Monday 15 April 2013


You know your eyesight is deteriorating when this happens!

I was with a pupil travelling along the North Cray bypass in Sidcup - it was a lovely sunny day so I had my sunglasses on rather than using the sunvisor.  I spotted a couple walking towards us on the left hand side of the road and it looked like the guy was wearing four rather large pink sausages round his neck!  I obviously had to look again because a) I have never seen sausages that big and b) I couldn't see why he would be carrying them round his neck.

As we got closer it still looked, even more, like sausages - but there was something distinctly odd about it.

As it became clearer I noticed that, in fact, it was a baby in a baby carrier facing forward.  The carrier was exactly the same colour as the guy's T shirt and the baby was wearing some kind of pink outfit.  So the arms and legs were very obvious, looking like giant sausages, but the torso was completely hidden by the baby carrier.

Now I know sometimes babies can be cuddly enough to eat, but they are not supposed to look like sausages!  That's simply unfair........or maybe I'm just obsessed with food!

Monday 8 April 2013

People Watching

As I drive around the local towns, I occasionally get the opportunity to watch pedestrians as they go about their business and have noticed a few 'types'.

The Unpredictable 
When I'm walking along the pavement towards someone who's had a few too many down the local, I end up playing 'dodge the drunk' - you know, trying to pass them without doing some kind of drunken two-step as they try to find the path around you before it moves again!  For the motorist, these people are a nightmare for, whilst it may be relatively easy to follow a 3 foot wide path without falling off the 3 inch precipice into the gutter, crossing a road is a different prospect altogether.  To the drunken mind, this expanse of same coloured tarmac all on one level is a playground to which the observer has absolute, exclusive access.  In the woolly haze that, on a sober day, would pass as a mind, they simply cannot process these large, coloured, metal objects travelling quite quickly.  To some they look like multi-coloured elephants - to which the response is either that 'This is the town, elephants don't live in the town' or 'Elephants are friendly, aren't they?'  Whilst this may cause a momentary pause before stepping into the 'playground', any such pause will be insignificant and it is a certainty that the drunk will continue his merry way right into the path of the next 'elephant;.

The Leaner
The leaner is a specific case who needs to cross the road.  Unlike the drunk, they recognise your motor vehicle for what it is - a large hunk of metal rapidly closing the gap between you and them.  However, their desire to complete the transition from one side of the road to the other causes them to keep going.  Whilst their brain, full of this insatiable desire, is already half way across the road, their feet recognise the need for caution and slow down.  This causes the 'lean' where the head is in the road and the feet are on the pavement.  If the judgement of the pedestrian is good, then car, head and feet work in perfect symmetry to ensure safe passage for all concerned.  If, however, the car driver takes a responsible attitude and slows down slightly, the pedestrians' feet will slow but his head won't, causing even more of a lean.  The driver slows down more...and then it becomes a game of how far the pedestrian can lean without either falling over or breaking into a run and getting across in front of the car.

The Bubble
The bubble is a particularly dangerous case.  Predominantly female, always with young in tow, they believe, erroneously as it happens, that they are impervious to danger or injury and can stand in the road whilst putting or removing their children from the back seat of whichever car they happen to be driving.  This is entirely due to the personal protection bubble that they have.  Emanating from their centre of gravity i.e., rear end, it is large enough to encompass them, their child and the car door and will protect them absolutely if a passing car happens to get too close.  They also assume that the more expensive the car, the more impervious the bubble...and of course it is well known that the term 4x4 refers to the size of the bubble and has absolutely nothing to do with the car itself.  An unfailing belief in the power of their bubble makes them likely to step back into the road at any time without looking in the ridiculous belief that the bubble will proceed them.

The Snake
Beware the snake.  The composition of the snake is specific, at least 5 youngsters, each at a different level of awareness.  They want to cross the road.  One sees an opportunity and moves to do so.  Another follows and another and another...until the tail of the snake whips across the road in an uncontrolled frenzy.  Whilst the first one has plenty of time to cross the road safely, the tail of the snake, made up of the slowest, least aware member of the party then gets dragged seemingly by some invisible force across the road, usually in front of whatever vehicle was approaching.  The snake is also unique in that it may well be accompanied by a squeal of excitement, perhaps terror, by a female member of the party as she comes to the realisation that the head of the snake may be safe but being in the tail has put her in the unenviable position of being run over!

