient?

  7. Ben said,

    on September 7th, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Low, but maybe it is enough.

    It really depends on whether they know their limits. A good example is my grandfather. Although a motoring enthusiast, he doesn’t speed or take corners anywhere near the limit. The reason is that because ke knows he can catch a screwup at low speeds, and he also knows that anywhere near the limit and he has no chance. He also isnt interested in driving quickly. He also takes corners faster or slower depending on the capabilities of the car he is driving.

    Although no-where near the worlds best driver, I believe him to be one of the safest.

    If thruth be known, I do occasionally push my car on public roads, but I have my limits on when. Such as ZERO traffic, wide runoffs, and good visibility. I’m not very good at it, but at least I make sure my screwups don’t affect anyone else.

  8. Evan Smith said,

    on September 8th, 2007 at 1:22 am

    “I am probably well above the bottom level of driving ability. At minimum, I am highly experienced; I have driven a huge number of different cars; and I have completed advanced driving courses held on racetracks”.

    Julian Edgar, Driving Emotion May 19th, 2007.

    Sorry, couldn’t help it. Besides, there’s a big difference between experience and ability…I heard a rumour about a Skyline that hit a tree during a photo shoot, which was later named a “deathtrap” because of this dangerous oversteer. Turns out, after talking to two people who have driven the same car since, the car is very safe because the AWD kicks it straight once you’re sideways. Not good enough for the photoshoot though. The solution is to come in too fast, too hard, so that the AWD has no chance of helping you. Quote from one of the guys that have driven it since;

    “Any *expletive deleted* that tried this kind of thing on the road shouldnt have a licence and will die eventually no matter what they drive.”

    But hey, I’m only going off what I’ve been told…

  9. Julian Edgar said,

    on September 8th, 2007 at 9:07 am


    I don’t see any conflict between what I said in the previous column and what I said here. If you see some contradiction, pray tell us what it is?

    If you are referring to the crash I had in my Skyline GTR, you are completely wrong. But should I even bother telling you the facts?

    The crash occurred at night. Yeah, some photo shoot happening, eh?

    The R32 GTR has plenty of power oversteer in standard form. You’ve of course driven one? Or better still, owned one?

    “The solution is to come in too fast and too hard”, you write. I have no idea of what you are talking about and of course, you have no idea either.

    Read – particularly the comparison between R32 and R33 GTR handling. I didn’t write the story. The UK R32 GTR discussion group has quite a lot to read on this, see –

    Unlike you, in what I write I am not “only going off what I have been told”; I am going on what I have found by personal experience.

    Perhaps you should do the same.

  10. Jason said,

    on September 10th, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Ahh, The Good Old GT-R story…

    The GT-R (especially in R32 guise) is a vehicle that will trap the unwary and that’s probably what happened in Julian’s case – meh, everyone comes unstuck at one time or another… Julian just happened to share his story in ZOOM about smacking a guard rail in he has copped a bagging about it ever since – (which some people just can’t let go of it appears)

    Yes I have driven one – done nearly 28,000km in the 12 mths I owned one and whist it was a ‘fun’ car to drive, it is far from an easy car to drive. Yes, there is ample oversteer available, (when you want it) and whilst the ATTESA and HICAS etc will do it’s best to help you, it will not save you from being an idiot. – NOTHING WILL

    It’s a vehicle that will bite hard if provoked and they actually take a while to get used to driving them. At anything less than 7- 8 /10ths – they are not really that exciting to drive. It’s only when you explore the extra two to three tenths of the CARS ability – (something I think that would be hard for most ‘average’drivers to do, and certainly not really practical or possible on the road) that the GT-R really comes into it’s own…

    Evan, The 4WD kicks in – sure…, but you are well and truely sideways before this happens – and for some people – it’s way too late by this time…

    Ohh why did I only keep it for 12 mths and then sell it ??…. The dream never lived up to the reality unfortunately.

  11. Ben said,

    on September 11th, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    Judgements of driving ability are highly subjective. We interpret behaviours by other drivers which irritates us as ‘bad’ driving and therefore judge the other driver as inferior to ourselves. However, this works the other way; the slow driver who sees us speeding past might consider us reckless and therefore a worse driver than they are. In this way, people’s opinion of their own ability behind the wheel is constantly elevated in their own mind, leading to the widespread perception among drivers that they are ‘better than average’.

  12. Ben Styles said,

    on September 13th, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    Evan – YOU HAVE NO IDEA…

    Many many people such as yourself wrongly make the assumption that the acronym AWD or 4WD in the R32 sense means similar handling to a “full-time 50/50” drive to all wheels. Suchs cars (such as early WRX) do tend to pull the front around.

    These people ALWAYS get caught out the first time they sink the boot in at a track day in their new R32 GTR and end up facing backwards at the first corner. I have seen it first-hand many times.

