How's your driving?
PUBLISHED: 09:09 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:36 20 February 2013
Many of us claim to be "good drivers" or, at least, "safe drivers" but are we really? The Institute of Advanced Motorists believes that there is a better, safer driver in all of us. Simon Irwin got behind the wheel to try for himself.
I have been having some motorised fun recently, starting with the gear knob coming off in my hand on the motorway followed closely by a five and a half hour saga when the car broke down on the M23. I dont think my driving could be to blame for either incident but, just in case, I decided to get it checked.
I took up the kind offer of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Brighton and Central Sussex Group of a DriveCheck. This, as it sounds, is an hour-long session with an expert observer who assesses your driving and gives good advice during the drive and in a wrap-up session at the end.
All the documentation for the check makes it clear that this is not a test. It says so in the IAM leaflet: DriveCheck is not, however, a test. There is no pass or fail. However there are grades.
Grade 1 is Advanced Standard, youre already up to scratch. Not surprisingly not many people straight off the road are up to this. Grade 2 is More Guidance. This is better than average and the suggestion is that with a bit more help you could relatively quickly get up to Grade 1.
Grade 3 is Average, which is not to be sneezed at, it is the standard of someone who has just passed their test. Grade 4 is Need Development. I wasnt sure quite how bad this was, if a judgmental term like bad could be used. I suppose it covers everything from needs a bit more work to get back to driving test standard to I wish I had never got in the car.
My checker, David Hopson, said he had only ever had to take over the keys and drive back himself once but that was probably one time too many for him.
He said: I said to the chap, did you use your mirrors? He said, yes, so I asked him if he had seen the car he had nearly taken the wing off on the roundabout.
I had seen the look of fear in the eyes of the driver of that other car. That was enough for me so I asked him for the keys and drove us back.
Thankfully, David didnt ask me for the keys during the drive. At the beginning of the drive which is not a test but feels like a test, I tried to remember all I had been told before taking my test. That glorious day was back in 1981 so it was quite a feat of memory and the only thing that stuck in my mind was mirror-signal-manoeuvre.
I set off and signalled to turn left at the first T-junction. This, about 25 seconds into the check, was the first of a number of errors. As David said later: Im sure the rabbit or mole in the field opposite was very interested to see you were turning left but you werent signalling to any human being. Of course, he was right, the road and pavements were completely empty. The only humans around were me and him.
This was the start of a common theme which I believe is one of the keys to advanced driving: engage the brain as well as the gear. Too often, especially if like me you drive 1,000 miles a week and have been driving for almost 30 years, you drive in a subconscious way.
About halfway through the drive as we were approaching Worthing along the A24 just into Findon Valley, David said: What was the last roadsign we passed? I mumbled something about 40 miles an hour or the sign that said Findon Valley because I really couldnt remember.
This was a bit more pathetic because it came just after I had to admit that I was going at 50 because I wasnt sure whether the speed limit had changed back to 60. There really was no excuse. If you are driving you should be aware of all the signs. As David said: All the information you need is there, the signs, the lines, the environment. You just need to read the road.
All the information in front, of course, is only half the story. You need to pay close attention to what is happening behind. I was only looking in two of the mirrors in the car, the rear view mirror and the drivers side wing mirror. The car has three mirrors for a reason. The one on the nearside is not just there to balance up the look of the car, said David.
This comment came on the A283 just as I turned right one-handed into a side road. Not good as I could have lost control more easily if I had hit an object in the road.
At the end of the drive David ran through how I had done and explained the scores he had given me. I was secretly quite proud that he had rated me as Grade 2. Now all I have to do is get the gear knob to stay on.
What is DriveCheck?
DriveCheck is not a test, it is an assessment made by an Institute of Advanced Motorists observer.
It is aimed at anyone who wants to find out how good a driver they are and how they could get more from their driving. Examples the IAM gives of people who might benefit are mums on the school run, people with a new job that involves a lot more driving or older people who are losing confidence on the road.
The assessment includes an on-road drive lasting around 40 minutes, plus one-to-one advice and discussion session lasting approximately 20 minutes.
You receive a copy of the observers report, including a checklist covering any aspects of your driving requiring attention.
It costs 25 which also includes the IAM Associates fee which entitles the holder to a range of benefits including discounts on AA breakdown cover, windscreen repairs, tyre replacement and car hire.
FIND OUT MORE
The IAM are always looking for new members interested in joining. I was the guest of the Brighton & Central Sussex Group which Chris Belton chairs.
Chris said his aim is to get membership numbers up and get more people into the group. He said: Statistically you are less likely to have an accident and as a result you are more likely to attract a lower insurance premium. If you become an advanced driver, you are more aware of what is going on around you and you make life better for everyone else.
Group members enjoy meeting like-minded people and the opportunity to try other sorts of driving. Recent outings have included a trip to the skidpan at Goodwood and the chance to have a go at driving an HGV.
If you want to find out more about The Brighton and Central Sussex group, visit www.bacs-iam.org. To find out more in general or about the group nearest to you, visit www.iam.org.uk