Monday 21 February 2011

Mock Tests

Mock driving tests are popular with some instructors and very popular with others.  I have my reservations and think that sometimes pupils and instructors get hung up on performance in mock tests.

Thinking back to my schooldays I remember the period just after Christmas when mock tests were undertaken in every subject.  They had two aims: one, to give us (and our parents) some idea of the likely attainment and two, to give us some idea of what the actual exam conditions might be like.

I think driving mock tests should be the same.  Giving the pupil some idea of the format of the practical test, the procedure, the form of words used and the likely pressure is a good way of alleviating some of the test day nerves.  As far as the likely attainment goes, I think it gives a rough idea - but no more than that - but this is, or should be, for the benefit of the pupil! 

However, this approach is not ideal because an instructor will always mark differently to an examiner.  We are biased, they are not.  We have previous experience of the pupil's driving, they do not.  We are likely to be well-disposed towards the pupil, they are not.  Any or all of these can affect the way that the mock test is marked, either to the advantage or detriment of the pupil.

I know some instructors subject their pupils to multiple mock tests until they can 'pass'.  I think this is a flawed approach partly because of the reasons given above but also because mock tests should never be used to force improvement in performance.  They can be used as a tool to give confidence to the pupil if necessary but the instructor should not need to use them to assess whether the pupil is ready or not - they should be ablle to do that without carrying out a mock test.  Certainly they should never be used to justify more lessons for the pupil, something which I am aware does happen!

So I will conduct one, or maybe two, mock tests if I feel they are of benefit to the pupil, trying to mimic the conditions of the actual driving test as best I can.  This is quite sufficient as far as I am concerned...

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Roundabouts - confront your fears!

More pupils say to me that they are scared of roundabouts than any other traffic situation...but after a single lesson with me, no longer!  The problem with roundabouts is that, by their very nature, there is likely to be lots of vehicles and lots happening at the same time.  Trying to pick your way through that can be a bit daunting.

However, if you follow two basic principles, roundabouts become a lot easier.  The first is to approach them with this thought in your mind: "Assume that I am going to go but be prepared to stop".  This is in direct contradiction to normal junctions where the thought process tends to be "Assume I am going to stop but be prepared to go".  The reason that a junction has been created as a roundabout is to keep traffic flowing so it is only sensible to approach it thinking in that way.  Once you have that thought in your mind, the decision whether to go can be one of three things: Yes I can, in which case, go.  No, I can't, in which case stop.  Or Wait, I'm not sure yet...  The first two of these are easy, the third is more difficult to judge.  Ultimately, it will turn into a Yes or a No and for the learner it is more likely to be a No than a Yes, to be on the safe side.  However, as you become more experienced you will find that judgement becomes easier.

The second principle is preparation with purpose.  When you reach the roundabout you have already identified one thing that you have to do - to make a decision!  In order to do that safely, you have to look.  It is very easy to be preoccupied with mirrors, signals, speed, gear changes, braking etc. rather than looking so do them all before you get to the roundabout; that way you are free to do the most important thing which is looking at what is happening on the roundabout itself.  Don't just look to the right.  You need to look at your approach to the roundabout so that you stay in lane and don't hit the vehicle in front, a glance to the left just to make sure, looking at what is coming straight on and so on.  Your head doesn't remain static - it moves constantly allowing you to make the correct assessment.  Because you have already done all the preparation before getting to the roundabout you only have to look and decide.

Even with the correct approach sometimes it is difficult to make the correct judgement so this is what I do.  Look for cars coming across your path.  Three things will show their intentions.  Their indicator, their road position and their speed.   Base your judgement on all three.  They may have left their indicator on by accident, they may have misjudged their position or speed but it is unlikely that they will have got all three wrong.  If all three say to you that they are not coming round the roundabout, then the likelihood is that they are not so it is safe for you to proceed.

If the roundabout is busy, finding a gap can be even more problematic.  Instructors talk about 'blocking vehicles' or some such similar phrase i.e., vehicles on the roundabout which interrupt traffic flow allowing you to get out.  The most important thing is that a vehicle becomes blocking when other traffic stops for it, not when it is physically in the way.  If you leave it too long, then the blocking vehicle itself may stop you from going.  Anticipate vehicles not being in the way as well as being in the way.

Finally, remember that you are negotiating a roundabout, not an acrossabout so stick to your lane and don't cross lanes unnecessarily.  If you do have to cross lanes, check in your mirrors (and possibly over your shoulder) before doing so that it is safe, indicating if appropriate.  

I hope the above helps to make your passage round roundabouts a little smoother and safer.