It’s all different in France

The road trip over to Dinan, France was the stuff of holiday lore.

A sixteen hour car journey that began well enough, except someone remembered that he had forgotten his sunglasses about half way around the M25; but nobody is perfect.

Eurotunnel cost us over three hours and I am not happy about it. Whoever set the specifications and operating tolerances of those trains needs retraining.

Once off the Eurotunnel and away from the very secure area surrounding it we were free to roam the French motorway network. The motorway system in France is mainly a network of well connected dual carriageways. This may sound insufficient, and it would never cope with British traffic densities, but most of the time the driving is easy.

Having driven in Europe, and France in particular, quite a few times before I am accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road. Even with this experience I still take my time, and an extra look, at roundabouts. It will forever feel weird to be going around the wrong way no matter how many times we venture forth.

French motorways are generally well maintained and the speed limit is higher. I do approve of the variable speed limit according to the weather conditions. Basically 10mph less in poor weather conditions.

When Debbie and I first crossed the channel with four small children there was a system still in place in some regions whereby in the countryside the traffic on the main road was obliged to give way to those emerging from the side roads. I should imagine over the years there must have been a few interesting incidents for the locals near Calais to recount of the wayward English doing it wrong but thankfully none of them include me.

If you should choose to join us dans le continent, or indeed wherever you may find yourself today, please drive carefully.

If I stall on my driving test will I fail?

I cannot even estimate the number of times that pupils, especially those with a driving test already booked, have asked me the; “If I stall on test” question.

A driving test examiner will not fail you just because you have stalled the engine. I do not care what you have heard or which of your acquaintances has given you this information. You will not be failed just for stalling.

Please allow me to offer you a thought: we are approaching a traffic light controlled junction very slowly and the lights change to green shortly before we would have stopped. You bring the clutch up and whoops, stall the engine. Now I may be wrong here (I am not) but the car is still rolling slowly in its intended direction of travel, you still have a green light, and nobody has died! You feel a bit daft but apart from that there is no injury.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the examiners are trained to judge each fault on its own merit. Not to take a more holistic overview at the end.

If your car is still moving

My advice to pupils in this situation is to restart the engine while the car is still moving forwards and carry on as if nothing had happened. If you can manage this then as far as the examiner is concerned nothing significant actually has. In this situation it is unlikely that the examiner will record a fault and even if they do it will be a driving fault.

If your car is stationary

If you have to stop, apply the handbrake, make sure you are in first (not third because mis-gearing is a common reason for stalling in this situation) gear, restart the engine and move off with a minimum of fuss. In this situation because you have stopped the examiner has to take into account how significant, if at all, disruption to other road users has been because of your stall but as long as you restart the car and move off in a timely manner with a minimum of fuss you would only receive a serious fault if in the opinion of the examiner there had been disruption to other traffic.

Do not do this!

The last thing that the examiner wishes to see if you stall is the application of some bloody great big re-start procedure. Imagine the first situation where you are still rolling. Some people have been taught to do the following:

Stop the car, apply the handbrake, select neutral, cancel any indication, restart the engine, prepare the car to move, perform an all around observation, indicate as necessary then move off.

Seriously! I have met newly qualified instructors who were trained to teach this. Either myself or another experienced instructor in the test centre soon advises that they change their tuition.

Examiners are not out to get you

If you stall more than once on a side road with no other traffic around but do regain control and continue without them having to advise then it will not be viewed too seriously.

Obviously the number of stalls is taken into consideration and each can be marked as a driving fault.

There is a certain amount of nervousness that is expected on test day and I assure you, if driving test examiners failed everyone who ever stalled then the number of passes given out at any test centre in any given week would be significantly reduced.

What are driving test examiners like?

Understandably pupils are always keen to hear an answer to this question once they are further along in their development stage.  The answer often surprises.

Contrary to hearsay they are not animatronic creations of some nether world that are secretly plugged into emotionally screened charging points at the back of the driving test centre at night, to be dusted off and faced forward in the morning.  Such stereotypes are most unhelpful to pupils who are genuinely asking after the experience of others who have already taken their driving test.  Indeed the correlation between having failed a test for which the vocal friend will not accept responsibility and the rolling out of a negative stereotype is clear for all to see, once someone points it out to them.

