Tag Archives: traffic

My First Automatic Driving Lessons

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I have been learning to drive for over two years.

I booked my first lesson after I was unable to get to a friend’s wedding. It would have been easy to drive there and surely wouldn’t have cost the £40 taxi ride in petrol. The fare was fine but I was weak, wheezing and coughing every 5 minutes, so they probably wouldn’t have been able to hear their vows.

Two months ago my exasperated instructor suggested I try an automatic car which does not have gears. After asking whether I was ready occasionally, I was delighted to do a mock test and get no serious errors. You only have to get one serious error to fail and I would regularly get three. Something clicked and I put into practice what I had learnt. I had booked my test for this month. But as time went on and it got closer to the test and we started talking about it, my skills slipped. I had a lesson a month ago where I couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. I knew how to drive so why wasn’t I able to? It was really grinding my gears.

I called a driving school and asked for an automatic driving lesson. If you pass on an automatic you can’t drive a manual car. I was warned that the cars are more expensive to tax and use more fuel. After I accepted this briefing I was given the number of the instructor. I would recommend checking the website first as I was not told about a special offer and I didn’t know that an electric car was available.

“There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car. It happened so quickly I couldn’t process it.”

I was very nervous about my first lesson because I have heard of so many accidents and been part of one as a passenger. We were leaving the pavement. We looked past a parked car and the road was clear, so mum drove out. There was a bang as we hit the red blur of a car speeding past.

He stopped a car length and a half down the road with a scratched door. It had happened so quickly I couldn’t process it. Mum noticed that the man said “got to go, I’ll call you later” as he dropped his phone into the door pocket, before coming over to get insurance details. Dad spoke about the driver who rammed a parked car outside our house last week while on the phone to his girlfriend. He hit the car with such force that a wheel came off and bits of bumper and brake light were scattered on the road. He called the police but as no one was hurt they didn’t press charges. A friend of a friend was coming out of a junction and a sign was blocking her view. She looked past the sign and the road was clear. She then entered the road and hit and killed a motorcyclist. Another of mum’s friends accidentally reversed into her dad, breaking his legs.

Finally, there was the driver the year above me at school  who killed her friend. She had just passed her driving test and her A levels. She reportedly went over a hill up the road from us too fast and lost control of the steering, hitting a brick wall next to the road. Her friend in the passenger seat had just passed her A levels and had a place at university. When I started sixth form the common room was quiet and sombre. That is why I didn’t drive at 18.

I live on a bus route to the city so I was able to get most places without needing to ask for a lift or get a taxi. In London the public transport is so good that there is no need. However, the buses to the Peak District only stop at the villages and are once an hour so it would be lovely to go somewhere off the main roads at a time that is convenient for my friends.

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The instructor got out and shook hands. I got into the driving seat and panicked. There was no third pedal, there was one massive one and one smaller one. ABC so that was the brake and the clutch. I couldn’t see past the car in the mirrors, the steering wheel and the pedals were too far away and I didn’t know how to adjust them. I couldn’t do the cockpit drill of making sure the car was set to my specifications.

The instructor was bemused. He knew I had driven for two years and I was sitting there doing nothing. “So, what do you do first?” he prompted. I told him and he waited for me to sort things out. I explained that this car was different from the Vauxhall Astra I’d driven previously and I didn’t know what to do. He smiled and helped. “What do you do next?” he prompted. “Put the clutch down and put it into…” I replied before I remembered that there was no clutch and no first gear, just a gear-stick. What did you do with it?

He demonstrated that you flicked the gear left to put it in gear and right to put it in neutral. He demonstrated that he had added plastic additions to the wheel to allow you to switch to manual if necessary. I frowned at the extra confusion this might cause and was relieved when he said we wouldn’t need them.

The ignition was higher up in this car and the key was in a different direction, so I wasn’t sure which way was on. The instructor had to show me how to switch the engine on. I was so embarrassed I struggled to remember the handbrake and indicator. The instructor wanted to laugh but smiled politely instead.

I hadn’t come out of the drive before but had only left from the side of it, so I did have a brief flashback of our collision, especially as we had just been talking about it. I nervously sat higher in the seat as I scanned the edge of the road on both sides quickly a couple of times before pressing the accelerator gingerly, inching out. He indicated and off we went.

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The accelerator required a steady and increased push to increase speed and the brake was really responsive. The slightest touch and the car would slow quicker than expected. I stabbed it gingerly, jerking the car to a quick stop instead of a slow gradual one. He said “I like to push my students so I might get you to do manoeuvres you aren’t that comfortable with.” “That’s fine”, I said. I had no idea what that would entail but I was about to find out.

