My driving ambition

PUBLISHED: 12:12 09 January 2008 | UPDATED: 21:23 26 October 2009

S-miles better: Examiner Graham Summersgill 
presenting Laurel with her certificate

S-miles better: Examiner Graham Summersgill presenting Laurel with her certificate

IT was a moral victory as much as a triumph when WHT reporter Laurel Smithson passed her advanced driving test. She embarked on the challenge after doing a safe driving feature and, having taken six attempts to pass her driving test, she felt she had some

Laurel with observer Mark Burton

IT was a moral victory as much as a triumph when WHT reporter Laurel Smithson passed her advanced driving test.

She embarked on the challenge after doing a safe driving feature and, having taken six attempts to pass her driving test, she felt she had something to prove.

Here's how she did it, some top tips for driving and how to do the course yourself!

I HAVE always enjoyed driving and wanted to improve my own skills, so the Skills for Life course with the Institute of Advanced Motorists seemed ideal.

It took me somewhere between 10 and 20 sessions behind the wheel with observer Mark Burton to get to the right standard, based on police driving principles.

I started with a drive where Mark observed my normal habits behind the wheel, and any bad ones that I needed to get rid of.

One of my worst was driving not smoothly, but trying to do everything at once in response to hazards (turning corners, junctions, etc).

This often included slowing, any gear change, indication and observation all at once, or even just pumping up and down on the accelerator without realising it.

But the IAM teaches a systematic approach to dealing with hazards called IPSGA. First you assess the situation from what you can see (Information) before making a decision on how to react.

Then you adjust your Position on the road accordingly, change your Speed to deal with it, change Gear if needed before Accelerating again once you have tackled it.

Another helpful tip here is to improve observation, so you are always thinking as far ahead as possible about what might happen, so you are prepared, rather than reaction observation.

One of the final stages was the commentary - explaining to your observer all of the new principles you have learnt and your thought processes as you tackle the roads.

I felt rather foolish doing this at first, but it soon really helps to focus you.

As the test day loomed, I didn't tell anyone other than my work mates when it was, to take the pressure off.

It was a very frosty and cold day, but I decided just to go for it anyway.

I was tested by former Met and Herts police traffic cop Graham Summersgill, who explained he wanted to see a drive that was safe, systematic, legal, smooth and at a reasonable speed.

After an hour-and-a-half's drive, not knowing how I had done, but feeling I had given it my best shot, I was elated to discover I had passed.

Although I am acutely aware that passing is just part of an on-going process to improve my driving and that there are still areas to improve.

I think doing the Skills for Life course, as well as improving your technique, really makes you more conscious that no one is a perfect driver and to assess your driving more when mistakes happen, rather than to just blame another.

But I feel a much more confident driver, with smoother driving and I find I take a greater pride in my conduct on the road.

Observer Mark Burton's top 10 tips for safer driving:

# Maintain excellent observation scan well ahead.

The faster you go, the further ahead you need to look. Always be aware of the situation behind through regular mirror checks. Think about what you see and act on it.

Nothing should ever come as a surprise or 'happen suddenly'.

# Always be able to stop in the distance you can see to be clear.

How far can you really see is clear? And do you know how much road it takes to stop from different speeds? Twice the speed, four times the stopping distance.

# Leave a safe following distance.

Two seconds is a minimum at medium speeds on a good surface - when the car in front passes a mark on the road, say 'Only a fool breaks the two second rule'. You should reach the mark just after you finish speaking.

# Keep a balloon of safety all round the car.

As well as a safe following distance in front of you, try to keep space beside you as well.

On a dual-carriageway, try to have an empty lane beside you except briefly when overtaking; that way, if something bad happens in front you may be able to avoid it.

# Stop for a rest if your attention starts to wander.

So many crashes are caused by a moment of inattention. Try to concentrate on driving all the time, and stop for at least 15 minutes if you are feeling sleepy.

# Don't get angry or competitive with other drivers

Most of us get annoyed by others' bad driving. Instead of competing or trying to get your own back, just let bad drivers get as far away from you as possible.

# Leave a safe gap when passing entrances or parked cars.

Passing parked cars and entrances, try to leave as much space as possible for doors opening, cars moving off or pedestrians stepping out. If you have to go close to parked cars to make room for drivers coming towards you then slow right down.

# To find out more, look at www.iam.org.uk

Groups covering Times Territory are the East Herts and Harlow, and North West London and Chilterns groups.

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