I remember it well. The weather was clear and relatively warm with no rain forecast until late evening. Ambient temperature was 9°C and visibility was excellent.
I turned right into the cul-de-sac, executed a sound, three-point turn and reversed into a (small!) gap between two cars. The test drive was over. The examiner’s summary meant that I was now able to relax in time for the holidays. However, like all tests, it only marks a milestone on a journey: learning to be the driver I am capable of will be a continuous, lifelong process.
The examiner concluded: “A smooth, safe drive and at Gold standard. Well done.” The questions on the Highway Code were cursory – mainly because I had given a commentary for 80 minutes – but I answered them correctly anyway.
I committed two minor errors: one was taking a long bend in a national speed limit area (single carriageway) in fifth gear (instead of fourth), and an overtaking error. Yes, overtaking – the manoeuvre that takes up a chapter in Roadcraft and quite a few sections in the Highway Code.
I approached two horses and riders at the right speed and in the right position but, as I passed them and accelerated away, I revved too hard (in third gear) while accelerating too early and could have spooked the horses. Lesson learned!
The rest of the drive went pretty well: it passed so quickly because I was concentrating on observation and decision-making and giving an informative, clipped commentary. The driving “system” had become automatic and, as far as I know, I didn’t get anywhere near overlapping steering, braking and gear-changing.
There was one difficult turn, a left-hand, 270 degree uphill turn at a stop junction, but I held it on the clutch for a couple of seconds and pulled away smoothly.
As I went through changes in speed limits, I borrowed one observer’s practice of commenting on the new stopping distance. I use metres, so a 30 to 40mph change would be “Stopping distance now 36 metres” as I accelerated to 40. You do need to have total recall of your stopping distances.
For my reversing test (uphill and blind), I wound down my window and adjusted the nearside wing mirror downwards to watch the line of the kerb. I took my time over this and was deliberate; there are no prizes for speed here.
I had been involved with the Manchester RoADAR Group for nine months, starting with the May intake and carrying it forward to the Autumn Associate Course. According to my record card, I had eight outings with seven different observers from April to December. I learned something valuable from every one of them. The group has a positive, constructive atmosphere and, while maintaining a standard, provides feedback in a very helpful way.
My grades went from a mix of B grades and C grades on my first drive to almost all A grades on my last drive, spoilt by B grades on Roadcraft and Highway Code and a C on Cockpit Drill. These were things I could improve on in my spare time, so I worked hard on my cockpit drill and knowledge; I repaired some gaps in my theory, particularly the number of rules, safety points and hazards surrounding the decision to overtake.
I wrote a cockpit drill that I was more comfortable with and rehearsed it quite a few times, walking from the house to the car, shaking hands with an imaginary observer/examiner, sitting in the car and taking an imaginary observer through the drill.
My cockpit drill sequence goes:
- Car (model; engine; fuel type; technology; airbags)
- Outside (catches; tyres; lights)
- Fluids (oil; coolant; hydraulics; screen wash)
- Inside (seats/head restraints; mirrors; seatbelts; door/window catches)
- Start-up (clutch/brake depressed; warning lights; brake pedal pressure; moving brake test).
My acronym, for times of stress, is COFIS.
But back to the test drive. I was nervous but, like anything in life, good preparation does wonders for confidence. Expect the nerves and deal with them: in any case, your mind and body need adrenalin to be at their best.
The day before, I had cleaned the car thoroughly, paying particular attention to areas like the inside of the windscreen, mirrors and lights. I ran a complete check on tyre pressures, all fluids including steering and brake hydraulics (how often do we really check them?) and lights. I checked the angle of the screen washer jets and had recently put new rubbers on the wipers.
Being an older car, the Alfa Romeo 156 Sportback has suffered a few scrapes and, over the months of the course, I had replaced a cracked rear light cluster with a part from an online scrap yard supplier, a cracked battery anode/diode cover and a rear reflector. The airbags had been serviced and the warning lights checked so I was confident that all warning lights worked and went off correctly.
In the fortnight before the test drive, I wrote over 20 revision pages of A4 notes, with extracts from Roadcraft, the Highway Code and Traffic Signs and took notes from the very useful RoADAR session with an examiner that the Manchester Group had laid on as a social evening. I also did two intense test drives over a varied course around Cheshire and concentrated on relaxing and driving in my own natural style, while incorporating the Roadcraft system and acute observation.
I also read my car manual more carefully and realised how interconnected my vehicle’s ABS and EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) are. EBD automatically varies the amount of force applied to each of a vehicle’s brakes, based on road conditions, speed and loading. Usually coupled with anti-lock braking systems, EBD can apply more or less braking pressure to each wheel in order to maximise stopping power, whilst maintaining control.
I must credit observer and advanced tutor Mike Beavan with a session he gave me on taking bends on a single carriageway, national speed limit road with long and multiple bends. The secret is to control the throttle in a very subtle way, taking into account the vanishing point, while using variations in throttle pressure rather than any unnecessary braking. Driving becomes very smooth and good progress is made.
One mistake I made early in the course was to adopt the new system wholemeal and try and change everything I did. I ended up driving too cautiously and failed to make good progress when I could. Eventually, I adapted the system to my own, natural driving style and it became second nature but that took a couple of months.
