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The stigma surrounding automatics

Even in this day and age, a stigma exists surrounding learning to drive in automatic cars.
For most people, learning to drive in a manual transmission vehicle is the best option. It does offer the most flexibility for the future, and allows for a wider scope of cars to choose from once the driving test is passed.
However, many people will have slightly different needs. Maybe someone simply needs the ability to get around; to and from work perhaps, taking the children to school, running errands. The flexibility of manual cars may have no importance. There may be no real desire to learn to drive, it’s just a necessity.
Some people start learning in manual vehicles, and discover that they just don’t ‘get on’ with the gears or the clutch.
Thousands of people live with mobility or coordination issues, such as dyspraxia, which makes the process and fine movements necessary for clutch control and gear changing simply too difficult to cope with.
Sadly, many of these people will get frustrated and ultimately lose interest in driving, and give up entirely.
There is another way though. Automatic transmissions.
Automatic vehicles do away with the clutch pedal and gear box. Instead, there are just accelerator and brake pedals, and in place of the gearbox, a gear selector. This will have a handful of positions, including ‘Park’, ‘Drive’, and ‘Reverse’.
Driving couldn’t be easier. To pull away, simply select ‘Drive’, release the brakes and squeeze the accelerator. To stop, just the brake pedal is necessary.
The car will decide for itself which gears are needed for different situation. There are many different systems in use. Some automatics work in a very similar way to manual transmissions, with the car taking control of a robotic clutch and changing gears when needed. Some operate with a Contiually Variable Transmission, or CVT for short. These don’t have any gears in the conventional sense, but a complex system of pulleys and belts which can select any gear ratio it feels most suitable. It essentially has an infinite number of gears to choose from. Electric vehicles don’t have any need for gears, as the electric motor has such a huge range of speeds, there is no need to gear the motor up or down to drive the wheels.
The automatic vehicle I use uses a hybrid drive system, which combines a CVT gearbox with an electric system.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what type of transmission the car uses, as all automatic vehicles will drive in exactly the same way. One pedal to accelerate. One to slow you down.
So, what about this stigma? Is learning to drive in an automatic that restritictive in the future? Well, probably not to be honest.
The usual excuses are:
Automatics are more expensive! Well, a little, yes, but if you’re having difficulty learning in a manual, the money you save on lessons in an auto will probably cover the extra cost!
Automatics are less efficient! Older ones were, yes. But newer systems are getting so clever now, many are more efficient than their manual counterparts.
You won’t be able to hire a car when you go on holiday! Yes you will. You can hire autos just as easily as a manual car, both here in the UK and overseas.
You’ll be restricted to only driving autos forever. If you pass your test in an auto, then yes, you will be restricted to automatic cars. Unless you need to drive a company van or something, this won’t be an issue for most people. If it is, as an experienced driver in the future, nothing is stopping you acquiring a full manual licence should you feel up to the challenge of retaking a driving test in a manual car.
Driving an automatic isn’t proper driving! Really? Says who? Driving is about decision making, dynamic risk assessment, anticipation and reaction. Selecting gears and clutch control is just part of driving. Besides, many luxury cars by the likes of Rolls Royce and Bently only make automatic cars.
As far as I can tell, automatics are the future. The days of engines running on expensive fossil fuels and pumping out poisonous gasses are numbered. Electric cars are getting more popular. Hybrid vehicles like mine are commonplace now. The future of cars will possibly see hydrogen fuel cells leading the way. Whichever direction car technology goes in, one thing is certain. The cars will not have combustion engines, therefore will not have manual gearboxes.
So what’s the issue with autos then? If you just need to be able to get around and don’t mind how, or a disability, mobility or coordination issue is holding you back, or you just want an easy stress-free driving experience, automatics may be the only answer.
For more imformation, or to book a lesson in my hybrid tuition vehicle, call now on 07902 825946

Are you passive or proactive?

