Be lenient towards learners


THE roads can be a scary place for a learner driver and with the driving test getting harder all the time, there is added pressure to get things right.

Learners can get a bad reputation, with many experienced drivers heaving an exasperated sigh when they realise they are behind a car with L plates.

However, when you are out on the roads, spare a thought for the often young and inexperienced driver behind the wheel.

As instructor Michele Fitzgerald from Ascot Learners points out, learners don’t want to get in people’s way and believing they are inconveniencing other road users can be a massive source of stress for them.

Seventeen-year-old Mark Strickle is learning to drive with Michele and has clocked up between ten and 15 hours of driving lessons.

Before starting driving lessons, he had never been behind the wheel of a car before and his biggest fear is crashing, as it is for most drivers.

Mark also hates stalling the car, a common occurrence for learners, particularly when they try and rush.

Some drivers beep their horn when this happens, but Michele said this can make things worse.

“If they are feeling under pressure when moving off, they may stall. This stresses them out and can cause them to rush and stall again. If a driver behind toots their horn, this increases the pressure for the driver.”

Mark added: “I hate it when people beep their horns. I just wish people wouldn’t do it. Even if you don’t know if it’s aimed at you or not, you think it is.”

Michele, who has been instructing for six years, said people don’t always appreciate or have forgotten that learning to drive requires new skills that take time to develop.

“When learning to drive, there is a whole new physical aspect in getting feet to do different things at the same time.

“As skill develops, feet work without thinking about them, but can take a while to develop skill. This means everything takes longer than it takes an experienced driver.

“Driving also requires multi-tasking, easier said than done when learning to drive. A learner has to control the car, look at the outside world, make a decision on what they can see and then decide what to do about it.”

Michele has not come across many drivers who have been aggressive or got annoyed with her learners. Most are happy to wait or go around the learner while they are carrying out a manoeuvre.

However Michele said confusion can be caused when well-meaning drivers flash their lights to let a learner know they can go.

“It can take the new driver a few moments to notice that they might be able to go and then they need to change their feet from braking to getting the biting point and then need to make a final safety check. By this time, the oncoming driver thinks you’re not taking advantage of their courtesy and move off.

“I would like to thank those drivers who are courteous and just make them aware that things can take a little bit longer with a learner.”

Sometimes, Michele has to see how a student reacts and deals with a certain situation. This may result in a mistake, but it is a valuable teaching tool.

“Obviously,” she said, “as an instructor, in these cases the severity of the error must be assessed, as keeping the new driver, ourselves and others safe is essential.”

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