What benefits have I gained from becoming a RoSPA Advanced Driver? The process of studying Roadcraft, and applying it practically, has improved my road sense and made me very aware of hazards of all types. Even as a pedestrian and cyclist, I have a much keener sense of potential danger on the roads.
My driving is much smoother and my passengers have commented on it. The car’s MPG has improved and I get up to five extra miles per gallon. I have contributed to road safety for myself, my family and the road users I come into contact with.
I enjoy my driving more. On each trip, I work on improving observation techniques and practical driving. I “read” the road much more clearly and get sheer pleasure from driving safely and well.
When my insurance comes up for renewal, I will explore any offers for RoSPA Advanced Drivers which reflect the reduced risk we pose on the roads.
I am now training to be an observer and that requires another dimension of observation and awareness which can do nothing but good to my own driving progress.
Jeremy Dent, member of the Manchester Group of RoSPA Advanced Drivers and
It was that time of year again for another RoSPA LGV test, but this time it was slightly overdue – and for good reason.
I had deliberately postponed my appointment with RoSPA examiner Bob Brittain by a few months as I was itching to get my hands on a 15.65m long semi-trailer truck and it was proving hard to come by due to delays with it entering Morrisons’ fleet.
When one eventually arrived at the distribution centre in Northwich, where I’m based, I was eager to get my mitts on it! By comparison a “normal” tri-axle trailer is 13.6m, which coupled to the tractor unit gives an overall length of 16.5m (or approx 58ft in old money), making the longer combination another six feet or so longer.
You may be thinking “why the need for longer trailers?”. Well, the government recently authorised a 10-year study to evaluate whether or not the extra load capacity would have any benefit in reducing the amount of goods vehicles on the roads, therefore reducing the effects of congestion and pollution on the environment. Personally, I doubt that it will as the extra capacity is only four pallets and the overall weight remains the same at 44 tons.
Getting back to my RoSPA re-test in November last year; I usually meet Bob in Congleton but this time he decided to meet me in Northwich. That was because I needed to spend quite a long time going over the differences with the trailer and explaining the different handling characteristics of it in the relative safety of the depot.
The tractor unit had been coupled to the trailer prior to Bob’s arrival, so camera in hand, Bob went round the vehicle with me, photographing anything that he was unfamiliar with.
Starting at the front, I demonstrated that the trailer was correctly and safely coupled and the air lines and electrics were secure. The front bulkhead houses a green light, which illuminates in the event of an axle overload, so it was out with the camera for the first of several photos.
Next stop was the trailer landing legs – everything secure here. Then it was onto the plate attached to the chassis, which shows the Department for Transport permit for the longer semi-trailer trial. Once again, Bob’s camera was clicking away.
A large warning sign at the back of the trailer gives the message “WARNING! Rear wheel steer!” along with more warnings that this is a long 16.5m trailer. I climbed up into the driver’s seat and moved the lorry into the middle of the yard, applying full RIGHT hand lock to the tractor unit, which in turn applies full LEFT hand lock to the trailer.
Bob’s camera was out again, photographing not just the amount of opposite lock, but also the change in camber angle of the trailer’s rear wheels. Without the rear steer facility, sharp turns (especially to the left) would be almost impossible to complete without mounting the pavement.
What in effect happens is that when the trailer automatically applies RIGHT hand lock, the rear of the trailer is “pushed” away from the kerb, thus allowing the manoeuvre to be completed safely. YouTube has some clips of this, just type in “long semi trailer trial”.
Once the cockpit drill and moving brake test were completed, it was out onto the road. I had devised a test route with Bob that took in all categories of road from town to rural and motorway, including passing over a very narrow humpback bridge.
If anything was to be my downfall it would be the bridge. Firstly, if we met anything coming the other way, things would get “interesting”, and secondly I wasn’t 100 per cent sure that we would fit easily anyway.
As the saying goes, “In for a penny, in for a pound”. In the event, we did meet someone coming the other way, but as I was in the middle of the road by this time, they had no choice other than to give way. No problem there then… now all I have to deal with is Crewe town centre.
Urban driving is where you do really have to keep your wits about you when handling a vehicle of this size, especially now that anyone on a pedal cycle thinks that they’re a budding Bradley Wiggins.
Making sure that you dominate your road space is the only way to keep yourself and other road users safe, and then there’s the problem of the extra trailer length and rear end swing caused by the steering rear axle. Rear steer is a bonus when turning left, as I’ve already explained, as the trailer is pushed away from the kerb, but when turning right the rear of the trailer is pushed towards the kerb and anyone tempted to try to squeeze up the nearside is in danger of colliding with the nearside rear corner.
With 15.65m trailers it’s considered best practice to approach any turn at as shallow an angle as possible in order to reduce this swing effect. I explained this to Bob in great detail via commentary.
Once we had cleared Crewe, it was onto the M6 via Sandbach and back to the depot for a manoeuvring session and the uncoupling of the trailer. A sensor is fitted to the rear of the trailer which automatically applies the brakes when you are one metre away from a loading bay. I hadn’t told Bob about this as I wanted to see what his reaction would be when the brakes applied automatically… and out came the camera again!