Passive or proactive? What does that even mean? Let me explain…

This way of thinking and dealing with things can be applied on so many levels, on a wide scale or on much more specific scenarios.

For example, and nothing to do with driving; sales… the act of selling. A passives salesperson in an office will sit there, bored, waiting for the phone to ring. Which it will, once in a while. But for most of the time, the phone will be sitting there, silent. The passive seller is waiting for the next call. What would a proactive salesperson be doing? Well, for a start, they probably wouldn’t be sitting around hoping someone will call them. They will probably pick up the phone and start calling out. As an independent driving instructor, I have to wear two hats, one as a trainer, one as a business man. I know I’m probably a bit too passive in the business man role, I’m still getting to grips with that side! I am a very proactive instructor. I will come to that later

In the context of driving, I come across passive and proactive drivers. Some drive along staring at the back of the car in front, and wait. They wait for something to happen, then the react. I’d go as far as saying, this is how most people are. It’s not good. Others, the good drivers, will be continually assessing what’s going on, and will be prepared for what’s about to happen… because they know it will. The passive driver reacts to the brake lights of the car in front. The proactive driver saw the red traffic light from a distance, and is already slowing down and may not even need to brake (red lights will eventually turn green and all that).

To go even more specific still, I regularly come across clients who observe passively. In fact, a huge proportion, the majority do… at first. They drive along, looking vaguely at the car in front. They will expect to notice road signs. They will only check a mirror when they need to, just before doing something. They will happen to notice some signs, they will happen to notice the most obvious of hazards. However, the majority of roadsigns will drift by completely unnoticed. The subtle sign of a hazard ahead, like how seeing feet by looking under parked cars will help you anticipate someone stepping from between parked cars. Like the refection of an oncoming car in a shop window as you approach a bend. Like how the ‘stopping’ sign lights up inside the bus you are following, actually tells you its about to pull over to let a passenger off. You need to be an active observer to be aware of this kind of thing.

I also see some natural active observers, and I make the passive one more proactive. These drivers will be searching their surroundings and environment for dangers and hazards. These ones will see each and every sign. They will always know what the speed limit is, and not keep asking me. They will see the emergency vehicle approaching from a distance in their mirrors, and plan exactly where they want to be to let it past in the safest and most convenient way. They will see the pedestrian walking diagonally towards a zebra crossing, and be slowing down to a stop without needing to ‘react’ when the person is at the side of the road. Passive observers might notice the odd thing, active observers see everything.

In this job, I encounter people who learn passively too. These people expect to be taught everything, with little or no effort on their side. Between lessons, they do nothing, they don’t think about their training, nor do any work on theory, they don’t go out of their way to understand the Highway Code, they just wait for me to install knowledge into them. You know what? It doesn’t work. They learn very slowly. We both get frustrated, and much money is wasted.

I do however come across a number of really proactive leaners. I know when I have one of these, because they do know what road signs are when we see one and I ask “oooh, what does that sign mean?”. They will be thinking about their driving between lessons, thinking over the good points, figuring out how to overcome the areas which still  catch them out, and they get the theory test done without being nagged. These learners take an interest in what we do each session. When I often ask “is there anything you’d like to do today?”, I get an answer on something they have identified that the want to improve. Not “I don’t care” or “you’re the instructor”. These clients get their licence fastest, and don’t waste any mont getting there.

I have even found instructors who fit into these two categories. Some will go out of their way to ensure each session develops the client as much as possible, using a variety of techniques. Others, well, do what they have to to get to the end of the day. Train learners to pass tests, not how to actually be a good driver. Some develop themselves professionally with CPD, courses, and further qualifications. Others just exist and plod along.

So, ask yourselves. Are you proactive driver, or a passive one? If you’re learning, are you learning passively, or are you getting involved and being an active part of your training?

Let me know what you think!

In-car CCTV

In-car CCTV systems, often referred to as dash-cams, are becoming more and more popular with operators of fleets of commercial vehicles, and private car users alike. A quick search on YouTube will reveal hundreds and hundreds of video clips showing all kinds of chaos unfolding on the roads all around the world.

