Central drivers getting a grip on winter

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 1 Jul 2017 | Latest News
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A Highlands Motorsport Park employee takes part in the Winter Drive Experience that the circuit is hosting for Otago businesses. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Winter driving conditions can wreak havoc on companies who have staff out in vehicles around Otago, so Highlands Motorsport Park has expanded its Winter Drive Experience to upskill employees.

Drivesouth chatted to chief operating officer Josie Spillane about what the Cromwell circuit is doing to help educate drivers to be safer on our sometimes icy and snow-covered roads.

The winter driver training initially stemmed from feedback from Highlands' members that their wives wanted to do some driving education ‘‘but not with them'', Spillane said.

‘‘And from that, we developed the ladies winter drive experience; a chance for a group of friends, or individuals to get together, and learn how to keep themselves safe on the roads, while at the same time, not feeling like they were in a situation where they felt embarrassed, or pressured.''

From there, it has grown, as many of these women were successful business owners, motivated employees or mums, so Highlands started getting requests for extra tailor-made sessions, as they wanted to share what they had learned with others, Spillane said.

‘‘At the same time, there has been a stronger focus on health and safety in the workplace and we identified that our programme could benefit the wider community by assisting employers to give their employees the best chance of staying safe on the roads this winter and in fact all year round.''

Highlands' race circuit provides a safe environment and can deliver a practical, hands-on three-hour course, in which tailored instruction requires the participants to step out of their comfort zone ‘‘while at the same time upskilling them to become a better, safer driver'', Spillane said. Aided by an instructor and driving their own cars, participants learn how to stop in an emergency and how to handle their car in adverse conditions, including ice simulation. Among the safe driving techniques taught, is what to do if participants lose control of their vehicles. Spillane said the tuition for employees has been ‘‘incredibly popular''.

‘‘We have some companies who are back for their third year, while others, based on the feedback from attendees, are booking more staff through the experience. One of my favourite pieces of feedback is that this is training that their staff look forward to and you can't often say that about training,'' she said.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council puts its staff through the course and human resources manager Holly Moriarty said they would return next year after receiving positive comments from those who took part. Dave Dunlop, who works for Peak Power Services, has staff driving throughout Central Otago providing electrical work for three ski fields.

‘‘We have found that putting them through the Highlands winter driving course prior to winter, focuses their minds on the challenges they will face during winter,'' he said. Spillane believes the course provides people with life-saving skills.

‘‘I've had three people personally call me to share their experiences of near misses - and the fact they are calling me is because of what they learned on the experience - they 100% believe that our drive experience saved them from being in an accident,'' she said.

Highlands has put its own staff through the course and Spillane has become a more confident driver herself afterwards, she said.

‘‘A prime example is I always thought that if I slammed on the brakes in my car, I would roll it. I couldn't have been more wrong and I feel empowered now, that if I was faced with a situation where I had to make a split second decision, I've got the skills to make the right decision and give me and others on the road the best chance of avoiding an accident.''