Uncoupling the trailer was followed by questions and answers, and then came the result – I had maintained my gold grade! It made me feel very proud.
Steve McKay, member and group tutor of RoADAR Merseyside
It’s that time of year again, when it’s cold, dark and damp outside. Spirits can wain but we happily replace all of our negative energy with that of festivities and happiness. However, it is always worth bearing in mind that you do not want your festivities to be spoilt by an accident that could have been prevented.
Running from November 19-25, Road Safety Week was held in the UK to help improve the safety of the roads. Citing from the Road Safety Week website, road crashes are not road accidents; they are preventable and must be stopped.
I think the main thing I would want you take away after reading this post is the fact that even though Road Safety Week finished on November 25, it doesn’t mean that the problem has disappeared. I’m sure you will agree with me. The idea of the week was to raise awareness but it also brings up some key points that are relevant especially in conjunction with the upcoming festive period.
As a driver on the roads you have a responsibility to keep yourself and others safe.
Do not be tempted to take the stress of Christmas shopping out on the car. We all know the problems that can be caused from this. It’s December, one of the busiest shopping months of the year and this can raise blood pressure due to the stresses of long queues, unavailability of requested gifts, high prices and busy shops. Make sure you drive calm; if you drive whilst feeling pent up then you are more likely to be involved in an accident due to your lack of concentration. Focus yourself when you are in the car and do not let the stresses get to you. Take deep breaths, and ask yourself are you safe to drive? Remember that a momentary lapse of reason from you could potentially ruin somebody’s life; it’s just not worth the risk. Other drivers will be on the road and you must be aware of them.
Your defensive driving skills are extremely important and have to be used to your advantage. Be aware of other drivers who may not be as experienced on the roads, such as learner drivers and those who seem to be driving in a dangerous manner. You should not have to tolerate this on the roads however, if you are prepared to deal with these other badly behaving drivers, you will be able to keep yourself safe.
Driving under the influence of drink or drugs is rightly illegal and should not be done. This is an important fact to remember, especially at Christmas, as what could be seen by someone as an innocent mistake could result in tragedy. What I’m trying to get across here is that you may not even realise you are over the limit; but that is no excuse in the eyes of the law. If you are drinking the previous evening then this action could result in you still being unsafe to drive in the morning. The best advice I can give you is not to drink anything at all if you are going to be driving and monitor your consumption if you will need to drive the following day to make sure you are safe.
Laws and speed limits are there for a reason and they are not something that you can ignore. In fact, when driving at this time of year, you should be slowing down as the roads will be busy, but also conditions are more likely to be bad. Bad driving conditions are a critical factor at this time of year; black ice could result in you losing control of your vehicle, so make sure you are prepared for this. Driving in the winter months throws up more potential hazards that you may not be used to if you have not driven in these conditions before. Visibility can be noticeably poor, so make sure you de-ice fully and can see out from the entirety of your windscreen, as even with a clear windscreen you will still have blind spots.
If you ride a bike, remember to use your lights and make yourself as visible as possible. High visibility jackets are available to buy and are definitely worth the investment as I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be sat in a hospital bed over the festive period.
Plan for long journeys, make sure you set out a decent time scale and take regular intervals at this time of year as it can be tiring driving in dark conditions. You need to keep yourself and your passengers’ safe as you have a duty of care to them.
Beware of snow covered roads this winter. Children are likely to be playing in the street, making snowmen and running about. Be alert when driving past the bottom of hills, because sledging children may not be able to risk assess as well as a driver and will have difficulty in bringing their sledges to a standstill.
If you can understand the dangers, then you will be in a better position to avoid accidents and drive safely. I hope you have an excellent and accident-free Christmas season. Drive safely and remember a moment of madness is not worth a lifetime of regret.
Matt Jones, on behalf of RAM Tracking
In writing this blog, which proposes a new approach to the training of driving instructors, I have drawn on the numerous resources I have found to be beneficial for driving instructors’ knowledge and practical skills, as well as my own personal experiences.
When making reference to the Goals for Driver Education Matrix (GDE), I see the rows and columns as life skills we use in many different contexts out-with driving and yet it is the GDE which defines who we are – the same issues we look at for novice, and especially young, drivers are the traits mirrored by driving instructors. They define who we are as a driving instructor and the use of reflection and self evaluation may further define the driving instructor we become.
There is consternation about novice drivers conforming in order to pass a test or to show the instructor, examiner or even parent what they think they “need” to do. Beyond the test, the driver will express more of their personality in their drive. Why is this such a surprise to some? These same traits are shown by instructors who qualify, do what they have to do to pass the ADI tests and then, at times, do what they believe is right, which can be in conflict with the best models and can limit their own, the driving schools’ and learners’ potential. This could be limited by addressing the higher order cognitive skills.
There are debates regarding the suitability of advanced driving for new drivers. When you look at the agreed definition of advanced driving, this is the same “driving” that all driving instructors should be teaching any student, whether pre-17 years of age, learner test, DSA part 2 or advanced. Maybe the term “advanced” is a little out of date in this context, when a student with a good learner test pass could then go on to immediately pass the IAM and RoSPA tests, although to achieve Silver or Gold from RoSPA will generally require more self development.