At first the instructor was quiet. It was quite a change from my last instructor, who was chatty. I felt like I was being tested, which made me more nervous but I wasn’t driving as badly as anticipated. Or at least it didn’t feel like I was, until he said “mirrors…..mirrors….do you know what MSM means? No switch that off, what haven’t you done?……did you look in your mirrors?…..and then I heard a sigh. But I still forgot to check the mirrors before signalling. Embarrassed, I apologised again. I needed to get out of that habit for my instructor’s sanity.

After about an hour I did a few successful checks. His repetition had paid off. Then he said “I’ll give you instructions from now on.” I still drove like an idiot. I knew what to do, I was just driving like a boy racer. He said “what’s the fastest you’ve ever driven?”. “50” I replied, checking my speedometer. That was fine. He directed me on a roundabout to the start of a dual carriageway. I expected to go off but we kept on it until the speed limit was 60. I felt surprisingly comfortable doing 50 but was quite nervous about 60. It felt like the first time I went above 30 and felt like I was flying. I slowed as we approached a roundabout and I didn’t know what lane so I guessed and then indicated and changed into the correct one.  He asked how I knew what lane to go in and I told him how I went in the left for the first and second exist and right for the third onwards. He directed us around multiple roundabouts until I started to feel more confident. Then I was coming up to a roundabout when he said “what lane do we need to be in?” I guessed that I was in the wrong one. “I don’t know” I replied. “Look at the road markings” he said. I looked ahead and couldn’t see anything further in front. “Look further down” he said. There it was. I was in the wrong lane again.

Car driving down street, headlights on

Then I saw a car coming towards me on the roundabout and drove forward. I was on autopilot thinking about how I was in the wrong lane and I didn’t think about anything else. The instructor braked for me and looked at me, scared.

“What would have happened if you’d gone out then?”

“I would’ve crashed.”

“Yes you would have gone straight into that car coming towards us. Why did you do that?”

I paused. Why did I? I won’t be doing that again. It was like the first time I went on a dual carriageway with my first instructor (I’m on my third) who also liked to push his pupils. I thought I could turn the indicator off with the wheel at 50 miles an hour. I was surprised as we almost swerved into an oncoming car and my instructor grabbed the wheel with lightning reactions.

“You did three dangerous” the instructor announced. “I’ll drive us back”. Now it was my turn to sigh. I was never going to be able to drive. Ever.

“I can get you passing by the end of November” the instructor said. Well, maybe there was hope on the horizon. If I could just drive towards it safely and slowly enough.

On the way back the instructor imitated my driving a little until I giggled uncontrollably. He looked at me. “What?”. Realising that I could laugh at myself and wouldn’t be offended, he proceeded to show me what I was like. “I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea.” He smiled.

Nana Joan with my second cousin, Maliko.

Nana Joan with my second cousin Maliko.

I saw that I was driving with my arms stretched stiffly in front of me, my eyes mostly fixed ahead, occasionally looking down my nose at the door mirror as if I was looking down through spectacles and then quickly staring ahead again, then occasionally flicking my eyes to the other mirror. I was jerking the brake in a stop/start manner,scared-learner-driver-main holding the wheel gingerly with the edge of my fingers, flicking it to make it turn. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” The instructor said, bemused again. “Do you have a grandma?” he asked. “Yes” I said, smiling at the memory of Nana Joan in New Zealand, with her kind eyes, wide smile, curly brown hair (she still hasn’t gone grey at 89, I hope I have those genes) and laughter lines. “Would you drive like this with your grandma in that seat?” he asked, jerking the car to a halt repeatedly. “No.” I replied. I also had a bad habit of looking at my instructor when he was talking. “Eyes on the road please!” he reminded me.

My instructor explained that he used to be a taxi driver and that when he took the instructor’s test he realised how shocking his driving was. He said he passed second time because he was too cocky the first time and didn’t show the instructor that he was looking in the mirrors.

“I got honked at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.”

I thought he wouldn’t want to see me again, after moaning about how a student nearly damaged his car, but he later said that he enjoyed the challenge of teaching me.

At the start of the next lesson the instructor had me reversing out of a drive onto the main road. I was terrified but I was driving under his instruction and at snail speed. That was smoothly done, as was a turn in the road. However, I went off a roundabout into the wrong lane and the instructor corrected me. I got beeped at and apparently got a rude finger gesture but I was completely oblivious in my learner bubble.

