Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Variable speed limits

On some roads in Europe, the speed limits are variable, when it rains they're lower. That makes sense to me, if stopping distances are higher you should drive slower. 

Around schools in the UK, the speed limit is often 20mph instead of 30mph. Now that makes sense, if there's kids running around, driving at 20 instead of 30 would be safer. If it's 3am, there won't be many kids about, but the limit stays the same.

What I think we could benefit from would be variable speed limits in the UK.

And so there's no arguing about what counts as a 'wet road', we could use electronic signs that are changed remotely due to time of day and weather conditions.

James Richards, ADI

Are learner drivers allowed on the motorways?

Learners drivers allowed on motorways!

So, roads minister Mike Penning has suggested that later on this year that learner drivers will be allowed to drive on motorways.

Critics say that learners on motorways are going to cause carnage, accidents and deaths.

Allow me to explain why we as driving instructors feel that this is a great idea and the critics are COMPLETELY wrong.

Why it will be completely safe

Firstly, think hard, how many learner cars do you see in accidents? Barley any? That’s because on a driving lesson you’ve got two pairs of eyes instead of one looking for hazards. You’ve also got an extra brake and clutch for the driving instructor, and seven mirrors instead of three.Learner drivers on the motorways
Driving instructors are responsible professionals who have undergone stringent tests. Therefore; we are able to assess a learners skills and confidence only allowing them to enter situations they will be capable of. This will of course still be the case when introducing learners to the motorways. The learner will also be well prepared and supported throughout.
Very few accidents happen on motorways anyway. Statistically, you’re much less likely to be in an accident on a motorway that around town. If we can keep a learner safe turning right on a busy roundabout with multiple lanes, 5 or 6 exits, at rush hour. We can keep a learner safe on the motorway.
Modern cars cope well with the speed. Most instructors drive cars made after 2007, with ABS, speed sensitive steering, traction control and many other features making them more than capable motorway cars.
If you are with a driving instructor, you probably won’t be doing anything wrong, IE tail-gating, driving too fast for the road or traffic conditions, driving in blind spots, not using the MSM/PSL routine, talking on a mobile or getting distracted. Are these not the things that cause many road accidents?
Learners won’t be falling asleep at the wheel. If a learner loses concentration, the instructor should still be alert. And instructors don’t  lose their concentration.
Learners are allowed on dual carriageways. Same speed limit (for the moment). I’ve seen some dual carriageways that have got 4 or more lanes and are more complicated and difficult than most motorways (remember, the road has to have the ‘M’ prefix to become a motorway, dual carriageways are usually ‘A’ roads). I know a few routes from all four test centres in my locality, all of which can go on dual carriageways. Because of this, I ensure that learners are capable and experienced on a dual carriageway. A ‘textbook’ two lane dual carriageway is very similar to a three lane motorway, but the motorway has got one extra overtaking lane, so just one more place to look. If anything motorways are safer because you don’t have slow moving traffic on them to overtake eg cyclists, mopeds, tractors etc.

So why should learners be allowed on motorways?

Because it will make the roads safer, theoretically. There’s a fair bit of road craft that could benefit learners before going on a motorway, as in how to read overhead gantries, route finding, etc.
Some optimists say that with the roads becoming safer, insurance companies will lower premiums for new drivers. They probably won’t though, most of them don’t even recognise the pass plus course any more.
It will give learners more confidence. Many of them are afraid of motorways, and being able to do it on lesson with L-plates and an instructor would help. I’ve discussed motorways with many of my learners and frequently they have told me their mum or dad has been driving for years and still won’t drive on the motorway because they are too scared. To me this is a real shame and this new rule could stop this in the future.
I teach my learners in all weather conditions, safety permitting – during the floods last year, I taught a few learners how to drive in floods. My logic being they will have to drive in the floods at some point, and it would be better if they experienced this with me, instead of on their own.

Where Mike Penning has got this law change just right

The learners are restricted to only go on the motorway with a qualified driving instructor. As I mentioned earlier in this article ADIs have the skills to assess when a learner is safe to face this challenge. Going on the motorway for the first time with a family member before they are ready is something that could potentially be dangerous.
It is not part of the driving test. This was a necessity, as many test centres are an hour or more drive away from any motorways so there is no way they could have made it fair to test this in those centres that are near to motorways. I just hope driving instructors will ensure their learners realise the importance of this experience and don’t just ignore it as it’s not part of the driving test.