I believe that, if instructors were taught to the RoSPA advanced standard, it could be formalised as a vocational qualification, future-proofing their skills and maximising the investment returns of the instructor.
The roles and units within the following UK Driving Standards Agency documents could form an integral part of the course, being supplemented by additional resource materials where appropriate:
- Safe and Responsible Driving Standard (Category B)
- National Driver/Rider Training Standard
- HERMES Coaching Scenarios
- A Driver’s Guide to Advanced Driving Techniques.
I’m looking at becoming a trainee ADI, where do I go from here?
I would suggest that trainee ADIs could be given a pre-course “learning agreement” with questions to establish background knowledge and skills as well as their expected learning outcomes.
To start with, there would be a detailed overview of the course and trainers and trainees would be introduced to each other, with a strong emphasis on scene – and state – setting of the learning environment. This would include visualisation and timeline exercises to maximise the opportunity for positive outcomes and learning, as well as demonstrations and exercises of how to consciously change your own and others’ emotive states and how feedback can influence this.
Trainees would be introduced to “reflective logs” and “self reflection” which would form the backbone of their course and ongoing development. The DSA format of focusing mainly on faults is not best practice and I believe we could still use the same principles of “identify, analyse and remedy” for weaknesses, but with even more weight towards using the same principles for things that are correct i.e. identify what is correct, analyse why it is correct and what the benefits are, and then underpin why it is correct by doing it again. By using coaching strategies, the trainee and ultimately the learner driver would begin to identify for themselves what is good and what requires improvement, why that is the case and how they will achieve this.
Other areas that would be covered include:
- Recognised instructional techniques and the essential skills for coaching with strategies on how the trainee can make use of these and the other topics mentioned herein, to accelerate their own learning on the course as well as their continued development
- Assessing road traffic rules and procedures, while incorporating multi-occupancy in-car driver training sessions with peer feedback, achieving the desired level of driving style and commentary.
Trainees would reach the required standard within their own defined timescales with the support of their trainer at the best possible pace for them as “one size does not fit all”.
I believe the broad course outline above would be achievable for new ADIs entering the profession and would go someway to addressing issues previously lacking in areas of instructor training, which have led to the demise of some areas within the profession. It could go a long way to improving road safety generally by promoting a consistent positive emotive state and learning environment. This, in turn, would accelerate learning and contribute to the achievement of consistent successes for the trainees in relation to their own goals, ultimately ensuring the success and maximising the safety of their students.
I would welcome your views on my proposed approach.
Training director to On Board Training Limited and top Grade 6 ADI/Fleet and ORDIT registered driving instructor trainer
It is fair to say that winter is finally upon us – with more bad weather on its way. Last week, gales of up to 165mph battered the country, bringing chaos to parts of northern England and Scotland. We have heard about a couple of tragic deaths possibly related to the conditions and the Met Office has issued weather warnings for wind and snow.
Longer periods of darkness, snow, ice, heavy rain and freezing fog can make for treacherous driving conditions, as was the case particularly over the last two winters, so it pays to be prepared and adapt the way we drive to suit the conditions.
At RoSPA, we have issued some winter driving tips to help you stay informed and reduce the risk of having an accident. I have also recorded a video which summarises the tips in more detail to ensure you are fully prepared. Planning your journey in advance at this time of year could make all the difference and you should adjust your driving accordingly to suit the conditions.
It is important that you do not get caught out by Mother Nature this year, so make sure that your vehicle is in tip top condition before setting out on the road. Check the following:
- Lights are clean and working
- Battery is fully charged
- The windscreen, wiper blades and other windows are clean and the washer bottle filled with screen wash
- Tyre condition, tread depth and pressure (of all the tyres, including the spare)
- Brakes are working as they should do
- Fluids are kept topped up, especially windscreen wash (to the correct concentration to prevent it freezing), anti-freeze and oil
- It is also good practice to stock up on de-icer, windscreen wash, oil and anti-freeze and keep them topped up.
Among the most vital things to remember to check are the tyres. Make sure they are legal. We recommend that worn tyres are replaced with an equivalent new unit well before the legal minimum tread limit of 1.6mm is reached – ideally as soon as they reach 3mm. After all, the tyres are the vehicle’s only point of contact with the road and therefore need to be in excellent condition.
It is also worth packing an emergency kit, particularly on long journeys. An energy drink, blanket and the odd chocolate bar could make all the difference if you become trapped in a snow drift or stuck on a motorway overnight. We also advise carrying a shovel, tow rope, Wellington boots, a working torch, hazard warning triangle, first aid kit (in good order) and a fully charged mobile phone.
Hitting the road during the winter months should be approached with caution. If it is blowing a blizzard outside and hitting sub-zero temperatures, ask yourself, “Is this journey absolutely necessary?” Remember, conditions can change quickly and your chosen route could worsen as a result. But ultimately, the responsibility lies with the driver in determining what an “essential” journey is; just ensure you keep up-to-date with weather broadcasts and travel bulletins in order to stay one step ahead.