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Later, when I went to change lanes I thought I had space to move in front of an oncoming car and I didn’t. I forgot that I didn’t have the right of way and expected the oncoming car to slow down for me. Not so fast. Taking time to judge distance and the rules of the road is more important than speed. Having road experience from being a cyclist I drive defensively in that almost every time I am on the road as a (mostly safe) driver or a passenger I witness dangerous driving and therefore I expect the worse.

Every driver should be a cyclist to get experience of what it is like to be a vulnerable road user having to go into the flood of traffic to turn right or trying to turn in front of you into side roads. I see dangerous drivers much more often than dangerous cyclists. I expect a driver to emerge from a side road without looking. This almost happened today and my mum was ready for it, swerving and beeping (only to announce her presence of course). I now even expect a car to park in the middle of the road on a blind bend.

If you are struggling to learn on a manual try automatic lessons. It should make you a safer driver and automatic cars are the future.

In a new suburb being planned in London I learnt that the area is being planned around driverless cars picking up and dropping off passengers. Just when I was getting used to the idea of Uber taxis, technology advances yet again. If I still can’t pass my test I will wait for the new dawn of driverless cars.

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Filed under Advice, Cycling, Driving, Uncategorized

My First Driving Lessons

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I have always avoided driving lessons as I live on a bus route into town and it’s expensive. But I was fed up of being stranded at bus stops and train stations.1341319584

The last straw was missing a friend’s wedding due to the three buses there and back.

Luckily around this time an acquaintance was overjoyed at passing her test. She gave me her instructor‘s number and I nervously called him up. He was booked up for the next month but came highly recommended so I said I’d wait.

I’d forgotten all about it when he rang. I booked for that Saturday afternoon! Watch out drivers, and pedestrians for that matter.

I had visions of me swerving all over the road, stalling multiple times and possibly doing myself and the instructor permanent injury. The last time I’d driven had been bumping along a farmer’s field in a battered Bedford van, with my father clinging to the door handle shouting “SLOW DOWN!!!” “CHANGE GEAR!!” and it culminated with me forgetting the braking procedure and flooring it with the clutch down. But that was ancient history…

I wasn’t expecting to drive as my friend said she had just been spoken to for her first hour. I had waited so long to start learning that I wasn’t anxious, just excited. I met the smiling grey-haired, smartly dressed man and he drove off. So far so normal. But then we stopped behind a parked car. He got out. What on earth was he doing?!

After seeing this picture I wouldn't drive with BSM! They don't have a good reputation.

After seeing this picture I wouldn’t drive with BSM! They don’t have a good reputation.

“Well get in” he said, grinning. Did he not value his life? I hoped this wasn’t some kind of crash course. Shouldn’t we be wearing helmets?

I was now nervous and went round to the previously forbidden seat. It felt weird to be behind the wheel instead of beside it.

John explained the moving off procedure. We were to go round a parked car and stop in front of it.

When I’d watched people drive it just seemed to be a case of accelerating to go faster, braking to stop, steering and putting the clutch down to change gear. How hard could it be?

But suddenly he started talking about the side mirror, the “sense” mirror, cyclists, pedestrians, biting point, changing between the gas and the gear pedal, indicating, steering, watching for oncoming vehicles and my heart started pounding and the sweat started running down my neck.

Following his directions I checked the mirrors, waiting for a clear road. I could already imagine a car coming up unseen while I was trying to work out what to do with the pedals. That would be it, my life over on the first lesson. Game over. The end.

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This learner driver in Aberdeen crashed into someone’s cellar.

I pushed the indicator the wrong way. How were you supposed to remember whether up was left and right was down? He changed it for me. My arms were so stiff with nerves that I couldn’t steer gently. I swerved out and he corrected the wheel for me. He helped me steer round the car and then told me to stop. He put the indicator on the right way for me and I checked my mirrors. He hadn’t mentioned how hard I needed to brake so naturally I just assumed that you simply press the pedal fully-down immediately.

There was a pause. “I think I’ve got whiplash” he said, a little rosy-cheeked.

Surprisingly he persevered and I learnt to brake gently and gradually and co-ordinate the clutch with the accelerator. We even went up to 30 miles an hour from 15. Every time I was on the road some impatient driver would be tailgating, angrily glaring into my mirror. I jerked the accelerator a bit to get away from one and John said “look, I don’t care if they honk their horn, you maintain your speed and forget about them, everyone was a learner once and they can overtake if they want.” Still, I didn’t like it. We headed out to the countryside and I nearly had a heart attack when a tractor appeared out of nowhere over the hill towards me.