    I don’t want to waste any more breath on you, but until you have driven as many cars in as many different situations as people such as Julian or even myself, you need to stay away from such comments in this kind of forum.

    Those uneducated comments belong on a “fully sick bro” forum like skylines sylvia etc…there you will find many other people who will be happy to agree with you comments on no basis and engage in further uneducated debate.

    (No offence to Skyline or Sylvia guys – just your forums tend to attract some trash!)

  13. jrhook said,

    on September 13th, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Well!! where do I start? firstly with Bens last comment. Subaru 50/50 split? Not sure. My understanding of drive management sytems in the suby was that it is normally 70/30 front/rear and as traction is lost the center diff can aportion up to 50/50 split and in extreme conditions 40/60. Will need to check that one.
    As for all the My dong is bigger than your dong, all i can say is that for 28 years of working in the motor industry as a Tech’ I have never dinged a car mine or customers(admittedly there were times where it was more good luck than skill).
    A few years ago I did a defencive driving course, this is not to be confused with advanced driving IE skill in handling. It is far better to prevent an accident than try to avoid it. I now dive or attempt to drive in a 3-5 second window. It works like this @ 60Kph I need to be able to predict what might happen in front, rear or to the side, If I can’t then I should slow down, If I can then I just proceed on my way. At 100Kph you need 5 seconds to react, you add 1 second for every adverse condition, so if it was wet, down hill and a sweeping corner you would need to add 3 seconds to the 5 @100Kph. If you can’t predict or see what is 8 seconds in front of you or to the side you need to slow down and be prepared. It’s not that hard, next time you are going around a blind corner pick a white post as it comes into view, count in seconds until you actually reach that white post then compare it to the formular given above. You may be able to go around the corner faster but what the principle of this formular is that you have ample time to react to an obstruction or incident on the road.
    Anyway that’s my view. Don’t tail gate and put your blinker on 100mts from the turn, these 2 things realy tick me off.

  14. Ben Styles said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Good pick-up John,

    I was refferring to the “general assumption” of 50/50 split that the layman makes – thanks for pointing out my lack of clarity!

    The early WRX have no torque proportioning system. The approx 40/60 split is constant.

    Later models have smarter centre diffs etc as you mention, and even have a driver definable split. I worked for Subaru previously, and there is a MASSIVE difference in how these cars respond to the older models.

    In general, it pays to do some research on the actual operation of an AWD system that you are going to drive before driving the car to the limit.

    Safe driving guys…

  15. jrhook said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for the input Ben, we all collectively have our knowledge , so it’s great to share. It was good to see the latest Suby with it’s ESC (Electronic Stability Control) has been awarded an ANCAP 5 star ratting. First time ever! I used to work for Subaru many years ago, so I know what great cars they are. OK Apart from noisey transmissions and high fuel consumption:-).

  16. Ben Styles said,

    on September 14th, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Back onto the topic of “good driving” – I would like to mention a fantasic book called “Going Faster – Mastering the Art of race car driving”.

    This is an extremely comprehensive book, developed in conjunction with the Skip Barber racing school in the USA.

    There is some great telemetry, photos, diagrams, and quotes from world-championship level race drivers that are invaluable. Definetly the best of all the books I have read on the topic.

    Unfortunately only those who are genuinely interested in developing their driving by being analytical about their driving (as suggested by Julian) will benefit from such a comprehensive publication.

  17. Bev Guy said,

    on September 21st, 2007 at 6:11 am

    So how good a driver are you? I think the question has some geographical implications! Living in the Sunshine Coast hinterlands, and other rural locations in Australia, my driving experience has largely been on sealed and unsealed winding country roads. Until recently I thought of myself as a confident, competent, cautious, courteous and conservative driver! I recently moved to Dubai and forgot to pack my ‘c’ words! They have been replaced by ‘d’ ones!!! Driving here is dangerous, daunting, defensive and often deadly! Here the average driver shares the roads with high performance sports cars that often reach speeds of up to 200kms! After enjoying driving for 27 years I now feel like anxious learner driver! Any information on the safest vehicle to drive in such conditions would be greatly appreciated!

  18. Mike said,

    on November 13th, 2007 at 10:43 pm

    Me? I can drive, control, just fine. FWD, RWD, 4WD, cars bikes, road, off road. Trains planes and automobiles. Boats even. A helicopter once. Eye hand co-ordination above average, reaction times that make a cat look slow.

    So whats wrong with my driving? I have bi-polar when in motion, as many people do. Hence I’m the one you see driving up footpaths, cutting oldies off at the turn, spitting out the window, handbrake parking, flashing lights, blowing the horn, giving the bird.

    The problem with most people like me is not my driving, its my attitude.


  19. Ken said,

    on March 18th, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    In my opinion people who ride motorbikes are some of the best drivers around, when you ride a bike you’re attention levels dramatically increase and after some time of riding you get used to paying attention and it just becomes second nature.