Friday 19 December 2014

Don’t count yourself an experienced driver until you’ve covered 100,000km

Our Road Safety Authority expert this week looks at ways of making younger drivers better more quickly

Published 12/06/2014 | 02:30

You need to have covered 100k to be considered an experienced driver
You need to have covered 100k to be considered an experienced driver

Evidence suggests that a driver doesn’t really become experienced until he or she has 100,000kms under their belt.

When they have covered that amount they will have coped with most road, weather, pedestrian and traffic conditions and will have dealt with many hazards and challenging situations which helps to build driving competence.

But if there was a way of exposing those learning to drive to dangerous situations, in a safe environment, then maybe they could acquire the skills to deal with these risks in the real world much quicker.

Last week the Road Safety Authority published a document which proposed some changes to the practical driving test. Quite a bit of media attention focused on the proposal to introduce a way of testing a driver’s hazard management skills. If given the go-ahead, this could take the form of simple photographs, video footage or maybe even simulators, to show a hazardous situation and candidates would be measured on their ability to identify or react to the risk.

The aim is to try to ‘concertina’ a learner or novice driver’s learning so they become more experienced drivers sooner.

Last Friday the RSA hosted the annual meeting of the International Commission for Driver Testing Authorities. Attending were almost 200 of the world’s leading experts on the driving test. The main topic for discussion was ‘hazard perception and how it can be applied to driver training and testing’. Quite a bit of research has been carried out at international level on this subject, some by leading academics here in this country, and all of this will feed into the final outcome here.

Another reform that the RSA is proposing is that we introduce independent driving into the driving test. This is probably one of the most radical reforms being proposed.

It would mean driving without detailed instruction from the Driver Tester for a period during the test. Independent driving is being used in Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands and Great Britain, with some success. These are countries with the best road safety track records.

Reports suggest that candidates feel independent driving allows them to demonstrate how they can really drive, without constant instruction from the Tester. Studies show independent driving is very different from the driving required to pass the practical driving test.

Independent driving could work in practice by giving the candidate a set of general directions for a route, or asking them to drive to a local landmark.

A measure that’s also being proposed is to change the way candidates are debriefed after the driving test. One of the proposals suggested is to allow the candidate’s Driving Instructor to sit in the back of the car during the practical test, and to attend the feedback session afterwards. This is something that’s being done in the UK.

At the moment, eco-driving techniques are taught as part of the learning to drive process. They are covered in the practical test itself, but not scored over and above the safety critical aspects of the fault. Examples of eco driving include maintaining steady speed, making proper use of the controls when slowing and picking up speed, driving with low engine RPM. So, should we include it in the fault incurring aspect of the driving test?

It’s the 50th anniversary of the driving test in Ireland this year, so it’s a good opportunity to review and look at ways of improving it.

If you would like to have your say on the direction it should take visit rsa.ie and make a submission before July 18.

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