GDE Reference Points & Real Life
One of my learners had been having lessons with another instructor before moving house and starting lessons with me. On an initial driving assessment I asked her to carry out a left reverse. Having driven past the junction and stopped on the other side ready to reverse around the corner, she hesitated for a few moments before saying she couldn’t see any stickers and, without these as reference points, would not be able to reverse around the corner.
With prompting Lucy explained that she used two stickers to help her reverse around the corner: one was on the rear windscreen and kept her in a straight line on the first part of the reverse, as well as telling her when to straighten up; the other told her when she was at the point of turn.
As driving instructors we know how important the relationship is between ourselves and our pupils. Our business depends on our ability to keep customers and our reputation is earned by remaining professional and not knocking our fellow ADIs, even though they may have different methods of teaching. With coaching it is equally important not to break rapport with the pupil because learning will be most effective when the relationship between the instructor and the pupil is based on mutual trust and respect. As this was Lucy’s first lesson with me, we were only just starting to get to know one another and I knew I needed to handle the situation carefully. My aim was to ensure that Lucy would continue having lessons with me even though my style of teaching was very different from her previous instructor’s. She had clearly been successful with her left reverse using reference points with her previous instructor but I do not tend to teach in this way. For me the left reverse is far more than a possible driving test exercise, whereby countless lessons, in the build-up to the grand test finale, are spent using stickers on windows to ensure the car is reversed around the corner as accurately as possible. Rather, it is the means to turn the car around when driving unsupervised because of having missed a junction and needing to go back along the road just driven. In this situation, Level 3 (Goals and Context of the Journey) of the Goals for Driver Education (GDE) Matrix is most relevant. Level 3 focuses on the why, where, when and how of the specific journey. Route planning, for example, is implicit in this level.
Many newly qualified drivers have no idea how to drive from their home to a friend’s home across town when they are on their own in the car. Imagine how a newly qualified driver feels when they are peering along the road trying to recognise their mate’s turn and suddenly realising that they have just passed it. These are the skills they now need to have been taught: how to turn the car round safely without becoming an obstruction unnecessarily or causing danger to others by panicking. They have to be able to choose between the left reverse, right reverse, turn in the road and U turn in a junction; and they have to be able to make this choice whilst continuing to drive safely. Reversing around the corner ‘for real’ is a million miles away from following two stickers on the windows of the car. It is far more valuable to teach your learner driver how to judge space and distance by making use of the line of the kerb, hedge or wall or the width of the footpath and grass verge; and how to manage the traffic around calmly, not slamming the brakes on without checking the mirrors first. How to take responsibility and remain in safe control of the situation are the two most valuable learning outcomes when teaching a manoeuvre.
I said to Lucy, looking over your left shoulder can you see where the kerb cuts into the bottom of the rear windscreen? Keep it there whilst reversing in a straight line and aim for it to be back in the same position once you are around the corner and have straightened up. I asked her, looking at the line of the kerb, where do you think is the point of turn? She said, where the kerb starts to curve. Which point of the car needs to be in line with that first curved kerbstone? The rear wheel. Okay, I said, let’s reverse in a straight line until you think you are there and then stop a moment.
We judged the point of turn together. Lucy told me this was a sweeping corner and suggested she might only need about a quarter of a turn initially. Throughout the reverse I encouraged her to judge for herself how much or how little she needed to turn the wheel.
We confirmed the observations to ensure her safety and then had another go. The third practice was on a different corner, which Lucy carried out near perfectly with very little prompting from me. By this point she was positively beaming and it was obvious to me that Lucy felt she had learned far more in these three reverses round corners than she had on previous lessons relying on reference points. She had taken responsibility and it had given her a real sense of achievement. She has her own car to practise in between lessons and said she couldn’t wait to go and practise the left reverse – up until then she hadn’t wanted to because she didn’t know where to put the stickers.
Reference points do have some value but to teach them to every pupil without first giving them the opportunity to have a go at judging things for themselves, is to put them at risk when they are out driving on their own.