The key message for winter driving is space and plenty of it. In snow and ice you may need up to 10 times the normal distance for braking. That is why it pays to drive at a safe distance from the car in front. In snow, or on icy or snow covered roads, your speed should be reduced to limit your chances of skidding. Your stopping distance will increase massively, so adjust your speed accordingly.
To brake on ice and snow without locking your wheels, get into a low gear earlier than normal, allow your speed to fall and use your brakes gently.
Refresher driving training is a great way of preparing yourself for the dangerous road conditions which may may greet you on the roads this winter. Your employer may offer driver training or alternatively you can contact the RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders group in your area. To find out which is the nearest to you, go to www.roadar.org
And, if you do find yourself in trouble this winter, do not abandon your vehicle. Call the emergency services on your mobile phone or from a roadside telephone and stay with your vehicle until help arrives. Stay calm and try not to panic.
Bob Smalley, RoSPA’s chief driving examiner
The bikers from RoSPA Cambridgeshire Advanced Drivers and Riders like to do all they can to help improve the riding skills of their members.
On Saturday, May 21, 24 bikes gathered at the holding bay of RAF Wittering, in glorious sunshine, ready for a day of skills training – and all completely free of charge.
A team of tutors took over the very large maintenance area for a day full of exercises aimed at improving handling skills and giving the members the opportunity to practise things that it is just not practical to do on the public roads. The exercises ranged from countersteering through a slalom course to braking at high speeds and were designed to build up into a comprehensive package by the end of the day.
Peter Vasey from CADAR said: “The feedback has been really positive and we will be looking to run a more advanced skills day towards the end of summer. Everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves which is always very important. We intend to run these courses more frequently now whilst sticking to our ‘no charge’ approach”.
The RAF base is very keen to support road safety and it provides CADAR and their members with a safe environment away from the public roads.
Peter went on to say: “We really appreciate RAF Wittering allowing us to use the facilities; it is not easy to find space like this. We’d like to thank the RAF base and also Greenham Safety and Workplace Supplies who provided us with some of the training equipment. It is really appreciated.”
Training is free and open to all members on a first come, first served basis. The intention is to provide a two-stage skills course each year so that new members have a path for developing their skills even further.
If you are interested in joining CADAR and improving your riding skills, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01223 853596.
Thirty years ago, a man called Harry Hurt (really!) published a ground-breaking study into motorcycle accidents.
Harry and his expert team spent 1979 and 1980 racing to the scene of motorcycle accidents in southern California to try to work out why and how the riders had crashed. When they got there, they talked to witnesses, the attending police, any involved drivers and where possible the riders themselves. They followed up over 900 accidents on site and reviewed a further 3,600 accident reports.
The findings were presented in 1981 as “Motorcycle Accident Cause Factors and Identification of Counter-measures”, better known today as the “Hurt Study” or “Hurt Report”.
It was the first half-way scientific study of motorcycle accidents.
The full report is over 300 pages long, and Hurt and his team drew no less than 55 main conclusions. I’m not going to repeat them here (a search on Google for “Hurt Report conclusions” will find them for you) but I will summarise one key area:
Approximately three-quarters of these motorcycle accidents involved collisions with another vehicle, which was most often a passenger automobile. Intersections are the most likely place for the motorcycle accident. In multiple-vehicle accidents, the driver of the other vehicle violated the motorcycle’s right-of-way and caused the accident in two-thirds of those accidents. The failure of motorists to detect and recognise motorcycles in traffic is the predominating cause of [multiple vehicle] motorcycle accidents. The driver of the other vehicle involved in collisions with the motorcycle did not see the motorcycle before the collision, or did not see the motorcycle until too late to avoid the collision.
Before the ’80s were over, a UK-based study conducted by Booth looked at nearly 10,000 motorcycle accidents in the predominantly urban Metropolitan Police area.
It concluded that nearly two-thirds (62%) were primarily caused by the other road user. Half of the accidents were caused by car drivers, and 10% by pedestrians. The report found that two-thirds of motorcycle accidents where the car driver was at fault were due to the driver failing to anticipate the action of the motorcyclist.
Notice the similarities?
As the authorities and rider groups themselves picked up on the problem that motorcycles simply weren’t being seen in traffic and that many accidents happened when drivers pulled out in front of riders, one obvious suggestion was that motorcyclists needed to make themselves more visible
The result was that the use of day riding lights (DRLs) and other conspicuity aids such as high visibility clothing (hi-vis) were suggested in books like the Highway Code and in some cases became mandatory (permanently-illuminated turn signals in California, headlights-on in France and Australia, CBT instructors and trainees required to wear day-glo bibs in the UK – just a few examples).
Yet there were warnings that this might not be a fully effective strategy. From “Motorcycle Safety – a scoping study” published by the Transport Research Laboratory in 2003:
“The conspicuity problem appears to be partly associated with car drivers learning visual strategies that are not very effective at detecting motorcycles, and there is potential to address this by training – although it is not clear how effective this would be in the long term given that the basic problem may be the relative rarity of motorcycles.”
