Saturday, 14 December 2013

Stop! Stop! - For God's Sake, Stop!

 Or: Another Ninja Driving Update

          On the 1st December I underwent a 'pre-test trial run' for the Advanced Driving Test. The last time I did this - several months ago - I was dreadful. I think it fair to say that I drove worse during that hour than before I started the IAM course. This was partly due to the brain-crash of trying to change old, ingrained habits and partly to sheer nervousness.
          So I wasn't looking forward to this second go, despite knowing that I had improved considerably. And within the first ten minutes I was told, "If this was a real test, you would just have failed." That was because, at a road-junction I 'totally paused' (as the girl says in 'Clueless',) checked that the way was clear and sailed on in fine style. Which is what you're supposed to do at a Give Way.

          Only it wasn't a Give Way - it was a mandatory 'Stop.' You are legally required to stop at one of them, and the IAM test requires that you put on the handbrake - just to prove to the examiner that you know you have to stop and you have stopped.
          I didn't. And a bit later, I did it again. (The examiner having cunning guided me round to another Stop sign, just to see what I would do.)

          Further on, I overtook a slow moving VW on a dual-carriageway - with mirror-checks, over the shoulder checks, signals and all - and then found myself holding up a big 4x4 that was close behind me (trying to climb into my boot.) So I checked mirrors, signalled, made sure that I could see the whole of the VW's front in my off-side mirror, and moved over to the left. Seconds later, the VW I'd overtaken a minute earlier overtook me.
          "Why do you think the VW overtook you?" the examiner asked, in that calm, expressionless way they ask pointed questions.
          "Because I was too close to it when I pulled over?"
          "Because  you pulled over and then slowed down," the examiner said. "So you left him nowhere to go and he had to overtake you."
          Shortly after, he said, "You used a variety of lanes on that roundabout."
          "I know," I said. "I've been mentally kicking myself ever since."
          He burst out laughing. "First time I've heard that - mentally kicking yourself! I didn't think you'd noticed."
          "Oh, I did. Believe me, I did."

          I was keeping up the required commentary. "Brake lights coming on in the distance - slowing down... Roundabout, preparing to stop, looking to go - Traffic lights, check mirrors, clear behind... lights changed, but I'm too close to stop...Pedestrians, with dog - cyclists - car turning round in that side junction...Garage forecourt, may be vehicles pulling out... Slowing because coming into residential area, lots of parked cars..." And so on.
          I reversed around a left-hand bend - first remembering to look into the road I was going to reverse in, and to observe other traffic around me. (I waited for one car to get well clear.) The reverse itself was pretty good, as even the examiner admitted. I've done better when alone - closer to the kerb throughout, more controlled - but still, it wasn't bad. (Thank the Gods he didn't ask me to parallel park! I've watched videos on this, and practiced whenever I can find other cars suitably parked. I can do one perfectly and then, two minutes later, make a complete pig's breakfast of another. The secret, I think, is in firmly applying the 'one full lock' - no more and no less.)
         At one point the examiner announced that he was 'presently' going to ask me to name the last three road signs we'd passed. I inwardly groaned... But he never did. Whether this was because I sang out the road-signs as part of my commentary, or whether he simply forgot (which seems unlikely), I don't know.
          We drove on a variety of roads - though not motorway. We turned onto country lanes with tempting 'National Speed Limit Applies' signs. Commentating, I said, "National Speed Limit, but I don't know this road, it's wet and covered with wet leaves, there are lots of bends and high hedges limiting my view, and there's no way I'm doing anything like 60 here." I heard a grunt of approval from my left.
          On some dual carriageways, though, with little traffic and a long, clear straight road ahead, I block-changed into fifth and went for it. ('Block-changing' means going from second directly into fourth, or from third into fifth - and changing down in the same way - when speed and conditions allow. And NSL on a dual carriageway with barriers down the centre is 70, unless otherwise signed. On other roads, 60.)
          We arrived back at the examiner's house much sooner than I'd expected. As seems to be the custom, he asked me, "How do you think that went?"

          I said, "A hell of a lot better than the last time we did this, but I still failed on observation and exceeding the speed limit."
          He took me through all my failings again. "You failed to stop at two 'Stop' signs. With speed, you were on the button at forty and over, but where the limit was thirty you were usually doing somewhere nearer 38. Now you might get away with that once on a test, but more often than that and you'll fail. Don't choose a gear unless you intend to use it. Stick to your lane. There was that roundabout where you wandered about - and in another place, I asked you to turn right and instead of turning sharply inside the lane markings, you went too far forward to make the turn and then had to loop back."
          At this point, I was gripping the wheel, inwardly seething and mentally kicking him.  I don't take criticism well - I only pretend to.
          Then he said, "There were good points. We covered a great deal of ground in a very short time!"
           "Thanks," I said, though gritted teeth. "A back-handed compliment."
          "Well, put it another way," he said. "You certainly weren't hesitant. You certainly 'maintained progress' - and within bounds, that's good. I've driven with people who come up to an empty roundabout with no one in sight, and they stop dead at the give-way line and look all round before creeping over. And I've driven with others who find it hard to force themselves to drive over thirty miles an hour - which doesn't seem to be a problem for you. Forcing yourself to drive at thirty occasionally would be nice. - I quite liked your commentary. - Most of the time you had a lovely flow at roundabouts. - I have to agree, a great improvement, and I think there is a severe likelihood that you may pass this test. With a little more sharpening up."
           My usual mentor, Brian, had been quiet as a mouse in the back all this time. (And in justice, it should be said, that Brian has been patiently telling me for weeks that I have to stop at 'Stop' signs and put on the hand-brake, even if only for a second 'just to show that you've stopped.' But it hasn't penetrated my skull.) Now Brian piped up and said, "Another couple of weeks, then, Sue, and we'll book another drive with Jeff here."
          "Another couple of weeks and then the test, I think," Jeff said.
          So there you are. So close... If I can learn to recognise a Stop sign when I see one.
Note to self: they look like this