The Wide Load
Very much the slow moving vehicle of the pedestrian world, these are those people usually carrying at least two shopping bags, one in each hand, treading a fine line just to the left of the kerb stone.  Always walking away from the traffic they happily overhang the kerb so that the right most shopping bag is actually over the road and not over the pavement.  This is fine...assuming that having a prawn, tikka masala and strawberry trifle cocktail splattered all over your left wing is what you actually want.  If the wide load is very wide, then the contents of the shopping bag may be the least of your worries! 
The Pusher

The most dangerous of all the pedestrian hordes.  To be a pusher you need something to push, usually a pushchair but occasionally some other kind of child conveyance and it must be occupied by a child.  Rather than stopping short of the kerb and making sure that the whole of the child conveyance is safely and securely on the pavement, pushers insist on hanging one or more wheels over the kerb in the road to facilitate a quick dash across the road when the opportunity presents itself.  Pushers largely falls into two categories, the unaware and the reckless.  The former are completely unaware that the pushchair in front of them takes up room and if they stand in the same place as normal the pushchair must be in the road; the latter are aware that what they are doing is dangerous but proceed in doing it anyway.

I'm sure there are more than just these but beware - pedestrians are unpredictable and that makes them dangerous!

If I had to take my test again...

First let me admit that the subject of this post was not really my idea - it came from a chance comment made by someone else - but it got me thinking.  Hopefully it will do the same for you.  As an instructor I quite often hear experienced drivers say "If I had to take my test again, I wouldn't pass!"  This raises a very simple question: Why?  The answer may not be as simple as the question...but let's try.

Why do we have to pass a test?  We generally accept that actually it is a necessary evaluation of our fitness to be on the roads behind the wheel of a one tonne killing machine.  Whether we pass first time or fifth time, we are getting a permanent permission to drive from that point onwards.  Most of us never give a moment's further thought to our continuing suitability to drive.  "The government has said that I am fit to drive so therefore I must be."

When examiners are conducting a practical test they are, in reality, trying to ask two questions:
  • Did I feel safe?
  • Did I feel comfortable?
If the answer to both questions is "Yes" then the candidate will have passed.  If not, at any time, during the test, then the candidate will most likely have failed.

So, if our driving is of such a standard that we won't pass the test, then surely that implies that our driving is either not safe or not comfortable, doesn't it?  Alternatively, it could be that the standard set by the Driving Standards Agency is unreasonably high.

To deal with the latter first.  The standard required by the DSA encompasses a theory element as well as a practical element.  The theory test requires a reasonable understanding of the law in respect of driving as well as road signs and procedures.  The practical test examines the application of that understanding in a dynamic environment.  So is the standard for the practical test too high?  Is it expected that the level of a driver's skill will suffer a fall immediately after passing the test?  The pass criteria for the practical test is a maximum of 15 driver faults with no serious or dangerous faults.  It is not unreasonable that the number of driver faults might increase post-test as the driver becomes more comfortable when driving.  However, surely we do not wish for any serious or dangerous faults as these involve potential or actual danger to ourselves or other road users.  We don't want a post-test driver to commit ANY serious or dangerous faults, do we?  If that is the case, then surely that means that we are satisfied that the standard required in the test is correct.

In respect of the former, when we take our driving test, we have to show a general competency in control of the car (comfort) and sufficient practical understanding of the application of that control when amongst other road users (safety).  How likely is it that our car control has deteriorated?  Unless we are suffering from some kind of physical ailment which has had a negative impact on our motor skills, it is actually more likely that our ability to control the car has improved.  Therefore it is unlikely that our car control skills would be a reason for failing our test if we were to take it now. 

If we are satisfied that the 'comfort' aspect of our driving is likely to have improved since we passed our test, this implies, by a process of elimination, that our ability to be safe on the roads is now in doubt, doesn't it?  Very often when candidates fail their test with a serious or dangerous fault, they are actually unaware that they have committed any faults at all, let alone a bad one!  It comes as a big surprise when the examiner tells them that they have failed for something they weren't even aware of doing.  How often does the candidate say "What car?" in response to the question "Did you see the red car approaching from the left?"  It is so easy to assume that because we haven't spotted a fault, that we haven't committed one. 

The problem with the safety aspects of driving is that sometimes we are not aware of the dangers around us.  Being oblivious doesn't make us safe; it just makes us lucky...sometimes.  It isn't the dangers that we see, it's the dangers that we don't.  We drive on regardless.

As drivers it is our responsibility to ensure that our driving is as safe as it can be.  It is so easy to become blase and assume that just because we have x number of years with a licence that we are as safe as we were when the examiner told us we had passed.  We all believe that we are safe, good drivers.  If we really believe that we wouldn't pass our test these days, then maybe we aren't as good and safe as we think we are.

If I had to take my test again, would I pass?  Yes.  Would you?