Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Nerves of Steel

One of the most common questions that I am asked when people find out that I am a driving instructor is "How do you keep calm?  You must have nerves of steel."  usually followed by "I could never do your job".  In truth, I don't have nerves of steel at all...and actually I don't need them.  Although I am not 'in control' of the car I always have the option to exercise full control if I need to, either by using the dual controls or grabbing the wheel if necessary.  In fact I encourage all my pupils to adopt the attitude very early that they are driving the car, not me.  I would rather they made decisions about driving.  If they are going to make the wrong one, I will advise them otherwise, or stop them.  Sometimes I'll let them make the wrong choice, as long as it is safe, in order to learn from the mistake.

So am I ever frightened?  Very occasionally, yes, and the reason is always the same.  Most of the time, I can anticipate the mistake that the pupil is going to make.  For example, I know when there is a likelihood of rolling back towards the car behind and I can anticipate and deal with it before or as it occurs.  There are hundreds of similar examples.  However, occasionally a pupil will do something that is completely and utterly random and that makes me jump!  For example, if the pupil is turning right at a roundabout, has checked right mirrors, signalled right and taken up a position in the right lane, they have done everything that I expect in respect of turning right.  If they then turn left, with no warning, without looking, cutting up whoever is in the left-hand lane and confusing everybody on the roundabout - that's frightening.  No warning, no mitigation - just a sudden, inexplicable change of mind.

I'm sure there is some psychological reason why someone just makes a completely random choice like that and I wish I understood it better.  Then perhaps I could anticipate and prevent it.  Until such time as I can I'll just have to go on collecting missed heartbeats.

Fortunately this kind of thing happens very rarely and has never resulted in an accident although I imagine there are one or two drivers out there cursing my learners!  Most of the time and with most of my pupils I feel very relaxed and never feel the need to even consider the dual controls.  When I do, it is always for the best possible reasons and I try to make it clear why I have intervened in the way that I have.  At the end of the day, my safety, the safety of my pupil and the safety of all other road users are my priority.