Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Virus image…so here’s a link to an outright conspiracy website, which is claiming that the UK Government ‘knows COVID-19 doesn’t exist.’

I just read precisely that on social media.

The website in question – which I’m not going to link to, because the owner needs medical help and not derision – is written by a:

Critically Acclaimed Comedian, Playwright & Filmmaker | Blacklisted ‘Potential Subversive’  Revisionist Historian | Recalcitrant Philosopher  Bankster-Busting Nemesis of the Rigged System

But it’s not a conspiracist website. Honestly.

I’m not sure what is worse. That people like this haven’t been locked up yet, or that people who follow them are allowed to teach people to drive.

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Arlesheim to NottinghamAt the weekend, I ordered a tray of semi-skimmed milk from Amazon. It’s a repeat order for my mum – ordering online means I don’t have to go into Asda or anywhere. I order stacks of stuff from Amazon and it always arrives on time. This order immediately went down as delivery for today, and I got a UPS message telling me the same yesterday.

As of 5pm, it hasn’t arrived – but UPS’s website says delivery is due before 8pm. I’m not optimistic about that, though. You see, I entered the tracking number into the UPS system, and the item is currently… well, not very close to me.

I typed the following into UPS’s online query system:

I am dying to know what my shipment [number], which was tagged in Tamworth about 30 miles away, and which is due for delivery today, is doing in Arlesheim, Switzerland?

The automated reply came back with:

Sometimes the route information can look very strange because of our systems.

There’s an understatement. I don’t think I’m going to get it today unless the tracking information is just completely wrong.

Update: And it isn’t wrong. Amazon has now indicated delivery is unfortunately delayed. And my milk really has gone to Switzerland (via Herne-Börnig, Germany), and has now got to make its way back to the UK. A 30 mile road delivery has become a 1,100 mile international air-freight issue. What a complete f***ing carve up by UPS. I wonder what the carbon footprint for this looks like?

Update: Well, my milk spent a nice day and a half in Switzerland soaking up the ambience, and has since moved on to Köln, in Germany, where it looks like it’ll be spending the night. I can’t be sure if it flew there, since how long it took could have been by road. I’m dying to see which UK airport it goes to – assuming that the UK is its next stop (and does involve some sort of air transport), of course. I’m not sure if UPS employs Carrier Pigeons, but you never know.

Update: Well, it moved again during the night after a six-hour rest. It’s now back in Herne-Börnig (which suggests the previous hop to Köln was via air freight). It’s also worth noting that I don’t believe UPS delivers on weekends, and today is Friday. The itinerary so far:

Labelled26/10/2020, 19:00UKProcessed
Shipped27/10/2020, 00:18Tamworth, UKScanned
27/10/2020, 04:37Tamworth, UKDeparted
27/10/2020, 19:06Herne-Börnig, GermanyArrived
27/10/2020, 21:24Herne-Börnig, GermanyDeparted
28/10/2020, 05:30Arlesheim, SwitzerlandArrived
28/10/2020, 15:16Arlesheim, SwitzerlandImport scan
29/10/2020, 10:15Arlesheim, SwitzerlandDeparted
29/10/2020, 18:20Köln, GermanyArrived
30/10/2020, 02:26Köln, GermanyDeparted
In transit30/10/2020, 03:49Herne-Börnig, GermanyArrived
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DVSA logoAn email alert from DVSA explains that 9 test centres across England and Scotland will fully re-open from 30 October. Wales is not included since tests are currently suspended there.

Test centres involved are currently Alness, Darlington MPTC, Chesterfield, Garrets Green, Widnes, Cambridge Brookmount Court, Gillingham GVTS, Maidstone, and Swindon MPTC.

I’m certain this will not be acceptable to many ADIs. Frankly, even if they opened all of them from tomorrow, it still wouldn’t be acceptable to those people.

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Ford Focus cockpitI originally wrote this way back in 2008, but update it regularly. The topic keeps coming back because it is relevant to all learner drivers.

At the time of the original, DVSA had just updated its Internal Guidance Document (DT1) to say:

To ensure uniformity, when conducting car or vocational tests and ADI qualifying examinations, only assess the candidate’s ability to control the vehicle and do not consider it as a fault if, for example, they do not hold the steering wheel at ten to two or quarter to three or if they cross their hands when turning the steering wheel. The assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control.

