As a freelancer, time means money so when an opportunity comes along to kill two birds with one stone, we generally jump at it.
Such a situation arose when Ford was launching its two-door muscle car – the Mustang – in RHD guise in the UK.
I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to the event and was also researching the company’s special safety programme for youngsters called Driving Skills for Life for a magazine feature.
Car crashes have been identified as one of the UK’s leading causes of death in 17 to 24-year-olds with one in five major road accidents involving young inexperienced motorists. With those stark figures in mind, Ford Motor Company has invested almost £5 million in training younger drivers through it’s Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) programme, which came to Europe in 2013 after running for many years in the US.
The scheme is completely free for people aged between 17 and 24, with teams of experts offering plenty of advice and highlighting many of the dangers facing motorists these days. For example the added distraction of mobile phones which can cause a momentary lapse in concentration – ample time for an accident to occur.
On the courses, young drivers undergo exercises to test reactions, try their skills at multi-tasking, learn about braking and acceleration plus there is plenty of input from the likes of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), Brake and AA Drive Tech.
And to highlight some of the dangers associated with drinking alcohol or taking drugs prior to driving, Ford has developed a number of suits and teaching aids over recent years that demonstrate how a driver’s ability can be severely affected by outside influences.
One was called the Drink Driving Suit which makes the wearer feel very woozy with various devices attached to mimic the effects of alcohol intake. Then Ford developed the suit considerably to create the Drug Driving Suit. It was created in the Meyer-Hentschel Institute in Germany after taking feedback from a number of people who admitted to having taken drugs.
Basically the ‘wearer’ is kitted out with a number of props that cause all manner of distractions and side effects that will hinder reactions and restrict driving capabilities. These include vision-impaired glasses that produce blurred focusing, flashing lights and tunnel vision; headphones that play background sounds to confuse and distract; neck bandages to restrict movement; elbow bandages to slow movement; a wrist weight to affect balance and slow down reactions; a wrist tremor generator that makes the hand shake; knee bandages to restrict movement and an ankle weight which is worn on the opposite side of the body to the wrist weight to slow reactions and affect balance.
And with so many young deaths on our roads each year, the importance of such safety and educational training is paramount.
So with that in mind I arranged to test out the suit whilst a guest of Ford.
I thought I would don all the garments and then try some simple agility and coordination tests such as catching a ball for example or climbing some stairs. And as the ‘suit’ helps to replicate the effects of drugs such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and heroin I have to admit I was feeling a tad nervous.
What I didn’t expect was to be given the keys to a brand new Ford Mustang Convertible with a 0-62mph sprint time of 5.8 seconds and a price-tag of £37,580!
Before I even put on the headphones or goggles I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to coordinate myself with the additional weights and movement restrictors – my legs felt heavy and tired and lifting my arms in a controlled manner was not a simple operation.
Then, when strapped into the driver’s seat (no easy task I can assure you) the goggles with their distorted lenses and flashing lights hitting my peripheral vision were added, along with the mind-numbing din through the headphones.
A rather confident photographer was sat next to me, although I can only assume the colour drained rather quickly from his face when I attempted to fire up the mighty Mustang. Sadly, my finger missed the red start button by about six inches and it was at that point I suggested Mr snapper with his camera might like to buckle up!
In fairness to Ford, I was not unleashed onto a public road as my driving was restricted to private land and carried out very slowly around a small circular driveway.
Once the car was finally started, my coordination was unbelievably shocking and judging the gaps between two obstacles caused major issues. The more frustrated I became with my inability to see clearly, the more the constant droning in my ears began to grind me down.
The weights restricted any proper controlled movement which made steering erratic and I was thankful the exceptionally heavy ankle weight was not connected to my right leg or acceleration would have proved ‘interesting’ to say the least.
After about 15 minutes behind the wheel, I was starting to develop a headache and my eyes were desperate for some relief from the blurred vision and flashing lights. The weights were feeling heavier by the second and I felt that if I had been tested in a real-life situation I would have failed miserably and some frightening panic issues may have developed.
Thankfully, this was just an experiment and I was free from the ‘druggie’ suit in a matter of minutes and some sense of normality was restored. But the whole experience was a very real insight into the effects drugs might have on someone and how the side-effects can cause such a distortion and misrepresentation of reality.
Ford’s Driving Skills for Life programme has provided free training to more than half a million people globally and after my experience behind the wheel of the Mustang, I can hand-on-heart vouch for the reality and importance of such training. I’m pleased to say that I very much enjoyed driving the Mustang the following day under normal circumstances.
Maxine has more than 30 years’ experience in journalism and has been specialising in motoring for the last 18 years, so fulfilling a life-long passion. It gives her the chance to drive all the new models both here in the UK and overseas, as well as interviewing the specialists and engineers behind the very latest innovative technology. Maxine has written for national and regional newspapers, specialist magazines, leading websites and also completed assignments in broadcasting.