In the real world: driving test examiners are simply government employees undertaking (pun intended) a days work like any other.  They are well trained friendly human beings who are not out to get you, or your friend.

At the beginning of the test: their assumption is that you can drive perfectly well.  Why else would you have paid to undertake the formality of demonstrating your standard of driving to them so that they can issue you a full UK driving licence?

For the ones who pass: well they get a funny looking pass certificate which brings them immense pleasure and a smile that will not fade for at least the remainder of that day and a full UK driving licence through the post within the next fortnight.  The driving test examiner gets to enjoy the best part of their job which is telling you lot that you have passed!  For them this is a dollop of their job satisfaction comes from.  Who wouldn’t enjoy telling someone that they had passed their practical driving test?

Unfortunately: not everyone does drive well enough during their allotted time.  Often the reason is nerves, pure and simple.  Every driving instructor that there has ever been is familiar with the experience of driving a pupil home who recognises that they did make the major mistake marked on the sheet but just cannot believe that they actually did it.  We fully understand this, as do examiners.

From long experience: I can say that after the test it is quite common to hear pupils say that the examiner was actually rather nice.  Pupils who have failed their test do appreciate the sensitive explanation in the examiners debrief that is the reality; rather than the brusk dismissal of their performance that some are expecting.

It is understandable that you will be interested to hear about the experiences of others in relation to a test that you are about to take.  It will help you if you see the responses in context though, and definitely the person that you should pay the most attention to is your driving instructor who has seen and discussed far more test debriefs than anyone else you may know.  I have seen literally hundreds.  The local motormouth has only seen their own; to which they were clearly not listening!

Think if you drink before taking a driving lesson

I have just posted a piece in my Twitter account asking that drivers who had a drink last night think about it before driving today.  We all understand that a few drinks may have been consumed yesterday, and yes today is a different day, but the alcohol is no respecter of the calendar.

Pupils are pedestrians at any other time and may not take into consideration the lasting nature of alcohol.

It is annoying to driving instructors, and we all experience this, when a pupil gets into our car and we suspect alcohol.  Ask a simple question and sure enough, last night was party time.

Lesson over, fee paid in full, taken home unhappy, no sympathy (believe me, none at all).

Fancy arguing that with me!  I carry an up to date breathalyser in the glove compartment.

Quick story (and I have many):

Arrive to pick up a new pupil for their first lesson. Door opens for me to be greeted by, as it happens, my new pupil.  Once I introduce myself I am treated to, “Oh, I forgot about you.  Give me a minute”.  Not the first time and I am thick skinned.  Imagine my surprise when my prospective pupil shouts to mum that they are going on a driving lesson, reaches to the hallway table and picks up an already open can of Carling, swallows the remains and says, “Not leaving that for someone else to finish, let’s be off then!”  Turns out that was the third can of the day.

No driving lesson and a lecture on alcohol awareness delivered at the door.  No re-booking sought or offered.  Call me fussy if you will, believe me I have been called far worse.  The life of a driving instructor is not always plain sailing.

Would you park opposite a bus stop?

Seriously would you?  Clearly I spend more time than most driving in urban areas of Nuneaton than most and I am surprised at the number of people who actually do.

The Highway Code Rule 243 clearly states that you MUST NOT stop or park, “at or near a bus or tram stop or taxi rank” among its list of places where parking is legally prohibited.

Just to clarify, the term “at or near” includes opposite.

Think of it this way.  The bus drivers have well defined places where they are expected to stop.  You guessed it, bus stops.  If a bus comes to a halt at a bus stop and your car is already parked opposite the bus driver has not legally blocked the carriageway.  You have!

You are not legally allowed to park opposite the bus stop whereas the bus driver is obliged to stop there.

If we could all show a little more forethought and courtesy to others then driving would be a far more pleasurable experience.

Do you concentrate as much on car parks?

I just popped a piece on the Twitter account which moved me to think a little, it’s amazing how that can happen, even on a Sunday.

The practical driving test for car drivers was changed at the back end of last year to bring it more inline with the needs of today’s drivers and I cannot argue with that.

We are looking forward to taking a peek at the first ever Nuneaton Food Festival in Nuneaton town centre today and this is what sparked my thought.  The extra parking elements to the driving test were brought in because of the ever increasing number of insurance claims originating from use of car parks.

