Sunday 11 September 2011

Do you want to be a better driver?


I know it probably seems like a completely pointless comment but I am constantly amazed at how fast people drive, unnecessarily so.  I really cannot understand why.  Having driven many miles over the years I have found that rushing rarely gets me to my destination any quicker than taking my time and I would prefer to arrive unstressed and unflustered rather than looking like I've been in a sauna with a bad tempered bear! 

Although some of my pupils are 'typical' learners, those who have never driven before or have very limited experience, I also have a number of pupils who are specifically taking a UK test having a number of years driving experience behind them already.  Some have international licences and wish to have a UK licence instead, some are trying to regain their licence after losing it and some have considerable experience from driving illegally without a licence.  Rather than try taking their test without any professional instruction, they take a few lessons with me in order to ensure that they will pass.  I approach these cases by carrying out an assessment of their driving to try to identify whether they will pass and whether they need to resolve any specific faults before presenting themselves for test.  This approach has proved to be quite an eye-opener and in almost all cases the same bad driving habit is at the centre of all the problems. That habit is simply driving too fast, which leads to a whole host of other problems and would inevitably lead to a fail at test time.

So is this a fault solely applicable to those approaching tests?  No, I don't think it is.  I have come to the conclusion that there is an epidemic of speeding occurring on our roads.  I don't mean breaking the speed limit but I do mean driving at a speed which is inappropriate for the conditions and in particular when approaching hazards.  I definitely don't advocate reducing speed limits as such - I enjoy driving fast - but all of us have a responsibility to make sure that our speed is always appropriate for the traffic, road and weather conditions which are presented to us at the time.  If everyone drove according to what is sensible, reasonable and safe for all road users, we wouldn't actually need so many speed limits in place.  The reduction need not be significant, a maximum of 5 miles per hour, in many cases less, and the impact of it in terms of journey duration is negligible.  These days life is so often conducted in such a rush that the extra 30 seconds which can be gained on the journey to work seems like a matter of life or death.

I often hear the complaint that speed limits are too finite.  A road on which 60 mph is appropriate during the day might be able to handle faster traffic in the early hours and some drivers who want to drive faster at that time feel aggrieved because they can't.  They assert that they can maintain control of the vehicle at higher speeds and should be allowed to do so.  Notwithstanding that they may actually have a very inflated view of their own abilities and actually can't handle high speeds, I believe that speed limits should be more flexible.  However, until such time as drivers are taught, and actually learn, to drive at an appropriate speed for the conditions, this simply isn't possible.  We need a sea-change (and I hate the term!) in our approach.

It would be so easy to blame this speed epidemic on the few but unfortunately it has already infected the many and until such time as each of us cures ourselves I'm not sure there will be a quick resolution.  With very few exceptions, all of us can become better drivers by slowing down.  It won't cost you more than you can afford - a few extra minutes at most - and you might save someone else having to pay the highest cost of all, their life!

Please slow down.

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