Driving a path to safer motoring

Economic policy: The Star's deputy editor Paul License
Economic policy: The Star's deputy editor Paul License
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As our roads become busier and the price of motoring goes up, Paul License went on a journey to find a safer, more economical way to drive with the Sheffield Institute of Advanced Motorists.

BRITISH motoring was, more or less, in its infancy when some forward thinking drivers decided it was already time to make life safer on our roads. The Institute of Advanced Motorists was born.

Its intentions were simple: people reached a certain, basic standard when they passed their driving test but to be truly safe and secure on the increasingly busy roads, driving had to be steered to a higher and safer level.

All over the country, local groups were established to pass on the message – and the skills – of the IAM.

And one of the first was to be established in Sheffield, set up in 1956 (and later chaired by The Star’s celebrated motoring correspondent Lesley Driver).

The group quickly captured the imagination of motorists in the city who saw the benefits of being a better driver.

For a good number of years the members met in a hotel car park, where the lucky ones got to sit in a warm caravan while the rest had to shiver outside in all weathers.

Today they meet on the last Sunday of the month at Davy Social Club, on Prince of Wales Road, allowing them to wait in the warm while colleagues take would-be members on introductory drives to check motoring techniques.

The group currently has around 200 members, both men and women from all walks of life and representing all age groups.

Group vice president George Beal, who has been a member since 1974, said: “Nowadays the IAM not only teaches people to be safer, better drivers it also teaches you how to save money.

“Better driving technique means less wear on the tyres and engine which, inevitably, saves money. You also save on fuel costs because you are taught to think ahead, use the brakes less and drive more smoothly, using less fuel.

“We are affiliated to the national Institute of Advanced Motorists and help to coach drivers in improving their skills. The ultimate aim is to pass the IAM’s Advanced Driving Test.

“But that’s not all. Like any positive learning experience, it has many benefits. Being safer is just the start as people also gain a greater sense of confidence and driving enjoyment.”

Underpinning this is the IAM’s Advanced Driving Test, the ultimate goal of their Skill For Life programme. This sees motorists go for a number (usually six but it could be more) of observed runs with an IAM member who helps you improve your motoring skills.

These are done at a time which is convenient for the candidate.

When the qualified observer believes you are ready for the test, candidates go for an run with a senior observer.

If all goes well, you are ready for your test, which is conducted by a Class 1 Police Driving instructor. At that point you become a fully-fledged member of the IAM. As a member of the IAM, you not only save money through more economical driving you also get a wide range of discounts, such as up to 50% off car services, cheaper insurance and cheaper airport parking.

Thousands of drivers take the Skill For Life programme every year. And almost all find the experience enjoyable, the observing excellent, and often say it was one of the best things they had ever done.

All observers have passed the IAM Advanced driving test then have further training and take an observers’ test.

Added George, who has run the George Beal Driver Training school of motoring since 1982: “Life on the road has changed drastically since I started driving. Of course, the roads are busier but the techniques people are taught have changed over the years. We use brakes to slow and gears to go these days. No matter how experienced you are behind the wheel motorists would benefit from a session with one of our members.

“And motorists are far less tolerant of learner drivers. They seem to be constantly cutting them up and showing no patience whatsoever.

“Such drivers could certainly do with a session or two with an IAM observer.”

“We pride ourselves on the very high standards demonstrated by every member of our team, all of whom are volunteers.

“Once you have passed your advanced test you can become an observer too! It’s a great way of keeping your skills up to date.”

The Skills For Life course, which includes a year’s IAM membership, costs around £130. Ordinary membership is £30.50.

The IAM in some areas also runs courses for motorcyclists, heavy goods drivers and cyclists.

MY wife doesn’t drive. It’s a double blessing. There are times when it would be lovely to have someone else take the wheel. On the other hand, it is nice not to be criticised.

And, bless her, she mostly keeps quiet while we drive, with the exception of an occasional sigh or sharp intake of breath when things go a little wrong.