          At least all this driving has helped me solved the problem of what to buy Davy - the Scot who always wants a Christmas present, 'because it's good to have a wee something to open on the day,' but doesn't actually want anything. And doesn't drink, or smoke, or eat sugar, and is more fussy about clothing than anybody I've ever known. And dismisses almost anything else as 'daft.'
           I reported on my driving progress and he was chuffed, because he bought me the IAM course as a Christmas present last year. I said, "How would you like a skid-pan session?"
         "Ooh, Susie, that would be expensive."
          "I know it would be expensive, Davy. Somebody has to get the economy moving. Would you like it?"
          "It certainly sounds adventurous."
           Which is as near to his saying he'd like it as I'm ever likely to get. So I've gone ahead and booked a skid-pan session for two at a knock-down price. A His-and-Her day out, driving a car and skidding it. (There's no fear that this blog will spoil the surprise. He'll have forgotten by Christmas Day, and he never reads what I write here.)
          I need the skid-pan practice too - it was skidding on the M6 and writing off a car that led to me taking an Advanced Driving Course in the first place. Which I might pass if I can just remember these,



madwippitt said...

ooooh always wanted to try one of those ... but not sure the motion sickness would cope - I've been told by others that it's wise to take a motion sickness pill beforehand ...
If you need to learn to drive at 30 mph, come and visit - plenty of speed cameras round here :-)

Joan Lennon said...

Phew! The tension - the tension! Please pass this thing soon, for the sake of my blood pressure!

Susan Price said...

I fear I may still be trying to pass it when I'm eighty, Joan. I woke from a dream this morning - I had to turn left but the left-hand lane was closed with roadworks, so I had to take the right-hand lane - but somehow, despite the roadworks, there were still cars travelling along the left-hand lane, and I cut them up, thinking, 'This is a fail!'

Madwippit - I'll remember that tip about motion sickness pills.

=Tamar said...

What the heck was that ambiguous sign with both "stop" and a triangle within a circle? In the US we have the solid octagonal STOP and the solid triangular YIELD, but nothing like that ambiguous combination of the two.

Sue Bursztynski said...

I went for my driving test three times and failed each time worse than the time before. I finally decided I would be a menace on the oaf if I ever did pass and gave up. Fortunately I have plenty of public transport where I live and don't need to drive. But glad to know it isn't just me! :) good luck with your next try, Sue!

Sue Bursztynski said...

That's "menace on the ROAD".

Susan Price said...

I quite like 'menace on the oaf,' Sue! I'd like to be a menace on oafs. - My aunt made the same decision as you about driving. She said that she realised that her most overwhelming feeling, when driving, was the desire to stop the car, get out, walk away and leave it! So she gave up driving before she ever got near passing the tezt.
I haven't actually failed the Advanced test yet - what I describe above was a Pre-Test drive. The IAM doesn't put you in for the test until they're sure you can pass it. Even so, I won't be surprised if I do fail it. I had to take two goes to pass my Driving Test. But I'll report honestly if I do fail!
Tamar - I don't know what to say. I've yet to spot any kind of Stop sign in the wild. I keep looking, now, at every junction - but all I see are Give Way signs. I'm beginning to think that the two I met with on the drive were specially planted by the examiner - and he went round and took them down again afterwards. And stored them in his shed.

=Tamar said...

I believe he may in fact have planted them. Have you driven on those roads since then? I suspect that the test is not just to recognize them, but also to notice a new sign that wasn't there before. I know the examiners here sometimes set up special tests that you aren't warned about.

Susan Price said...

Examiners really do creep out and plant signs in America? Good lord. The low cunning of examiners is ever greater than I suspected. I'll bear that in mind, Tamar.

Penny Dolan said...

Someone here passed the Advanced Motoring a while back and every so often goes into annoying mode, with phrases like "I was just making progress" coming into the er - discussion. I think about taking AM on, every so often, but fear that I too would end up getting worse and worse with each lesson. Wishing you every success when the true test comes.

Susan Price said...

Made me laugh, Penny! I'm enjoying the fact that my own Advanced Driver gets more and more apologetic and nervous about his own driving as I improve. He feels the need to justify and explain every little oversight and error - as if I was sitting in judgement on him, when half the time I haven't noticed.

Hard truth is, you probably would drive worse for a short while. But you'd soon improve - especially if you had a mentor who explained things.

It's hard to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. I'm learning - as if for the first time - lots of stuff which I must surely have known when I passed my test the first time. But I get a better handle on it all now, because I have more experience. I can honestly say that I am happier driving now - even though I wasn't really unhappy about it before. (Other people were, I wasn't.) I am more relaxed, feel more confident of coping with whatever comes up. I now drive with a sort of 'Bring it on' attitude, which may actually make me more of a danger than before!