They Move In Mysterious Ways

Learning how each pupil’s mind works is important. They can surprise you very easily.

I’ve had a handful of people who, when asked to turn right at a roundabout, have literally tried (or intended) to turn right – as if it were just a crossroads. In all cases they hadn’t heard the word ’roundabout’ and after questioning (and sometimes following tears) it became clear that they didn’t recognise the big concrete circle in front of them as a roundabout. In one case, this was less than 30 seconds after we’d just gone around it from the opposite direction!

You have to be ready for it. No pupil has ever actually done it: I’ve stopped them as soon as their hands have moved.

But one case I’ll always remember was driving down a country road with a pupil in clear weather and a clear road. We’re driving in a straight line, when suddenly I’m thrown from one side of the car to the other as we swerved sharply all over the place. After we’d righted and were going straight again I asked my pupil:

What did you do that for?

She said:

I was trying to avoid that horse poo in the road.

This was the same pupil who had once squealed and curled up in a ball in the driver’s seat while we were doing 50mph on a dual carriageway because a lorry had overtaken us. I simply took the wheel and – not quite following the Official Driving Instructor Teaching Guidelines – said:

Don’t EVER do that again

And she never did. She was the most entertaining pupil I think I’ve ever had.

On a more serious note, some people have real problems to deal with. I was teaching a pupil with dyspraxia and we’d sorted out his initial inability to raise the clutch gently in a real driving situation. When stationary he could find the bite gently, but when moving off his left leg was like a bungee cord: Boiing! Up like a shot.

One time we were driving at 60mph on a straight road. It was nearly 10pm, dark, and there were no other cars around. All of a sudden he just turned the wheel and we were heading towards the kerb. When I pulled us over and talked to him about it, I asked the question:

What made you turn the wheel in that situation?

He answered:

I honestly don’t know.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

You get some pupils who are absolutely brilliant to teach every way you look at it. They book regular lessons, rarely cancel, always turn up, and they never cause you a problem.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve had pupils who have cancelled or changed more lessons than they’ve actually taken. I’m flexible to start with, I warn them if they carry on taking the mick, and I get rid of them if they do it again after that (I had one who had cancelled or rearranged 4 out of his first 5 bookings, then didn’t turn up to the next one he’d specifically arranged during a school holiday. To make matters worse, his dad reckoned he should be test-ready after only 12 hours, having never driven before!). To date, that’s only two out of hundreds of pupils I’ve ditched.

I have one who has only ever let me down once: I turned up one Saturday morning at 9am and he didn’t show. It turned out he was comatose in bed with a hangover. We don’t do Saturdays anymore.

I have another who had let me down by being at a music festival when I turned up to a booked lesson (apparently his phone battery had gone dead and he couldn’t contact me, nor I him). He’s on a final warning because the next lesson I turned up for he was absolutely paralytic at 6pm.

The other one I got rid of had used up all the possible excuses. One time she was painting her bedroom and ‘forgot’ the lesson. She was ‘ill’ more times than I have fingers to count with. But the best one was when she called an hour before her 6pm lesson – she was at school and the exam, which was scheduled to start at 3pm, still hadn’t begun. The last straw was when she was ill yet again. I simply told her I couldn’t afford not to teach her anymore.

To be honest, it’s best when they just tell you the truth: ‘I can’t afford the lesson this week’.

That’s becoming more common with the credit squeeze and all.

Not Driving Related, But…

Just listening to the radio between pupils and I heard that a promotional video for the 2012 London Olympics had been withdrawn because of complaints. Guess why?

Some moron had used a portrait of Myra Hindley – who was serving a life sentence for serial child murder until her death in 2002 – as part of the promotion! You can read the full story on the BBC website.

Whoever did that is just further proof of the plummeting intelligence levels we have to put up with in the UK these days. How stupid could someone possibly be to even think of doing this?

Good Feeling

A very old post – one of the first I wrote, in fact. My style has changed a lot since then.

I have a pupil who is taking a long time to grasp certain aspects of driving. She’s been having particular problems with road markings, road signs and signals, and roundabouts – in spite of having done well in excess of 50 hours training between me and her previous instructor. Well, we went out yesterday and dealt with some of the biggest roundabouts in this area and I think she’s got it at last!

Admittedly she still sometimes over-reacts to the red light (slamming the brakes on) and not the green arrow saying she can go when she comes up to those phased light signals. She just seems to see things differently to everyone else. But the signs are good for the future.

Overtaking… Again!

Two more dangerous examples of overtaking on Saturday whilst out with a pupil doing Pass Plus. We were on a 60mph road – a known accident blackspot (almost daily someone nearly manages to kill themselves, and every couple of weeks one of them succeeds) – doing 60. Typical Saturday afternoon traffic. A blue Toyota Aygo (VN56 XRM) driver uses his peanut-sized brain to the max and overtakes in the face of oncoming traffic. You should have seen the faces of the two middle-aged women in the car he almost collided with! He spent the rest of the length of the road just in front, so what he thought he was proving is anyone’s guess.