Recent increases in ‘cash for crash’ insurance scams, where a car full of passengers will pull in front of another vehicle, usually an HGV, and braking hard without notice, often with their brake lights not functioning to increase chances of being hit.  As the rule is generally accepted that the vehicle behind will always be at fault, it’s hard to prove otherwise.  And there you go, five horrendously exaggerated whiplash claims made against and innocent driver.
I typically spend 50-60 hours per week on Kent’s roads, and have had my fair share of idiotic drivers treat me like a moving target. Luckily, no insurance scammers have found me… Yet. However, that’s not to say my life of the road has been incident-free. The back end of last year saw a couple of incidents I wish I had on film. Most notably a vehicle behind mine drove into the back of us while we were waiting to emerge from a T-junction. He pulled off in response to me releasing the brake pedal. He blamed me, saying I reversed into him, then he claimed that the driver I was accompanying was being too hesitant. After an unpleasant exchange on the side of a dark, wet road, I called the police as he was refusing to exchange details and smelt strongly of alcohol. A few minutes later, he was being arrested for failing a roadside breath test.
More recently, I’ve had some oblivious motorists fail to see me at junctions and have tried to occupy the same patch of road I have been happily trundling along in.
So the decision was made. I now have a dual camera system fitted and recording every moment my car is on the roads. Dual cameras- as the drunk driver incident, along with the knowledge that the majority or collisions are rear-end shunts, meant I wanted a camera trained out the rear window as well as the front.  On the third day of using the system, it recorded a silver pickup truck change lanes without looking or warning, right beside my vehicle. Luckily my ninja-like reflexes, good quality tyres and brakes, and a well maintained car, meant that I avoided a nasty collision. But only JUST. Said footage is being sent to the police for investigation for possible prosecution.
What’s great about these cameras is that they not only proved valuable video evidence of any incidents or collisions, but also log your speed, GPS location, and G-forces with the video. These features are not on all systems, but most have these as standard.  Having location information, the date and time stamp from the GPS signals, and proof of vehicle speed removes ALL of the uncertainties surrounding investigations into incidents.
As well as the peace-of-mind this system is giving me, it could save me lots of money proving innocence to insurers, and many insurers will even give discounts for vehicles with the cameras fitted.
That isn’t surprising, really. Knowing you are being watched, every decision and action is recorded, makes you more conscious of your driving. Being more conscious will make you less likely to do anything silly. You will probably be a safer driver as a result of the cameras being fitted.
In Asia, where the dash-cams were born, and where all commercial vehicle must have them fitted, areas have seen a 10% reduction in accidents, and a reduction of 25% of the cost of crashes. Meaning the crashes that still happen are less severe.
If I ran a fleet of vehicles, in addition egular assessment and training for all drivers, I would ensure each vehicle was fitted with a camera system, and make it company policy that the cameras MUST be running and recording at all times. It just makes so much sense.
The systems are pretty inexpensive, easy to fit, and could save you huge amounts of money, stress and aggravation. Why every driver doesn’t have one is beyond me.

Magic bubbles


It seems many people think they are in a bubble while they are driving driving.  A magic bubble where the outside has no influence, and where their actions have no affect on other road users around them.  Let me explain with some questions.  Would you shout at someone in front of you if they walk a bit too slowly?  Would you barge your way to the front of a queue? Do you pick your nose like your digging for gold in public places?  I would hope not, but there are lots of drivers who do exactly these things routinely.

I believe it is these same people who seem to think that they are the only ones using the roads.  For instance, Read the rest of this entry »

So here it is, my first blog.

So here it is, my first blog.  And a controversial blog it may be.  Why start safe?

Old people.  Old people driving.  You can see where this is going already, can’t you?  It’s an age old (age old- geddit?) debate, and one which I have chosen to stay out of- for the most part… until now. Read the rest of this entry »