Reckon you’re a good driver? For many motorists – me included – the number of years of experience behind the wheel are often considered the measure for driving competence. And though that’s certainly true, with age and experience also comes bad habits.
So what’s an experienced driver to do? Happily, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) is here to help. Established 50 years ago, the road safety charity aims to prepare everyone to drive as safely as they possibly can, filling in the gaps from those practical and theory tests that seem like such a distant memory.
But how just how hard is it to get a big fat tick from the organisation’s rigorous advanced driving test? To find out, we teamed up with Mark Lewis, the IAM’s director of standards for an assessment.
Hopping into the driver’s seat, I’m suddenly getting driving test flash backs – that feeling of scrutinisation, turning an everyday task into something that feels almost overwhelming. Happily though, this isn’t quite so high-pressure – as this is just an assessment rather than the full-blown test, Mark puts me at ease with some friendly chatter.
Things start off badly. An advanced driver should know his car inside and out, but this being a borrowed car (excuses excuses…) I failed miserably at finding the hazard warning light switch without looking. Still, there’s not much I can do wrong when it comes to reversing out of a space, surely…
As it turns out, there is. Despite some pretty rigorous angle checking, and reversing back at a snail’s pace in case of anything fast-approaching, Mark points out that I still have a few senses that aren’t being utilised – suggesting I roll a window down so I can hear what might be coming towards me. This, evidently, is serious stuff.
Coming up to a main road, it’s time for basic error number three. “Tyres and tarmac” says Mark, as I suddenly realise I’ve not left enough space between me and the car in front. The reasoning is solid – it gives enough of a gap to allow me to drive around it should it break down, or worse still, the driver gets out in a fit of road rage.
Thankfully I do manage to claw some points back – namely on the motorway. As a hater of middle-lane hoggers, some stringent lane discipline and allowing for plenty of anticipation room meant barely a peep from Mark as we sailed down the M27. Quiet approval – I like this.
Then came the country lanes – and some helpful advice from Mark. Firstly, drive at an appropriate speed. The Hampshire lanes we were on may well be national speed limit, but it’d be daft to blindly drive along at 60mph. The key here is to focus on the vanishing point of the road – i.e. the furthest part of the tarmac that you can see. If it’s getting closer as you approach the bend, rather than moving away consistently, it’s time to slow down.
There are more tips to be had too – trees can often show the route of a road ahead, for example, but they also mean the potential for mud, leaves and even further branches later on.
Sure, it all sounds like common sense now – mostly because it is – but it’s amazing how easy it all is to forget while you’re driving. Even having a guy like Mark next to you, it’s all too easy to fall back into old habits too, and keeping your mind trained could be the difference between avoiding an accident and not.
Before I jumped behind the wheel, I sort of assumed that passing the IAM test would be an easy win. The reality though – as revealed in my post-drive chat with Mark – suggests there’s some work to do before I can join IAM advanced driver royalty.