Advanced driving: what it’s all about

10 10 2009

Good news: I’ve passed my advanced driving test with the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).

Granted, it’s been about three weeks since I passed, but yesterday my membership card arrived, so all is well.

At first I couldn’t stand the course, but now I’d recommend it. The course was called ‘Skill for Life’ – the idea being that the course will give you improved driving skill. For life.

How does it all work?

You pay your fee to the IAM, either to head office or via your local group (see here). You wait a while for the administrative folk to type up your details, and then you’ll be contacted by your nearest IAM group. You’ll then go to a meeting, where you’ll be briefed on the IAM’s way of doing things and what’s going to happen.

At said meeting you’ll be paired up with an observer. You’ll arrange a regular time and place to meet, make sure everything’s sorted with paperwork, and you’ll go home to tell your family about the meeting.

About a week later you’ll have your first observed drive. You’ll meet your observer, essentially a stranger, in a quiet car park, probably in a place you don’t go to very often, and you’ll sit in a car with them for about one and a half hours driving on unfamiliar roads. You’ll then think to yourself: “The IAM’s way of how to drive is rubbish. The IAM is rubbish. They’ve anaethetised my enjoyment of driving. I hate this course.”

Why will I hate it at the beginning?

Because the IAM loves to be methodical and systematic. Here are a few things that I had to change to be welcomed into the advanced driving family:

  • When you reach some traffic lights (on red), you come to a stop, put the handbrake on, take the car out of gear, return both hands to steering wheel, release the clutch, slowly take your foot off the footbrake, and wait patiently for amber to appear (and then quickly put it back in gear etc).
  • When setting off from traffic lights you must remember not to change gear across the junction. Why? Because a junction is a hazard and you must have both hands on the steering wheel when negotiating a hazard. So you have two options: change into second early, or suffer the sound of your engine screaming up to near the redline until you are past the hazard at which point you can change into second. Frankly, I’d rather just use common sense: set off, look all around, make sure I’m safe, change gear. That way, everyone’s happy and I don’t look like I’m deaf because I won’t be screaming along in first, when second represents a more pleasant experience.
  • When taking a corner, position the car for maximum visibility. So, on a 40mph left-hand bend (say, with hedges lining the road), take the car out to the centre line and follow the corner round near to that line (for a right-hand corner, stay out to the left). Do this without cutting in. Before the course, I’d position in the best place for optimum visibility, but would then straighten the corner out, making the drive smoother. I admit, I’ll probably return to these ways, but only where I can see the apex and beyond.
  • Look all around and into the distance. Take in everything you see. One piece of advice I heard is that your eyes should be effectively on ‘full-beam’ not ‘dipped’. I was taught to look around where necessary, look far ahead, then the middle distance, then near distance, and just keep being observant. If you look far into the distance your eyes will take care of what’s nearer anyway, so it’s worth looking well ahead. This, I believe is the most valuable lesson you learn with advanced driving.
  • Don’t change gear on corners. This is understandable, but I think it’s a little bit anal. Yes, when you change gear on a corner you’re changing the balance of the car, so there’s potential for the car to become unsettled. However, on long corners I really don’t see much of a problem. Say you’ve just left a roundabout in second gear, and the speed limit is 50, and you start accelerating round this long corner, and then…bugger, you’ve accelerated to 50mph, your ears are hurting from all the noise made my driving along in second at 50, but you can’t change gear because you’re on a corner. You’re nowhere near the limit of grip for the car or the road. In fact, you’re nowhere near any limits apart from the speed limit, and you can’t change gear because you’re negotiating what is deemed a hazard.
  • Don’t brake and change gear at the same time. Why? First of all it’s meant to make the drive smoother. Secondly, it reduces wear on the clutch. Finally, it goes against the IAM’s beloved ‘system’.

What’s ‘the system’?

‘The system’ is the IAM’s approach to driving. It equips the driver with a foolproof system to use all the time when driving.

  • The system is:
  • Information
  • Position
  • Speed
  • Gear
  • Acceleration

So, you look for information, you use it and, if necessary, give information, then you position your car, adjust the speed so it’s appropriate for the situation, change gear (including matching engine speed to road speed), and accelerate away on your pleasant journey.

I found that I used to follow the system, albeit subconsciously, anyway. What I had to get used to was separating gear changing and braking. I was used to separating gear-changing and braking for long, fast corners, but for pulling into junctions it took some getting used to.

I’m young, will the older advanced drivers look at me with scorn and consider me a ruthless, demonic and tyrannous driver?

The odd one might, but my experience was that the group was very welcoming. There’s only one way to give a good impression of you and your driving, and that’s to do the course, drive well, reach test standard, and show you are a capable and safe driver who knows when speed is appropriate. In a YouTube video a police driver named Chris Gilbert says: “Everyone can drive fast, it’s knowing where to go slow that counts.”

I’m old, will the advanced drivers welcome me too?

Yes. They will. Like I said above, they’re a welcoming bunch of folk. Provided your eyesight and reaction times are up to scratch, you’ll be fine.

You haven’t convinced me, not at all actually, but I might do it anyway, should I?

Yes. There’s no harm in doing it. If you don’t like their ways of doing things, just pass the test and adapt your driving style after that.

I may have hated the first lesson, but it’s probably the most valuable thing I’ve ever done.

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4 responses

20 11 2009
Gwen Bridges

Fun reading! Honest too!

28 02 2010
Two years of driving « Petrol and Peter

[…] Three weeks later, hurtling along at 100mph before plunging on the brake down to 30mph was a distant dream. I was back on the public highway, this time under the critical gaze of one of my local IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) group’s observers. My first ‘observed drive’ was terrible. I hated it. My driving was criticised – nobody likes being criticised. But after I’d learnt to accept and use that criticism, it became a lot more fun. Then in September 2009 I passed my test. […]

27 04 2010
Two years of driving « Peter Adams Journalism

[…] Three weeks later, hurtling along at 100mph before plunging on the brake down to 30mph was a distant dream. I was back on the public highway, this time under the critical gaze of one of my local IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) group’s observers. My first ‘observed drive’ was terrible. I hated it. My driving was criticised – nobody likes being criticised. But after I’d learnt to accept and use that criticism, it became a lot more fun. Then in September 2009 I passed my test. […]

13 03 2013
lucas

Can i drive my focus tdi in 3rd gear in 30 mph zone when on test with iam. Please e mail me back. Nicola, x

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