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