So what are these visual strategies they are talking about? Somewhat simplified, it’s down to three things:
- The way the eye works (a very narrow zone of clear focus right in the very centre and a large “fuzzy” area where what seems like a clear image is actually filled in by the brain from memory, rather like the way software interpolation on a digital camera “invents” detail from the surrounding pixels)
- The way the brain interprets what the eye sees (it detects what it sees using movement or light/dark contrast, but then identifies what it sees from a “database” of shapes it knows from prior experience are important – thus drivers tend to be aware of cars and trucks, but not bikes and cycles)
- Where and how drivers look (research shows they look for gaps, not vehicles, because that’s what they need to pull out into, and they look for an average of just half a second, which isn’t long enough to scan and focus on the full area between that gap and close up to their car).
So how does that lead to “detection failure”?
The first thing to understand is that your brightly-coloured and illuminated bike isn’t moving relative to the background until you are very close to the driver – this is called the “looming effect”. So you’re not picked up by the “motion detection” system, particularly when drivers are glancing rapidly to the left and right.
The second thing to understand is that your brightly coloured and illuminated bike only stands out if there is a strong contrast against the background (incidentally, hi-vis vests are too small to be effective, particularly behind a fairing – so use a sleeved hi-vis jacket). An increasing number of vehicles now also use DRLs, so the “contrast detection” system fails too.
In both these cases, even if the driver appears looks straight at you because you’re between them and the gap they intend to use, they tend to look behind you so you’re out of focus. Combined with the failure to detect you via motion or contrast, it means from their perspective the road ahead of the gap appears to be clear (even though there is a bike in it) so they pull out.
This kind of behaviour even has a name – it’s called “looked but did not see”.
And that’s the point I want to make about the effectiveness of DRLs and hi-vis.
Thousands of riders across the world are still injured or killed in this self-same accident that was identified 30 years ago.
If hi-vis and DRLs really worked, we’d find a big shift in the location of accidents since the 1980s when those first serious studies in accidents were done (when riders didn’t use hi-vis and DRLs). But we don’t.
We’re still having virtually the same proportion of junction accidents 30 years on. There’s been a slight drop in the frequency of accidents per vehicle mile, but the same accidents are happening in the same places in more or less the same ratios as ever.
So, the main benefit of hi-vis and DRLs is to help the driver to see you when you’re five or even ten seconds and more from collision (which is miles away in urban riding) and to remember you’re there when you enter the “killing zone”, which is where YOU cannot avoid a collision if the driver starts to emerge.
But the main drawback of hi-vis and DRLs is that just when you’d imagine they would be most effective (because you’re so close to a driver it seems obvious he can’t fail to see you), is when they don’t work and that’s when you’re at risk of a “looked but did not see” accident.
© Survival Skills Rider Training 2011
A colleague recently asked me whether I’m superstitious. Simple answer: “No”.
That’s: “No, not in the ‘Friday the 13th’ sense” – and I certainly don’t believe that stepping on the cracks in the pavement will allow the monsters to get me (well, not recently…).
But there are superstitions which make sense. Walking under a ladder, for instance, can be unlucky for you if the person “upstairs” drops their hammer… so some superstitions are a bit like stereotypes and clichés – there may be some “real” reason or “truth” behind the belief.
Similarly, superstitions are often supposed to involve “luck” – but it can be possible to swing that luck in your favour. I don’t walk under a ladder unless I’ve looked up first – and from some way back. Indeed, a friend says there are two types of luck: good and bad.
Many riders believe they’re unlucky when they’re involved in crashes – but I can’t help wondering whether they’ve relied on “luck” rather than choosing which luck they’ll rely on – like the quick check up before walking under that ladder. Indeed, the way some riders rely on racing leathers and a bright headlamp to keep them safe you’d think they’ve discovered the biking equivalent of a lucky rabbit foot – and they were never lucky for the rabbit…
Biking has its clichés and stereotypes as well as talismans, as riders tend to have the same basic types of crash again and again:
- Junctions: the well-known SMIDSY (sorry, mate, I didn’t see you) or RoWV (right of way violation)
- Corners: usually crashing at speeds where the bike could have got around, but the rider failed to achieve it
- Overtaking: often passing a group of vehicles in one move, without checking why the group is moving slowly.
None of these types of crash are big secrets. Indeed, there are even more detailed “cliché” bike crashes that continue to catch riders out – the “taxi does a U-turn” is a classic example.
So if riders have the same types of crash, over and over, involving the same basic situations, why is there surprise that the crash has happened? Why are they considered to be bad luck?
More importantly: why don’t riders make the effort to reduce their reliance on good luck? By looking at the situations you’re riding towards, and then either influencing the situation, or altering the way you react to it, you can change the “luck” and put it in your favour.
Let’s change the wording. Rather than “luck”, let’s use a more modern set of terms: why doesn’t the rider use risk assessment and risk management? Look at the road ahead, and start to take control – rather than sitting and waiting to see what happens. Instead of trusting to good or bad luck, use another more modern term: change from reactive to proactive.
Each of the three main types of bike crash has its own details, its own clues, and likely effects on the rider.
- SMIDSY crashes are more likely to be urban, at slower speeds, and involve injury more than death
- Cornering crashes are more often ‘rural’, at higher speeds, and more like to be fatal
- Overtaking is usually rural, and at very high speed.
