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.