You need a very good reason for getting up early on Sunday mornings – lucky then the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) Skill for Life course is worth the struggle, not least for the immediate sense of achievement.
Stratford-upon-Avon and South Warwickshire Group of Advanced Motorists is run by volunteers who give their valuable time to witness varying standards of driving – in some cases providing in-car therapy for the highly-strung. You have to take your hat off to them.
It appeared everyone had turned up for the class and while we waited to begin I quizzed one or two about why they were there. In the under-25 camp Kerry explained her employer had booked her on the course as her work involved a lot of time on the road. The experienced driver to my right was Paul. At 70 years old he said he wanted to refresh his skills – conscious of a few areas for improvement.
Week 2 covered Chapter 3 of the ‘How to be a Better Driver’ manual issued by IAM head office weeks before the course began. The classroom session took us through observation, steering, gears and brakes, acceleration and deceleration, with film slides and discussion before we each set off with a designated observer.
Before going anywhere, each driver – or ‘associate’ as we are known – is asked a series of questions about their vehicle. This covers the sort of checks that should eventually become second nature, like ensuring the windscreen isn’t damaged or dirty, checking the tyres are ok, that the licence plate is clean, and prior to pulling away, a quick check of the brakes.
In the classroom we’d watched a clip of a police driver in training to highlight the advantages of push-pull steering (feeding the wheel through the hands as opposed to exciting variations on the norm), block changing gears to save time, and considering potential hazards before spotted: eg fresh horse manure on the road could mean riders around the corner.
We now had the opportunity to put this into practise. Around Kenilworth it seemed everybody was out to play in the road. “Tell me about the possible hazards as we go,” observer James suggested, as dog walkers and cyclists crossed our path. The IAM consider such commentary useful to gauge a driver’s thought processes, and I was soon happily yelling about loose dogs, pedestrians and stationary vehicles along with the odd thing that wasn’t much of a threat at all.
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Back at base, James made notes – some good points, others that needed work and a reminder to study the IAM manual as homework. I'm going to have to get into the habit as Week 3 promises driving in town and country, manoeuvring, junctions, signals and cornering.