Although all three have different build-ups – often by a very simple sequence of seemingly minor decisions – there are ways in which a rider can think about the situation ahead.
There are two simple questions to ask which give a good idea of this:
- How can that affect me?
- What if that happens?
In traditional Roadcraft terms, this is using “observation links”: finding a small detail, a clue, and using it to link to a likely outcome. This is hazard perception, but not in the form used within the DSA’s Hazard Perception Test where you’re marked only on reacting to developing hazards (where you must change speed or direction); instead we’re looking at risks, seeing potential danger before you must take urgent action.
Of course, it isn’t really as simple as proactive versus reactive, it’s more a matter of reacting sooner to a hint of a problem, rather than waiting for it to develop. Often your only early reaction will be to notice a potential problem then keep an eye on it in case it worsens.
Then there’s the extra mental step of looking for problems where they don’t exist (or, at least, can’t be seen). Here you’re using guesswork or imagination to create a mental picture of problems likely to occur. In an odd way, you move from superstition to fortune-telling and looking to the future! Of course, this is not so much “end of the pier palmistry” as informed guesswork.
Essentially, you’re looking and planning for possibilities from “clear, straight, road” to “narrow, blind bend with oncoming vehicle”, depending on what you can see ahead, and what your imagination tells you. In old Roadcraft terms:
- What can be seen?
- What can’t be seen?
- What can reasonably be expected to happen?
Having an idea, imagined or otherwise, of what you’re about to meet allows you to plan a response – or a range of them. This pre-planning reduces your reaction time if something does happen, and can help avoid panic reactions.
This might seem a doom-laden, down-beat, way of thinking about your riding. Well, perhaps it is. I call it being a happy pessimist! If nothing you’ve planned for happens, then you continue on and if something untoward does happen then it’s no big deal – you already have it predicted and planned for.
Having identified actual or potential danger, there’s one final action you must take, and that’s to believe what you’ve decided enough to take notice of it! For instance: if a narrow bend has a limited view it’s reasonable to expect oncoming traffic. In fact, it’s more than reasonable – it’s essential to think like that if you wish to avoid becoming a bonnet mascot! If you’ve decided that, what are you going to do about it? Your planning must allow for stopping within – at most – half the distance you can see is clear, and being prepared to stop if necessary.
I used the term essential to expect oncoming vehicles, and I ride with that in mind. Do you agree it’s essential, or do you rely on luck? When you arrive at a blind bend, can you roll a six every time?
© Malcolm Palmer
As a police rider there is much emphasis placed on the fact that you are very noticeable to other road users. It is drummed into all police riders that they should set an example, even when in a hurry.
Signalling is how we road users communicate. These days, riders who have been training the police way still use the occasional arm signal. Obviously they require careful consideration: for instance, giving a slowing down arm signal with little room to manoeuvre is not a good idea. The reason being that when you let go of the handlebar you begin to slow down and you may need to give a following driver more room to react to you. So, if flowing traffic is close, maybe a brake light signal might be better before you slow down.
On motorways or fast roads you may need to give more than one or two flashes of an indicator or risk other road users not seeing your signal. If they don’t see it they can’t react to it. At 70mph a rule of thumb is to give a left turn signal near the three hundred yard count down marker when exiting a motorway or dual carriageway.
You also have to remember that your motorcycle is a small target. You have to look and think well ahead in order to give yourself time to react to situations and also to provide others with time to see your signals. The rule of all training should be to create time and space for yourself: time to react and space to manoeuvre.
As an aside; if you think about adding small aftermarket indicators to your bike, do yourself a favour and check that they can be seen easily.
I was taught never to accept a signal at face value. How many times have you seen a signal given that does not tell you what the other person intends? While out training, I stopped a student from undertaking a van that was signalling right and approaching a junction on the right. Although the vehicle slowed down and kept a right-turn indicator flashing, the driver eventually turned left! It could have been a disaster if the rider had taken the signal at face value.
NEVER let any other road user have any percentage of YOUR safety
And how many times have I seen bikes being ridden with an indicator still flashing? Loads. Get the action of cancelling a signal into your head as a reactive process – and remember to check that pressing the cancel button actually does the job.
I very soon learnt that the police training manual Roadcraft is a concept rather than a rulebook. I put it in the same league as Dave Jones’ “Not the Blue Book”, which is one person’s idea about safer riding (and a good set of ideas it is too).
“Safer riding” is another concept. It means different things to different people in terms of the level of safety that each of us is prepared to accept. So, what does the concept mean to us as riders who appear to need some form of order by which we can ride? There are people who accept the principles of the System some of the time and those who use the principles all the time. Within this systematic way of riding there are individual levels of acceptance of the guidance that Roadcraft provides.
Take signalling. One of my first police instructors came up with a little verse to help: “I will always give a signal unless I don’t have to”. This is instead of: “I will only give a signal if I have to.” The emphasis is on giving the signal.
One signal that came up for discussion recently was the signal to join a motorway. What we use, as if I need to explain, is a right turn signal. This has been accepted as a change of inference in different situations: I intend to turn right, or deviate, or filter.
