Class of 2018

On Thursday 10th January, Guildford Advanced Motorists hosted its first annual prize giving event celebrating the success of our Class of 2018.

Not only did some new Members who passed in 2018 attend, but Examiners, Observers and representatives of IAM RoadSmart also joined us for this inaugural celebration.

Well done Class of 2018!

Thanks to Steven McCormick for taking photographs.

What to do when you see blue

Blue, red and green lights are used by the emergency services along with sirens as additional signals to alert us of their presence. The list of emergency services entitled to use them is too long to list completely here, but day-to-day we see police, ambulance and fire services on the road, however we could also see bomb disposal, mountain rescue and even HM Revenue and Customs using flashing lights!

Note that the rest of this article assumes that the blue lights aren’t because a police car is wanting you to stop. You’re and advanced driver, why would they?

We often see the lights and hear the sirens of emergency vehicles around us, but do we know the best way to react?  The Highway Code has a few comments to make on this topic and I hope that this article will expand on this advice.

The first thing to do is put yourself in the position of the driver of the emergency vehicle and ask yourself “what are they trying to achieve?”

The answer to this question is typically progress. They will be on a call and are trying to get from A to B as quickly and safely as possible. The next consideration is how can you best help them make progress?

Ask yourself, will they be able to keep their momentum passing?  When slowing/stopping, are you positioning your vehicle such that they can smoothly and efficiently pass, or are you creating an obstacle, requiring them to slow down?

If the answer to the questions above are no, you may be better off keeping going with them behind you. They are highly trained so will be aware that in this circumstance that you’re actually helping them rather than hindering (in such cases they will probably turn the siren off).

It is also worth looking at any other signals they are giving, including their vehicle’s body language, do you think they may be turning soon, in which case, just keeping on going may be the best help.

Also consider what oncoming traffic is doing? If two of you stop close together, you may block the carriageway altogether.

When you do decide to pull over and stop, do not forget to signal clearly in advance so the driver of the emergency vehicle knows your intent.

One last point to note is emergency vehicles with blue and red lights have certain exemptions to the traffic laws to help them respond quicker, whereas vehicles with green lights do not.

Never forget that as a civilian, you do not have any such exemptions to break any traffic laws in an attempt to help the driver of an emergency vehicle.  Therefore, do not exceed the speed limit, do not cross red traffic lights, do not drive in a bus lane, the list goes on…

Stay safe and if you see blue, think: “am I helping or hindering the driver of the emergency vehicle?”

Why?

As advanced drivers we all know IPSGA and put into practice routinely.

We know that we constantly take, use and give information.

We know that we positionfor safety, then stability and finally view.

We know that we adjust our speedso is it appropriate for the hazard ahead.

We know that we change gearto match our speed.

We know that we acceleratethough the hazard, gently at first, then building speed.

But why do we teach this?

I ask this question to Associates whenever I take them out and it seems to throw them a little. They have studiously learned the IPSGA acronym and can unpack it when called upon to do so, but whyis a test of understanding rather than knowledge and consequently is a little harder. If I’m lucky I may hear something along the lines of:

“a systematic approach to any hazard”

But this is just recalling the first sentence of significance within the Associate course logbook; I want to hear more…

Where the rubber meets the road

I believe that tyres are the most important component of a car. Regardless of the cars safety aids, each tyre has a limited grip, and this will eventually run out resulting in some form of skid.

A tyre’s grip is used rotationally when accelerating or decelerating and laterally when cornering. The concept of tyre grip trade-offtells us that as we use rotational grip, less is lateral grip is available and vice versa.

What we put into practice during the speed and acceleration phases of IPSGA ensures that we initially use rotational grip through deceleration, then go on to use lateral grip while cornering, and back to rotational grip through final acceleration. Correct use of IPSGA ensures that we are using either rotational grip or lateral grip at any time but not both together.

Balance

A moving car is most stable when travelling in a straight line, with power to driven wheels, but neither accelerating or decelerating; this describes a perfectly balancedcar, with the weight evenly distributed across all four wheels.

When we corner, the car’s weight transfers to the outside of the corner and works those tyres harder. When we accelerate, car’s weight is transferred to the rear and when we brake, weight is at the front.

If we are both cornering and braking, then the car’s weight shifts to the outside front wheel and therefore works that tyre harder (and recall the issues of tyre grip trade-off).

Finally, by ensuring we change gear prior to cornering we can maintain constant power to the driven wheels; interrupting this with a gear change can unsettle the car’s balance.

Again, by using the separate phases of IPSGA, we ensure that we keep the car as balanced as possible while negotiating hazards.

Talking to myself

I have recently taken my Masters test, and with thanks to my Mentor, Dennis from Central Southern Advanced Motorists, and some last minute help from Ryan (one of our Examiners), I managed to pass. It’s been a truly humbling experience, in particular, Ryan providing demonstrating what the professionals are capable of.

The test is 90 minutes of driving, with an expectation of thorough spoken thoughts(commentary) throughout.

Despite my nerves, the assessment started well, and I was performing to the desired standard. Then 40 minutes into the test, my Examiner told me to have a 20 break from commentary; as I’m sure you can imagine, this was very welcome.

Five minutes later however, I realised that my standard of driving was deteriorating; the commentary had been a major factor in keeping my driving at the Masters standard as it was keeping me 100% focused on the driving task. So, I decided to turn it on again, but without vocalising it; I now call this a silent commentary. Within moments I could feel my focus returning and my standard rising. I think this played a large part in my passing the test.

This was something of an epiphany for me. Like many, I struggled with commentary as an Associate, finding it difficult to find the right words as quickly as required. But what I noticed in this brief period was that I had transformed from commentary being a hindrance to it being helpful. Since the test I’ve become even more acutely aware of this.

