Have a go at this. Go on. Have a go.
It's a good example of why I'm taking the Advanced Driving Course. I nearly went through a red light last Sunday - while I was taking a 'Pre-Test Trial Run.' Which is not good. It happened less than ten minutes after the drive started and, as my examiner remarked, if it had been a real exam, it would have ended there - and rightly so. What a clogger of a stupid novice mistake.
As it was only a trial (to see how ready I am for the real thing), the test continued, and, in the end, I earned at least a silver
star and a tick. 'Lovely controlled stop,' my examiner purred, as I drew up at traffic lights. 'Lovely!' he said, as I timed my approach to a roundabout exactly right, with correct speed and gear, and sailed around it without pause (but with 'life-saving glances' to right and left.)
So I have learned something over all these weeks. The last pre-test run I took, eight weeks into the course, was a disaster. I knew I was nowhere near the required standard, and was proved right. 'We were doing the Churchill,' said the examiner, referring to the noddy-dog in the insurance ads. As so often happens when you're trying to master a new skill, or unlearn old habits and acquire new ones, I'd got worse rather than better. My crashing of gears and sharp braking had my mentor and examiner rocking backwards and forwards in their seats.
So, if I've improved, how come I missed that red light (until the examiner made a great fuss about it?) Well, it was early in the test, and I hadn't settled down. Nerves were getting to me. I know that one of my major failings is not looking far enough ahead and anticipating hazards. (Anything which might make you slow down, brake, or change direction is a hazard. A lot of things come under that heading.) So I was trying very hard to look ahead and
anticipate. I was so busy studying the far distance, where there was a major roundabout, with traffic-lights, and trying so hard to anticipate what I would have to do when I got there, that I entirely missed the traffic-lights a short distance ahead - just as you miss the gorilla if you're concentrating hard on the players in black clothes. I knew that particular road quite well, too.
It was embarrassing. If I hadn't been driving, I would have kicked myself and punched my own head.
Still, after that stupid mistake, I felt I'd done my worst, and calmed down. I did pretty well after that. (It was all like a repeat of my first driving test, in fact. I failed that because of one gigantic, stupid mistake made in the first few minutes - but then settled down and drove to a far higher standard than I did when I actually passed the test a few weeks later.)
Anyway, on the Advanced Driving Pre-Test, after that first clogger, I drove well enough for my mentor, Brian, to see that all the Sunday mornings he's given up to drive around with me have not been entirely in vain.
With Roy, the examiner, in the passenger seat, and Brian leaning over from the back-seats, we took a short drive down the M5 and M6, and I was thrilled that Roy considered my motorway driving quite up to the mark. 'You maintained speed and lane discipline, and drove confidently.' If we go out with him for another pre-test run, Roy said, he wouldn't even bother with the motorway. Brian's work there is done.
Back on the quiet roads, I was asked to do a three-point turn, which I managed well enough - but Roy gave me a short lesson on how to do it like a proper Advanced Driver, which was actually great fun. But I kept forgetting to put on the hand-brake, and, in the excitement, crossed my arms on the steering wheel. I'll practice on my own and get it right.
Roy's summing up at the end was that I was nearly at the required standard to pass the test. 'Just a bit more honing and polishing needed.' There were a few times when I'd exceeded the mandatory speed limit (another regular failing of mine) and times when, although obeying the speed-limit, I was still going too fast for the road conditions. On the motorway, I'd started signalling correctly at the three-hundred yard sign, but had cancelled my signal before I was fully on the slip-road.
I persist in signalling when there's no one 'who would benefit from the signal.'
Above all, I needed to improve my observation and anticipation.
Roy suggested that I go out for another couple of drives with Brian, and then arrange another pre-test run with him. So that's the plan for the next few weeks. And I am to practice, practice, practice. I went out for a drive today, along the Black Country Spine Road - lots of big roundabouts, lots of traffic. I think I did pretty well. I certainly feel happier and more confident.
I frequently disturb the residents of quiet roads by stopping outside their houses, sometimes at midnight and after, to perform left-hand bend reverses, three-point turns, and parallel parking. It's that car again, they think, as they peer through their blinds. That's the fourth time this week it's reversed into our close, spun round and driven off again. Should I call the Police? I'm confident that, if the officers ever turn up, I only have to say, 'Advanced Driving Test,' and all will be clear. Half the mentors and examiners are retired police officers.
I apologised to Roy and Brian for taking up so much of their free time, and was told to forget it. 'The buzz for us,' Roy said, 'is getting somebody through their test, and thinking, "They're a better, safer driver now, because of me." The IAM says we should get people through in eight weeks, but that's B-S. It takes what it takes. People are all different. Some learn quicker than others - some are more nervous than others. I mean, I had a lady come to me - she was a widow. Had hardly driven at all while her husband was alive, but now he was gone, she needed to drive. It took me a twelve-month to get her through the test, but she passed it, and I was really proud of that.'
And when I asked Brian what he drank, so I could buy him a bottle of it, should I ever pass, he said, 'Sue, all I want in return is a phone call from you, saying, "Brian, I passed!" That's all.'
However, I was able to tell him that, while we were in Scotland recently, my partner allowed me to drive his car! Brian flushed with quiet pride. That was something like an accolade.
Still, if I do get through the test, I shall certainly raise a glass to the mentors and examiners of the IAM.
|Badge of the Institute of Advanced Motorists|