By Carli Ann Smith
In May 2021 I was walking down the corridor of the hospital with my partner, our three-day-old son in his car seat for the very first time.
“I’ll drive us home love...”
“But you’ve literally just had a baby?!”
It’s not that I didn’t trust my partner, but with the most precious cargo we’ve ever carried in the car, I wanted to do everything I could to protect him.
As a new parent, you worry about everything. Have they eaten enough food? Are they getting enough sleep? Do they need changing? And the first car trip can be a seriously nerve-racking experience, but less so if you’re an advanced driver. And, let’s admit it, it’s not just the first car trip!
I received the IAM Roadsmart Advanced Driver course from my grandad as a Christmas gift after I’d passed my driving test at 17. At the time I didn’t think I would still be using the skills I learnt 15 years later, but I do.
We have three generations of advanced drivers in our family - you could say it’s a family tradition - and it’s something I would definitely encourage my little boy to do when he’s heading out on the road.
I treated the course like an extension of my driving test, as I completed it not long after. I read the chapters of the book, practiced it with my observer once a week and when driving alone and prepped for my test. I remember it vividly - we experienced every kind of weather condition you could imagine! I wasn’t nervous as I just kept telling myself that it was a chance to show the examiner what I could do, not what I couldn’t. I was proud as punch when I passed.
Having had a keen interest in motorcycles since I was around 12 and worked hard to get into the industry. I’m lucky enough to have worked with a World Superbike team, a number of motorcycle manufacturers and as a motorcycle journalist. It was when I was a journalist that I knew I wanted to do the advanced riding course with IAM Roadsmart. Riding thousands of miles on a variety of motorcycles and scooters across the world, I wanted to make sure I was armed with as many skills as possible to make the ride as enjoyable - and safe - as possible.
The course itself felt like going out for rides with a friend - as motorcyclists will know, you’ve got an instant link with someone when you know you both ride. I found it helped me ride more progressively - and the fact you can do it on your own bike means that you get to apply the skills you learn on a machine that’s familiar. We had a brilliant time exploring the roads around Lincolnshire and chatting about our ride in a cafe at the end of the session. It was nearly seven years ago that I passed my advanced riding course exam, but I still remember how tired I was when I got home as I’d been concentrating on not making a mistake and anticipating hazards and opportunities with millisecond precision.
It’s not just in the car or on the bike where I benefit from the skills I learnt. Being an advanced rider and driver doesn’t just make you a good road user in a vehicle, but it also makes you a good pedestrian. And trust me, you do a lot of walking with a pram when your baby likes to nap in there! You anticipate other people’s mistakes and use the safety bubble around the pram as you would the car or motorcycle. I’ve lost count of the number of times I haven’t stepped out on a zebra crossing as I’ve looked at the driver and seen that they’re not even looking up.
We all know how important it is to be a safe driver and rider, but now I’m a mum, I feel it’s even more important. Having the skills I learnt through the courses make me feel a lot more confident, knowing that I’m doing everything I can, which in turn, gives me one less thing to worry about.