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In The Driving Seat With…Blaine Walsh
This month we’re in the driving seat with owner of Driving-Intructor.tv Blaine Walsh.
A qualified driving instructor who now works on ‘training the trainers’.
1.Tell us a bit about what you do?
I am passionate about driving instructors teaching learner drivers to a high standard and teaching a life skill rather than just teaching pupils to be test ready. I have an online site that has hundreds of in-car videos of advice and lessons that assist instructors with their teaching. This is called ‘Training the Trainer’. I also have a learner driver section which again, has in-car videos but aimed at learner drivers to support their lessons with their instructors. I teach learner drivers too.
2. Was there anything that triggered you to take on this role?
Having twice been through the system to qualify as a driving instructor I realised that there was a better method for teaching people to become driving instructors so I began training the trainers. I quickly realised that I could reach a wider audience by sharing in-car lessons on a website.
3. Have you got any funny stories from your years of working with learner drivers?
Hundreds! The best one would have to be the first ever lesson I taught. I picked up my new pupil from the pub where she worked on a busy Sunday lunchtime. She got in the car and we had a briefing about the lesson; she had already had some lessons with another driving instructor so was not a complete beginner. As we were sitting in the pub car park my pupil’s boyfriend came storming out (they had just had a disagreement) and demanded she get out of the car. When she refused he lay across the bonnet holding onto the wiper blades to stop us from driving away. Out of the corner of my mouth I asked my pupil to tell her boyfriend to come round to the driver’s window to talk to her. As soon as he got off the bonnet she hit the gas and with spinning wheels bolted out of the car park. All of my training hadn’t prepared me for that.
4. If you could change one thing in a driving instructors programme what would it be?
I would like to see effective over-taking being taught. This can be done by two instructors buddying up to work together. One can be the overtaking car whilst the other is overtaken and vice versa. Overtaking needs a lot of planning and the lessons would include tractors, horses, lorries, bicycles etc
The theory of these lessons would need to be discussed well and then possibly replicate the different speeds of the different types of road users you would be overtaking using the buddy system. Pupils need to understand how long it takes to pull out, get past and pull back in again depending on the speed and size of the road user being overtaken. This is something that becomes a more natural manoeuvre with experience but our new drivers do not have this experience to fall back on so teaching and experimenting in a safe environment is crucial.
5. And what would you add?
I would ensure instructors teach more real world driving like multi-story car parks, drive-thrus, driving with distracting passengers and much more planning.
I would like to see driving on country roads covered too as 60% of road deaths are on country or rural roads. If a pupil has learnt to drive in a town or a place that has major roads this is very different to driving on rural roads that, despite usually having a speed limit of 60mph, are very narrow, sharp bends and high hedges. These roads are often the choice of cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders which new drivers are not expecting to come across if their driving experience has been on urban roads.
Pupils that have an opportunity to drive whilst being accompanied by a parent or other responsible adult usually get to experience more real world and post-test driving including distracting passengers and having to think more independently, just because the car they are in doesn’t necessarily have the backup of dual controls giving that security. Quite often these accompanied journeys will be an opportunity for learner drivers to drive carrying out everyday tasks like dropping a sibling to dance class or driving to college. Pupils drive in a more natural way rather than a robotic fashion waiting for an instructor to interject with advice. I believe that private practice is invaluable for learner drivers when their instructor feels they are ready.
6. What do you think is the key to driving success within learner drivers?
Planning is everything! Learner drivers need to understand the importance of being aware of what other road users are doing or might do that could impact on their use of the road. For example, you may be happy that you have a two second gap between you and the car in front of you but if that car has less than a two second gap between him and the next car in front then his stopping distance is reduced so you must increase yours. This would be the same if the car behind you is not keeping a two second gap. You would then need to increase the gap between you and the car in front of you.
Also, being aware of what other cars may do is vital. I believe that road rage comes from people not pre-empting what other people may do and therefore being surprised and not being able to react quickly enough. For example, people get cross when they get cut-up on a roundabout yet I always teach my pupils never to get next to another car on the roundabout and then there is no chance of this happening. Another example is to make drivers aware of what other vehicles may do on a dual carriageway. I am always very aware when a slip road is approaching, that a car may cross in front of me to get off the motorway or dual carriageway. To avoid a potential collision I always leave plenty of space between me and the car in front just in case the car in the lane to the right of me cuts across to leave the dual carriageway or motorway. The earlier you react the less you have to react.
7. What is the most valuable thing you have learnt being in this industry?
The most valuable thing that I have learnt is self-reflection. For example, if a pupil is just not ‘getting’ what I am teaching them it is my fault, and my level of instruction and type of instruction needs to be adjusted accordingly. I also need to make sure that my pupils are aware of what I am expecting from them and what in return, they are expecting from me and the lesson. It is so important that my pupils understand what their responsibilities are as the lesson progresses. Their responsibility will change during the lessons as I will talk them through the first few roundabouts and their responsibility is to follow my instruction. Then I will reduce my responsibility and give the pupil more responsibility by giving them the opportunity to notice the road signs and decided which lane they need to be in. Their responsibility will increase as they become more in control for the manoeuvre.
I have also learnt that it is possible to really change the crash statistics for new drivers based on appropriate training. I am not convinced that the shock factor of road safety campaigns really works. It all comes down to how well we teach our pupils planning, self-reflection and awareness of other road users.
Good planners are good drivers; Bad planners are bad drivers.