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…