By Mike Yeomans at Hull and East Riding Advanced Motorists
Over the last year, I’ve had an amazing journey. I have completed my IAM RoadSmart Advanced Driver course with a F1RST, which led to me becoming a National Observer.
This journey has resulted in me being able to represent the group with Safer Roads Humber in Bishop Burton and visit other local IAM RoadSmart groups to see what best practice looks like. During those visits, I’ve been fortunate to meet senior members of the IAM RoadSmart organisation, and I really feel my year started when I agreed to complete the advanced driving course.
Nothing remarkable, you might think, as someone who often travels by car, it should be simple, but I was pleasantly surprised at the journey it took me to be able to be sufficiently competent to pass.
It’s the perfect addition to any driver’s list of must-have qualifications, and I now think after the mentoring and training I received, it could be an essential addition for all drivers and riders to take soon after passing the “L” driving test.
There are other advanced tests on the market, some are simply the DVSA test for licence acquisition with fewer faults, and some heavily involve Roadcraft at a high level, and these may be ideal for employers whose drivers encounter higher risks in their everyday journeys.
Anyone who has seen Roadcraft (handbook for police drivers) will read the references pertaining to IPSGA, and when you take those references and create a brilliant course, you have the IAM RoadSmart advanced courses.
My journey started by meeting my Observer in a car park near to my home, we exchanged pleasantries, and immediately I was put at ease. We chatted for a while discovering what my experience was, checking eyesight and health to drive, and I talked a little about the car I had, and we discussed my expectations of the course.
If I’m honest, over the years I had lost some enthusiasm for driving. My personal interest or enjoyment was a low priority. I started the Advanced course because I wanted to know more about it and what its benefits were.
After signing the IAM RoadSmart document disclaimer and being declared fit to drive, we set off with guidance from my Observer. The 90-minute drive flew by due to the engagement of my Observer, I was made to feel very welcome and relaxed. I must admit I expected a lot of criticism, instead, it was encouragement with very few training comments. The more subtle series of encouragements made me feel like I was out with a friend.
Over the years, I have been involved with drivers who have taken Advanced Driving courses, and I have wondered what it was all about. Questioning whether these people know everything about driving. Yet no one can ever say they know everything, nor should they even suggest that. In that first relaxed drive that passed so quickly, I found it confirmed many aspects of the training I had given and training I have given in the past. To see my driving and knowledge from a different perspective was enlightening.
My second drive involved a demo drive from my Observer, I found myself dropping into work mode and mentally marking the drive. To my Observer’s credit, there was very little I would have to comment on, but it was beneficial we had a debrief so we could check notes and be on the same page for when we went out next.
Over eight drives, which due to work commitments took me from April to September to fit in, I was not in a rush, and it gave me plenty of time to practice. To be successful, whether a recently passed driver or an experienced driver, you must accept we can all improve, leave any driving prejudices behind, and accept the person sitting next to you has your best interest at heart. It’s important to be open to suggestions and improvements.
Over the eight sessions, I covered the whole syllabus: Core driving skills, POWDERY, Cockpit Drill, moving onto IPSGA, bends/corners, junctions, roundabouts, overtaking, motorways, dual carriageways, manoeuvring, and spoken thoughts.
Developing a commentary drive, now referred to as spoken thought, and what a good expression that is, as it was exactly that, to talk about what you see, what is developing ahead, what to anticipate, and how to read the road ahead.
The main parts that resonated with me and have since improved my own driving included how I approach roundabouts, observation and timing, certain aspects of overtaking I had not fully appreciated, plus acceleration sense (which I still need to work on).
I've since developed a better method for spoken thought that suits me, it has also benefited my students. In fact, this development has made many of my own business and personal journeys much easier and seem shorter in time than the time it takes. To fully understand that comment you would have to appreciate I travel around the country working, in addition to local work, the reducing distraction and monotony on motorways has been achieved through thinking my spoken thought while driving.
After receiving my ‘F1RST’ in advance driving I became interested in the Observer’s role. I have since been out observing some Observers’ training, it is remarkable to see the dedication these volunteers give to help make the road a safe place for everyone. Any new driver should be encouraged to take the course, and it’s always worth looking for special offers from local groups.
I was encouraged by my local Chief Observer to explore the opportunity to become an Observer. We went out for a drive to check my driving and I attended several discussions and training opportunities; I had some coaching training with the local group, and I then decided to go for the National Observer qualification as a direct entrant.
The whole experience was awesome, though I worked very hard to get a suitable route for the test and I studied the required publications. I felt I was ready, but I must admit I was still a little nervous on exactly what to expect in the required role play and in my own driving standard.
The moment I met my Examiner, I was made to feel very welcome and valued. The time went quickly, and the advice I was given during my assessment was invaluable, I came away full of enthusiasm. I could not wait to share my experience with the Chief Observer of the group, partly to thank him for all his valuable advice and encouragement.
During the assessment, my assessor was very open and encouraging, I came away with confidence that I could approach the Regional Assessor to discuss any issues I may have in the future, and I was actively encouraged to ask questions.
A National Observer made a comment that resonated with me while a driver was travelling along a country road which had many tight bends, and that was: “You can see the limit points ahead, you can see when the road opens up if you look ahead and travel at a speed you can stop to the limit point, look for features such as buildings and the rise and fall of the road in the distance. It doesn’t matter how unfamiliar you are to the road, you can travel it safely and progressively.” It made me realise that there was almost no need for the advanced warning signs as the road held its own advance warning if you observed it correctly.
What a journey it’s been. I’m so grateful to IAM RoadSmart for the opportunity to take part in the advanced training and, I really do enjoy my driving now. This has rubbed off on my friends and colleagues, and I feel they are getting a better, safer drive from me.
My gratitude to the team at my local group Hull and East Riding Advance Motorists (HERAM) and to my Observer mentor, plus my regional examiner.