Then, about 40 minutes later a black Toyota Corolla (GV52 XMR) carried out an equally dangerous stunt – with equal evident purpose – at traffic lights.

Bad Day/Good Day

You get highs and lows in this job!

Yesterday started off bad. I was on my way to my first pupil who had her test that day. Just left home and was travelling along a 30mph dual carriageway at precisely 30 when a Gorilla in a pratmobile (shaved head, tattoos, black vest) came flying up behind and tailgated as close as he could possibly get. He was really close. Once I was sure he wasn’t going to overtake I signalled to move into the right lane, as I intended to turn right just ahead, and as I moved he typically (and I know it is deliberate when they do it) chose the same time to do the standard prat manoeuvre of swinging out and trying to go past. I pointed to my head (sorry, but I’m not perfect by a long shot when it comes to reacting to these neanderthals). He pulled alongside to try and exchange opinions – though precisely what part of his driving (tailgating, breaking the speed limit, attempted dangerous overtaking) he thought was worth defending is anyone’s guess. I provided him with a descriptive four-letter word, starting and ending with a ‘T’ to go and look up in his Ladybird Big Book Of Words and continued on my way in a legal manner. Meanwhile he ramped it up to about 60 and carried on his way.

It got worse when I picked up my pupil. She’s failed several times already and I can tell by her mood and manner whether she is going to drive well. Her mood was not good. Her driving was great, though. We did the warm-up and she successfully completed all the manoeuvres to a high standard (last time she failed for hitting the kerb when doing the reverse park – something she never does in lessons). My biggest worry, though, was what she would do if she failed. The previous times she’s been inconsolable and has had the worst fits of crying I have ever witnessed in this job or anywhere else. Well, she failed (only four faults, but two were deemed serious) - and she was devastated. She was hyperventilating and breathing into a brown paper bag!

So far, my day was ruined. I hate it when they fail.

Next lesson was another pupil whose test was that afternoon. He’s also failed a couple of times previously - drives great on lessons with me but just can’t hold it together on test, as he gets very nervous. But he passed! His mum was made up, and so was he. It was especially nice because he is off to University in a few weeks and this was pretty much vital for him. Well done SG-N!!!

Old People Cross(ing)

In the UK we have a road sign which warns you you’re near a rest home or other area where you might encounter elderly or infirm pedestrians (shown here).

Old or Infirm People road sign

Old or Infirm People road sign

According to a story in the press this week (various newspapers, but full story in the Daily Mail) campaigners are demanding for it to be scrapped because it is ‘insulting to today’s fitter, healthier senior citizens’. They’re saying that it should be replaced with traffic calming measures (it often is) or a new image which is more politically correct.

Help The Aged senior policy officer Lizzy McLennan (26) says: “Very few older people are hunched over, with a walking stick.

“They are assuming everyone who is old looks like that, and they don’t.”

Erm, no Lizzy. They’re not doing that, nor have they ever done so (and at your age you probably wouldn’t know that). What they are doing is warning you that you might encounter infirm people.

Gordon Lishman (no age given), director-general of Age Concern says:

“The motivation behind these signs is positive.

“However, in practice a reduced speed limit in such areas, as implemented in school districts, would be a more welcome way to achieve this.”

Hold on, Gordon. Don’t get carried away. School districts also have a road sign irrespective of whether or not they have traffic calming measures. Haven’t you seen this one? And while we’re on the subject, do children actually look like that nowadays?

Barry Earnshaw (65), chief executive of Age Concern Lincoln says:

“I am 65, so therefore I am considered an elderly person.

“The sign doesn’t represent older people as they are today.

“There should be a generic sign that is representative of all vulnerable pedestrians, regardless of age.

“The objective is to make people slow down – there needn’t be separate signs for sifferent types of pedestrians. It is very outdated.”

Of course it is, Barry. I’m sure your ‘generic sign’ – perhaps a smiley face or something – would be really useful outside schools, stables, and hospitals and would prevent a great many injuries and deaths. But what on earth would be the point of putting up a warning sign at all if senior citizens nowadays are all fit, athletic, superheroes? It must just be my imagination that they’re building so many care homes and ‘retirement villages’ around the country.

At least some people haven’t succumbed to senility just yet. The Taxpayers’ Alliance said the objections were ridiculous and a waste of public money. Campaign director Mark Wallace said:

“They should pay more attention to the real concerns of older people – rising taxes and soaring household bills.”

Problem is, Mark, the ones kicking up the stink probably don’t have to worry about those things. That’s why they have so much free time on their hands to come up with ridiculous stuff like this. Whatever happened to eating ice cream on the benches in shopping centres and trying to get on the bus 10 minutes before their bus passes become valid?