The highlighted part was an addition, and prior to that DT1 had not mentioned the steering technique at all. In my area, none of the examiners had ever failed people for ‘crossing their hands’, anyway, and what DVSA was apparently doing was making sure that those around the country were clear on the subject (‘[ensuring] uniformity’). Reading between the lines, there had been a few complaints about some examiners faulting candidates unnecessarily.

The bottom line is that as long as steering is under control it doesn’t matter how a pupil does it. They can steer with one hand, with their palm, use hand over hand… it simply doesn’t matter. It hasn’t mattered for a very long time – not officially, anyway – and DVSA’s addition to DT1 was a clarification and not a major change in policy.

I think the root cause of the issue is that a lot of examiners are ex-ADIs, and many ADIs (and PDIs) get massively hung up on the whole business of  ‘crossing your hands’ and holding the steering wheel ‘correctly’. This leads to more problems than it solves, especially if the person teaching it doesn’t understand what they are saying. Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) is the official syllabus that instructors should be working to, and at least two editions ago it said:

Turning – When turning the steering wheel, avoid crossing your hands. Except at low speeds, this can reduce your control and can cause an accident. Feed the rim of the steering wheel through your hands. Vary your hand movements according to the amount of lock you want.

This is called the pull-push technique.

This was not saying that you mustn’t cross your hands. It just quite correctly pointed out that the rapid steering action a hand-over-hand method can lead to might give rise to a loss of control at higher speeds – a subtlety lost on many people. But there is a huge difference between the effect produced by whipping the steering round quickly as you’re turning into a road at 20-30mph and the same action at 5-10mph.

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The only type of ‘crossing hands’ steering that has ever been wrong in almost all circumstances is the one where pupils grip the steering wheel tightly and turn from their shoulders, keeping their hands in a fixed place. This nearly always results in insufficient lock to get round the corner, resulting in wide turns, or possibly over-steering if the pupil suddenly panics and shifts their grip to get the car round. Just about every learner does it like this on their first lesson, and ADIs telling them to hold the steering wheel at ‘ten to two’ or ‘quarter to three’ without further explanation exacerbates any subsequent problems. Yet it is this which is the cause of the ‘don’t cross your hands’ nonsense that confuses learners.

The most recent editions of TES have merely said:

You should

  • place your hands on the steering wheel in a position that’s comfortable and which gives you full control
  • keep your movements steady and smooth
  • turn the steering wheel to turn a corner at the correct time

Personally, I rue the loss of the extra detail in the versions before this. It is part of a dumbing down process, and far too many instructors are ready to interpret it as some sort of admission that the ‘pull-push’ method is wrong. It most definitely isn’t. The pull-push technique – where steering is achieved by alternately pulling the wheel down with one hand, then changing grip and pushing it with the other – certainly isn’t the only way to steer, but for most beginners, who have not yet developed a suitable technique, it should definitely be the starting point. It requires hand coordination which, in turn, becomes a foundation for good car control.Playing "keepy-up"

A good analogy would be with a professional footballer. He can play ‘keepy up’ for hours on end in training because it is an important basic control skill – but you will rarely see him do it on the field. However, the coordination required to do it enables him to do other things during matches that he would otherwise struggle with.

It’s the same with steering. Being able to use pull-push properly is an important foundation skill that drivers should possess, even if they rarely using it in favour of a more chav-like style. Once beginners can do pull-push, they can steer easily without going wide on bends and corners. They are less likely to over-steer into kerbs, and are more confident as a result, being able to adjust their steering in a controlled manner. A major drawback to hand-over-hand steering for beginners who know no other way is that they can easily panic and over steer, and pull-push can help to address this.

Incidentally, when someone pull-pushes the steering in one direction, the natural return action frequently involves push-pull. They’re not two separate methods like some people seem to believe. It doesn’t matter whether you pull first, or push.

Why shouldn’t I turn (dry steer) the wheel when the car isn’t moving?

Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called ‘dry steering’. There’s no rule or law which says you mustn’t do it, and examiners do not mark you on it. I have much less of an issue with it than I once did, especially when doing manoeuvres. However, it is bad general practice for several reasons:

  • it can damage your tyres
  • it can damage your steering mechanism
  • it can damage the road surface

Scrunching your tyres over gravel instead of rolling over the road surface leads to more wear. Doing it on glass or nails can give you a puncture. The extra strain involved when dry steering leads to more wear in the steering mechanism of your car. And scrunching your tyres on tarmac in hot weather can chew up the surface, which holds water in winter, and which can cause cracks if the water freezes – leading finally to potholes. You’ll get some smart arses telling you they’ve never come across an example where dry steering has caused actual damage, and others who insist the car will spontaneously disintegrate if you do it. The reality is that you should simply avoid doing it needlessly.

