We’re all a little sensitive when it comes to being criticised about our own driving habits. The AA is offering a new course ‘Drive Smart’ aimed at drivers who’ve recently passed their test or feel they have areas they need to improve on. Journal reporter Laurence McClenaghan who himself survived a serious car accident, took to the road with an instructor to see how he could improve his own skills.
Not if you’re forever reminded about the time you drove your car off a mountain; (The car was nicknamed ‘Millennium Falcon’ to be fair).
I must confess when the boss asked me to do an AA course I was worried. I soon realised she was again criticising my driving capabilities and relaxed.
Which is exactly how I was made to feel on the AA Drive Smart refresher course.
Inspired by the AA’s Charitable Trust for Road Safety and the Environment, Drive Smart is one of a number of driving improvement courses the Automobile Association offer.
According to the AA: There are a number of short falls in the way new drivers are taught. For example, there is no motorway, if there were, then the 45mph speed limit on ‘R’ drivers means they aren’t taught to handle a car at increased speeds - overtaking for example.
“The main problem is that the public aren’t interested in doing courses after they pass their test,” said the AA’s Paul Weatherill.
“The problem with the test system is that everyone rushes to get through it as quickly as possible but if they concentrated more on learning to drive competently and safely the test would take care of itself.”
It is often said that motorists really only learn to drive AFTER passing their driving exam. According to Paul they certainly aren’t in a rush to do so in a formal or semi-formal setting: “Most people are defensive about their own driving. These courses are not about nit-picking and searching for driving faults, they are about practice and improvement.”
Paul asks me about my own driving habits and if there are any areas I’d like to improve on?
I panic and blurt out the dirty truth.
“I’m not the best at parallel parking.”
“It’s just a matter of practice. When was the last time you took ten minutes to practice the manoeuvre?”
Shockingly the thought had NEVER occurred to me. At this stage I’ve probably just missed the chance of Derry City calling me up at this stage, yet I still practice penalties more than parking.
As we pull alongside a parked vehicle, I recall everything every driving instructors I ever had, told me - only to finish up a good three feet from the pavement.
“Well at least we know we have plenty of room for improvement,” Paul jokes.
After he talks me through the move, complete with little toy car and paper map, I nail it the second time. Turns out the practice is just what I needed.
We move off and drive through the city centre.
It is a shock to the system when the car suddenly breaks of its own accord.
At least that was my initial thought, Paul points out, “I braked as I couldn’t be sure the oncoming traffic wouldn’t cut in toward us.
“Awareness and forward planning are the best prevention,” he says.
“I wasn’t going near that lane,” I mutter under my breath. Though he was of course correct. We can’t rely on other drivers remembering where their indicators are. I mean we’ve ALL driven in Donegal...
Paul is a seasoned driving instructor having worked in Scotland, England and now Northern Ireland with the AA. He is also the driving instructor’s driving instructor. It must be said his calm and informative nature is reassuring.
So I ask what are the most annoying or dangerous habits you see on out road?
“It does make you annoyed when you see bad driving because it is only selfishness.
“The most common bad driving habit I see here, as opposed to elsewhere, is the habit of motorists letting people out at junctions. I’ve seen people slam brakes on in order to flash their lights and encourage a driver to enter the flow of traffic against the natural run.
“Flashing lights really only creates confusion. You can’t really be sure who will interpret the signal or how.”
The other advice offered is to slow down well in advance of junctions and roundabouts. “A lot of drivers race to the next junction only to slam on the breaks, stopping only to start again. It is much more efficient both in time and fuel to approach slowly, assess the situation and move on. Journey times are actually improved with slow driving speeds, especially in an urban environment.”
“The most important aspect though is that all our courses are guidelines really. Every course, every improvement is tailored toward the individuals requirements.”
Some of the courses are free of charge and others will save you money in the longer term. For example there is the save fuel course.
At a modest cost of £56 it promises fuel efficiency savings of up to 30%. Other courses include, Drive Confident, Drive for Opportunity and a course for young drivers at risk, they also offer the Royal Society For the Prevention of Accidents drivers course - The highest driving qualification a member of the public can achieve.
Drive Smart is aimed primarily at those drivers who’ve recently passed their test, had an accident or accrued points on their licence. It is also of use to those who passed their test but have since identified areas to improve on. I had the help of the full office in identifying whole ‘areas.’
Drive Smart is one of the AA Charitable trust’s effort at reducing carnage on our roads. They offer a number of free courses and the full details of these can be found on www.aa.com