Wednesday 14 December 2011

About as blind as they come...

A pupil of mine went to test today and failed! :(  This is obviously a great disappointment to me and to him although not a huge surprise as he wasn't really as ready as I like my pupils to be.  The reason for the failure is not the subject of this blog however.

As is usual following a test failure, I sit and discuss with the candidate the reasons for the fail and any other faults that have occurred during the test.  This particular candidate had a couple of safety faults on moving off.  When discussing these he said "I don't believe in the blind spot!", completing the justification for not checking it with "I check my mirrors constantly and can see everything in there".

I was and still am quite shocked by these comments, particularly the former.  He then justified this stance by saying that his previous instructor didn't believe in it either.  Very often pupils cannot initially see the need for it but, if it is explained correctly, ultimately most people do understand it and the importance of checking it in certain situations.  Now either my ability to explain things well is off this morning or he just wasn't receptive to what I was saying.  He acknowledged what I was saying but just repeated over and over again that he didn't need to check it because he didn't believe in it. 

Regardless of what he thinks he can see, he's wrong.  He will probably do it to get through his test, but then stop doing it and ultimately will either have an accident or, in the worse case scenario, kill someone for the sake of a glance into the blindspot.

I always advise pupils, regardless of what bad habits they may pick up after they pass, to ALWAYS check the blindspot when pulling away.  In my experience, doing so is highly likely to save someone's life and if that happens even once, it is definitely worth it.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Smarter Driving

Back in August I was contacted by the Energy Saving Trust asking whether I would be interested in attending a meeting about Smarter Driving.  At that time I had never even heard of Smarter Driving and so I thought I ought to find out more.  A number of meetings followed and then in October I attended a training session to become a Smarter Driving trainer, endorsed by the Energy Saving Trust.

The purpose of Smarter Driving is to try to encourage as many drivers as possible to drive more economically, saving fuel and reducing pollution.  As a technique it has been successful across the world and has already been passed on to more than twenty thousand fleet drivers in the UK.  The statistics show that the savings can be quite significant, usually reducing fuel consumption by somewhere between 15% and 40% and there is also a corresponding drop in accidents.

Having listened to all the statistics and then been trained myself (showing a potential 15% saving on fuel), I must admit I still didn't believe in the principles being taught.  So I tried it out on a couple of volunteers.  I was amazed at the savings that both of them showed.  One showed potential savings of 27%, and the other 15%.  The former reckoned that was worth a holiday to her over the course of a year.  So I signed up to the Smarter Driving programme.

The principles are simple, within the abilties of all drivers, and take very little time to learn, usually within a single hour.  The cost is relatively low, £25 and, in my opinion supported by the staistics above, is definitely worth the money.

So what is involved?  Well, you drive my car in your normal driving style over a pre-determined route and we measure the fuel consumption and the average speed.  We then discuss a number of different techniques which may reduce fuel consumption and drive the route again, applying some of the techniques as we go.  At the end of the route we see what difference it has made to the fuel consumption and average speed.  Then, time permitting we drive it a third time, this time with you just applying the techniques on your own.  At the end, we compare the fuel consumption figures from the various runs and see how much you could save if the same techniques were applied to your driving.

No-one likes the idea of someone sitting next to them watching them drive (including me!), but I'm really not interested in any little bad habits you may have picked up - that's not the purpose of the Smarter Driving training.  I promise I won't criticise you or think badly of you when it's all over.  I'm just interested in trying to promote a more economic and safer way of driving and turning out as many Smarter Drivers as I can.

If the potential savings are not enough of an incentive, on completion of the Smarter Driving training you receive a certificate from the Energy Saving Trust detailing how much you may be able to save, and a Smarter Driver sticker for your car.

So, if you are interested in Smarter Driving for you or someone close to you, you can get more information here or drop me a line.  It really is worth it!

Absolutely Avoid Absolutes!

One of the things I have wondered about over the last few years is whether driving is an art or a science?  By that I mean, whether you can learn to drive by learning and applying a set of rules alone i.e., science, or whether there is an element of judgement and interpretation i.e., art.  Of course the reality is that it is a combination of both.  I find that many people when starting to learn to drive tend to think of it as purely a science, a set of rules which must be applied in each and every situation, and application of those rules can deal with every road situation which might occur.

However, whilst the initial learning is predominantly scientific in nature, the good driver will learn to be more flexible in the application of the rules learned, adapting them when required so that they more aptly fit different situations that the driver encounters on the road.   I call this roadcraft - the ability to interpret and appraise different driving situations and apply learned skills appropriately according to the circumstances.

So often I see drivers applying their learned skills rigidly, usually because that is what they have been taught to do.  Whilst technically correct, this unbending application does not necessarily make for good driving.  We all have to be flexible, allowing conditions on the road to influence our decision making and our subsequent actions when behind the wheel.

On some of the forums I frequent there are often requests for advice about how to deal with common difficulties such as stalling when pulling away or how to handle roundabouts.  Very often these requests elicit responses which contain advice such as 'When you get 30 metres away from the roundabout change into 2nd gear at about 20 miles an hour...'.  The problem with this is that whilst the advice may be valid for some roundabouts, it is not necessarily valid for all and to suggest that it is, is very unwise.  Every roundabout has to be judged on its merits because every roundabout is different.  Regardless of the actual layout of the roundabout, the traffic will vary hugely between roundabouts and also on the same roundabout.  Therefore, there is no absolutely cast-iron method of defining how to handle a roundabout.  Yes, there are guidelines for how to do so, but these guidelines need to be applied with judgement.  Therein lies the problem, and the difficulty for most learners.  Roundabouts require judgement and judgement cannot be learned in a scientific way.  It is an art.

There are no absolutes in driving, other than the law (arguably), and it is unwise to think that there are.  Each of us has to drive with an open mind, observing, assessing and reacting to dynamic, fluid and constantly changing situations.  This is the art of driving!

My advice to any driver, learner or experienced, would be to absolutely avoid absolutes - because there aren't any!