I find that many pupils can’t control the car and steer at the same time, and they need to dry-steer

That’s fair enough. However, in all the years I have been teaching, the number of pupils who couldn’t be taught to control the car at low-speed and steer pull-push at the same time have been relatively few.

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

I agree, but it can usually be overcome. Having said that, as time has gone by, I have less of an issue with pupils dry steering when doing manoeuvres than I once did.

I can’t master ‘pull-push’ steering

If you can steer safely and in control, it doesn’t matter how you do it. However, being able to pull-push is a basic skill to have, even if you don’t use it once you have acquired it. You can easily practice it at home using a book or dinner plate as a dummy steering wheel.

Don’t overthink steering, and don’t dismiss not being able to do it the very first time you try as some sort of permanent problem, because it almost certainly isn’t.

Do you have to use ‘push-pull’?

It’s actually called pull-push, but whatever you call it the answer is ‘no’. As far as I am aware, you have never had to do it that way, and you’re probably confused about being told that by your own instructor. The examiner doesn’t care how you steer as long as you’re in control. Pull-push is just an extremely useful basic skill to have, especially at the start.

What about ‘palming’?

This is what I refer to as ‘chav steering’ – it’s where someone uses the palm of one hand to rotate the wheel, and is the favoured method of people who are trying to cultivate an image. In all my years of driving, I have never felt that I need to use it, and have never tried to use it purposely. The only time I ever get close to it is when I am demonstrating something from the passenger seat and need to reach over and steer full lock one way or the other (something I learned when I was training and my tutor asked me to show him how to do a turn in the road from the passenger seat).

I often pick up pupils who use it, and I don’t immediately try to change them. However, if my guts flip even a small amount as a result of the change in momentum when turning a corner or bend then I’m right on it, and they will learn how to steer using pull-push.

Is it OK to teach learners to ‘palm’ the wheel?

As I have repeatedly said, if someone is in control when they steer, how they do it is irrelevant. But if instructors are purposely teaching this as the default method to beginners, you have to ask the question ‘in God’s name, why?’ A decent instructor should not be teaching palming as a preferred steering method for beginners. There’s too much that can go wrong with it.

They used to fail people for ‘crossing hands’ when steering

I’m going to stick my neck out here, but no they bloody well didn’t”!

Crossing hands has not been an issue in itself for the 40 years I’ve been driving. The only time it is a problem is when the learner grips the wheel and turns from the shoulders. At some point – less than half a turn – their arms cross and they can’t steer any more, even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That would be marked under steering control and could easily lead to failing a test.

The whole issue of not crossing hands comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them, quite possibly because their instructor didn’t understand it, either.

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

It isn’t rocket science, so don’t lead your pupils to think it is. Teach them how to pull-push first, and then let them develop their own style from there. Pull-push requires fundamental skills that they can use in their own style. Let them practice with a large book or diary – if you have a dummy steering wheel, so much the better.

My pupil can’t steer in a straight line

This is usually because they are thinking way too hard about what their hands are doing. Some will even be looking at the car logo in the middle of the steering wheel as if that is going to help.

The important thing here is ‘let your hands follow your eyes’. The way I deal with it is like this. I find a big empty space – a car park at weekends or in the evening is usually a good bet. Then I point out a few landmarks, such as ‘that blue door’, ‘that chimney’, ‘the front of that lorry’, and so on. Then, I take control of the car using the dual controls and tell them to aim directly at whichever landmark I identify.

I get them to turn their heads and keep their eyes fixed on whatever I have pointed out to aim for, and not to look at their hands. We might stop to do a quick pull-push refresher using my diary as a steering wheel, then maybe practice it at very low speed, but we get back to aiming at the various targets. We might start by purposely driving in a figure-of-eight pattern, but that quickly becomes a rote action, so I then randomly start naming targets so they have to steer in directions – and to degrees – they decide for themselves.

How do I correct someone’s steering while they’re driving?

This is an actual search term used to find the blog. It might be necessary for an instructor to position the car correctly for a learner simply by holding the steering wheel and steering slightly from the passenger seat. The pupil can then zero in on their position relative to the kerb or white lines and learn from that.