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“Hang on, you’re going into the ditch” he said, helping me with the wheel. I was terrified. My arms were as flexible as tree branches and glued to the wheel in the quarter to three position, my eyes fixed on the road in front, my ankles aching with tension, my clothes sticking to me. I was yanking the gear-stick about madly and the clutch kept disappearing from my foot as the instructor took over.

“Careful, you’re going into the side of the road again” he said. “You don’t know how deep that puddle is so don’t go there.” From the passenger seat it looked like the car was always on the left of the middle line. It isn’t. It’s right on it. It looks like you’re driving in the middle of the road but the instructor assured me this was correct and you aren’t. Every time a vehicle came towards me I thought it was going to hit me.

“You were scared of that tractor weren’t you” he said grinning. I nodded.

“Keep your eyes on the road” he said, grabbing the wheel as I relaxed a bit and looked at him. I didn’t do that again.

Then he tried to teach me how to come out of a closed junction. I don’t like them as there’s so much to keep in your head to do. There was someone tailgating again and he was saying a string of instructions, something like “clutch, brake, mirror, look, indicate, slow down, go further forward you’ve stopped too soon again”. I had a brain freeze so he took over.

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It was much faster than a bicycle and more responsive. I had the sensation of being on a horse when it jumped and felt pretty powerless, trusting that I was doing it right. It is pretty scary when you’re in something which appears to move of its own volition with very little direction from you. It had been drilled into me that cars were dangerous. They killed you or other drivers. When I was in sixth form a girl killed her friend by going too fast over the hill I was going over now, crashing into the wall at the side.

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The second time I got in the car I felt more confident and couldn’t wait to have another try. I’d almost mastered clutch and accelerator control so we did more complicated manoeuvres. I went round a deserted landscaped island to get roundabout practice. These back roads were nice and quiet. I didn’t like other vehicles. You didn’t know what they were going to do and that scared me. You knew where you were with an empty road, no need to panic.

We did turning right across oncoming traffic. I realised that once again my clothes were sticking to me. I was particularly scared of cyclists and waited for them to whizz past, checking that there weren’t any more anywhere. I stopped in the road to turn and he put the indicator on and took the wheel off me, steering us in.

“We could have crashed there” he said, “someone could have gone into us because you slowed down but didn’t indicate”. pa-7654772

My heart sank. There was still a long way to go but it was only the second lesson. There was another risky moment when we came out of a side road and I swerved a bit, not knowing to move the wheel back earlier. Then I over-corrected and almost went into a car waiting in the side road on the left.

I realised there was a lot to think about. People make it look easy but it’s not until you’re doing it yourself that you see there is quite a bit of preparation to do to pass a test.

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Apart from that all went well and I got unintended hazard perception training when someone almost stepped into the road without looking. Luckily I’d anticipated that and had already slowed down. It could’ve been much worse – a learner driver was actually caught up in a shooting in August. Driving is a lot about anticipating and as a cyclist I was good at assuming that all people, pedestrians as well as drivers, were thick.Henderson-Road-Crossing-2-300x195

We went up to fourth gear with me happily cruising at 40 miles an hour. “You’re at the upper limit, no faster than that” John said. “You’re a thrill-seeker aren’t you, you love a bit of speed I think.” I was surprised to hear that, going fast was scary because I had turned the wheel a bit too sharply before and the car had veered out a little in my lane, something which didn’t happen at lower speeds.

I did two types of hill starts beginning in first and second gear. They were nice as you didn’t need to find the “biting point”, the sound the car made when it was ready to go.

At the end of the lesson the instructor commented that I wasn’t ready for my test yet (that much was obvious) but that I’d made a lot of progress.

He is putting his car in for a service due to learner drivers (he also has physio every three months for whiplash) who drive him up the wall (and round the bend), but hopefully I’ll have my third lesson on Saturday afternoon.

I might watch the BBC’s “Barely Legal” drivers programme for tips.

Watch out road users…

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Filed under Driving, Life of Lydia

A Near Miss

Commuter cycling is the most dangerous form of transport, especially in the morning rush hour. Perhaps this explains why only 2% of us get to work on two wheels. 

I enjoy it because it gets me more alert and relaxed and saves me £11.50 a week, which adds up over time. It’s also exciting whizzing along as clumsy cars wait in a queue.

A few days ago though, I took my eyes off the road for the first time and the unthinkable happened.

