Pro rally drivers are offering lectures on safe driving to local senior drivers. We went on-site to explore the ideals behind this project.
The world's top drivers took the driver's seat to compete in the Forum8 Rally Japan 2023 from November 16 to 19 in Aichi and Gifu prefectures.
The big ticket for this tournament was surely the Super Special Stage inside Toyota Stadium.
Three days after the event, on the 22nd, before the special course had even cooled off, a huge variety of cars began to gather. Sedans, minivans, minivehicles... Even some light-duty trucks. They totaled 65 vehicles, and none looked like they had anything to do with the rally.
The event held that day at Toyota Stadium was called Good Driver Lesson, where pro drivers offered tips on safe driving, focusing especially on older drivers.
The lessons were led by six drivers: Fumio Nutahara, who is also deputy director of the NPO Good Driver Lesson, as well as Norihiko Katsuta, Toshihiro Arai, Yuta Yamamoto, Takahito Sone, and Yuya Sumiyama. Each is ranked among Japan's top rally drivers competing in the Japanese Rally Championship.
Here, we look into what these driving pros shared and the hopes driving this project.
It All Began in Rankoshi, Hokkaido
Good Driver Lesson got its start at the 2019 Japanese Rally Championship in Rankoshi, Hokkaido. When the championship was over, the town's mayor Hideyuki Kon approached Nutahara for advice.
Rankoshi is a small town of 4,500, about two and a half hours by car from Sapporo, and it is dealing with a steadily aging population. More than 40 percent of its residents are over the age of 65 (as of April 2023).
The town has train, bus, and taxi services, but most people depend on private vehicles to get around.
“Cars are still essential transport for the daily lives of townspeople, but it’s difficult to see concrete results from traffic safety campaigns. If there could be some event that combined our role as a location for the Japanese Rally Championship and increased awareness of traffic safety for aging residents, we [the city] would be happy to offer our complete cooperation,” said Mayor Kon.
Nutahara listened to Mayor Kon and the residents. In 2019, the issue of senior drivers causing accidents due to mistaken pedals gained widespread attention, and as a car lover, he began to feel that there must be something he could do.
He requested help from local Toyota dealerships saying, “Letting senior drivers know about Suppocars [Toyota’s safety support vehicles] can help reduce accidents.” With agreement from those dealerships and coordination with local police, Rankoshi became the venue for the first Good Driver Lesson in August of that year.
These lessons still use Suppocars and have become a vital opportunity for people to learn not only about safe driving, but the latest technology as well.
Motorsports as the Ultimate Safe Driving
Chairman Akio Toyoda has said, in talking about pro drivers as driver safety instructors,
“What we have to avoid is the idea that 'racers are dangerous drivers.' The truth is that they are people who drive fast and safely. What I also want people to understand is that they are good at risk avoidance. And that they are having fun while they compete on the circuit.”
It is a world where every tenth of a second counts, where drivers race to reach their goal without causing any accidents. You could say that since pro drivers are competing as the ultimate safe drivers, they can convey both the skills and the fun.
Nutahara discusses the significance of pro drivers conveying the skills of safe driving.
When we race in a rally, we always get so much support from members of the local communities. We borrow the roads and facilities they use for daily life. Then, just when we were wondering if there was some way to pay them back, they came asking for our help. And the result is the Good Driver Lesson.
We rally drivers compete as the ultimate safe drivers. I think that all the time. The winner is the one who makes it to the finish line without hitting another car.
Meaning that although we do compete on speed, driving safely is an essential element. We built a program based on the idea that if we could convey even just a little of what we do for safe driving, it could be a hint to how everyone could drive more safely in their daily lives.