How many turns is full lock?

This one gets a lot of hits. It varies from car to car. In my Ford Focus it is currently just over 1¼ turns either way, but in the previous model it was just under 1½ turns. One of my pupils had a car where it was nearly 2 whole turns. The easiest way of finding out is to try it – but don’t get hung up on it, because you need to steer enough to make the car go where it needs to go, and not worry about numbers.

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

Full lock is when the steering wheel won’t turn any further. It will go “clunk” against the end stop. One turn is one turn. If full lock is more than one turn, then no, full lock and one turn are not the same.

How much do I need to steer?

You need to steer enough to make the car go where you want it to go, and not to hit things you want to avoid. Don’t get bogged down counting quarters or halves of turns of the wheel (except perhaps during some manoeuvres). Steer as much as you need to by watching where you’re going and making the car go there.

I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?

The clue is in the question. Too much of anything is likely to be wrong. If you steer ‘too much’ on bends you are liable to clip the kerb or put too much sideways force on the car, which could lead to you spinning out or losing control (among other possible bad outcomes). So, yes. It is dangerous – and wrong.

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

In my experience, the following are all high on the list:

  • looking at the steering wheel
  • looking too close to the front of the car
  • looking at the kerb
  • not looking ahead
  • being distracted by other things
  • gripping the wheel too tightly
  • not moving their hands when steering
  • steering too much or too quickly
  • steering too little or too slowly

The list is really endless, but not all learners make all these mistakes. Most pupils who have problems tend to major in just one of them. It’s their ‘thing’.

Whatever fault they are experiencing, it is important to identify the precise cause. It’s usually because of where they’re looking, or what they’re thinking about when it happens (fiddling with indicators is a classic example, or struggling with the gears).

My pupil keeps moving the steering wheel all the time, even on straight roads

It’s probably because they’re not looking far enough ahead. Learners tend to look just in front of the car, and react to things with jerky actions. An experienced driver will be looking well ahead, making minor steering corrections all the time to maintain a straight line. Since learners don’t see as far ahead to start with, they tend to drift closer to kerbs and centre lines, and only realise this later and so react in a jerky way. Trust me, if you ask your pupil to stare at something in the far distance – ‘that big tree’, ‘that bollard’, ‘the back of that lorry’, and so on – their steering nearly always becomes silky smooth immediately. Make sure you explain to them what just happened, and how to use it, otherwise some are likely to think that just staring at the back of any lorry is the solution to everything!

This is often where I park up and do my ‘perspective’ session. I sketch a horizon line, and build up a drawing of a road with buildings and pavements all meeting at the ‘vanishing point’. I explain that if they always aim for the vanishing point, they can’t possibly hit any of the buildings or pavements. There’s more explanation to it than this, but that’s the basics.

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

If they’re in control it doesn’t matter. They should try to keep two hands on the wheel, but dropping to one hand now and then isn’t a problem. It can even be a good exercise to get them to steer with one hand – their road position often improves dramatically, because they are concentrating more.

How can I practice steering?

Well, first of all, don’t overthink the subject. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a pupil who couldn’t steer within a few minutes – and certainly not within 20 minutes or so – so you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Occasionally, I do get people who have an initial problem with pull-push steering if they’ve never done it before. What I do in those cases is whip out my diary, which is A4-sized, and get them to pull-push-pull one way, then the other. For many, it’s a bit like those wooden Chinese puzzles you get, where once you know the secret you can do it with your eyes shut. Once they get the hand movements for pull-push once, they’ve cracked it.

In the past, I’ve had pupils who have practiced at home using a dinner plate, and one even used the toy steering wheel one of her kids had. Years ago, one of my pupils used to practice parallel parking at home on the bed using a dinner plate (when I asked, she said she didn’t make the engine noises to go along with it).  As long as you lock yourself in somewhere with the curtains drawn no one will laugh at you!

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA indicates they will be making an announcement next week about access to waiting rooms.

Driving test centre waiting rooms

It’s our priority to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect you, your pupils and our examiners, so for everyone’s safety we reduced access to our driving test centres.

We understand this is causing some of you issues particularly if your local test centre has no other local amenities.

Working with the Health and Safety Executive

As we set out on 21 October we’ve been working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and are reviewing individual centres to see how some waiting rooms could be made safely available.

Next week we will be issuing further information and guidance on what we will be doing.

