Advanced driving: Anticipate primary hazards and practise your spoken thoughts

Dawn Leggott, Fellow of IAM Roadsmart and member of Mid Yorkshire Advanced Motorists, shares with Keith Wevill a few tips for Associates taking the advanced driving course.

How long have you been a Member of IAM Roadsmart and what got you interested in the first place?

I first took the advanced driving course and test in 2001. I’d only been driving regularly for three or four years at that point. As a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists himself, my dad encouraged me to take the course in order to improve my observation, anticipation and planning skills, and therefore my road safety, and to gain more confidence as a driver. What it also ended up giving me, which I hadn’t expected, was a real love of driving.

When and why did you decide to become a Fellow?

Three years ago. Although I’d been a member of IAM Roadsmart for nearly 20 years by that point and had benefited from cheaper car, and even home, insurance, I had never had my advanced driving skills re-checked. To be honest, I knew that I had kept up some of the skills but had lost others. Five years ago I had a car accident on Leeds outer ring road. I failed to bear in mind a lorry driver’s blind spot as I was changing lanes in the rush hour. I wasn’t injured; thankfully my use of mirrors saved me from what could have been a much worse situation. It really put me off driving though, as it led me to lose confidence. After a couple of years of avoiding driving wherever possible, I decided to take the advanced driving test again. MYAM were brilliant. They allocated me an experienced observer – Charles Holland-Keen – and as the test approached, a couple of other MYAM observers also took me out on really helpful observed drives. In order to encourage myself to keep up my advanced driving skills, I decided to commit to becoming a Fellow and being retested every three years. I recently took the test again – in March 2022.

Congratulations on gaining a F1RST in that test. What are your top tips to any Associates who are about to take the advanced driving test themselves?

Firstly, I suggest you give some examples of anticipated primary hazards as part of your cockpit drill. For example, if you are doing your test on a sunny Sunday morning, there are likely to be lots of families out for a stroll, so inevitably there will be vulnerable pedestrians around such as children or older adults. Some people may be using mobility scooters. Some may be looking at their mobiles rather than the road. There may be walkers or a whole walking group on the road near a footpath or bridleway sign on a country road. People may be distracted by their passengers, hunger or just the sun in their eyes as they drive into or out of drive-through fast food outlets, garden centres, retail parks or petrol stations. Cyclists and horse riders may be making the most of the lovely weather. Throughout the drive watch out for all the hazards that you’ve anticipated in your cockpit drill, adjust your driving accordingly (e.g. your speed, choice of gears and/or frequency of right and left shoulder checks) and refer in your spoken thoughts to each anticipated hazard that you actually come across in the test.

My second tip would be to use spoken thoughts throughout the test if at all possible. You can watch examples of these on YouTube, such as (particularly starting around minute 8:00). That way the examiner doesn’t need to be telepathic – you will be telling them what you are observing, anticipating and planning. I made myself a list of comments that I might make in different situations e.g. on country roads, when considering overtaking, when on bends or at junctions, or when passing obstructions such as parked cars. I try to structure my comments as follows: X (what I can see) so there is a possibility of/potential for Y (thing that may happen) so I’ll do Z (an action). For example, “Farm vehicle sign. Possibility of slow vehicles ahead, a tractor emerging or debris (e.g. mud or hay at certain times of year) on the road, so I’m using acceleration sense by coming off the gas and changing down to third gear.”

Thirdly, look at all distances both in front and to the rear; in other words, drive with your eyes on full beam as well as in the middle and near distance. Don’t forget to look over to the sides too e.g. “We’ve got a cross view over that field; in the distance the road bends to the left and there is a warning sign.”

What advice would you give to any Associates who are just starting, or about to start, doing the advanced driving course?

You’ve probably been driving safely for a long time. Advanced driving is a different technique to what you learned in your initial driving test though. Make sure you are very familiar with the IPSGA system of car control. It can take a bit of practice to implement it consistently and correctly. Aim to make just one gear change per hazard. And don’t forget that the centre markings on the roads often give clues as to the potential hazards. For example, on the motorway, the shorter centre markings often become longer hazard lines near to slip road entrances.

Finally, what’s next for you then? The masters?

That’s tempting, but it’s another level of driving skill altogether. I have really appreciated the kindness and generosity of time that the MYAM observers have given to me over the last 20 years, so I feel it’s my turn now to give something back. What I would like to do is train to be an observer and help other Associates to pass the test. Maybe after I’ve been doing that for a while, I’ll get tempted to think about doing the masters!

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