Lots of our fellow festival goers today will drive into town, as will I.  The insurance industry has been banging on for decades about accidents in the last mile of travel due to complacency and I cannot help but suspect that drivers on car parks have been feeling a little too comfortable that their journey is over because they have entered the car park.

Your journey is not over until you have parked the car safely!

Nuneaton is enjoying a few sunny days, but are you driving safely?

blue-bright-clouds-3768Sunny days are my favourite days and I am certain that I am not alone in expressing that sentiment.

I cannot help but wonder though how many drivers in Warwickshire are aware that direct sunlight and the heat that comes from it are two rarely mentioned, or even thought about, driving hazards.

Before a journey:

Some simple preparation can make your summer driving experience safer.

Tyres

Your tyre pressures can be affected by seasonal changes in temperature.  You should check both what they should be and what they actually are and adjust as necessary.  This has a major effect upon safety as well as the economic benefit of longer lasting tyres.

Sunglasses

Haven’t got any?  Treat yourself.  I always keep a pair of sunglasses in the car and will not undertake a long summer journey without them.

The road surface:

The surface of the road itself is not immune to the heat of the day.  The road surface softens at higher temperatures which reduces grip.  Never a great thing but one to be aware of

The effect of sun followed by rain

The effect upon the road surface of rain on a hot day can be a seriously slippery road surface.

Direct sunlight:

Have you emerged out of a sideroad on a sunny day and been unexpectedly blinded by sunlight?  For a few seconds there you were a long way from safe.  This also applies to any drivers or pedestrians in the area around you.

Plan ahead while driving

If you can see that you are about to leave a shaded area and turn into sunlight then be aware of the transition before it happens.  Having made this assessment in advance you can turn slower, and be taking visual information from either side of where the sun is.

While driving in the countryside or on open roads (if you can find one these days) your average speed may be higher.  Great, unless you are blinded again.  Look even further ahead to be aware of changes in direction.  Even if there is nothing on the road ahead of you, if you are approaching even a slight bend that turns towards the sun you will be safer approaching slower.  Just in case!

The heat of the day:

I love the heat of the summer days, probably because I am one of natures summer babies and deal well with it, lucky me.

Drivers are affected by heat

Sounds obvious but what steps do you take to look after yourself?

Dehydration

Dehydration can easily lead to headaches, lethargy and after a while blurred vision.  There are many branded drinks out there that are wet and refreshing but whoever you are and from whichever postcode you hail you are a human being my friend and water is by far the best thing to have.

Air conditioning or open windows?

You have to control the heat in the car else you will quickly be sitting in an oven.  If you have leather seats you may well have left the door open for a while before you could sit on them if the car had been sitting in direct sunlight.

Air conditioning is a boom but be aware of ventilation issues.  I use air conditioning in my tuition vehicle all the time on hot days but I make sure that one of the windows is open a little to allow fresh unconditioned air to mix in.

If you do not have air conditioning then the windows will be open of course but please be aware of passenger safety and advise children as necessary.

I once had a bird fly straight into the drivers side window of the car that I was driving.  It is a very rare occurrence but it took me unawares and as I am sure you will understand, I was very pleased that the window was closed.

Pets need to be cared for

Love your pets?  Make sure they are well cared for on the journey then.

Water is a must and please be temperature aware on their behalf.  If you are uncomfortably hot is will be even more uncomfortable for your family dog.

Do not be the arse that leaves either dogs or children in a car on a sunny day.  There are plenty of police officers out there who will happily provide a window breaking service upon request, and it can be arranged with only a phone call.  Think on!

Take some exercise

On a long journey breaks are essential to maintain a healthy, well hydrated and clear thinking driver.  The same is also true of passengers and pets.

Take the opportunity to get out of the car and experience the day outside of the car for a while.  Not only will the health of yourself and your passengers and pets be better cared for but you may well find that you all enjoy the day better.

Happy 70th Birthday NHS

All drivers should spare a moment to give thanks to the National Health Service today.

Who comes when we need them? They are the safety net that never sleeps. I sincerely hope that all readers have a very safe and pleasant driving experience today secure in the knowledge that if we need them, they will come!