Today is the day I have my first session with an Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Observer.
I’m a little apprehensive as it has been so long so I got my licence, I have no idea how many bad driving habits I have picked up along the way. But there’s only one way to find out: get a trained Observer to watch me and give me honest feedback. Following this, I hope to eventually be able to join the IAM and this will at least signal that I have reached a benchmark of a safe driver.
The first article on this process is here.
My Observer today is Wendy Betteridge, who has been a member of IAM UK for 43 years and a member in New Zealand for 9 years.
With me driving, we head out into the suburbs of Porirua, Wendy giving me precise directions along the way. She has her route already planned out, to test a driver through a good variety of roads, intersections and driving conditions.
Is it nerve-wracking, as the driver being observed so closely? A little, but Wendy and I get into some deep conversations around New Zealand’s driving standards (well lack of, really) and this helps distract me from her watching so closely. This distraction also adds to the observation – how good a driver am I if distracted by a heated conversation? In fact one of the notes on the report sheet I got back mentioned Concentration as a category to be observed, and had the comment, “Well demonstrated despite distractions caused by the Observer.” Surely that’s worth extra points.
At times along the way, she furiously scribbles down notes, and this has me concerned. Did I miss a speed sign back there (yes). Still, overall I feel okay although a few times I know I’ve stuffed up. For example, I forget that the correct process for changing lanes on the motorway is mirror/side mirror/indicate for 3 seconds/head check/manoeuvre. I mirror then indicate then head check. She writes some more notes.
We stop at the halfway mark to discuss my progress so far. Overall she’s happy, bordering on impressed but has some comments, naturally. One is the lane changing, and also I am coming up too close to cars when approaching a roundabout or stopped traffic – I need to leave a bigger space in front of my car – just in case I need to move aside in a hurry.
The biggie for me – and she says it’s common for many on the first session – is control of the steering wheel. In the Roadcraft handbook (which police and emergency vehicle drivers use as a base), you need to keep your hands at 10 to 2 or 9 to 3 at all times. This means you need to shuffle (pull/push) the steering wheel when you want to turn. This is the safest method of ensuring your hands are always at the optimum position on the steering wheel.
I had been practising this for a few days before my first session, as I knew they prefer this method. But I failed today, so many times. Wendy would tap my hands now and then as a reminder – too many times. I vow to only use this method from today onward so it becomes second nature to me.
After our first chat, we continue on through Porirua, through some tricky roundabouts and places that test a driver’s observations of signs and traffic. I have a major fail when turning left and a wide cycle lane appears and I use it to merge into the correct lane (right). I should have moved into the correct lane (right) straight away. Doh! More notes written down.
We head back, and sit down and go over things. She’s very positive about the good aspects of my driving, including lane control and smoothness. Apparently I only need to work on a few things (she does mention the steering wheel control, again) and I will be ready for another observation session. This can be whenever I want – basically once I feel I have improved in the areas she’s pointed out, just get in touch and have another session. It’s all very structured, but casual at the same time.
So what did I learn today? I need to improve how I turn the steering wheel, and a few other lesser bad habits, but overall I think I am at a level where I’m not a danger on the road. Phew!
The next article will be on the next session…let’s see if I can improve on my steering techniques.