I’m sure this will be wonderful news to some. I won’t be using them – not until there’s a vaccine. Far too many idiots who aren’t taking this seriously are likely to be in them.

In the last four weeks, every single one of my pupils either knows someone who has tested positive, or is someone who has tested positive. I don’t like those odds right now, and am leaving the roulette table for the time being.

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logsheetThis story has been doing the rounds since yesterday. You might remember that last year DVSA was looking into the introduction of graduated driver licences for the umpteenth time, and there was a large (and expensive) consultation over it. The subject comes up on a regular basis, usually once every 1-2 years.

I said back then that they were only ‘looking into it’ and it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Well, it seems that – also for the umpteenth time – it’s not going to happen at all, again. Well, not until some future repetition of the whole ‘study’, anyway.

‘Looking into it’ came around this time because statistics show that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident (often involving someone being significantly dead as a result) in their first 12 months of passing the test. And the statistics also show that it is most frequently young people showing off skills they don’t actually have who are involved. This was what the government wanted to address. Last year, anyway. And it put DVSA on the case.

Of course, a lot has happened since last year. For one thing, we now know that this government values livelihoods (which equates to votes) above lives. Anyway, keeping that ethic on a roll:

Roads minister Baroness Vere told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee that the Department for Transport was abandoning work on graduated driving licences (GDL), partly due to concerns about the potential impact of restrictions on employment opportunities.

That’s bad enough. All that time and money wasted just to end up making a decision they could have made last year, since it has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome or content of the consultation. The more worrying part as far as I’m concerned, however, is as follows:

She said that the DfT had asked the Driving Instructors Association to develop a new modular curriculum for learners to cover issues such as driving in adverse weather, at high speed, on rural roads, and how to handle distractions while driving. She also said the department was considering a logbook system to prove learners had undertaken all the necessary modules.

Brrrr. Flashbacks to the rat race will keep me awake tonight!

You see, I already cover all of those things on my lessons. The only thing often lacking is driving on snow, which isn’t exactly something you can dial up on demand in this country. More than 99% of my pupils get to drive in the dark – when I think about it, I’ve had far more trouble getting some of them to drive during the day if they’re learning between November-March and only do evening lessons. I’ve even worked as late as midnight on two occasions just to give two who’d learnt during summer the experience. The only harsh weather I won’t do lessons in at all is when it is snowing heavily and the advice is not to travel (basically, if I wouldn’t go out in it, my pupils aren’t). We wait until it stops, then the lying snow becomes a useful tool. They all go on the motorway, and they all get to drive on rural roads, including single-track ones. And whatever road we’re on, if it is safe to do so, they will drive near to the speed limit and learn to think well ahead.

So the prospect of having the DIA telling me to do it differently does not exactly fill me with buckets of enthusiasm.

The next worrying part is other instructors. To start with, not everyone has easy access to all the road types mentioned, and some instructors in rural locations might have to drive for literally hours to get anywhere near a motorway or dual carriageway, whereas others in cities will likely have the same problem finding rural routes. I also note that there are already numerous dissenting voices from those instructors who only work during daylight hours now complaining about the night-time driving bit. And even if whatever they do eventually come up with gets past the permanent dissenters, the issue of a ‘log book’ rears its ugly head.

The Pass Plus Scheme was a great idea. When someone passed their test, they did Pass Plus to gain experience of all road types and driving conditions. By completing it, insurance companies offered discounts to new drivers. But it was abused systematically by many ADIs throughout its lifetime. Rather than waste time and fuel on actually delivering the relevant modules (note that word used by the government yesterday), they would simply take payment and sign off the course as completed. The student got the certificate and the insurance discount, and the ADI got some money (up to £200) just for filling in a form. Consequently, insurance companies stopped offering the discounts, and that in turn killed Pass Plus – which wasn’t improving driving skills at all as a result of how it was being ‘delivered’. And history has a habit of repeating itself.

This proposed log book scheme would simply end up as ‘Pass-not-quite-Plus’, or ‘Pass Plus Lite’. It would be open to precisely the same kind of abuse, and I would lay odds that it would be abused pretty much from day one. It’s absolutely guaranteed to be. There are a lot of people out there who only work between school runs and don’t go anywhere near night-time driving even now, and they’re not likely to change. Furthermore, if the lockdown has shown anything, it’s that the number of militant ADIs who hate DVSA with a passion is substantial, and I’d wager a fair few of these would suddenly decide not to teach in the dark anymore just to be contrarian, or show ‘solidarity’ with those who ‘can’t’.

