I want you to follow the road ahead unless otherwise directed by road signs or road marking. When I want you to turn I’ll ask you in good time. We all use this (or similar variations) and have done so many, many times. So why is it so important?
Firstly it’s the use of a standard phraseology. The driving test is set up to be as fair as possible. One of the ways to do this is to make the wording of the test standard. There are other things that come into this but we will not be covering that in this article.
As instructors it is important to get our pupils used to words that they will be hearing when out on test. The classic example of this done badly will be “I want you to take the next left. Right!”
Those of us that have a lot of overseas students will also realise that it is possible to pass a UK citizen test but not understand the words of the driving test. This leads to the driving test becoming a hidden english test. You might turn round and say that you could do your driving test in Welsh if you happened to be in Wales. I will point out that the test is done in the language of the government. There are a roughly similar number of Polish speakers in the country as Welsh speakers, but we currently do not do tests in Polish.
Secondly it’s an invite to look for, see and then understand the road markings, and the road signs. Now depending where your pupil is in their journey to getting a UK driving licence will affect how we treat the pupil.
A tool for looking at this is The Goals For Driver Education. This has for my purposes 4 simple levels:
- Control of our vehicle
- How we interact with other road users also known as traffic
- How we decide where we are going and how to get there
- How we as drivers are affected by what happens in our lives and how that might affect our driving and other drivers
Level 1. Control of Vehicle
Our new learners as they are learning how to control the car are introduced early on to the words that they will hear on test. Most of their attention will be focused internally on controlling the vehicle. What you as a driver trainer will probably see here is the pupil only seeing (and possibly driving towards) is a fixed point ahead. That could be the centre line of the road or more likely the kerb or a row of cars parked on the left.
We brief them on junctions and routines so they start to look ahead more and follow a safety line. Till they are looking ahead they cannot deal with the “road ahead”. As the lessons progress we introduce more and more of what to look for.
Level 2. Dealing With Traffic
Our learner now has more control of the car and greater confidence. We introduce them to more traffic and they are starting to interact with the other road user. Hopefully now their attention is starting to be focused more on what is happening outside the car rather than controlling the car.
As we are dealing with more complex traffic situations we want our learner to see and recognise which lane to be in as we approach. Sometimes the lines are faded. Other times the traffic will be covering the road markings. Besides looking at the road ahead we need to be aware of the signs.
The further ahead we are looking the better. But also a wider view covering what is to the side of the road. Like other junctions and road signs. Your learner will be prioritising information. It should be pointed out that they should also be checking what is behind as this will affect how they deal with the road ahead.
A big issue for most learners is roundabouts. Lots of roundabouts will want you to take the right hand lane if following the road ahead. Spiral roundabouts will ask your learner to be in a certain lane.
As your learner becomes more stressed, the more their field of vision narrows and the less that they see happening around them.
The way I like to look at it is:
Can they drive safely with me in a area that they know
Can they drive safely with me in an area that they don’t know
Can they drive with a stranger in an area that they don’t know, sometimes know as test ready
We see the above sign in context now.
Level 3. Driving with Purpose
This is about our journeys and how we make them. The driving test will measure this by the independent drive section. They will be asked to follow the road ahead. As we said at the very beginning it’s an invitation to see and understand the road signs and markings which is also how we move from where we know to where we don’t know.
A driving test will only cover part of the driving syllabus. The problem for the candidate is that they do not know which part. We as instructors should as far as possible cover all of the syllabus. Which in this case will mean being able to follow road signs and road markings as well as a sat nav.
Also it is important for your pupil to be able to deal with situations rather than places. Pupils that are unable to deal with new situations are at a distinct disadvantage when out on test. It’s not desirable to be only able to cope with test routes. The practice of following the road ahead and looking for and understanding the line and signs without a performance dip is a good sign of test readiness.
This has a very practical application once your pupil has passed their test. How do they get where they need to be? Once they pass their test they can go anywhere in the country.
Level 4. How Our Driving is Affected by Ourselves.
As an instructor we all have pupils who drive well, then suddenly have an awful lesson. For me these are some of the most valuable lessons a pupil can have. It’s a golden opportunity for them to realise that they as people can have an effect on their driving. But also what they can do about it. Things like rearrange appointments, give more time etc.
The process of following the road ahead will take more bandwidth. So with our pupils this allows us to see areas that need improvement. It’s getting them to look ahead, see the signs and road markings and plan. If a driver can do that they can control a situation by taking the appropriate action.