Michael’s Drive for Improvement, Part 1

Blog post posted on 07/11/17 |

It was something I’d said I would never allow to happen. I’d passed my IAM test in 1971, full of enthusiasm and grand intentions never to let my standards slip. Then someone pushed the fast-forward button while I slept and, like a latter-day Rip Van Winkle, I woke in 2015 in a very different world where driving was not fun but a stressful chore.

I was losing my touch, and something had to be done. Quickly!

First, I needed to define my current level – so I booked an IAM RoadSmart Member’s Assessment and started reading and practicing. Searching online I came across Chris Gilbert’s website and booked a half-day with him. A few minutes in, he summed up: “I can tell you’ve had some advanced training – the signs are there. You sort of understand the limit point, but you’ve not got it quite spot on. Let’s do some bends.”

After five hours with Chris I had a little list of things to practice:

  • Vision scans
  • Reading bends
  • Approaching roundabouts: ‘timing of appointments’

Under Chris’s tuition, I had learned how it should feel when the planning is done correctly, which opened the way for some fruitful practice.

The IAM Members’ Assessment included some unknown roads with challenging bends – and by that time I was ready to love them! When I got a F1RST – straight ‘ones’ in every category, the bug really bit, and I was up for my next challenge.

But first, I knew I needed contact with other advanced drivers. ‘Join our observer team,’ Nottinghamshire group’s chief observer, David Crooks, advised: “That’ll keep you sharp.”

Enthusiasm was growing further, and now the Masters was appearing on my radar. I wasn’t sure, though; I’d read on the website that the examiner would expect a drive with ‘sparkle’ – an ‘enjoyable’ drive, ‘rather than merely competent’.

Merely competent’?!


The criteria specifically mentioned overtaking as an assessed skill. I didn’t like the sound of being pressured to overtake. In 1971, overtakes had been common for those with a suitable car but now, most people are already on or close to the limit and one can regularly drive for 90 minutes with no opportunities for safe, legal overtakes.

Regional Quality Manager Pete Doherty clarified: “What matters is evidence of good overtake planning; I often give more points for overtakes that are considered but declined than for those that are executed.” He advised that I cover the process in commentary, and also added, ‘It doesn’t need to be moving cars – horses, cyclists, even parked cars, all evidence the process.’

‘What – at my age?’

That was really helpful – but another doubt remained: at 70 years of age could I produce the ‘sparkle’? My thought processes were not so lightning-quick as in 1971. Would I be wasting my money? Again, Pete understood and put me in touch with Masters mentor Roger Hicks for a free taster session comprising a demo and assessment. Roger’s advice: “Go for it.”


Grahame Ottewell of the Lichfield IAM Group, a retired police traffic sergeant and long-time Class 1 ticket holder, was appointed my mentor. We arranged a rendezvous well outside my familiar area.

Early in my first drive, Grahame stopped me in a lay-by ahead of a sweeping right hand bend. “What can you tell me about that?” I mentioned the limit point, positioning, surface awareness, and Grahame added ‘camber’ setting me off on an exposition on superelevation. Those words “what can you tell me about” were to become very familiar.

Thus began an enjoyable and challenging process. After each session, we would share a genteel pot of tea for two and discuss the drive in detail, also covering some theory questions.

I was champing at the bit – and not just through impatience. I’d been experiencing serious medical issues and surgery was inevitable, followed by a prolonged (non-driving) recovery. I wanted to complete the Masters first, to avoid losing momentum, and Grahame was confident – so the test was arranged

But that’s another story.

By Revd Michael Forster. Part 2 next week.