Someone told me that when entering the filter lane to join a motorway I always need the signal to change lanes. Police training teaches riders to question and consider every action. I don’t consider filtering from a slip road onto the main carriageway a change of lanes. If I don’t join the main carriageway, what am I to do? Stop? This is similar to approaching a parked vehicle on my side of the road. Do I need to signal right prior to overtaking it? What are the consequences to me if I don’t overtake it? What do other road users expect me to do?
So, having arrived on our slip road, matched our speed to traffic on our right, found a suitable gap in lane one, do I need to signal? What will that piece of information give to anyone on our right? Is it a courtesy signal? Does it provide another road user with relevant information? The answer is that if you decide a signal is needed then be sure to give it. Remember the person who may need to see your signal most may not yet be in sight!
As we approach a roundabout, we see there are two exits: one on the left and one on the right. The road is divided into two lanes, one marked left and one right. What signal could we give that would provide anyone else with a sign of our intention at the roundabout? If we indicate on approach are we giving a signal of our intentions, or confirming our intentions? If we signal right, for instance, are we saying we are turning right, or intending to exit on the same road on which we entered?
Signals require much thought to decide whether they will confirm or confuse. They should signal your intentions, not an action already begun. They should not be ambiguous, so be wary when overtaking stationary vehicles that there is not another junction nearby.
My police training tells me that only constant practise to make signalling a part of your riding style, and constant observation of the area in which you are riding, will do.
Senior Motorcycle Examiner for RoADAR and Diploma Course Director.
I’ve recently been asked about training techniques and the rigidity some trainers apply to their teaching. I believe that Roadcraft is a collection of principles rather than set rules we have to apply. My research took me to my first edition of Motor Cycle (sic) Roadcraft, printed in 1965.
Chapter 1 contains the “Ten Commandments of Motor Cycling” but no vehicle checks were included. The 1970 edition included a section on motorways and included “advice on mode of address to road users”. It focuses on being polite. Good heavens! The 1978 edition saw the Ten Commandments moved to the end of the book, but formalised vehicle checks appeared.
The big revamp came in 1996 where the layout changed and content grew in size. What I am hoping this will show is that the principles contained in Roadcraft have developed along with changing motoring conditions and vehicle controls.
The System was introduced for police riders and drivers to ensure that “their own standard of riding should be at all times above reproach”. (Good heavens.) By having this high standard it was hoped the public would co-operate with accident reduction and law enforcement schemes which police patrols and the Highway Code promote. It’s not a bad thing for members of the public to want to raise their standards too. After all, the RoSPA Gold pass is the highest standard available to civilian riders.
One area that appears to cause much angst is in the area of road position. The newest Motorcycle Roadcraft, chapter 7, talks about “zones of different risk” and introduces riders to the “relatively safe zone” between the extreme left and right of a particular traffic lane. It continues with “positioning for advantage” and discusses the nearside, central and offside positions of a particular traffic lane. I’ve heard it said that there are three positions to consider and indeed Roadcraft does state that. Unfortunate, in my view.
There are in practice an unlimited number of positions to adopt to defend a rider from risks. In support of my view I quote directly from my 1965 edition of Motor Cycle Roadcraft, chapter 5, positioning:
- One of the essentials of good riding is the correct positioning of the motor cycle on the road and this can only be achieved if the rider’s powers of observation are constantly exercised. The position which is adopted from moment to moment must be governed by the dangers, or potential dangers, which have been observed.
- The position to be taken up when approaching and while negotiating certain types of hazard has been explained in chapter 2 but no hard and fast rules can be laid down which will cover every hazard likely to be encountered. Something must be left to the intelligence of the rider.
I detect a theory in some circles that the latest central position is the “default” or a “safety” position to hold or return to when no other problems are detected. If this results in creating a fixed rule about adopting a road position in particular circumstances, then I would urge caution about that. Both Roadcraft and the Highway Code provide advice about the kind of risks from both the nearside and the offside of a road. This advice gives a clue that there are very few times when we should not be defending ourselves against risk by making changes to our road position to match the changing risk.
I’ve also heard it said that novice riders need fixed rules to apply until they learn to be more flexible in their application of the System. Good heavens. Is that inflexible learning, or inflexible teaching? We used to have “rules of the road”, such as keep to the left except when overtaking or turning right. Look to the 1965 Roadcraft for explanation. It says: “This must always be kept in mind but to adhere rigidly to it at all times may prove dangerous in certain circumstances.”
We have to progress. We have to debate, question and learn or we won’t develop. Progress, however, does not mean forgetting or ignoring the past because it was relevant once – and it might still be.
Our development with Roadcraft should include teaching methods and standards for tutors. That is why the advanced tutor test was developed from the RoSPA Diploma Course and test. It enables those with Gold passes wanting to teach advanced riders, to learn about the principles of teaching and tests their knowledge to a high level.
Let us get this message straight: rigid teaching and rigid learning is not how it should be. Our attitude must encourage all ages and types of rider to engage with advanced rider training. RoSPA training is, after all, a well established accident reduction and law enforcement scheme. Good heavens. Have you read that before?
Senior Motorcycle Examiner for RoADAR and Diploma Course Director