Why being ready matters…

A year or so ago, I got a new pupil. This pupil had come to me with a test booked. She had some kind of disagreement with her previous instructor, and somehow ended up with me.

I did an assessment lesson, and found that she was some way from test standard, but she seemed to pick up well on what I was trying to teach her, and we agreed that if she put the work in, it was possible to get her to where she needed to be. We also agreed that if she got to perhaps a week before her test date, and she wasn’t ready, there was always the option of postponing her test for a few weeks so that she could get the extra tuition she required.

We  both worked very hard, and although I had some misgivings, she put in quite a few hours in the last week, and took her test. And passed. First time. A real success story! Go us!

Except it wasn’t.

She had no money to buy a car so she didn’t drive for several months. Then when she did, she found that she couldn’t really drive. She was causing problems to other road users, and had several near misses. Unsurprisingly, she found driving frightening and had lost a lot of the confidence she’d picked up during the few weeks she had lessons with me.

I did a refresher lesson with her, and to me it felt like if she’d had to do her test again she would have failed badly. After that lesson, I didn’t see her again. Whether she tried further refresher lessons with a different instructor, or chose to carry on regardless,or had given up driving and sold her car, I have no idea. I suspect the latter.

Thing is, once you pass, you’re on your own. Nobody is going to help you or take over control of your vehicle so that you don’t hurt yourself or someone else. It takes time, repetition and practice for ideas and methods to become something automatic. If it isn’t something you can do pretty much without thinking, you really can’t do it properly. If you’re a driver and you’re reading this, you probably understand what I mean. If you can drive and listen to the radio, or have a conversation with your passenger, you’re driving without thinking. I’ve heard this stage described as “unconsciously competent”

The stage before that is called “consciously competent” and you can really only think about one thing at a time. Try doing two sums at once or doing some unfamiliar task while being distracted and you’ll get the picture. It’s only when it happens at a deeper level that you can multitask effectively. When you drive, you’re putting a huge amount of craft into controlling (using all of your limbs and senses) a vehicle, through a complex and dynamic environment. If you can’t do it without having to consciously think about it, you really can’t do it.

So I dislike intensive courses. I will do them, because I’ve got to earn a living, and for some people it’s really not a problem. I don’t think they always produce very good drivers though, and my job is to do my bit in improving standards, and ultimately, reducing the number of deaths and injuries on Britain’s roads.

Also, if your test is close, and you’re not confident, or for that matter, if your instructor feels that you’d be a poor driver afterwards, the best advice I can give you is to get further training before you take your test, even if that means postponing your test for a few weeks. If you fluke it, ultimately, you’re not doing yourself any favours.

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