Saturday, 1 November 2014

Ninja Driving and other things

     A friend asked me, a while ago, how the ninja driving was going.
Institute of Advanced Motorists

     Well, it's still going. Which is a bit vexing. I feel I should have passed by now.
     My driving has improved enormously. I've reached that stage where I look back at how my driving was, a bit over a year ago, and feel embarrassed that it was so bad when I thought it was okay.

     I never went so far as to think that I was a good driver - but I thought I was sort of average. As Flann O'Brien would have put it, I felt that 'of all the nincompoops in the world, I was not the worst.' When it came to driving, anyway.

     Now I look back and think, well, actually, I was pretty bad. Inattentive. Careless. Hard on the brakes because I hadn't seen the need to brake until the last moment. Giving confusing signals. A bit hazy on road-signs, and therefore not picking up all the information and warnings that I could have done. And not taking in most of the information from the signs I did notice.

     Quick now: What shape is a Give Way sign?

     I had to attend a 'Speed Awareness' class the other day too, because I got caught speeding in a 30 zone. This was embarrassing, not just because I'm training to be an advanced driver, but because, at the time I was caught, I was actually trying hard to observe all the rules of the road, because I'm hoping to be given the go-ahead to take the advanced test soon.
     I was driving from home in the West Midlands to Cardiff, and spent most of the journey at high speeds on motorways. Leaving the motorway on the outskirts of Cardiff, I slowed right down to something that seemed ridiculously slow.

    After the motorway, 30 always feels like you could crawl faster on your hands and knees. But I was trying to keep to 30, because I was treating the trip as a practice run. Still, I wasn't watching the speedo closely enough because - Flash! They got me.

     Not that I'm making any excuses. Speed limits are there to reduce accidents and save lives. I broke the law, simple as that. I was grateful to be given the chance to take a Speed Awareness Class instead of getting points on my license and a hike in insurance.

     The Class was much more entertaining than I expected it to be, and really rather useful. It was presented by an ex-policeman - and he looked it. Tall, broad, straight, official hair-cut - you'd have spotted him as an ex-rozzer from the other end of the street.
     (I've just had to stop to look up that interesting word, 'rozzer.' - 'Slang, 19th Century, origin unknown.')

      He gave very good workshop, though. In fact, I was taking notes on his workshop technique as much as becoming speed aware.
      The point about speed and safety was driven home, as by a sledgehammer. What's the speed limit in the street where you live? Do you agree with it being set at that? - Those who lived in streets with a 20 or 30 limit readily agreed with him that it meant their families were safer.
         There were a few who lived on streets with a 40 limit, and he drew from them an agreement that it would be safer for them and their family if the limit was lower.

        So why, he asked them, were you speeding in other people's
streets? Don't the people who live there have families?
        Ignorance and carelessness were no excuse. If a driver killed or injured one of your family members, would you be happy if their excuse was, 'I didn't know it was a 30,' or, 'I hadn't noticed I was doing 40?'
       Of course, no one could honestly say that.

      The instructor showed us graphs and statistics, which demonstrated how rapidly the likelihood of death rises, in the pedestrian/vehicle interface, above the speed of 30. It's a steep curve. Even a mile or two an hour extra means far more severe injuries, and far worse 'insults' to the brain when the car-flung person hits the tarmac with their head.
       He invited us to contemplate our car hitting 'little Mary' who has run out unexpectedly from behind parked cars. We were asked to imagine a car travelling at 40 striking her with its bumper, and the injuries that would cause... Her being tossed up onto the bonnet and smashing the windscreen... And then either being flung to one side, to scrape her flesh across the road surface, or being catapulted over the roof and flung several feet down the road, landing on her head.
      What was the likelihood of her surviving? We looked at the graph. They weren't high.

       What excuse were we going to make to her parents? 'I was in a hurry.' - 'I didn't know it was a 30.' - 'I didn't know I was doing 30.'

      The class proved useful for Advanced Driving training, as we were taught a 'fool-proof' way to recognise a 30 mile an hour area. It's also sharpened up my ability to spot those speed signs.

     So where am I with the ninja driving? Well, my ever-patient ex-paramedic mentor says, "There's been immense improvement, Sue. We'll have another couple of run-rounds, and then I'll see about arranging another pre-test." - Because the IAM won't put you in for the real test until they're certain you can pass it.

     This will be my third pre-test, which I don't feel is a good sign. The problem is, as soon as it's a test - even if only a mock-one - all my certainty deserts me and I start questioning my every decision - and usually making the wrong choice.
     The secret is to cultivate an, 'I don't give a damn,' attitude and just drive. Then I'd probably pass, The difficulty with that is, I would rather like to pass, so I do give a bit of a damn, and it's that that gets in the way.

     What shape is a Give Way sign? - It's the only sign on the British road that's shaped like an inverted triangle. All other warning or advisory signs are upright triangles, with the single point at the top.

     And the fool-proof way of recognising a 30 limit? - If you're a better driver than me, you probably already know.
     If there's a lighting-system installed on the street - that is, three or more lamposts - and no other speed signs at all - then it's a 30. No ifs, buts or question.
     Doesn't matter if it's a broad, inviting road with open country on one side, or few houses... If there is a lighting-system and no other speed sign, then it's a 30. If it's a 20, or above, there will be a big 'gateway' sign to tell you, and small repeaters. If there's none of them - it's a 30. I feel much happier now I've grasped this.

     I also came away with permission from the ex-rozzer to drive in third-gear in a 30 mile limit - it's the only way to drive a modern car at 30, he said. A conclusion I had already come to - but I keep having to argue it with my IAM mentors, as they insist on saving petrol by 'driving in the highest gear conditions allow.' I can now insist on 3rd at 30, and quote an ex-rozzer at them.


Joan Lennon said...

Thanks for the update - and you are going to look amazing in your ninja costume when you do pass!

madwippitt said...

Cor and I thought you'd already done the test! Will you be wearing the requisite turtle gear?
(And what about if you live in an AONB and there is no street lighting?)

Susan Price said...

Yes, the ninja costume is on order, but I'm afraid to take delivery until I pass, in case I jinx myself.

Madwippitt - in an area of natural beauty - without other speed signs and no lighting system - it will be 'national speed limit applies, where conditions allow.' For a car, that's 60 on two way roads and 70 on dual carriageways - unless otherwise indicated. As you come into a village, or an area otherwise restricted, there will be a 'gateway' 30 sign, or perhaps 40, with repeaters until you see the National Speed Limit sign again.

Sue Purkiss said...

I went on a speed awareness course, too, and it was excellent. But only yesterday, it was getting dark, and I was feeling tired, and I had just come out of a town back onto a country road (it's actually an A road, but you'd never think it to look at it) and then I noticed a car parked which could have been, but probably wasn't, a speed van - and I realised I hadn't been thinking at all about the speed limit.What a numpty... full of admiration for you doing the advanced driving course, Sue.

Susan Price said...

Thanks Sue. Even my AIM mentors admit to losing concentration and exceeding the limit at times. After all, you don't know your concentration has slipped until it's too late, do you?