Johannesburg, South Africa
I always had a passion for motorcycles and cars. I started driving a car at the age of 12—only in parking lots though. I spent most weekends customizing bikes and cars. When I was 18, I opened my own driving learner company. It was called U-Turn."
Twenty-seven years later, Derek Kirkby is still at it. Today, he leads the Ford Driving Skills for Life program in South Africa, which he's done since the program was launched there in 2010.
In between, he became a volunteer paramedic, fire fighter and crash investigator. It's fair to say that Kirkby has dedicated his life to things that go, go fast, yet, go with purpose. That translates into impeccable road safety.
"I enjoy the hands-on element of training someone to not only get a license but to be a safe driver. From there, I found that I had so much more to offer in the field of road safety. Hence, I went into advanced driving, and that seemed a natural fit to do paramedics, fire fighting and crash investigation. It all ties together, and I get to live my passion. For me, it's not work. It's a way of life."
Kirkby was a MasterDrive instructor for the Johannesburg-based RAC Group teaching high performance driving to ambulance drivers when he was tapped to lead Ford Driving Skills for Life in 2010.
He said Ford's free, safe-driving program is an important way for people to learn life-saving skills. "It's sad, but very few drivers invest money to improve their knowledge about being a safer driver. Ford Fund has made this possible," Kirkby said.
Safe driving covers everything from distracted driving, fuel-efficiency and defensive driving to managing a car hijacking.
In fact, it was Kirkby who taught Demi Leigh Nel Peters, Miss Universe and South African actress, how to de-escalate the unpredictable events of a hijack just three days before it happened to her.
"Three days after my program, she was hijacked in Johannesburg. She told me later that if it wasn't for her attending my program, things might have gone differently," Kirkby said.
"In the hijack management program, I strive to make people aware of their surroundings while driving. The point is to be alert, not paranoid. I teach people to try to manage any situation and not try to be a hero. (To view the hijack management lesson with Miss South Africa, click here.)
"I have done this work my whole life, and every day is different, with different people and a continuously changing industry. But for me personally, nothing has changed. I still love customizing bikes and cars. I have six bikes at the moment and another project bike on the go.
Ford Driving Skills for Life teaches newly-licensed and teen drivers the necessary skills for safe driving beyond what they learn in standard driver education programs. Since it began in 2003, the program has trained more than 1 million drivers in all 50 states and in 43 countries around the world – at no cost to participants. Through its hands-on, online and classroom training, Ford Driving Skills for Life curriculum addresses both the areas of inexperience as well as the issues surrounding distracted and impaired driving.