by Chris Adamson
If we could eliminate bad driving most of these people would be alive, thousands could be saved from life changing injuries and the economy could save a fortune in expenditure - it is estimated that each fatality costs £1.5 million in terms of time and money spent by the emergency services, lost earnings, medical treatment and legal fees and even a non fatal accident runs up a bill close to £180,000.
The quickest and cheapest way to save lives and cut costs on our roads would be if everyone was a better driver - and there is a simple way of achieving this by taking an Advanced Driving course.
There are several organisations in Britain who offer courses designed to take driving skills beyond those necessary to pass the compulsory driving test - the best known is the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
The IAM was founded in 1956 (when 5,000 a year died on UK roads) by a group of motoring enthusiasts who felt that a better standard of driving would be an effective way to improve road safety.
They took a system evolved by the police and used by traffic patrol teams to reduce the number of crashes. This system - Roadcraft - formed the basis of what is now the IAM advanced driving course and is regarded as a bible for Advanced Driving.
Many people erroneously assume that Advanced Driving is all about hand brake turns and scorched rubber. In fact, it is just a systematic drive that puts the emphasis on safety and smoothness.
Most areas in the country have a local IAM Group made up of volunteers who give up their time to teach others the Roadcraft system of better driving - and motorcycle riding - under the IAM’s Skill for Life programme, which costs £139.
Having joined a local group (there are 200 of them) a new member is allocated to an IAM observer on a one-to-one basis who travels with them on a series of local routes, normally of an hour’s duration about once a week, although this is flexible.
During this time the observer will be offering advice on aspects such as vehicle preparation (i.e ensuring you have good all-round vision and are seated correctly), car control through the proper use of gears, brakes and steering input, signalling to benefit other road users, road positioning and courtesy to other drivers.
But, most importantly, they will emphasise anticipation and hazard perception which are the key elements in Advanced Driving and centre around constant observation and interpretation of the road ahead and movement of other vehicles.
This includes being able to predict hazards through observing elements such as the direction of trees lining a road, a change in road markings (90 per cent of drivers don’t know what road markings mean), weather conditions, changing road surfaces and the actions of other drivers.
I passed the IAM Test (first time) more than 20 years ago and I am sure that it has saved me from being involved in an accident on more than one occasion simply by my anticipation of what other drivers were about to do.
These have included realising that another driver has not looked before pulling out in front of me at a junction, pedestrians stepping off the pavement without looking, detecting braking cars some distance ahead, drivers on motorways changing lanes without signalling and, on one occasion, getting out of the way when a driver behind failed to stop quick enough.
Once the observer feels that the new member has reached the required standard they are put forward for the Advanced Driving Test which is based on the ‘system of car control’ as taught in Home Office Approved Police Driving Schools. The examiners have to hold the police advanced driving certificate, which is probably the highest driving qualification available in the world.
The test route is designed to provide all types of driving conditions and is about 35 miles long, lasts about 90 minutes and is followed by a comprehensive debriefing. It includes a running commentary where the driver explains what they are seeing ahead and how they are interpreting this, including identifying potential hazards.
About 80 per cent of those who are not successful at their first attempt are retested and of those, 85 per cent are successful at the second attempt.
IAM membership is open to drivers of any age so long as they have held a licence for at least three months and have no more than 11 penalty points.
Membership is renewed annually (currently at a cost of £29.50) but is terminated automatically if a member’s driving licence is revoked by a Court, or if the IAM Council considers the offence(s) serious enough to justify termination.
In addition to being a better driver, which could save your life and that of others, there is also a financial benefit from passing the Advanced test – most insurers recognise the qualification and offer IAM motorists preferential policy rates.
Advanced Driving techniques also encourage smoother driving which can lead to a saving of up to 15 per cent on fuel costs and IAM membership brings a host of other benefits, from breakdown cover through to discounts on weekend breaks.
For those who have held their licence for some time, DriveCheck55 gives older drivers an opportunity to check their driving is still up to scratch, while for those who just want a refresher, DriveCheckPlus is a short on-road assessment with an IAM examiner. This one-hour course improves confidence by identifying what you’re doing well and where you can develop.
If improving your driving or riding while learning more about the limits of your vehicle is for you, the IAM runs a series of Skills Days. These events are held at five major circuits around the UK and include at least six separate 'on-track' sessions with the focus on anticipation, cornering, planning, smoothness and understanding how your vehicle performs in a variety of situations.
As well as highlighting the need for driver skill, the IAM has a long history of campaigning for road safety. In 1971 the IAM ruling council voted unanimously that the use of seat belts fitted to cars should be made compulsory, beginning a campaign that led to the 1983 seat belt legislation.
More recently, the IAM campaigned for a theory element to be added to the L-test and former Road Safety Minister Steve Norris - now an IAM Vice President - highlighted the issue of drivers who use handheld mobile phones behind the wheel.
It may be a well used and somewhat hackneyed cliché but the saying that the most fallible element in the car is: ‘the nut behind the wheel’ still holds as true today as it did more than half a century ago when the IAM was formed.
For more information visit the IAM website www.iam.org.uk