How a high-risk young driver found the road to survival
In the first of two features looking at different ends of the spectrum of driver training, Fleet News’s new reporter Emma Cooper gets her first taste of on-road assessment and instruction.
In another driver training article today, John Maslen takes a more advanced step, as he attempts to claim the holy grail of driver training – the title of IAM advanced driver.
"I like to think of myself as a good driver.
I say like – half the time I think my next drive will be my last.
Taking off a wing mirror is the least of my worries. I’ve seen the statistics – the next time I’m at the wheel I could kill, or be killed.
After three attempts at passing my test and only 18 months on the road, my driving is far from perfect.
Now I’ve been given a long-term test car, I fit very nicely into the high-risk young driver bracket.
More than a quarter of fatal accidents on Britain’s roads (29%) involve under-25s.
Then there’s the fact that one in three crashes involve people driving for work.
Before the start of my day with Drive & Survive (winner of the 2007 Fleet News Award for best risk management company), I was nervous.
Flashbacks of stony-faced examiners didn’t help, not to mention my doubts in my own ability.
But I needn’t have worried. From the moment I shook hands with my trainer/assessor, Ian Winfield, he did his best to put me at ease.
Ian kicked off with a presentation, explaining that the majority of insurance claims (60%), originate from slow-speed collisions, particularly parking and rear-end shunts, thanks to drivers losing concentration or getting distracted.
The aim of the day would be to raise my awareness and communication with other road users, minimising the risk of such accidents.
“The session just applies common sense to your driving,” he said. “It’s not rocket science.”
Easy for you to say, I thought, my lack of common sense is legendary.
Ian went on to discuss the hazards of different kinds of road and road surfaces and the importance of ignoring distractions such as phone calls, screaming children and backseat drivers.
We moved outside to look over the car, Fleet News’s long-term Skoda Roomster. Ian stressed the importance of making sure a vehicle is roadworthy, checking the oil, brakes, tyre pressure and tread depth.
We went out for a quick demonstration drive, with Ian at the wheel explaining the key training tips.
He pointed out when he started to brake (earlier than many drivers would) and brought approaching hazards – pedestrians, cyclists, cars arriving at junctions – to my attention.
Then it was my turn.
On the way out of the car park Ian advised me to open the window a little, to help listen out for engines starting or people moving between cars.
Five minutes down the road and I’d started to relax a bit more. Ian directed me into town, talking me through braking safely at junctions and roundabouts.
He explained the benefit of braking early, especially if you’re at the back of a queue, in order to keep traffic flowing without stopping.
Braking early allows drivers to leave a good distance between themselves and the car in front when they’re stationary.
This space not only gives them the option to manoeuvre should the car in front break down but reduces damage to both driver and car if they get shunted from behind.
Throughout the session Ian reiterated the importance of maintaining steady progress and braking and accelerating smoothly in order to give drivers more time to deal with hazards on the road.
Erratic stops and starts usually mean the driver is not really concentrating solely on driving.
Moving into a built-up area, Ian reminded me to be extra-vigilant, anticipating the possible actions of pedestrians and other road users.
Making eye contact with people ensures they’re as aware of you as you are of them and tells you whether or not they’re paying attention to what’s on the road.
Out on the B-roads I was shown how to watch out for changing road surfaces, some wetter than others thanks to the surrounding trees.
Roads with a lot of cover take longer to dry. Telephone lines alerted me to residential areas. I was advised to change my road position in order to improve visibility.
Ian showed me how moving towards the centre line or edge of the road can give drivers a better view round bends.
Once on the motorway, Ian emphasised the importance of checking blind-spots before overtaking. He also reminded me that maintaining concentration and a safe speed, especially on long journeys, is paramount for motorway driving.
Back in the car park it was time to try some manoeuvres. Again Ian explained that a vast number of fleet cars are damaged at slow speeds, particularly when being parked.
When reverse parking round to the left, drivers should be about a door’s width away from parked vehicles and the front of the car should be lined up in the centre of the desired parking space.
Next, drive forward slowly with the car on full right-hand lock, straightening up when the vehicle behind comes into the left-hand wing mirror. Reverse back on left-hand lock, use the wing mirrors to judge position within the bay and straighten up when required.
The whole process was painless and actually enjoyable. Even better, Ian hadn’t screamed for dear life, not once.
He then ticked off my “driver development profile”, which rated the areas we had covered and the aspects of my driving that needed more work. Needless to say, as a relatively inexperienced driver, I can still improve on timely braking and all round awareness.
Though Drive & Survive doesn’t like to view its courses as assessments, this is a crucial bit of paper for fleet managers, detailing whether or not their driver is a danger on the road or could do with more training in certain areas.
Like many training operators used by fleets, Drive & Survive also offers e-learning, online assessments and practical workshops, as well as on-road training, to help improve driver safety.
To my surprise, Ian told me that I was nowhere near as scary as I had feared. He pointed out that though experience makes a good driver, many people seen by Drive & Survive think they have nothing left to learn about safe driving when, in fact, there is always something people can do to improve their behaviour behind the wheel.
The training session was both informative and fun. The aim was to help me identify risks and communicate better with other road users.
Through gentle repetition of the key points – braking in good time, awareness of space around me, maintaining eye contact with road users – I think he achieved this.
As a young driver, I definitely benefited from the training.
I wasn’t criticised or chastised but quietly prompted to apply better techniques. The session contained too many tips to apply in one go but it was so relaxed that, on reflection, many of them have come back to me since.
The day was probably not a completely honest reflection of my driving.
I was more cautious with Ian than I have been in the past. However, since the session I have tried to apply the driving tips he gave me.
After driving with Ian (albeit on my best behaviour), applying his tips as much as possible and then being complimented on my driving, I feel much more confident.
The experience reinforced many of the safe driving tips that I was taught when learning to drive, in a helpful, stress-free manner, as well as bringing some new approaches. Overall, it was a success."