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1. What is Advanced Driving?

Imagine you are driving down the road, and someone pulls out of a side road in front of you. You just manage to stop without a collision.

Now imagine you are driving along the same road the next day, and you are approaching the same side road. You will have a heightened sense of the possible danger, so you will be taking precautions to avoid a similar situation. You will probably drive a bit more slowly and in a lower gear. You may position yourself out from the curb a bit more than usual to get more of a view into the side road. You may actively look into the side road rather than just having a peripheral awareness of it. You might even sound your horn to let everyone know that you are there.

Advanced Driving is like the second day. You have a heightened awareness of hazards, and an active response to those hazards. Rather than this just being on one piece of road and for a few days following a scare, with Advanced Driving you are doing this all the time in all driving situations. As an advanced driver you will always be aware of what is happening on the road, and be aware of the potential hazards, and you will have worked out a plan to deal with the hazards safely.

We will train you on using a system to do this, and it is the same system that is used by police drivers. Your overall driving will be safer, since you will have planned a way of mitigating the hazards before you get to them.

2. Do I have to take the test?

No. We are quite happy for you to take part in whichever components of the training you want. The test is well within the capabilities of most drivers, so we will encourage you to take it, but we will not pressurize you to do so.

a) You can only do the in-car training with us if you have purchased the Advanced Driver package from the main IAM. This is because we are only insured when you do this. The package includes the price of the test, and this is not refundable if you decide not take it.

b) You can take the test at any time within a year of joining, and if you want extra training beyond the normal course, then we are happy to try and help you within reason.

c) If you just want a "try-out" then you can do an Assessment Drive. This will give you some time in your car with one of our Observers, and will give you a flavour of what to expect on the course.

3. Can I just sit-in on a course to see if I like it?

Please contact us here to discuss this. Note that we will not be able to do any in-car training with you until you purchase the Advanced Driver course from the main IAM. (See FAQ 2.)

4. What if I am no good at it, or I do not like it once I have joined?

Advanced Driving is designed for ordinary drivers, so it is very unlikely that you will be unable to grasp the concepts and put them into action. If you really cannot get on with the training then we can do some one-to-one coaching or assign a different Observer, but very few people need this. Once you have purchased the Advanced Driver package, we are unable to give you a refund if you discontinue the course (See FAQ 9.).

5. What skills will I need? Do I need to know "fancy driving" techniques?       

Advanced Driving is ordinary driving on ordinary roads. We do not do anything different to what you experienced when you were first learning to drive (though a portion of most drives will take place on Motorways).

The main thing that you will need is a willingness to put some effort into your driving, and try hard to do things more precisely than perhaps you are used to. This may seem "pernickety", but it is important to have accurate control of the car. This accuracy is then combined with the hazard perception and planning to make an Advanced Driver.

6. How much time will it take?

The standard course with us is six driving sessions, each of which will take about two hours.

If you take the One-to-One option then this will also take about twelve hours of driving.

However, whichever type of training you choose, you will also need to practise when you are driving on your own. If you do not normally drive far, then you will need to find opportunities to spend more time in the car to get this practice. You will also need to be very familiar with the Highway Code, so you may have to allocate some time to this.

7. Will I need to pay anything else?

Once you have purchased the Advanced Driver package, then all you will have to pay for is fuel for your car and probably a copy of the Highway Code. Your only other investments are time and commitment (See FAQ 6.).

8. How hard is it?

Advanced Driving is designed for ordinary drivers, and we do not make it hard. On the other hand, we do not make it easy, and you will be required to commit time and effort to changing your driving habits and learning new skills. It is unlikely that you will pass the test just by turning-up to the sessions.

9. What is the difference between "The Main IAM" and the Nottingham Group, and who am I paying?

IAM Roadsmart is a Road Safety charity. Like most charities, there is a small headquarters group (the main IAM) who do administration, and who are the public face that interfaces with the press and with the government. The bulk of the work of the charity is done by volunteers in local groups - such as our Nottingham Group.

When you pay for your Advanced Driver package, you are paying the main IAM, and the fee covers:

- Joining the main IAM as an Associate Member
- Membership of the main IAM for one year
- Receipt of the quarterly IAM magazine
- Administration of your test
- The test fee
- Transfer to full member status when you have passed the test
- A small amount which is transferred to your chosen local group

The transfer to the local group (we are the Nottingham local group) covers:

- Membership of the local group for one year
- All of your training with us
- A contribution to our running costs - such as room hire
- Some insurance coverage for our Observers

All of the work of the local groups is done by volunteers. As individuals we do not receive any payment or expenses for the work we do in running the group and providing your training.

