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HomeFeaturesWhat you’ll learn at South Africa’s first Night Driving School

What you’ll learn at South Africa’s first Night Driving School

Driving at night can be very dangerous, especially in South Africa where you need to be wary of all manner of hazards from animals on the road to potholes, drunk drivers, and potential hijackers.

VW has therefore launched the country’s first Night Driving School at Zwartkops Raceway in Gauteng where it provides a combination of lectures and hands-on driving exercises intended to equip motorists with the necessary skills to handle the road after dark.

The automaker kindly invited TopAuto to one of these educational sessions to see if our abilities are up to scratch.

As the sun sets

The Night Driving School began at 15h00 on a Thursday afternoon, which admittedly seemed rather early for a class about night driving, but the day’s events soon moved by at a rapid pace.

After filling out an indemnity form, the class of just over 20 individuals moved to a lecture room where we were given the first and longest of the presentations on safe driving.

Much of the first lecture focused on aspects that are just as important during the day as they are at night, which included an explanation of how to control a car in various situations.

The upbeat VW staff member gave a breakdown of how drivers usually lose control of a vehicle as a result of braking, accelerating, speeding, or steering depending on the road conditions, before going into more detail on the types of skids that a person can experience.

This was the most important part of the class, as it explained how a car loses grip depending on the action being taken, and how drivers should react to regain control.

From there, we looked at the following distances and reaction times, with videos shown to demonstrate how often people underestimate how much distance they need to stop before they hit the car in front of them in an accident.

After the lecture, which had already brought the timetable to around 17h00, the group was given a brief but pleasant dinner, and then it was back to the classroom for a shorter presentation on defensive driving, the main causes of road accidents in South Africa, and stopping distances.

Next, we were educated on what to do in a hijacking situation.

The instructor gave a practical demonstration of what to do using a VW T-Cross parked in the main hall, and the key point to remember is to comply with the hijacker’s demands, as this will is what will hopefully lead to you getting away from the person as soon as possible.

After the demonstration, we had one last lecture about night driving which covered things like understanding how your car’s headlights work, planning and taking the safest routes, and paying attention to your surroundings.

Do not go gentle into the night

With all the theory out of the way, we were let out onto the test track in groups of three, where numerous instructors were waiting with a selection of VW cars.

Impressively, the course didn’t have us all in the same models, as the line-up included a Polo, Polo GTI, Taigo, T-Roc, and Golf GTI, which added an appreciable layer of variety to what we’d be doing.

Driving out to the circuit, the first course involved performing a long slalom down the straight and into the corner at a relatively high speed, which would demonstrate what we’d been told about how a car grips the road when braking, accelerating, and turning.

Each person gets two attempts with the instructor sitting in the front passenger seat, and once you’re done with each run you’ll get to race around the rest of Zwartkops to loop back around, which threw in a bit of high-performance driving into the mix for added fun.

Happily, despite our relatively large group, there were enough cars that it never felt like you were waiting very long for your turn.

The second task was a bit more daunting, as it involves an emergency stop and swerve where you accelerate quickly down the track towards a set of cones before the instructor suddenly tells you to stop, at which point you slam on the brakes and swerve into a second lane marked by more cones.

The test is intended to simulate emergency braking when an object like a truck, animal, or pedestrian suddenly appears on the road, and it’s an excellent demonstration of the importance of anti-lock brakes (ABS) and electronic stability control (ESC).

Finally, the group moved further up the track where we were asked to stand on the side of the road where we believed a car would stop when slamming on the brakes at 60km/h, 120km/h, and 160km/h, and while most of the group was fairly accurate at guessing the 60km/h mark, almost everyone underestimated the stopping distance of the other speeds by at least 10 metres, if not more.

The evening wrapped up around 21h00 when we went back to the main building and were presented with certificates for completing the course.

All in all, it was a very interesting experience that provided a thorough explanation and hands-on practice of what to do in a dangerous situation while driving at night in South Africa.

The course costs R3,500 per person, and you can book online here.

VW Night Driving School at Zwartkops Raceway

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