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The Drivernetics Story

… or, Who is David Nickerson, and what the heck does he know about managing driver behaviour?

The quick summary

  • 37 years in driver behaviour and education
  • Master of Science in Driver Behaviour and Education (Cranfield University)
  • Created numerous programmes for businesses, training organisations,
    local authorities and motor manufacturers
  • Always looking for better ways to achieve better results

The full version

So what the heck do I know about this malarkey? Please let me tell you something about my experience, the development of my thinking in my specialisation and the current nature of the business.

Early days

In 1979 I got my basic qualifications and started a driving school. I gained additional qualifications, including an adult education teacher’s certificate, moved into training new driving instructors and got heavily involved in the industry’s efforts to raise the standard of driving instructors. By the end of the 80s I was the director of training for a national driving school franchise which, at the time, was the second largest trainer of new driving instructors in the country.

Moving to the corporate world

In the early 90s I moved into the world of corporate driver training as a consultant, creating training programmes for other businesses or organisations to deliver.

For example, I scripted one of the very first interactive training programmes (on any topic) on compact disc for CD-i inventor, Philips. Called RoadWorthy, it was aimed at the company car driver. (As it turned out, I had backed the wrong horse. CD-i bombed—Philips reputedly lost a billion dollars on it—while CD-ROM became the standard interactive training platform.)

I also developed specialist training courses using motor industry test track facilities and created one of the first police-approved driver improvement schemes (offered in lieu of penalty points and fines).

The fleet training business

My experience of the fleet driver training industry convinced me that there had to be a better way to do it. So, in the mid 90s, I started a company called Driving Development with a like-minded individual. Instead of using what we regarded as the archaic practices that were prevalent in the industry we drew on methodology from sports coaching, psychology, cybernetics, systems thinking and the like (which we had both been studying for years).

Despite being enthusiastically received in some quarters, such as the fleet press and the many trainers who wanted the stimulation of working with our methods, potential clients were often suspicious of our new-fangled approach. At the time, we were simply too far ahead of the curve (pioneers tend to be the ones lying around the wagons with arrows in their backs). Consequently, most of our work came from consulting, specialist training for automotive engineers and running coaching workshops for trainers, rather than fleet training delivery. After a few years I sold my interest in that business and resumed independent consultancy.

Drivernetics

Since then, operating under the business name Drivernetics, much of my work has been connected with the motor industry, from assessing and developing industry test drivers at the Motor Industry Research Association to creating driving programmes for manufacturers of prestige, high-performance cars.

One of the larger projects was developing the driving activities that take place on the tracks at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands and training the team of full-time driving specialists who work there.

Another large project was as the consultant retained to set up the training programme, produce the syllabus and training materials, and recruit and train the instructors for Young Driver, a nation-wide initiative for teaching youngsters aged 11‒16 to drive (off the public road, of course). You can get a flavour of that in the video below.

Cranfield University

The qualifications I obtained early in my career were mostly narrowly-focused on driving and driving instruction (apart from the adult education teacher’s certificate). But most of the advances and breakthroughs in my understanding of driver behaviour had come from studying subjects and taking courses that were not obviously connected with driving instruction.

Self-directed study had brought me a long way but I felt that I needed the rigour of high-level academic study in driver behaviour. The problem was that no university offered such a course (academics in driver behaviour research tend to be psychologists who’ve chosen to specialise in this particular aspect of human behaviour). So I waited. And waited.

Eventually, in 2008, the world-renowned Driving Research Group at Cranfield University offered the world’s first MSc in Driver Behaviour. Cranfield has particularly strong ties with the automotive and aviation industries (its work on driver behaviour grew out of its human factors work on pilot behaviour in aviation).

So I joined the first intake of just nine students on this new master’s course. The two years of study covered all the factors that influence driver behaviour, human performance and human error, including psychology, physiology and neurology (especially the effects of stress, fatigue and intoxication), together with effective means of influencing behaviour and educating drivers. This was underpinned with a thorough understanding of research methods and statistics, and road traffic accident analysis.

In short, the course was the most comprehensive programme of study specifically focused on driver behaviour and education available anywhere. Studying on this course and obtaining my Master of Science degree from Cranfield has greatly expanded my knowledge of the field and further reinforced my appreciation of the gulf between what science knows and what business does.

Real world focus

Throughout my formal and self-directed study of driver behaviour (which has totalled tens of thousands of hours) I’ve always kept a practitioner’s, rather than an academic’s, perspective. This, I believe, has enabled me to make connections that others haven’t made and to unravel fact from fiction. It’s what allows me to help others to apply the science of driver behaviour to their business operations.

You can judge this for yourself by taking a look at some of the free information I provide.