Mercedes-Benz has introduced the driver training programme with the aim of improving the 'software' piloting its vans
A safe van, safe driver culture Well rounded: Mercedes has introduced the driver training programme with the aim of improving the 'software' piloting its vans

MERCEDES-BENZ didn't really need the water tanker during its recent safety driving event for commercial vehicles - Mother Nature was on hand to help out at the wet handling section. It was pouring on a weekday morning at a Yishun trailer carpark when Mercedes-Benz Van Fleet Customers became the first in Asia to participate in the inaugural Safety Training Program. Assembled and ready to go for this safety driving course was a gleaming set of Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Vito models.

As a display of its products' integrated safety philosophy, as well as its commitment to improving road safety, Mercedes-Benz has introduced the driver training programme with the aim of improving the 'software' piloting its vans. By allowing the participants to witness first-hand the law of physics and how it affects the vans they drive, Mercedes hopes they can learn to control their vehicles with maximum safety.

The programme includes recognising potential danger, how to avoid such danger, vehicle handling in critical situations, and a clear understanding of the state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz safety systems and how they synergise. These systems include the anti-lock braking system (ABS), acceleration skid control (ASR), Brake Assist (BAS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and the dynamic handling control system (ESP or electronic stability programme).

The rain coming down in sheets illustrated precisely the kind of weather that makes traffic more accident-prone. First up was the slalom course, a particularly tricky exercise as a van has a much higher centre of gravity compared with an ordinary sedan. Equally hair-rising was the emergency braking exercise on a slick surface. Most of the fleet drivers were not used to slamming hard on the brakes and relying on ABS to avoid the obstacle.

More fun was the van manoeuvre test in a tight space. The drivers were expected to do a 180-degree U-turn in a confined space without hitting the tyre barriers and in the shortest time possible. But most were caught off-guard even though they had the luxury of a reverse video camera. The station that everyone enjoyed most was the ESP demonstration. A Mercedes-Benz Vito van was driven at close to 65 kmh before executing a sudden lane change manoeuvre without the use of brakes. The ESP kicked in and kept the vehicle under control and all the driver experienced was a quickened pulse rate.

'We hope to give the drivers a better awareness of safety driving habits with an aim to decrease accident rates and to cultivate good driving behaviour,' said Kenny Lim, DaimlerChrysler general manager for commercial vehicle sales and marketing. DaimlerChrysler owns the Mercedes-Benz brand.

Mr Lim said that, after Singapore, the safety driving course team from Germany would visit Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand over two weeks. The training programme is heavily biased towards hands-on training because Mercedes-Benz believes it is the best way to increase the skills of the corporate and private owners of Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles and spread the 'safe vans and safe drivers' culture.