At the end of the first year, and on-going, you can pay two annual membership fees:

- The main IAM fee keeps you a member of the IAM, and allows you to display your badge and call yourself an Advanced Driver. It also provides access to benefits such as the magazine, and access to discounted insurance.

- The local group fee keeps you a member of the local group. This would allow you to be an Observer and teach others, and would allow you to attend any events that the group offers. The main purpose of this fee is to keep the group going financially, since the transfer from the main IAM when someone joins is very small.

10. Do I use my own car with someone instructing me?

The in-car work is conducted in your own car with you driving. One of our trained Observers will be with you, watching what you do, and advising you how to improve your driving.

Since you have already passed the standard driving test, you are a qualified driver, and you are responsible for everything that happens. The Observer is not in any sense instructing or teaching you how to drive. We are not trained, authorised, or qualified to do this.

The role of the Observer is to help you improve your driving, and we have the same status as any other passenger in your car There is no recognition by the Police or other officials of the advanced training - it is regarded as a standard driver-and-passenger situation.

11. Will I have any benefits as an Advanced Driver?

The benefit is that you are safer.

How much safer is neatly summarised here by Total.

The statistics speak for themselves. We asked 2,500 drivers who passed the Advanced Driving Test what benefit they’d seen. They told us that taking the Skill for Life course:

   Improved their driving (99%);
   Gave them greater awareness of other road users (90%);
   Helped them avoid a crash (66%).

Additionally, there are some benefits negotiated by the IAM which are explained here. These include access to discounted insurance, and a reduction in RAC membership fees.

You will not get a special Driving Licence and there will be no record held by the Police or courts that you are an Advanced Driver. You will not be able to exceed speed limits or disobey laws or the Highway Code, and you will not get preferential treatment if you are caught doing so. Indeed, the attitude of the Police and courts is likely to be that as an Advanced Driver you should have known better.

12. What will I need to show on the Advanced Test?

The thing that separates Advanced Drivers from normal drivers is that we use a system in our driving (see Q1 above). The main thing the examiner needs to see therefore, is evidence that you are using this system, and that as a result, your driving is safe and smooth. This is what we teach you on the training.

In addition, there are a number of best-practices that the examiner expects to see you implementing. These have all been found by experience to make your driving safer or easier. You will not necessarily fail the test if you do not implement them, but you will cause doubt in the examiner's mind.

The key ones are:

  • Pull-push steering. (See here for an explanation.) This is the safest and most efficient way of steering for all but low-speed driving. To do this you will need your hands in the "ten to two" position.

  • Do not use gears to slow down. Modern brakes are more than sufficient to slow the car, and changing down removes your hand from the wheel at a time when you are likely to need it there.
  • Do not overlap brakes and gears (BGOL). When slowing down you use the brakes until the car is at the desired speed, then finish braking, and change gear then if necessary.
  • (Both of the above may be modified if you are going downhill.)
  • Obey all laws and mandatory Highway Code rules.
  • Indicate when you need to, and not when you don't. Incorrect signalling shows that you are not following the system.

You will also need to demonstrate standard techniques such as turning the car around in the road, reversing around a corner, reversing into an entrance, and parallel parking. Nowadays parallel parking may be parking behind a single car rather than into a gap - in some ways this is easier, and in some ways it is harder. See here.

All of this will come naturally after a few training sessions.

13. What do I need to know about speed limits?

All drivers need to know at all times what speed limit applies to them, and it is the law that you obey these limits. There is almost no latitude given in the advanced test, and you will fail if you exceed the limit by more than a very minor amount on one or two occasions. Driving consistently or repeatedly at 31 or 32 mph in a 30 mph limit will cause you to fail the test.

The speed that the examiner will be looking at and using is the one indicated on your speedometer. Satnavs and other technology will not be considered, neither will a claim that you have had the speedometer tested and you know that it reads above the actual speed.

You will be expected to recognize when you in a National Speed Limit area, and you will be expected to know the speed limits for all vehicle types in these areas. This is covered in Highway Code rule 125.  

