Saturday, 8 April 2017

Learner Drivers on Motorways? Yes Indeed

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Should have happened many years ago I reckon.

The time is getting near when learner drivers will be allowed on motorways with a qualified Approved Driving Instructor in a dual controlled car. I regard motorway driving as an important part of driving knowledge and experience which should always have been included in the learning to drive syllabus from the very beginning. Depending on where people are learning to drive this isn't always possible. The nearest motorway could be a long way off and not be reachable on a standard driving lesson. Here in Nottingham we have easy access to the M1 which gives every driving instructor the opportunity to teach the skills necessary for safe motorway driving. This has been a wasted opportunity for learner drivers and the sooner we can get on there the better.
   According to research younger drivers who are fearful of driving on the motorway are taking routes along back roads where statistically they are more likely to have an accident. This situation seems ridiculous to me. Surely Motorways are an integral part of teaching safe driving for life? Instead motorway driving is viewed as an add on, not something which is strictly necessary and certainly not given the importance it deserves. I like many other driving instructors offer motorway training on it's own as well as part of the Pass Plus scheme. The take up on this type of training is very low. After paying a good amount for lessons it's hard to ask people to spend more after they have passed the L test. I hardly ever go out on the M1 with a learner. Those that do go out are always happy that they did and to be honest they pick it up pretty quickly. 
   Unfortunately the scariest part comes right at the beginning. Joining the motorway requires good judgement of speed to match the vehicles already on there. Too slow and you can head into danger very quickly. Signalling early and spotting a potential gap are skills that transfer to other situations so motorway training can improve the general standard of driving as a whole. The main difference in traffic is the number of heavy goods vehicles on there moving at speed. This can be terrifying for the nervous driver with no experience. Once on there things start to settle down with lane changing being the main skill being practiced. Many new drivers may have very limited experience of this depending on where they live. I find the instinctive thing they do before changing lanes is to slow down which is entirely the wrong thing to do. An hour on the motorway and the problem is cleared up producing an altogether better quality driver. Leaving the motorway and the drive onto smaller roads brings into play the skill of speed control. After doing 70mph trying to do 30mph can be a bit painful. Again we are helping to produce a more aware and skilled driver by coaching learners in how to deal with this. I think that learners will be in a much stronger position to pass the L test first time with the confidence they will have from being on a motorway.
    For a lot of us the motorway drive is a yearly event when we go on holiday. How much better would the traffic flow if all drivers got professional tuition before passing the test? It may help with those phantom traffic jams we all know and love. I personally can't wait to get out there with my learners. It will add interest to my working day and add some variation to my teaching. Happy motoring to you all and hope your roof sign doesn't blow off at high speed. Ha.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Drivers Under Passenger Presssure

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Let's not hear it for the back seat driver.

After a few years giving refresher lessons to more mature drivers I have noticed a common thread. When I ask the driver what they see as their weaknesses I usually get a very definite things that the driver feels need to be addressed. Upon further questioning it turns out that these problems are in fact opinions given by the driver's partner, positioned in the passenger seat offering unsolicited help and advice. Often from the standpoint of someone who has never driven.
   One gentleman believed his observations and judgement of a safe gap when emerging from junctions left a lot to be desired. After 90 minutes of driving and a few pointers I felt that these skills were more than adequate and I couldn't really see a problem. The gentleman then told me about his short wife who has the passenger seat fully raised and as far to the front as it will go. From this position the nearside front window is completely blocked by the passenger who then proceeds to tell the driver whether to go or not. This is so very dangerous and totally unacceptable. I  informed the driver that he has to be able to see all around the vehicle and make his own decisions on when to emerge. The time delay from when he is told to go to when the car actually moves could prove well hazardous. Also he is relying on the judgement of a person who has never driven a car. Not an ideal situation at all.
   I recently gave a refresher driving lesson to a lady who believed she was too hesitant at junctions and when meeting traffic coming in the other direction. Also she drove at well under the speed limit on faster roads and dual carriageways. When asked why she thought this she replied that it was her husband's verdict. As he was now visually impaired and had to give up driving, the lady I was teaching had to do it for him. After a good drive around Nottingham there were some issues with mirror use and early observations but absolutely no issues regarding hesitancy. I assured the lady that she should drive within her own limits and not bow down to the opinion of her passenger. She seemed relieved to hear this and I'm sure she will be fine on the road.
   Passenger pressure is always considered an issue which only rally effects younger drivers but this is obviously not the case. People of any age and driving experience can succumb to pressure from friends or family in the car and feel they have to overstep their limits in order to satisfy another. It can be very difficult to ignore criticism and the driver may start to feel belittled and incompetent. The stress caused by this can have a detrimental effect on the quality and safety of the drive. A passenger who is late for an appointment or in a bad mood can put pressure on a driver which they wouldn't normally if they were in a relaxed mood.
   I say to all drivers out there that you alone are responsible for your driving. Do as you judge fit when behind the wheel and don't let others influence you when it comes to safety. 