Waterfowl warning sign

Waterfowl warning sign

But the best response has to be the one that came from the Highways Agency. A spokesman said they would not be making further alterations.

“To change every sign in the country would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds – and a change in the law.

“It’s not a simple process, and I don’t think most people would see it as a high priority for government spending.”

Quite. But while we’re on the subject I think the RSPB ought to start a campaign as a result of that highly offensive sign warning of waterfowl. Every duck and moorhen in the country should be compensated for the gross insult that sign has delivered concerning their appearance.

Dangerous Overtaking

I was out with a pupil this evening (OK, 21/08/08 – I was moving the blog) and in the space of less than 15 minutes we had three examples of very dangerous overtaking.

First of all, we’re driving down a 60mph road actually doing 60. This silver car (X615 OGO) with two canoes on the roof rack overtakes the people carrier behind, then us, and then a truck further ahead. All in the face of oncoming traffic (and the road is an accident black spot). He was doing at least 80mph.

Within 2 minutes we reached the the roundabout at end of this same road and I’d asked my pupil to turn right. She’d seen this other silver car (KA05 HFW) coming up behind at great speed and – as learners do – she therefore hesitated for a second in moving to the right as the road became two lanes, even though she was already indicating. This was all the female **˜driver’ (and I use that term very loosely) needed to push past. At least the boyfriend in the passenger seat saw the words I mouthed at them as they went by. I doubt the woman was aware (or cared much), driving as dangerously as she was.

Finally, as we make the right turn and accelerate up to 70mph we’re being tailgated by a green VW Polo (V687 FUY). At the next roundabout the female (again) driver tries to overtake on the roundabout in the wrong lane (fails, as my pupil is a good driver and is making good progress). Once we’re off the roundabout, the Polo driver then tries to overtake at a set of traffic lights (fails again, as my pupil is now doing 40mph in a 40 zone). She finally manages to overtake in the face of oncoming traffic less than 200 metres before she turned left into a housing estate. It’s hard to fathom how the minds of this kind of person work.

You see, there are a lot of people in this world who really shouldn’t be allowed out unsupervised at the best of times – even though it is politically incorrect to dare say this – and yet they somehow contrive to pass their driving tests when they are clearly abysmal drivers with abysmal attitudes and ought to be on a register somewhere for their own and everyone else’s safety. So they see a learner and their peanut-sized brains carry out the necessary basic computations: learner car = slow = overtake. The problem is, if I’m driving (or a good learner) then the ‘slow’ part isn’t correct, but they are unable to correct their calculations. Their tiny minds scream ‘overtake, overtake’ and they cannot alter that.

At least they tend not to stay in the gene pool for very long.

Taxi Drivers

One thing you notice when you are a driving instructor is how certain groups of drivers behave on the roads. Taxi drivers, for example, fall into two categories. The official **˜black & whites’ – that’s the big cabs you can legally flag down – stop anywhere they want, and the more incovenient or dangerous the spot, the more likely they are to stop there. Private hire cabs – the ones you book by phone – typically drive everywhere at 50mph, even when they’re executing one of their familiar U-turns in heavy traffic on a main arterial road without the use of indicators. It saves fuel, you see.

So perhaps the one I encountered this evening ( well, 20/08/08 – I was moving the blog) needs to go back to Taxi Driver College. I was with a pupil and we were driving through a set of traffic lights – the kind where the single lane becomes two on the approach and then becomes one again after you’ve gone through. It had rained quite heavily and there was spray, and it was fairly dull. The pupil was driving at 40mph and the lanes were just merging back into a single. We’d had the usual rush of VW Golfs and Corsas determined to get past just so they could sit in front of a learner instead of behind one. But right at the last minute a taxi comes flying up and slams his brakes on just in front of us, and then spends the next two miles tailgating the cars in front, resolutely refusing to make eye contact. It was dangerous enough for us to have to swerve and brake harshly. This, of course, is standard taxi-driver behaviour, but when the road eventually became a dual carriageway he sped off at around 80mph in a most un-taxi like way. I suspect he was probably embarrassed by what he’d done and was uncomfortable driving around those who’d seen him do it.

Why Do They Do It?

I was out with a pupil last night (20/08/08 actually – I’ve been messing with the blog software) and we were driving in the left lane of a two lane road. Our lane became a bus lane after about 500 metres and I’d pointed out to the pupil that she should plan ahead because there were parked cars in it. Meanwhile I was watching this guy in a people-carrier who had been following us about 3 car lengths behind for the last quarter of a mile. As my pupil approached the bus lane merge I could see this idiot speed up just enough to prevent her from moving out. He had to break the speed limit to do it, since my pupil was doing exactly 30mph, but then he just sat alongside us. My pupil was obviously flustered and the instant the car twitched (obviously, I wasn’t going to let her have an accident) he sounded his horn. You could almost see the look of joy on his face – similar to what it must be like if you win the lottery. It was probably the highlight of his whole week sounding that horn at a learner.