The Irish Driving Scene.An Instructors Perspective
The Driving Environment
Today's motoring environment is very different to that of thirty or even fifteen years ago for a number of key reasons and we will examine these to get an idea of the kind of skills needed to survive in today's world and stay accident free.
For the first time in over one hundred and fifty years our population has exceeded 4 million and continues to increase steadily.
The age of our population is quite unique and according to the 2002 census there are approximately 640,200 people in the 15 - 24 age bracket who are in, or approaching, the age at which they will want to drive. Lets be clear on this point .every person in today's Ireland will aspire to drive and own a car in this prosperity environment, for career, family and social reasons .In the past until you had the potential to be able to own a car it was quite common not to bother to learn to drive. Those that needed to get to work from a distance tended to rely on neighbours and friends or relatives to be the ever present chauffeur. It's very common today for an exodus from the city limits out to the open country to live, with huge numbers of houses, sorry mansions; being constructed at seemingly breakneck speed. The draw of the country air and the sweet sounds of birds in the morning seems to be an irresistible magnet for the city dweller. A car or three is taken for granted. Of course , we are a nation of keen gardeners now and the regular trip to the garden centre could not be undertaken by public transport because it doesn't exist in most rural areas. All of this means that we have a far greater number of cars and drivers on the road than thirty years ago and at different times of day due to many variations in working hours. So there is hardly a time when you are unlikely to meet another vehicle. Six am during the working week can be just as dangerous as five thirty rush hour.
Current numbers of learner Drivers are estimated at 350,000 and this continues to be swelled by the increase in our immigrant population, both expatriates and non-nationals setting up home here for the first time. The waiting list for a Driving Test has reached an all time high due mainly to these demographics, but also to the relatively small number of Driving Examiners
. This situation is being addressed at the moment with the probability of an outside agency being drafted in to undertake a further 40,000 Driving Tests over the course of a year .While it is unfortunate that all drivers have to wait such a long time in order to sit their Test it is an opportunity for them to learn some very essential skills and to prepare well for the Test.
It is very common for candidates to leave their lessons to the last moment which very often produces a negative result. Worse still, is the mistaken belief that the longer one is driving the greater chance of passing the Driving Test. Without professional lessons the chances of passing the Test are pretty remote; but more crucial will be the lack of basic skills leading to accidents which can and should be preventable .Passing the Driving Test, while certainly a milestone in a person's driving career, is only the beginning of a life -long process not the end.
Safe Driving for Life can be achieved, with the correct mind set and the knowledge that good basic driving skills are the foundation for the learning process and need to be provided by Professional Instructors and not relatives or friends. Practise with Mum or Dad is very useful but only in conjunction with proper Tuition. Being able to move a car down the road and perhaps change a gear or two and even steer out of trouble is not the level of skill needed to stay alive and is about as far from the required Driving Test standard as we are from the Moon.(about 250,000 miles, sorry 400,000Km at the last count).I am not suggesting that we need to drive a quarter of a million miles
The development of technology over the last number of years has had a big impact on the driving environment both positive and negative. Better roads and road markings make the driving experience much more pleasurable especially on major thoroughfares; however despite the millions of Euro spent on the main road infrastructure, Irish country roads will probably remain as they have always been, difficult and full of danger for the novice or Tourist Driver.
Legislation, most of which has emanated from Europe, has contributed to better maintained cars, that are more Eco-friendly and more easy to drive. Having said that, a car will quite easily go off and do its own thing if the driver has not got the ability to control it under all kinds of weather and road conditions.
Cars are much better insulated than years ago so the impression of speed is nothing like what it was thirty or forty years ago when you really knew you were travelling at 70mph.Wind noise and vibration kept you alert and aware! Even small family cars today have the ability to travel at 100mph (or 156kph) without too much coaxing .Back then a much larger capacity engine of say 1500 cc had a top speed of around 75mph (120kph).This ease of speed gives new and novice drivers the opportunity to far exceed their capabilities without realising it .
In today's Ireland we have virtually full employment and many sectors are suffering from a lack of skilled employees, the commercial driving sector being one of many. More jobs and the need to get to those jobs on time has created a society that is flush with prosperity and awash with an ever increasing number of new cars on the road. The opportunities now being created for younger people with full Driving Licenses are many. Indeed most occupations now require you to have a full driving license and it certainly looks good on a C.V. especially if you are in the younger age bracket. So get to it all you young ones and don't leave it till later on in your career.. Do it now!
Most of these new cars on the road are being piloted by Learner Drivers, a good proportion of whom, do not take driving lessons professionally.
Unlike most of the rest of our European Neighbours, we do not yet have mandatory tuition for learner drivers, although it is being proposed. Therefore we have a situation whereby learner drivers can buy a car and just head off into the wide blue yonder without the necessary skills to control what is essentially a lethal weapon. Our Accident statistics bear out this point and it would be of great benefit to the whole community to see a reduction in these horrific figures
Recent E.U. Directives have extended the scope of the Driving Test and not before time. There has to be at least a basic knowledge of instruments and equipment before you can pass the Driving Test today but there are still many areas of driving expertise that do not come within the remit of the Irish Driving Test. An emergency stop; country road driving; high speed carriageway experience and a greater emphasis on hazard perception would go a long way to improving standards on today's roads by being incorporated into the Driving Test.
About the Author
Robin Piggott is the owner of Astral School of Motoring which is based in Limerick, Ireland.He has thirty five years of Driving Experience,and including teaching in-house.
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