Passing responsibility to ADIs over something like this is a bad, bad idea. Not because we’re all idiots, but because far too many are. Mind you, on the plus side, since the DIA is effectively run by such types, the chances of them coming up with something that the government will agree on is as likely as Hell freezing over. All the same, whatever they do come up with – and, God forbid, if it were ever approved – will simply end up being change for change’s sake. I mean, if ADIs completing log books wasn’t a big enough risk by itself, the DIA will inevitably – and they will, if this goes ahead – recommend allowing mummy and daddy to sign off parts of the log book to overcome some of the issues created (night-time and all-weather driving, for example) as they try to ‘represent their members’. The government will never back that, because mummy and daddy are bigger liars than those ADIs who used to say people had done Pass Plus modules when they hadn’t when it involves their little darlings and the prospect of them taking fewer paid lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the syllabus as it stands. It’s written down clearly in ‘Driving: The Essential Skills’. The only problems are with how much of it gets taught by some instructors, and CCL was supposed to address that a few years ago. Once you start pissing about with what instructors are doing – again – you’ve moved just about as far as it is possible to go from the original issue of 20% of new drivers having serious accidents within their first year because of their attitude.

Only graduated licences stand any chance of dealing with that core problem.

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I thought I’d update this article yet again as I’m currently getting a lot of hits from people looking for ‘overall stopping distance’ and ‘stopping on ice’. I also get quite a few people looking for motorbike stopping distances.

This diagram shows stopping distances in metres (which are easier to remember).Stopping Distances

First of all, for motorbikes, all the Highway Code (HC) says:

126

Stopping Distances

Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should

  • leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. The safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance (see Typical Stopping Distances [chart above])
  • allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic and in tunnels where visibility is reduced. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and increased still further on icy roads
  • remember, large vehicles and motorcycles need a greater distance to stop. If driving a large vehicle in a tunnel, you should allow a four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front

If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.

There are no official stopping distances specifically for motorcycles that I’m aware of. The Highway Code just says motorbikes need to allow a greater distance to stop. In any case, stopping distances are theoretical and depend on various external factors. Any chart is only for guidance, and these stopping distances from the HC are based on a well-maintained vehicle with good brakes and fitted with tyres having plenty of tread.

RoSPA carried out some tests in 2005 and measured stopping distances versus different tyre tread depths (at a fixed speed).Tread Depth vs Stopping Distance

They found that overall stopping distance increases dramatically when tread is less than 3mm and recommend that tyres be changed at this point.

Obviously, tyres cost money. For that reason many people avoid replacing them until it is absolutely necessary. However, I would suggest that many bumps and even some more serious accidents might have been avoided if people had had their tyres replaced sooner.

Remember that if you are stopped by the police and found to have defective tyres then you could lose your licence – especially if you’re a new driver on the two-year probationary period who perhaps already has points. Remember, too, that someone who lets their tyres go below the legal minimum of 1.6mm is likely to have let other things slip as well, and the police will almost certainly check for other defects if they find your tyres are bald.

What is the legal minimum tread depth?

The specification is that tyres should have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread across the middle three-quarters of the tyre’s surface, and this should apply for the whole circumference.

How can I measure my tread depth?

Use a proper tyre tread tool, available for a few pounds from a motorists’ store. Alternatively, the little ring of dots on 10p coins (newer coins don’t have them) is about 1.6mm from the edge of the coin. If your tread is anywhere near 1.6mm, get your tyres replaced urgently.

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How can I remember stopping distances?

First of all, you can try and use your memory. It’s easy to remember the different speeds from 20mph up to 70mph. Similarly, the “thinking distance” starts at 6m and goes up by 3m for each 10mph step. All you have to do then is memorise the overall distances, which allows you to calculate the “braking distance”.

There is also a way to calculate overall stopping distance in feet using a little mental arithmetic. All you do is square the speed you’re doing in mph, divide by 20, then add the mph you had at the start to get the answer. For example:

  • At 20mph: 20 x 20 = 400; divide by 20 = 20; add 20 = 40 feet
  • At 70mph: 70 x 70 = 4,900; divide by 20 = 245; add 70 = 315 feet

You can convert this to approximate metres by multiplying by 3, then dividing by 10, so:

  • For 40 feet: 40 x 3 = 120; divide by 10 = 12 metres
  • For 315 feet: 315 x 3 = 945; divide by 10 = 94.5 metres

It’s only approximate, but it is close enough to get the answer when you’re doing your Theory Test.