If you drive a van, then you need to be very clear which limit applies. There is a commentary here on that subject, but for speed limit purposes the vast majority of vans are considered to be Goods Vehicles, so have a lower National Speed Limit than cars. This is different to the taxation class.

13a. But surely my speedometer accuracy can be +/-10%, so I don't need to follow it?
Vehicle construction and use regulations require a vehicle speedometer accuracy to be in the range of 0 to +10%. The common acceptance of the +/-10% range is a misunderstanding.

The implications are that it must never under-read, and as long as you follow the speedometer, you will never be going faster than you think. A mis-reading speedometer can therefore never be used to justify speeding.

If the speedometer reads outside of the 0 to +10% range, then that is an offence and the driver can be prosecuted.

However, it may be that if the speedometer shows 70mph, you are actually going at 63.63mph (because 110% of that is 70).

Some people risk "borrowing" a bit on the basis that the speedometer MIGHT be reading over, and drive at an indicated reading over the speed limit. This is ill-advised because you do not know how much it is reading over, and the figure is probably different at different speeds.

Modern cars usually measure the speed electronically, and the display is therefore probably accurate to within a very small percentage.

There are many urban myths about the latitude that police may allow for speed, including the infamous "10% + 2". You take a huge gamble relying on this.

Advanced drivers will always accept what the speedometer says, and the examiner will have the same attitude.

14. How will I be assessed?

All Observers and your Examiner will assess your driving in the same way. They will consider a number of areas of your driving, and will assign each area a score from 1 (the best) through to 3. You will be given a sheet with these scores on, and we will explain them to you. By doing several observed drives you will therefore be familar with the assessment process.

A score of 2 indicates that this aspect of your driving is at test standard. You would be likely to pass the advanced test if most of your scores were at this level. A score of 1 indicates that this aspect of your driving is exceptionally good. A score of 3 indicates something that needs improvement.

There is no pass mark as such, but your observers are familiar with the standard required, and will give you honest feedback on your driving.

Q15. What is Commentary (Spoken Thoughts)?
Commentary - nowadays also known as Spoken Thoughts - is just talking about what you are doing whilst driving.

The purpose of doing this is to illustrate things that may not otherwise be obvious. For example, you may know why you giving a signal, but the examiner may not. By saying "I am signalling for the pedestrian on the left", you firstly justify what you are doing, but more importantly you demonstrate systematic driving. It is systematic because you have gathered information (the presence of the pedestrian), and you are doing something about it. Even though the examiner may not agree with the need for a signal, he will nevertheless see that you are being systematic, and being systematic is they key thing that you need to show on your test - see Q12.

Without going into detail, commentary such as "There is a bend ahead" is not generally useful since it does not show any planning. "I am moving to get better visibility around the bend ahead, and slowing so that I can stop within the distance I can see to be clear" does show planning, and shows that you are following the system.

Commentary is also useful in situations where you are prevented from doing something. For example "The rain is creating reduced visibility, so I am unable to reach the speed limit safely" shows the examiner both that you know what an advanced driver would normally be doing, and that you are being systematic in "reading" the situation and planning how to react.

Everyone finds commentary hard to do because it is unnatural. At first you will feel embarrassed and tongue-tied, but you will get better with practise. This why we encourage you to do it during your training.

There is an art to saying just the right things so that you show your system without giving a boring and over-long lecture.  We will show you how to do this, but you will need to practise for the test.

Q16. What is "Sparkle"?
"Sparkle" is what the examiner and your observers hope to see in your driving. It is a loose term that encompasses:

-  A confident drive where you show knowledge of the car, and where you  are in sympathy with the car. This allows you to get the most out of the  car (legally) without any strain or danger. You will be aware of the  maximum safe speed and will have the confidence to achieve this.

-  A knowledgeable drive where you show easy familiarity with the Highway  Code and the IAM manual. In any driving situation you should have  planned the right thing to do, and there will be no hesitation or  indecision about implementing your plan.

- A  systematic drive where it is evident that you know the phases of The  System, and where you implement these consistently. This will require  that you give a concise and appropriate commentary.

This  may sound daunting, and it is unlikely that you will be doing this  consistently after your short time on the course. However most people  show some elements of "Sparkle" by the time that they are ready for the  test.

You should ask for a demonstration drive from one of your observers to see what this feels like in practice.
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