Back to school with Volvo Safety Driving Experience

Parents, be honest, have you ever struggled with your child’s homework? I don’t have kids, but I’m pretty confident. Confident that I’ll pull out all of the remaining hair on my head if you give me a sheet of high school maths. It shouldn’t be that way, right? We know what it is, we’ve studied it before, and some might have even scored As in the subject back in the day.

Friends, it’s all about practice. Just like in sports, you can’t just show up after many years away and curl one into the top corner or hit a one-handed backhand winner like you never left.

It’s the same with driving. While we drive everyday, it’s not often that we get into a situation that’s close to the car’s (and our own) limits. Many drivers have not even been in such situations before – we’re taking about a car’s maximum braking power and the edge of traction. It has been many years since I participated in a driving course and pushed a car to its limits in a safe, controlled environment, so back to school it was.

Back to school with Volvo Safety Driving Experience

Last month, Volvo Car Malaysia (VCM) hosted its first-ever Safety Driving Experience to cap its ‘For Life’ campaign at KL’s Sungai Besi airfield. The campaign highlights the decades of safety innovations by the Swedish carmaker, which have probably saved millions of lives.

Notable firsts include the three-point safety belt (1959), the rearward-facing child seat (1972), booster cushion for kids (1978), side-impact airbags (1994), side curtain airbags (1998), blind spot information system (BLIS, 2003) and pedestrian detection with full auto-brake (2010), among other safety features that are now ubiquitous in cars.

Almost as clever is the iconic Volvo For Life tagline – I can’t think of many instances where just two words in a slogan can say so much about a brand.

“The Volvo Safety Driving Experience perfectly sums up the ethos of our ‘For Life’ campaign – When you feel safe, you can truly be free,” said Patricia Yaw, head of marketing and PR at VCM. “We want to empower Volvo drivers with the proper mindset and knowledge for safety on the road, learning life-saving skills with confidence in the latest Volvo cars equipped with cutting-edge advanced driver assistance systems and safety innovations acting as an additional safety net,” she added.

The two-day event saw 240 (just a coincidence, I’m sure) participants consisting of Volvo customers, enthusiasts and the media learning essential defensive driving skills, and putting the lessons into practice. Kudos to VCM for being so generous – 102 of the participants were non-Volvo owners, and they only had to pay RM100 for the experience.

The day started off early with an IKEA breakfast (a novel pairing of two iconic Swedish brands) before a briefing on the basics. Seating correctly is the foundation of driving well – whether from a performance or safety standpoint – yet, most people don’t do this correctly. Too much recline and limbs fully stretched out is the most common mistake.

If you’re not seated right (elbows and knees bent, hands on the wheel’s 3 and 9 position) you will have limited steering range and won’t be able to step hard enough in emergency braking, setting yourself up for failure for ALL the exercises, which simulate actual critical situations.

The safety driving module then proceeded to introduce participants to ABS braking and emergency lane change in the XC40 and C40 Recharge Pure Electric EVs. Almost everyone has heard of ABS and stability control, and we want these safety features in our cars, but not everyone knows how ABS works, what happens when it works, and how we should react in conjunction with it.

The exercise had us stand on the brakes (literally, else anti-lock won’t engage) from 60 km/h to a full stop, to familiarise participants with the safety feature, before upping the game to involve avoiding an obstacle. In real life, this could be a dog or a child, so knowing what to do is vital.

From hard braking to no braking for the next exercise – emergency lane change. Once again, we accelerated to around 60 km/h (feels faster than you think in a narrow lane of cones) before swerving into another lane without touching the brakes, and straightening after that. The instructors gave the left or right command at the very last moment in the final run, testing our reflexes.

Not every real-life emergency situation allows us the time and space to brake, and this exercise showed us how we should react, and how the car will react, in split second scenarios.

With the fundamentals covered, the programme shifted to the runway for the ‘experiential’ module, where we got to try out selected driver assist features that are relevant in daily driving, such as Pilot Assist (adaptive cruise control with steering, stop and go) and cross traffic alert with auto brake. These features are your friends, get to know your friends.

We’re on an airstrip, the best place for a top speed test, but this is a safety event, I sighed. To my surprise, we were given top speed runs on the 1.8 km-runway, where I managed to hit the XC60 PHEV‘s 180 km/h speed cap.

If you don’t already know, all new Volvo cars since 2020 are limited to 180 km/h ‘to send strong signal about the dangers of speeding’. That’s still more than enough speed on tap, and many would have left the event with an indelible memory of hitting top speed on a city airstrip, with the KL skyline in full view and the double-deck SPE highway alongside.

But the best was yet to come, for me at least. The event ended with a timed slalom course that needed more than competitive juices. This was the time for participants to put into practice all that they’ve learned about car control at the limit, and piece them all together into a smooth lap.

The key word is smooth – it’s not easy to achieve the delicate balance between going in hard (you’ll run wide and/or ESC will cut power, losing you precious seconds) and being too cautious (five-second penalty for hitting a cone might weigh heavily for some, but too safe = too slow), but that’s what separates the good from the rest, and the best from the good. You’ve got to push the car to the edge, but not let it fall off the imaginary cliff – it’s a fine line.

A line that this participant managed to walk on rather well, only to trip and fall at the final hurdle, which is to stop the car fully within a box after full power on the final straight. I overshot, and the subsequent five-second penalty turned a score that was title contender into mid-table. Never mind the prize, it was great fun.

But more than fun, the Volvo Safety Driving Experience was a timely refresher course for this driver, one that reactivated the muscle memory of how to react in critical situations, in conjunction with a car’s safety features. I’m pretty certain that many of my fellow participants were new to such scenarios, and what they learned and experienced that day at Sungai Besi air base would stick with them. For Life.

GALLERY: Volvo Safety Driving Experience

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