Is it vital to know stopping distances?

Well, in order to pass your Theory Test (assuming a question comes up, and assuming you want to get it right), yes.

Personally, I don’t think that knowing the actual numbers is of any direct benefit for seasoned drivers. The main thing is to understand how the distances increase the faster you’re going, which means you should allow for this when you’re driving. Learning the stopping distances when you first start your lessons helps you develop that understanding.

If you assume that a typical car is 4m long, a stopping distance of 96m (315 feet) is equivalent to about 24 car lengths – or approximately 150 paces for someone of average height. That’s a long way.

The 2-second rule is of far greater practical application in day-to-day driving.

What is the stopping distance when it’s wet?

There are no tabulated figures, because the term “wet” can mean anything from a bit damp to under several inches of water! The stopping distance chart applies to good tyres on a good surface under good conditions – and even then you cannot possibly know how close you are to all those “good” conditions.

The HC advises that you allow for a following distance of at least 2 seconds (‘the 2 second rule’) in good conditions, and to at least double that (4 seconds) in the wet. Note that the HC doesn’t say how long it will take to stop when it’s icy – it just says it will take a lot more than a 2 or 4 second gap will allow for.

Maintaining a safe distance like this gives you time to react and stop – and that’s where your overall stopping distance fits in.

The whole point of the stopping distance chart is that you recognise the overall distances involved – not that you quickly do a load of maths in your head every time you brake, or attempt to drive as close as you can to someone in front. After a bit of experience you will be capable of recognising what amounts to “too close”.

What is the stopping distance on ice or snow?

There isn’t one. Trust me, if you’re going too fast on even the gentlest downward slope in snow or on black ice and you brake, there is every chance that you won’t stop until you collide with something. Some sources say it can take up to ten times the normal stopping distance, but that’s far too specific for something that is virtually impossible to measure accurately.

How quickly you stop on ice or snow (or mud, or leaves, or oil) depends on the temperature, the type of slippy stuff you’re on, how thick it is, how compact it is, and many other factors.

I’ve already mentioned the gradient, which has a dramatic effect – skid uphill and you’ll stop thanks to gravity, skid downhill and gravity may well cause you to speed up once you start to slip. There are a few hills on my patch which are impassable in winter if it snows – in either direction. You either can’t get up them, or you can’t stop if you’re going down and need to.

This is why the split between ‘thinking distance’ and ‘braking distance’ is irrelevant on snow and ice.

What is the stopping distance for [insert car name here]?

Yes, someone found the blog whilst searching for Ford Focus stopping distances!

I’ll repeat what I said above: stopping distance applies to good tyres on a good surface under good conditions. It has virtually nothing to do with what car you’re in.

What is the stopping distance in a tunnel?

It’s the same as anywhere else. I think people are getting mixed up with this sentence in the Highway Code (Rule 126):

If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.

Note the word ‘stop’. It’s to allow freedom of movement if people have to get out and evacuate (or if anyone needs to get in to deal with something). However, you should use your own common sense when driving normally through a tunnel. The two-second rule is a minimum, not a target to meet at all costs. Maintain a safe distance of at least two seconds when driving in a tunnel, and leave at least a 5 metre gap if you have to stop in a tunnel.

Incidentally, if you are following the two-second rule when driving at 30mph, you will be nearly 30 metres behind the car in front. At 60mph this gap will be over 55 metres. That’s plenty of space to ensure you don’t stop too close to the car in front if traffic stops in the tunnel.

Have Highway Code stopping distances ever been updated?

Not to my knowledge. They’re the same now as they were in the 1960s, I believe.

Remember that the ‘thinking’ part won’t have changed anyway (other than being questioned by Brake), and the actual ‘braking’ part is still composed of the physical capabilities of the car and those of the driver.

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COVID virus graphicUpdated 22 October 2020

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the SEISS has been extended to April 2021. It will be paid in two instalments – the first, covering November-January, and the second covering February-April. This time, it is targeted at people who are working fewer hours than they normally would be as a result of the ongoing situation, and who were eligible for SEISS in the first place (i.e. received the first two grants).