So it was quite an experience, after 40 years of blameless motoring, to have another motorist take to the passenger seat. And not just any old motorist.

This was Mick Coley, a qualified observer with the Sheffield Branch of the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

He joined me on my first of half a dozen observed runs, as I negotiate the IAM’s Skill For Life programme, with the aim of passing their driving test. And Mick didn’t keep his opinions to himself.

He told me I shouldn’t use my brakes so much, checked whether I had taken notice of road signs as they disappeared in the rear view mirror and even slapped my hand as I made to change gear at an inappropriate moment.

Welcome to the world of advanced motoring or, to be more accurate, the very first baby steps on a journey which may see me earn my wings – of whatever it is that Advanced Motorists wear on their lapels. This was my first driving lesson on the IAM’s Skills for Life course. I’d not had a lesson since I passed my test at the age of 17, 44 years ago!

And to say I was nervous is a major understatement.

Now to be fair to Mick Coley, he is the nicest, most patient instructor I could have wished to have.

Slapped wrists aside, he quietly and confidently put me through my paces.

But 44 years is a long time, allowing me to pick up quite a few tricks of the road-trade which, I quickly learned, are out of fashion.

We use brakes to slow and gears to go, I was told in a tone which suggested there was no room for discussion.

Therefore, working down the gear box as I approached a junction or obstacle is now a thing of the past.

And the letters IPSGA are imprinted on the insides of my eyelids. That is the way Advanced Motorists are taught the sequence of actions to be adopted when approaching a hazard (be it roundabout or crash scene).

They stand for:

INFORMATION: look, listen and think to gather information about what is around you to make sure any manoeuvre you are about to make is safe for you and other road users.

POSITION: when it is safe to do so, move your car to the correct line on the road as you approach the obstacle.

SPEED: slow down using the brakes and the car’s engine.

GEAR: at the right – and safe – moment, select the gear you’ll need as you drive off.

ACCELERATE: drive away, safely and confidently once the road is clear.

Sounds easy when it is written down but it felt like juggling jelly as I was forced to think carefully about something I had done automatically for years.

Under Mick’s gentle coaxing, we followed a circuitous route around Rotherham, seeking out as many roundabouts as possible to practice the IPSGA technique.

And by the end of the two hour session – which had begun with a kerb-side description of what would happen during the lesson and how advanced motoring would save money and could save lives – I have to admit that I was feeling more confident.

I know there is a long way to go (I have weeks of instruction ahead of me before I will learn whether I am ready for the IAM Advanced Driving test) but I genuinely can already feel some benefits.

I seem to have more time to judge the road ahead, I feel the journeys are smoother and there is a confidence in my actions. It is too early to judge, but I am reliably told that I will also be saving money.

And in these straitened times – and to a died-in-the-wool Yorkshireman – I can see no better reason to put myself through the unaccustomed shock of having a driver settle into the passenger seat alongside me and pat my hand in an increasingly reassuring manner.

Getting more from driving

IF you are interested in getting a taste of Advanced Motoring, the Sheffield group run free taster sessions once a month.

These take place between 9.30 and 11.30am at the Davy Sports and Social Club, in Prince of Wales Road, on the last Sunday of each month (if it is a bank holiday weekend, it is on the Sunday before). The next is this weekend.

A trained observer will be your passenger and tell you basic tips on how you can improve your driving to make you a safer and more economical motorist.

After that, you can simply drive away and work on the advice you have been given or sign up.

The Skill for Life course entitles you to all the help and support you need to get you through your test.

This includes as many ‘runs’ as needed with an observer until both feel happy you are ready.

The course costs £139, including all driving sessions, a welcome pack, driving manual, a year’s IAM membership and four quarterly IAM magazines.

Oh, and you get safer, cheaper and happier motoring for life!

Contact Sheffield IAM att www.sheffield-iam.com or email info@sheffeild-iam.com

Or you can call Robert Baybutt on 0114 2369679 or Marwood Dingle on 0114 2306352.