Saturday 3 January 2015

Learner Drivers - Friend or Foe

Learner Drivers – Friend or Foe?

Have you noticed that there seem to be lots of learners on the roads these days?  Is your reaction one of “Oh no, not another learner!” followed by a determined effort to get past, or do you allow them time and space to make mistakes?  We all lead busy lives.  We often need to get from A to B as quickly as possible and a learner getting in the way can be our worst nightmare... They drive unbelievably slowly, don’t seem to know what a green light means and then they go and stall!  Grrrrrr!

Have you ever taken a moment to consider it from the learner’s or the instructor’s perspective?  We were all learners once and we all make mistakes when driving.  We all needed somewhere to start, a quiet road maybe with very little traffic – somewhat difficult these days.  Or perhaps a car park late in the evening when no-one is there – possible but probably private land and therefore illegal.  What happens when the learner has the ability to start and stop the car, change gear and handle simple junctions?  Facing traffic for the first time can be hugely daunting even for the most competent learners and for some the first instinct will be to panic.  Then we have to tackle roundabouts at which point some learners wonder if they will ever be able to drive.

Most driving schools use dual control cars so that we can intervene if necessary and most instructors will use them at some point during lessons.  However, if the learner decides to swerve to the left into parked cars because they never realised buses were so big when they are coming towards you, we have to have lightning reactions to make sure that everybody’s cars remain intact.  The situation that is the most frightening, however, is when the learner decides that stopping as quickly as possible is the safest course of action and hits the brakes very, very hard!  We have no control in that situation and with modern cars, they stop almost instantly.  That’s why we put signs on the car not only saying that there is a learner driving but also that sudden braking is highly likely.  Our learners can stop very quickly, with virtually no warning and when you don’t expect it.  Consequently it is a great surprise to us that following vehicles sit so close.  Apart from the pressure you are putting on a learner driver, who may be in traffic for the first time, you are potentially putting yourself in danger because the learner may not react as you expect them to.  Even stationary in traffic there is a chance that the learner may roll back when attempting to pull away.  Why would you want to be so close that they may roll into you?

Another issue we understand is the irritation when instructors persist in doing manoeuvres right outside your house!  Once or maybe twice a day is fine, but when the twentieth learner car is there, you’re probably thinking of ringing the estate agent.  Unfortunately there are certain areas which lend themselves to specific manoeuvres.  You cannot do a turn in the road (3-point turn for anyone over the age of 35) in a narrow road with cars parked both sides.  You cannot do a reverse around the corner on busy roads or where there are vehicles parked (illegally) within 10 metres of a junction.  We are limited in our choices.  Most good instructors will try to avoid overusing specific areas but sometimes it is necessary.  We try to keep disruption to a minimum so we would crave your indulgence and ask you to be tolerant.  If you do come across a learner in the middle of a manoeuvre, keeping your distance and waiting patiently has such a positive effect on both learner and instructor and it really does make a difference.

Surprisingly perhaps, there is another side to this learner issue.  As instructors we really appreciate drivers who give us a little more time and space but please don’t go too far in being helpful.  Giving way to a learner when the learner has no right of way can be really helpful, particularly at a busy junction, but not always.  If you wouldn’t give way to a non-learner, please don’t give way to the learner.  We understand and appreciate your desire to help but the learner needs to understand the rules of the road as well as how to control the car.  Granting inappropriate right of way can be very misleading and does the learner no favours in the long run.  If you do give way, please be patient.  It is amazing how often the pupil will then stall because they are so keen to respond to your kindness.  Just because we don’t respond immediately, it doesn’t mean we don’t want to!

Finally, as instructors we want our learners to become responsible, aware, courteous and above all safe drivers.  We do our best to teach them well and instil in them good habits and the right way to drive.  They learn from us but they also learn from each and every one of you when they see you driving.  Unfortunately learners cannot necessarily distinguish the good from the bad.  Just as it is our responsibility to teach them well, it is every driver’s responsibility to demonstrate good driving at all times so that learners understand the correct, safe way to conduct themselves on the roads.  All we ask is that you drive considerately, patiently and safely so that our learners have the best chance of becoming the best driver they can be.  Thank you.

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