A Driving Instructor's Blog

Another story from the newsfeeds. It involves IAM – but I won’t diss it outright since just for once they haven’t tried to blame the behaviour of the last 10 generations of young drivers on their driving instructors. Not directly, anyway.

There’s a scheme in Scotland being sponsored by a former racing driver who is now a car dealer. Basically, he has agreed to pay for 100 young drivers to take an advanced driving test. He is now trying to get other dealers to provide the same offer to further young drivers throughout Scotland.

Police in Scotland appear to be beside themselves with gushing praise:

Acting road policing Inspector Brian Jones, of Lothian and Borders Police, said: “We cannot support this enough. This is an excellent opportunity for all young drivers to take advantage of a skill for life.

“It could almost be seen as a Holy Grail – it would take five to six years to get the same experience as you get from taking the test.”

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. But is it really the Holy Grail that everyone is looking for as the Scots police are suggesting? Let’s think about it a little more deeply – which is something none of those in the article seem to have done.

The most telling observation comes from a young driver who completed the course:

Matthew Bushell is among ten young drivers in the Borders to have had the cost of their advanced driving course refunded after passing the test.

Mr Bushell, 27, who took the test two years ago, admitted to having had a completely different attitude behind the wheel in his earlier driving days.

Note the part in bold. What he is clearly saying is that when he was young he felt differently and had a different attitude to the one he has now. His decision to complete this course – apart from the fact that it was free, I would imagine – was based on his 27-year old level of maturity, and he wouldn’t have done it when he was younger. Can we really conclude from all this that a mid-twenties male completing this course is any sort of Holy Grail for the problem of all young driver death statistics?

You have to get older before you can get wiser. By definition, maturity is age- and experience-dependent. It’s a basic law of nature, and there is no suggestion that this course could have any meaningful effect on young and very unwise attitudes that, say, a properly delivered Pass Plus course or decent learner lessons couldn’t. The article continues:

Mr Bushell signed up for the advanced driving course after meeting Bill Allison of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) at his local car club.

And there’s another problem: the piston-head mentality. Both the sponsor and the sponsored were piston-heads – members of a car club. It is hard to imagine that the sponsor (a former racing driver, now a car dealer) is financing this for purely philanthropic reasons, particularly when you bear in mind it is costing him around £13,000. The advertising he is getting from it must be offsetting that somewhat, no matter how much he might deny it. And certainly you get the impression that the sponsored Mr Bushell might not have bothered at all if he’d had to pay over a hundred quid, instead of getting it for free. But even if the meeting of these two from this particular club had what is essentially a positive outcome, there are many, many clubs where the overall attitude of the membership is far less mature. Let’s face facts here: if a group of people who own fast cars meet at the “fast car owners’ club”, the main discussion topic is inevitably going to be about driving those fast cars fast!

The sponsor is also pictured holding a copy of Roadcraft – the advanced driver’s bible. It’s worth reminding ourselves of the full title of that publication: Roadcraft – The Police Driver’s Handbook  (and yes, that’s the same emphasis that is given on the front cover). But in spite of the book’s foreword suggesting that it is also for anyone wishing to take their skills “to a higher level” (cue: a bunch of anoraks falling over themselves to copy every aspect of it), you do not invite anyone who feels like it to drive as if they were police officers on emergency calls to do so when they’re just taking the Jack Russell to Tesco to pick up their milk and a copy of The Daily Mail.

It isn’t training which is the problem. It is attitude. Advanced driving is for drivers with experience, not beginners – and even then, it’s not suitable for all of them. The sooner IAM realises this and keeps its nose out of driver training at grass roots level, the better the chance something can actually get done in the areas where the problems really lie.

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