John, one of our National Observer team, once told me: “an advanced driver is a thinking driver, capable of self-development” or words to that effect. Well, in that moment I knew exactly what he was talking about. I now perform a silent commentary while driving most of the time.

I would encourage you all, Associates and Members to employ the use of silent commentaryin your day-to-day driving; I hope it works as well for you as it does for me. The only down-side is that passengers may find you a little less attentive than usual.

Some things to think about while performing a commentary, silent or otherwise:

Start off by setting the context and scene. What is the purpose of this particular drive? What are the prevailing weather conditions? Are there any other factors that you need to be cognisant of given the day of the week and time of day (school drop off or pick up)?

Then move on the immediate surroundings; the prevailing speed limit and what’s going on around you, especially the status of the traffic behind you.

Once this is complete, IPSGA (Information, Position, Speed, Gear, Acceleration) is your friend and a useful way to construct a good commentary:

  • In the information phase, mention all hazards you see; a hazard is anything which contains an element of actual or potential danger as well as anything that will cause a change in speed or direction. Mention (and perform) mirror checks when changing position or speed. We give information through signalling if there is someone who will benefit; in the commentary it is good to discuss why or why not you signal if it’s less than obvious.
  • The position phase is self-explanatory; mention changes of position and why.
  • For speed, we discuss and required change in speed to negotiate the hazard and if this can be accomplished through acceleration sense or by braking.
  • Gear changing is again fairly self-explanatory, though in an automatic, we may choose to manually override to prevent a mid-corner change.
  • Finally, acceleration – the term acceleration is probably better thought of as use of the accelerator pedal. We want to make sure we have power to the driven wheels at all times while cornering, then we can build speed after the hazard if appropriate to do so.

To add a little icing on the cake, observation linkscan be very useful and make you more attentive to potential hazards. For example: “I see bins are out, so I am expecting slow-moving dustcarts”, or “I see a lot of shadows on the road, as it was cold earlier there may be frost patches”.

Well, that’s enough of my written thoughts for now, until next time…

Speed

Firstly, I must say a huge thank you to Phil, my predecessor as Chief Observer, for all his hard work over the last few years. Phil helped build an amazing team of highly trained and committed Observers who collectively assisted 43 people in passing their advanced test last year alone. I must also say another thank-you to the Committee for supporting me in this new challenge.

For those of you who don’t know me, I passed my advanced driving test, with a F1rst, in January of 2014 and immediately signed up for my Observer training. I have been a National Observer for over three years and also hold the position of Vice Chairman. I recently re-took my advanced test in order to become a Fellow. Fellowship is a new initiative from IAM RoadSmart where for a marginal increase in the annual membership fee, you are retested every three years ensuring you keep driving to the advanced standard over the years. Professionally I run a small consultancy, providing information technology strategy services to the Financial Services sector, which means I usually have the pleasure of a daily commute to the City of London bookended by a delightful drive along the Surrey/Sussex border.

For my first contribution in the role of Chief Observer, I’d like to talk about speed … Many of us will have read recent news articles in which Chief Constable Anthony Bangham has called for motorists to be punished for speeding at just 1mph over the limit. Now I’m sure this is only of academic interest to our members, who will remember Observers telling them to be aware of the prevailing limits and to control speed. But such a change in policing policy and practice is not without its problems; it can lead to an obsession with the speedometer.  If we are checking our speed too frequently, we are not looking at the road ahead of us adequately and will miss information (the cornerstone of IPSGA). A speedometer check can be costlier in terms of time than you may think as our eyes need to refocus from distance vision, to near vision, and back. Head-up display technology is finding its way into more and more new cars, and after-market equipment is available; while this has some benefits (not needing to look down), it still requires us to make the switch from distance vision to near vision and back. It can also be a distraction in our field of vision and a digital speedometer (wherever it is) can make us number obsessed.

Unfortunately, a policy change intended to improve road safety could end up having the opposite effect if implemented.

So, what can we as advanced drivers do?  My advice to Associates for some time has been to develop their own sense of speed: to be able to judge speed accurately without the need to look down at the speedometer too frequently. How do we do this? In a 30mph zone, without looking at your speedometer drive at what you think is 30mph for a short time, then check your actual speed; odds-on you’ll be over or under by some small margin; keep repeating this exercise until you have calibrated your sense of speed. We get all sorts of cues to help us with this calibration: the obvious one being visual, but also road and engine noise contribute greatly. Once you have mastered 30mph, repeat this for other limits. With enough practice you will be surprised how your sense of speed develops.

I mentioned prevailing speed limits, this again can be a challenge to know. Please don’t rely on your satnav as the data can be out of date, and forward viewing camera systems can easily miss signs when they are hidden by vegetation, road dirt and damage. As advanced drivers, we must be masters of our own destiny and as always, good observation is the key: the most obvious is the change of limit signs, but also repeater signs in 40’s and 50’s, and the other cues of street lights, the urban/rural situation and single/dual carriage ways all help tell us what the limit is. Another tip: when you cross a speed limit change, vocalise the new limit as a method of reinforcing it in your subconscious.

Finally, managing our speed is not just about slowing down, it can also be about speeding up as well. While we must not feel compelled to drive at the speed limit, we must not let our own vehicles become hazards by driving too slowly for the situation around us.

Advanced driving can be summarised as effective hazard management– we must be acutely aware of the hazards around us and have a good plan to minimise the risk they present, while not letting ourselves become a hazard for others.

If there are any other driving topics you’d like to see discussed in this newsletter, do not hesitate to e-mail me at: chief.observer@guildford-iam.org.uk.