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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

I Teach Safe Driving For Life

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I don't just teach driving test routes.

I remember once getting an unsolicited lecture from a driving test examiner about following driving test routes on lessons. He had taken my candidate out on test and they had followed another driving school car who had followed the test route exactly. He seemed very annoyed that this had provided endless prompts for my pupil who simply had to copy what the car in front did. He said my pupil may have passed anyway but I could see his point. I wondered why it was me who received the talking to and not the guilty instructor, but there you go.
   I have never taught test routes in their entirety. I just don't believe in it but I can tell that there are still some driving instructors who do. We all get pupils who have been with other instructors and have changed because they are dissatisfied with the teaching they are receiving. Some have complained to me that they follow more or less the same route week after week with no variation and have simply got bored. Could the route have been a test route? Another giveaway is when on the approach to a roundabout I ask if they have covered roundabouts. Sometimes they will reply "Yes I have done some, but not this one." When I ask if they have had properly structured lessons covering each major topic individually they reply in the negative. They have never been given a briefing, shown a diagram or even had the topic introduced properly. They just drove the same route each week and received tips only on how to deal with the problems on that route. This is driving instruction at it's absolute worst in my opinion.
   I take my pupils all over Nottingham. I only do 90 minute lessons which allows time to get out there and cover topics which may not even crop up on the test but will be needed for safe and happy future driving. I will make sure they are familiar with any complex junctions in the test area but that is a world away from teaching a certain route.
 Perhaps some instructors worry about their pass rate and see following routes as a way to ensure that most pupils pass first time. The problem is that it probably is. If a learner driver knows exactly where they are going and what to look out for they will feel a lot more confident on the day. Publishing individual instructor's pass rates may lead to more of this sort of thing but what happens after the driving test? We have a lot of new drivers with a full driving licence who are simply not prepared for the road. Many drivers who have held a licence for some years will only drive to places they know in good weather conditions. They have a fear of driving to unknown places and don't trust themselves on busy roads. All the advantages of driving are denied to them. I bet they only practised on test routes before they passed.
   Nottingham is a good place to learn to drive. Everything from city driving to country roads are readily available so there are no excuses for not preparing young drivers properly. In the long run a first time pass is not necessarily a good thing. I have had many pupils say they are glad they passed on the second attempt and had the extra lessons because they feel more prepared for the road. As they will be driving for the next 50 years or so it is wise to set some good driving foundations. Financial and parental pressure could be forcing young drivers to take the test earlier than they would like. I like to think that the people I have taught are capable of safe driving for life and they will remain safe and competent drivers. That's why we do what we do.

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Sunday, 26 February 2017

Driving Lessons Whatever the Weather

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There's been a lot of it recently.

