The man who was once The Stig isn’t happy with the state of driving in Britain today, and he’s on a mission to do something about it.
And Ben Collins, who secretly worked as the Top Gear’s man-in-a-white-suit for eight years, knows more than most about driving. He not only set some of the fastest laps on the show’s test track whilst driving glamorous supercars, but also tutored celebrities on effectively driving ‘reasonably priced’ family cars.
Collins has also spent many years racing, which he calls his first love, competing in Le Mans and the notoriously difficult Bathurst 1000. He has been filmed performing stunts in the Batmobile and on three James Bond films.
Still, you might wonder what the man whose most expensive mishap was crashing a £500,000 Koenigsegg CCX through a wall at 120mph has to say about safe driving.
But Collins has legitimate credentials when it comes to teaching others. In addition to his work on Top Gear, he has taught the military and the police, and highly values the chance to pass his knowledge, often learned the hard way, onto others.
“I’ve had some very close shaves, I’m lucky,” says Collins, whose early driving experiences include writing off a Toyota Supra. “There are other people like me that have either been killed or their friends have been killed or they’ve had horrific injuries from driving.”
He says this is partly because manuals are boring, the Highway Code is dry stuff, and few people have any interest in learning new skills once they have passed their test, which is often after just 20 or so hours of lessons. In addition, the government has populated the streets with “too many signs, too many changes to the speed limit and too many speed cameras.”
Collins’ answer is to publish the new book, How to Drive, which mixes information on driving with funny and entertaining experiences from his career. He spent a lot of time ensuring the book was as memorable as it is informative, to ensure it gave readers some value.
But can an everyday driver really learn from a star of track, TV and film?
“The high speed technique that we use on the race track is really not much different to what I’m describing for general day-to-day driving. I’m not saying everyone should go faster, but everybody
should drive smoother and look further ahead, and that is the main skills that we deploy on the race track to get faster times.”
Collins really believes in his methods. He says there was no celebrity he worked with on Top Gear that didn’t walk away a better driver – Jeremy Clarkson included.
“Stunt driving is different and has a different mindset,” says Collins. “You’re actually doing the opposite, you’re deliberately upsetting the car and deliberately crashing it! That’s playtime, and only for the movies.”
- Sleep driving really hasn’t taken off, so keep the eyes open — it’s easier to see that way. Turn the music up, open the window, rip out your nose hairs, or better still, stop for caffeine if you are tired. If your boss has a problem with your journey taking 10 minutes longer than your sat nav’s route plan, explain the meaning of the phrase — Better late than never.
- In 2009, 15 people were killed and 494 injured in crashes where a driver was on the phone. Switch off your phone and let your brain cool down for the rest of the journey. Using a mobile phone while driving – whether hand-held or hands-free — makes you four times more likely to crash.
- Crashing never ends well. Even a light crash can be traumatic, or worse, put you on a special driving course with the Angel Gabriel (or Beelzebub if you hog the fast lane).” “With the British weather as unpredictable and as dangerous as the traffic, it’s hard to plan ahead when you’re hitting the road, but you can adjust your driving style to suit the weather. Rain typically doubles the braking distance, snow and ice knocks the whole process into next week. If it feels uncomfortable and the waft of dung is emanating from your trouser compartment — slow down.