I knew it was a possibility – all our cycling friends had been hit at least once. But I thought I was too careful for it to happen to me.

I was a little concerned about setting off late, it was already 8.15am and the roads were incredibly busy. There was a traffic jam briefly in the bus lane and I had to dodge round buses, motorbikes, school transport vehicles and even other cyclists. It was mayhem.

But after the jam everything seemed fine and I continued as usual. 

On my way to the junction I was keeping an eye out for pedestrians, giving space for cars coming out of side roads, slowing down when cars were switching lanes ahead, following all the usual safety precautions.

But as the lights went green I felt the angry breath of the car’s radiator on my back as I sensed it trying to turn impatiently. So I put my head down to get some speed for a split second. Then I looked up just as a white van was turning into me. It hadn’t seen me speeding through in my bright blue top and high visibility vest. I immediately applied the breaks hard, skidding along. I looked opened mouthed at it coming towards me, bracing myself for the inevitable. But by some miracle I stopped just before the bonnet.

I pedalled on furiously in both senses of the word. How could they not see me? I had right of way, they SHOULD have seen me. Arriving at my destination shaken, I got myself some calming chamomile tea and talked about it. They reminded me that the van’s driver would only have seen a blur if anything.

I later celebrated my survival with an indulgent shop at Waitrose.

Cyclist versus vehicle is all too common. In 2011 52 490 cyclists were injured on the roads and the number killed or seriously injured increased by 9%. In my city alone, 15% of “slight accidents” had risen between 2006-11.

In my experience red lanes are inadequate, badly maintained and sometimes completely illogical, like the lane which stops before a vehicle bottleneck. We need street signs raising awareness of bicycles using the lanes.

My brother’s friend was knocked off in a hit and run, a family friend was injured by a car not leaving enough room, and a fellow zero emissions commuter told me how he once didn’t see a Land Rover and ended up in a neck brace. But even as a pedestrian the roads are perilous. A friend tripped over her shoes and landed across two lanes. The car on one side stopped but the bus didn’t see her. She rolled over and the wheels

This picture is not of the subjects referred to belowpassed inches from her head. Quick reactions can be the difference between life and death.

I think myself lucky that I escaped unharmed but learnt an important lesson. I haven’t let it stop me, indeed I cycled in to work today. Due to my added awareness I managed to avoid going into a car that had seen me, but thought that it could turn before I came towards it. How a driver can be on the road with that sort of spatial awareness I don’t know. I also avoided a car crossing into the lane I was in ahead of me, without leaving sufficient space.

I had inspired a friend to think about cycling to work, but she is now deterred by my near miss and safety warnings from her family.

However, I think it’s important to remember that if you keep safety in check, the health benefits will make two-wheeling worth it. Research shows that cyclists have lower weight, blood pressure and insulin levels. It can even cut the risk of breast cancer. I have certainly noticed my stamina and general fitness improve. I think it is still possible to cycle to work safely. Here’s how…

LEAVE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE.

  • I have found that the earlier before 8am the better. The roads are quieter, less traffic and I haven’t had an incident yet before this time.
  • alarm-clock-ringing
  • THINK – CYCLE LIKE YOU’RE DRIVING A CAR
  • This is probably the best advice I have seen, from an accident lawyer. Since following this I have not had any trouble. Anticipate just as you would when driving.
  • 1. Pedestrians – are they about to cross the road? If they are crossing the road, have they seen you?
  • 2. Vehicles – have they seen you at junctions? Slow down until you can be sure they are not going to move off.
  • Are they switching lanes? Let them do this ahead of you as they may not have seen you and so may not allow enough room.
  • – Be aware of hidden side roads – cars can come shooting out of them so slow down when you pass them and look right into them.

DON’T RISK YOUR SAFETY FOR A

MOTORIST’S CONVENIENCE

  • If I hadn’t been rushing to try to allow the tailgating car behind me to turn, I would have seen the van coming turning towards me.
  • If I had been cycling in the middle of the lane the van would be more likely to have seen me. It is often better to cycle with the cars than at the side of the road, which can encourage them to pass you, sometimes without leaving enough room.

All this sounds obvious but it’s easily overlooked. Don’t ever get complacent because as soon as you lose concentration like I did, something could happen. But don’t let a brush with danger stop you getting on your bike. Stay safe out there everyone!

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So what am I taking away from my experience?

 ALWAYS SLOW DOWN AND LOOK AS YOU GO THROUGH A JUNCTION.

share the road

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Filed under Cycling, Life of Lydia