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Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Dummies Guide to Dealing with Learner Drivers Part Deux

Following on from my previous blog where I touched upon the bizarre situations driving instructors and their pupils experience on our roads, here are a few more top tips for the dummies out there. These too are inspired by the real-life and bewildering antics of retired learner drivers - or full licence holders as they are better known.

#11: Driving instructors are keen to ensure their pupils cover a full learn-to-drive syllabus. Amongst the more obvious topics, such as car control and road safety, are the less obvious but equally essential Morse code classes. Morse code provides a solid foundation for dealing with drivers who use the flashing of headlights in the style of the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. For example; One quick flash means “I’m waiting for you to go” (or this can be one long flash), two quick flashes means “thank you” (or this can be one long flash) and multiple quick flashes means “You f#%king idiot, I'm waiting for you to go!” (or this can be one long flash).

#12:  Drivers suffering the debilitating effects of coming into contact with a full licence (chemical coating causing amnesia, see Top Tip #6) often find great difficulty in using the complex external communication system fitted to motorised vehicles. Whilst there is currently no known cure, (and euthanasia not yet considered ethical) scientists are working around the clock looking for a solution. In the meantime experts believe that sufferers can overcome this problem by signalling either left if they intend going left or right if they intend going right.

#13: Those drivers suffering from the acute form of signal confusion (Latin – Unpredictilitus) can take some comfort in the knowledge that they are creating opportunities for driving instructors to teach their pupils the fundamental principles of mind-reading. Roundabouts are a great place to put this into practice. Try signalling left two exits before the one you want, or swapping lanes at least twice without signalling. When faced with this test, by attempting to pull out in front of you, the learner may demonstrate that they are at the early developmental stages of mind-reading. In these situations try developing their lip-reading skills using words of no more than two syllables. No doubt you will already be familiar with many of these. (Note: if following a learner who is at the early stages of mind-reading see Top Tip #1)

#14: It is essential that learner drivers develop a good understanding of the law. You can help demonstrate its importance whenever you see a learner practising a manoeuvre outside your house. (Caution; avoid contact with the instructor, see Top Tip #6). Instead, whilst stamping both feet, shout from across the road “I'm going to call the police” The police will welcome your request to stop chasing bad guys and be grateful of the opportunity to arrest two people carrying out a legitimate manoeuvre in a safe and legal manner. “999 what’s your emergency?” “Yes operator, send someone quickly there’s a learner driver parallel parking around my car... quick, quick they’re slowly getting away....”

#15: An alternative to top tip #14 is to play hide-and-go-seek. When you see a learner preparing to reverse around your car, quickly run to it and drive off down the road or around the block pretending that you have to be somewhere urgently. The learner finds this game highly amusing and can’t wait to have another go, especially as they are hilariously left in the middle of the road looking like they are reversing around an invisible car. Bear in mind that most driving lessons are at least an hour long, so to avoid being found, it is recommended that you keep driving around the block for around 55mins. (Caution: As this game is so amusing, the driving instructor is likely to tell all their colleagues which car owners are willing participants, so be prepared for a long day)

I hope you've enjoyed the light-hearted humour I've used to highlight some of the issues faced by both learner and instructor at the hands of some experienced and apparently responsible drivers. I would like to point out that most days go without anything noteworthy happening and when it does we are trained well enough to avoid incident. I've managed to stay collision free since I passed my test in 1983 and as an instructor have had one very minor rear end bump in the 1990's. (We'd been stopped at a junction for 30 seconds when the driver behind misjudged his braking, well when I say misjudged his braking, he'd forgotten he was driving a Mini Metro and not a car with proper brakes).

Learning with a qualified instructor is actually pretty safe and people are surprised at the relatively low insurance premiums we enjoy. I'm led to believe that almost three-quarters of collisions involving a learner are actually the other driver's fault - rear end collisions mainly. 

There is a serious message behind all this humour. It raises the question of how full licence holders transform their habits from the safe practices we teach them during the learn-to-drive process, into the obvious complacency which no doubt contributes to the number of people each year who are injured or worse, on our roads.

We could point the finger at the learn-to-drive process and the limitations of the traditional techniques used, and in recent times we have done exactly that and have extended the range of techniques to include a more client-centred approach. This is an attempt to ensure learners take responsibility for their learning and future actions. Even so, this is a long-term strategy and we appear to be fighting a losing battle when it comes to continued learning for existing drivers. 

I've jokingly called full licence holders 'retired learners' In actual fact they were learning from life experiences years before getting behind the wheel for the first time - many are told by the people who care for and influence them the most that "you only learn to drive properly once you've passed your test". I wonder if this "properly" includes tailgating; speeding; cutting corners or crashing? 

No one stops learning and as soon as they're let loose on the roads they continue to learn from the environment and unfortunately begin to practice what they regularly see and experience - or in many cases, what they can get away with now that the UK's roads are so lightly policed.

A couple of questions being asked regularly are "Should driver education start at school age? and should drivers be retested periodically? Now that sounds like a good topic for another blog.

© Stu Walker 2014

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