Recent statistics revealed by the DVSA show that the most common reasons for failing a driving test in the last 18 months were:
1. Junctions – observation
2. Mirrors – change direction
3. Control – steering
4. Junctions – turning right
5. Move off – safely
You may have noticed that the first two listed faults have been highlighted. Can you think why?
Well they are both issues relating to awareness of your surroundings and these two types of driving fault actually account for around 40% of all failed driving tests! This is really quite a high percentage when you think about all the possible mistakes which can be made when driving.
A lot of emphasis is often put on the reversing manoeuvres, as well as the various skills involved in controlling the car on the move. One of the common fears for a learner driver about to take their driving test is either messing up the reversing manoeuvre, or stalling the car. Whilst these things are obviously important, using your eyes when driving is absolutely critical to keeping yourself and other people safe on the roads!
What is interesting is that the statistics for accidents involving full licence holders follows the same trend. Of all recorded accidents in Great Britain during 2017, 39% of them were as a result of poor observations. So it seems that this isn’t necessarily something which just affects people learning to drive, but all drivers. Perhaps this indicates complacency is an issue?
So what can we do about it?
One thing which I try to get across when training people to drive is to use different focal points with your observations. Don’t stare too long in one place. Frequent glances in different areas both ahead and behind you is far more effective.
Also when using your mirrors in your driving lessons or on your driving test, don’t do it just because you have been told you need to! Try to gain a good understanding of the reasons why it is important and this way you will be more inclined to use them naturally instead of it being something you have to try to remember. Trust me when I say it will make your driving test far less stressful and drastically increase your chances of passing your driving test!
I am going to talk about two situations here, one for each of the two highlighted driving faults listed above and give a few tips for each situation.
The first example is waiting to emerge from a T-junction and there is quite a long steady stream of traffic coming from one direction.
– don’t just stare at the direction of the heavy traffic. Keep glancing the other way as well and scan for potential hazards.
– use your mirrors to monitor what is happening around your car to the sides and back. This constant awareness of what is around you will mean you are in a better position to move away safely once the chance arises. Think, that pedestrian who is about to cross behind your car… are you going to roll back in to them if you try to move off at that moment? I so, it may be better to wait a few more seconds until the risk has passed.
– you should anticipate that although there is traffic coming, one of them may decide to hold back and let you out. If this happens, it is still important you are aware of other road users who could be overtaking the driver who let you out. Look carefully for bikes, as they are harder to see and could be filtering through the traffic at a higher speed.
– expand your lines of vision. Look further away from you in all directions, as well as considering what is happening close to you.
– ask yourself questions. Who is giving me eye contact and therefore might let me out? The car which is indicating to turn in to this road… is it really turning in, or have they left their signal on by accident? Is there anyone walking towards that zebra crossing on the new road I am about to join?
The second example is moving away from a set of traffic lights which have just turned to a green light.
– while waiting at the red light, use that time to monitor what is happening around you. Check the side mirrors for bikes which may be filtering past the stationary traffic. Also keep alert for emergency vehicles.
– link what you see in the mirrors with what you see ahead and plan for what you may need to do next. If there is a parked car at the side of the road ahead and a motorbike is about to overtake you, you don’t want to be ‘blindly’ swerving around the parked car as you may hit the biker!
– scan the road for anything else ahead which may cause you to change your direction. Are there any potholes? What about the kids walking near the edge of the pavement, are they going to step out in to the road? You need to be prepared for all those kind of things and the key is to plan ahead.
– there is very little point in looking in the side mirror(s) at the point when you would have already hit something! Timing is very important and good use of the mirrors is about using them preemptively and being proactive.
– it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “oh I don’t need to bother looking on that side because there is never anyone there”. Remember, it only takes one time and you are potentially looking at some very serious consequences. This is why the examiner on your driving test may see this as a serious fault, when you may not. Bear in mind that you are being assessed on whether they feel you will be a safe driver for life, not just for the short time you that are on your driving test.
This is just one example of a scenario you will find yourself in and is quite a brief insight in to the thought process a competent driver will be going through. It is important that we all try to improve our standards of driving, regardless of what level of driving experience we have. Perhaps then we will change these statistics about learners failing the driving test, but more importantly the accidents on the roads out there which a lot of the time are completely avoidable.