Reasons against

Everything I’ve read contrary to learners being allowed on motorways is a bit poorly thought out.  I’ve explained why its not a safety issue, the only opposition I’ve got against it is that my copy of the ADI’s handbook will be obsolete and I’ll have to get a new one.

So to summarise….

It’s another brilliant idea from Mike Penning who is really bringing the “safe driving for life” policy into action and creating capable and confident drivers, not people who are lost the moment they pass there test and have to face the roads alone.
When the new policy is put into action we will be sure to put some motorway driving tips on our blog.

James Richards, ADI
Andrew Dickins, ADI

Driving instructor mirrors

In my car, I've got a lot of mirrors. I've got a blind spot mirror on each door mirror. They could be helpful for keeping an eye on your blind spots, but personally I like to glance over my shoulder just in case. Convex blind spot mirrors are also really helpful for watching your positioning in lanes, and can be an aid with reverse parking into a bay, parallel parking and the corner reverse exercise. Even if I retired from instruction I'd still definitely have blind spot mirrors on my car (£7.99 each from halfords, if you want to be cool like us....).

I've got three interior mirrors in my car. There's the driver's mirror, which is all I would have if I wasn't a driving instructor (on my car its got light sensors and automatically dims to stop you from getting dazzled, how cool is that?!). I've got an instructor's rear view mirror, which is what I use to keep an eye on what's happening behind the car. Next to that, there's a smaller 'eyeball' mirror. Now I try to get my pupils to turn their head slightly to emphasise that they're checking their mirrors. It just makes it easier for me (and the examiners) to watch the road and other vehicles and watch the head movements out of peripheral vision, but I also have a mirror aimed at the learner's eyes. It serves more purposes than just watching them check mirrors, because I can see where they're looking - if they're looking down at the bonnet, for example, instead of up the road, or I can watch for facial expressions which helps know what my pupils are thinking in a situation that may be stressful or difficult.

The two extra interior mirrors are marketed as 'child view mirrors' for people who want to keep an eye on children on the back seat. I've got mixed feelings about the safety of this - you probably shouldn't be watching what's sat on the back seat when you're driving, but a mirror is better than turning right round.... If you've got children in the car just be careful that they're not a distraction. What I find surprising is that driving instruction is a pretty big industry, and we have to get mirrors designed for parents with young children instead of specially made ones. If I were to design specially made mirrors for driving instruction they'd be exactly the same though.

James Richards, ADI

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Changes to the theory test


Only joking. Its not really that bad. In fact, you probably wouldn't even notice.

What they used to do, was print all the answers in big theory test question banks, so you could literally go and buy all the questions and answers. I remember I had the car one and motorcycle one to do the two respective theory tests I took. They were big, heavy books with around 1500 questions and answers in them.

The changes to the theory test mean they're changing all the questions to basically the same subject matter, but worded differently, and they're not going to print the question bank.

This is to stop people from just memorising the question bank and then using that to pass.

I think that's a little bit paranoid. If you can memorise 1500 questions and answers, you probably have photographic memory and a very high IQ. I don't think you could memorise 1500 questions and answers without picking up theory knowledge.

Honestly, its easier to just learn the subject matter for the theory test than memorising 1500 questions. The highway code isn't exactly massive either.

So before the theory test change, the best thing to do is buy the official DSA theory test study materials (PC CD Roms, DVDs), study as you would for any exam, practice the hazard perception element and go for it.

Taking a theory is pretty cheap, and you can take as many attempts at it as you want, the waiting lists are generally very short.

And good luck!

James Richards, ADI

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Driver behaviour

Spending my working week on the road provides me with lots of things to think about and talk about during my free time.

Personally, I find it akin to 'people watching'.

Every day I'm shocked and appalled at how people drive, its almost as if when people get in their cars they lose all manners and decency. 

If you are walking down your local high street or supermarket, and someone steps in front of you, and then you walk into them, do you apologise or yell at them?

I'm probably not the best 'test subject' for this, at 6"5', but people normally apologise if I accidentally walk into them, and vice-versa. I have asked some more average sized people, and it would seem if two people walk into each other they both reflexively apologise then carry on without giving it another thought.

But for some reason, that all changes in a car.

Think back to being a passenger. Try and recall what happens when someone pulls out in front of a driver. Alarmingly, the common response is a long beep on the horn and a torrent of swearing. 