The weather plays an important part when teaching people to drive. It adds things to teach and provides greater challenge to both learners and driving instructors alike. lately we have experienced almost all weather conditions in only a few weeks. Lets take a look at the opportunities for teaching that this provides.
  A couple of weeks back we had a bit of a snow flurry. This is the weather type that makes me assess the abilities and constitution of the pupils I have booked in for that day. Some learners just do not like the idea of snow on driving lessons. They fear skidding on corners and develop a sudden mistrust of other drivers who they see as driving too fast for the conditions. One of the most dangerous things I find is the wind tunnel effect when driving into falling snow. The tendency for the eyes to focus on the snow and the Star Wars hyperspace effect really takes attention away from the important things like other vehicles and pedestrians. I remind the pupils to constantly focus on scanning for hazards and try to ignore the snow altogether. It can spook the learner something terrible. The chances of skidding on light snow are quite minimal at normal speeds. You really need ice on the road to skid.
   But we've had plenty of that recently. The misery starts before work getting that windscreen cleared and he cockpit warm enough for human habitation. Luckily I have a driveway with a gate so I put the car well back towards the house and leave it warming up. Sometimes I will leave it for 30 minutes then easily clear the ice from the windscreen. Warm water is used to clear the ice from the roof of the car so U can put the magnetic roof box on without fear of it slip sliding away. That would be no good at all. I always give the tyres a good visual check as well. Lessons from the past when I was young and let my tyres get bald and then wondering why I couldn't get around a corner. Be sure to  check those inside edges. A nice chat about early braking before bends and allowing more room to stop pus the young learner more at ease.
   A couple of slates blew off the roof this week thanks to hurricane Doris. Of all the extreme weather conditions it's high winds that bother me most. I have visions of the roof box blowing off and flying through the windscreen of the car behind. Pupils don't like it because of the noise. Add a little rain to the mix and the noise can be terrible. Some pupils comment on how they can feel the car move in the wind when driving. They never felt the car being effected by wind as a passenger. A talk on maintaining a firm grip on the wheel while trying to keep as much safety space around the car would be a suitable topic for these conditions. High sided vehicles weaving about in the road are something to watch out for. Cyclists can have a bad time of it as well so give them plenty of room in case they swerve.
  Sometimes it seems like the rain will never stop. It has rained non stop for days recently. What is it about the windscreen wiper controls that pupils find so difficult? Push the stalk up one click seems an easy enough instruction but damned if they don't always put them on full speed. Then the rear wiper. Then turn them off and use the indicator stalk instead. Time to pull over for a full tutorial I think which would include turning the wipers off when the rain has stopped to prevent the awful dragging sound which they just don't seem to notice. The pull to the left when driving through large puddles can take some learners by surprise. I like to steady the wheel or gently move us to the right if need be to stop us drenching pedestrians with a bow wave. Apparently it constitutes assault to drench a pedestrian and they can take legal action.
   Now it looks like the weather is calming down a bit. Time for me to go out and wash the salt off the car ready for the coming week. Nothing I hate worse than a dirty driving school car. I would remind instructors that driving with your car so dirty that you can't see the rear number plate is highly illegal and sets a bad example to others. Time to get the bucket and sponge out.


Friday, 27 January 2017

Learning to Let Go of Learner Drivers

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The Road to Driving Lessons can be a bumpy one.

Most of the time a driving school runs smooth as silk. Regular pupils have regular lessons. They book the same time week after week so the days take some sort of shape and we all know where we are. More work and less stress is always a good thing. Sometimes though there are ripples in the pond which always seem to come at once.
   People give up on driving lessons for many reasons. So long as it's not because they have a problem with the instructor this can't be helped. Starting a new year is a bit of a turbulent time in driving instruction. Pupils from the previous year don't get back in contact and return to their lessons as they said they would. People pass the test in time for Christmas leading to a lot of new intake as we get into the new year. Many of whom are learning to drive as a new year's resolution, not because they really want to which can result in a lack of commitment.
  A couple of pupils have this week decided to give up after only a couple of lessons. They both paid in advance so it's refund time. I haven't actually lost money from this but it certainly feels like it as a few hundred pounds disappears from the business account. I really should charge some sort of admin fee for the time taken messing around with internet banking but that seems a bit tight. If I wasn't independent and had a school name to hide behind maybe I would. Dealing directly with people is a bit different though and I would hate to have a petty argument over a few pounds. Trying to convince people to carry on and give it a bit more time can be dodgy. They may resent it after a couple more bad lessons and decide that you are only interested in taking their money. I find it best just to refund the remaining lessons, wish them well and let them go. Learning to drive requires a certain focus and determination. Not something an instructor can provide and if they don't have it then success will be very hard to come by.
   I've also asked a pupil to leave recently, or rather refused them any more lessons due to extreme time wasting. Week after week they cancelled with one excuse or another. As they book for the week after I can't really fill the space and the income I lose soon adds up. They get good at cancelling just before the cancellation fee takes effect as well. After a couple of polite warnings it's time to wish them all the best and let them go. We can't afford to lose valuable lesson time on people who will not commit.
   I even had a pupil who was so obnoxious and negative on the first lesson I gave them the lesson for free just to get them out of the car and away down the road. After a few years in this game you can tell when it's going nowhere with certain people. I feared that this was the type of person who would post a bad review out of pure spite. If that happened the money I lost on the lesson would seem like nothing compared to the bad publicity and potential loss of business so on with the friendly face and in a gentle voice apologise that they are not satisfied and here's the lesson for free. This is the stuff you just don't get taught about in Instructor college. Keep it clean and professional leaving them no cause for complaint. The next pupil will hopefully be nicer and we're all back on track. Hopefully things will settle back down in the coming weeks and it'll be a rip roaring 2017.

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