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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

The Women’s Safe Driving Course in Dubai is a handy session for beginners and long-time drivers

The session aims to encourage participants to maintain safety within a car; to inform them what to do during a breakdown, and to allow them to practise manoeuvres set up amid on-road emergency situations

Panna Munyal takes part in emergency driving drills in one of a fleet of Audi TTs. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome
Panna Munyal takes part in emergency driving drills in one of a fleet of Audi TTs. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome

I’m behind the wheel of an Audi TT, squinting against the sunlight streaming through the car’s windscreen. The seat and steering wheel have been perfectly adjusted to suit my 5-foot 1-inch frame; my seat belt is securely fastened; and my filled-to-the-brim handbag is stowed under the passenger seat. I am mentally preparing to swerve and change lanes at a speed of 70kph without hitting the brakes, to avoid the metal rods that have fallen off the back of a truck right in front of my car at the last minute.

This make-believe exercise is part of the Women’s Safe Driving Course, which is now available at Dubai Autodrome – an experience that is at once informative and intimidating. The session has a threefold aim: to encourage participants to always maintain safety within a car; to inform them what to do in case of a breakdown, especially for women who regularly drive with children; and to allow them to practise manoeuvres set up amid various kinds of on-road emergency situations.

Adjusting the seat, steering wheel, seat belt and head rest. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome
Adjusting the seat, steering wheel, seat belt and head rest. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome

The four-hour session begins with a rather graphic theory lesson, as our instructor, James Burnett, waves, crouches and pirouettes his way through the repercussions of not adhering to safety rules. For instance, while most drivers adjust their seats to the most comfortable position, not many think to adjust the headrest.

“A common mistake is setting the headrest to neck level, which is very dangerous in case of an impact,” Burnett says. “You will be thrown forward to a certain degree, but the seat belt will prevent you from crashing into the steering wheel. As a result, though, your head and upper body will be thrown backwards, and if the headrest is not set to the right height, you can suffer from whiplash.”

Burnett also emphasises the importance of the seat belt for back-seat passengers. “The person sitting in the back may actually be all right after an accident, but the seat ahead will not be able to withstand the impact of a body crashing into it, and the likelihood of the driver or front-seat passenger getting crushed is immensely high,” he says.

For mothers who drive their children around, car seats are another key factor to keep in mind. It’s not enough to buy any old seat and install it willy-nilly – get a demonstration as to how a particular seat will fit in the back of your car.

The practice cars. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome
The practice cars. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome

“I’ve also observed that once the kids grow up a bit, they are often sat in the front, or at the back with an awkwardly positioned seat belt,” Burnett says.

Unless your children – be they 5 or 15 – are tall enough that the belt sits firmly across their shoulders, they need to be in a car or booster seat, depending on their height, we are told.

The last leg of the hour-long theory session is dedicated to what to do in case of a breakdown: have a fully equipped toolbox and spare tyre in the boot; carry plenty of water and a first-aid kit; in the case of a puncture, move to the side of the road, or better still, behind a barricaded area or onto a side road if you can; and while waiting for help, “never, ever sit inside a stationary vehicle, but stand or sit some way off, even if it’s hot”, Burnett says.

Next, it’s time to move on to the Autodrome course, to try at quick manoeuvring. And so I find myself cursing under my breath at the thought of that last-minute lane change. As I tighten my slightly damp grip just above the centre spokes of the steering wheel, the walkie-talkie placed in the car comes alive. I have been given the go-ahead. I say a rare prayer, then, as instructed, slam on the gas from the take-off point, reaching 70kph, until I come to the section where the “debris” (a bunch of scattered yellow cones) is almost unavoidable. Using the quick left-right steering motion Burnett demonstrated earlier, I manage to swerve the car into the lane to my left before coming to a halt with a screech – literally – knocking into three, two, then, after several practice rounds, zero other “cars” (designated by orange cones).

An emergency lane-changing session. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome
An emergency lane-changing session. Courtesy Dubai Autodrome

I am also taken through several rounds of weaving the car through an obstacle course; emergency braking in the same lane; and target braking, which requires me to predict the exact point where we will come to a stop.

You might think that a lot could go wrong. I am, after all, left to my own devices in the car, with nobody in the passenger seat. However, the practice runs are well-monitored, and the car’s course is devoid of other objects, save for those ill-fated cones. All things considered, only three tiny mishaps occur: my 6-foot-plus instructor attempts to squeeze into a car seat adjusted to my height; the contents of my handbag need some rescuing post-driving; and only after my hair-raising practice runs are over do I realise that the two-way walkie-talkie in my car was turned on all the while.

The course costs Dh695 if you use your own car, which is recommended, or Dh950 in an Audi TT. For more information, call 04 367 8745 or email drive@dubaiautodrome.com

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