It always surprises me that doing that is almost taken as socially acceptable JUST because you're in a car and road-rage is so commonplace its almost normal. Just because its commonplace, it doesn't make it right. Just look at chart music. Personally I think its because most people are angry and depressed at some aspects of their life, and their daily commute is the only place they feel safe enough to vent. Not participating in sports or anything doesn't help. They can't yell like that at work - they'll get fired. And they're not going to yell at strangers in the street, because they'll get arrested or beaten up. So all this anger and tension finds its way into driving, which really isn't very safe or clever. If you let emotions take over your driving, you won't be thinking rationally, and your are much more likely to have a crash.

Not to mention you don't know who you are yelling at. Search for 'road rage assault' and 'road rage murder', and you'll be surprised at how many incidents of it turning violent there are. 

The way I see it, is if someone pulls out on front of you, they probably misjudged the gap, or made a mistake, didn't see you or are just so clueless they don't really know what they're doing. Either way, beeping and yelling won't accomplish much.

Its generally accepted amongst ADIs that better drivers are calmer drivers, basically the better your hazard anticipation and defensive driving skills, the less likely you are to come across any 'surprises'. Practice developing your hazard anticipation and defensive driving skills and you'll be be surprised at the results.

Its all learnt behaviour. If you drive aggressively, your children will see that and imitate that in their driver behaviour, your friends will think its acceptable behaviour and the problem will continue. The less people that drive in an aggressive, angry manner, the less socially-acceptable it will become.

So please, drive considerately, and be forgiving of people's mistakes.

James Richards, ADI

Learners with bad habits

So as we all know, the most effective time you will spend with your learning in a car, is with an Approved Driving Instructor or Potential Driving Instructor. They'll know what to look for, and how things should be done properly, and assuming they are keeping up to date, the most modern and effective way of doing everything.

Of course, if you have access to a suitably insured car (and a parent with nerves of steel), "private practice" (what we ADIs call driving without an ADI - friend or relative), private practice can be a pretty helpful way of gaining experience and confidence on the road.

I've noticed a trend in private practice - it seems to go one of two ways. If your "supervising driver" (usually mum or dad) literally just supervises you driving, it's very helpful, and can save hundreds of pounds in lessons, make you a safer driver post-test, and get you to test standard quicker. I've seen this happen may times, and it really relies on the supervising driver assuming the learner knows best as their knowledge is more up to date.

But if your supervising driver is convinced they know the best way of doing things, and decides to teach you how they drive, you can wind up developing bad habits as a learner, which will cost a lot of money and time to put right with lessons.

I've seen some excellent examples of this recently. One of my passing pupils, a week before his test, started stopping at every junction without any real reason. If a junction has good enough visibility you can go through without stopping (assuming there's no stop sign) if you can see it's clear. What had happened was his mum thought you were supposed to stop at every junction. I've also had pupil who's speed was continually too high- once again the result of private practice.

You can't expect your parents to know how to driver properly. I thought I was a brilliant driver, I was still doing my mirrors and signals like I thought I was supposed to, and then I started training as a driving instructor, and realised that in fact I'd just developed a lot of bad habits and my knowledge was all out of date. I was 24 when that happened, and I passed at 17. If you pass at 17 and you're in your 40s - you have got over two decades of bad habits, and your knowledge is over 20 years out of date.

So to summarise - if you are a supervising driver, you probably don't know best, and its your job to just supervise the learner, so sit there and be quiet, unless its a matter of safety.

James Richards, ADI

Friday, December 16, 2011

About the Author 2 - James Ricahrds

Hi, I'm James Richards from Impact School of Motoring. I'm newly qualified, nearing the end of my first year of teaching driving.

Before driving instructing, I had two strange careers; I taught outdoor sports for a while to young people, which I  absolutely loved doing, and then I became a chef which I absolutely didn't love doing at all.

I'm not entirely sure why I'm a driving instructor. I really didn't like being a chef, and it seemed like a sensible idea, because I thought I might enjoy it. Turns out, I really do enjoy it, so that's a bonus.

Anyway, I'm on here to blog about my experiences as a driving instructor, because each working day I have a variety of experiences which I want to share. Hopefully, it'll help learners and people who want to become instructors.

Anyway, hopefully you'll enjoy the blog, and drive safe!!

Check out our website!!