As I understand it, those who couldn’t claim previously still won’t be able to. I do feel for them.

Whereas the first grant paid 80% of someone’s average income, and the second one 70% (while they weren’t working at all during the lockdown), these two extended payments will each give 20% 40% of that income up to a maximum of £1,875 £3,750. It is a top-up for reduced work.

I’m not sure when the claims will open. If it’s like the last two, the first extended payment can be claimed in January, and the second in April. However, that seems a long time to wait, and it may be different this time around.

I also note that no one at our end has done the sums yet and worked out that if the first SEISS covered March-May, and the second June-August, then there is a gap involving September and October. I’m sure it won’t take them long to pick up on it, though. The thing is, HMRC didn’t give time ranges for the first two grants, and said they just covered two three-month periods, and in any case we worked most of March.

Whatever, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

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Virus imageNottingham has the highest rate of COVID-19 infections in the country. We were put on Tier 2 this week, and it looks very much like it has been decided that we go to Tier 3 on Monday. That’s serious. More serious than Tier 2. And it was already serious before that.

The biggest cause of COVID-19 spread is people not following the rules (at the very least, it is people carrying on like nothing is wrong, which is what happened during summer and well into the early part of Autumn). Certain neighbourhoods in Nottingham are unfortunately populated by people of limited general intelligence (some are populated by people of limited actual intelligence, but this isn’t just about Broxtowe). I’m talking about the kind of people who, for whatever reason, think they know better than a world filled with genuine, qualified experts on infectious diseases and treatment.

One of the biggest contributors to this group is students.

Every year – without fail – Nottingham has huge problems at the start of the university term as students arrive and immediately blow huge amounts of money getting pissed and going around in childish costumes for freshers’ week. The streets where they live are literally paved with… broken glass. And, if you’re lucky, full bin bags of garbage that get ripped and kicked everywhere. And fast food packaging. And gas canisters and discarded sharps. And no matter how anyone might try to deny it, all this is true of many student areas. I see it with my own eyes when I pick pupils up there. It isn’t all of them, of course. But it is a hell of a lot of them.

A couple of years ago now, a house with a maximum occupancy of (if I remember) ten held a party which 250 people attended. As a result, a wall collapsed – pretty much exploded from the pressure of people – which could have been much more serious than it fortunately was. The event was typical, even if the outcome was more extreme than usual.

Nottingham University is currently bigging up the fact that its number of COVID-19 cases is falling. Yes, any fall in new cases is good, but when the University still has three times more cases than the county as a whole, let’s not kid ourselves that there isn’t really a problem. Because since the term began, there have been numerous reports of students crowding on to trams with no face masks and no distancing when the pubs shut at 10pm. There have been numerous reports of students holding house parties – the most publicised one being the one where the organiser was fined £10,000. When three times as many of these people is infected, there is a serious problem. And still they keep saying ‘the majority are behaving’. Stop that! It doesn’t matter if it is technically ‘the majority’ who are behaving. What’s far more important is the size of the very large minority who are behaving like arrogant prats. And that is why we have the damned problem!

That brings me on to the latest story illustrating how ‘the majority’ is behaving itself. Bear in mind this is on top of all the other stories about partying, boozing at weekends, crowding trams, and the idiot a couple of months ago who was also fined for holding a party.

In this case, four complete wankers/wankerettes were each fined £10,000. When police turned up to a reported party, despite being initially told no one was there, 30 people were found hiding in a house. That was when these four came out with the immortal lines that police were ‘spoiling their fun’, and that they should be having ‘the time of their lives’.

THIS is why we have a problem. I only hope they are on Mickey Mouse courses, because God help us if they’re medical students, or ones studying proper subjects. Fortunately (in a way), they’re Nottingham Trent University students – albeit third year – so the likelihood of them being on serious courses is somewhat less. But you can’t be certain – this is the same University whose biology students killed a hedgehog several years ago by attaching so many tracking devices to it it couldn’t move. And Nottingham Trent University refuses to reveal how many positive cases it has ‘to protect’ the reputation of these morons.

In another report on the same story, NUT says it is ‘investigating’, and the outcome of that means the students involved could ‘face a range of sanctions, up to and including expulsion.’ Frankly, the only acceptable outcome IS expulsion. They lied to police and engaged in an act which will inevitably result in further deaths (although those deaths won’t be able to be pinned on these twats, and NTU will defend them to the hilt if it keeps them).

Expel them now.

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