Blue Light driving course: Day 2 of 10
Another beautiful morning, but with a distinct feel of October rather than August in the air. Today, Drew wastes little time at the training centre before shepherding me into the Volvo and directing me to a stretch of disused airfield, around 10 miles away. Here, we really do break down our driving into the very basics. I steer and steer and steer. Full left lock, straighten up, full right lock, ensuring I can establish the correct pull-push method of steering that’s long been favoured by the emergency services. The sad thing is that I thought I had pretty good steering before joining the course. Oh no, says Drew, it needs a great deal of work.
We drink a cup of tea with three paramedics and their tutor, also on the airfield in an ambulance that has been kitted out for driver training purposes. Then, I have to reverse through a chicane of 10 cones and drive fast towards a brick wall, only braking when Drew tells me. There is a sophisticated and sensitive system of braking advocated for ambulance driving, which goes far beyond the requirement to give it a hefty right boot. We also spend an age doing some increasingly smooth gear changes. Imagine driving along at 40mph in fourth gear, and (without losing any speed) getting the balance of power and clutch exactly synchronised so as to change to third gear without a single vibration or jolt.
Drew pronounces himself satisfied with the off-road element, and expresses his wish that my old habits have disappeared. That said, we head out for a road journey to start putting all the elements back together. Many approaches to bends require gear changes to optimise vehicle stability, so we do lots of these – again, with the aim of no jolts or bumps. Any changes in position or speed require mirror checks (not just your main mirror, but your wings, too) and a shoulder check, so I start making these work. And it’s no good just looking for the sake of following a system. It’s vital to look AND SEE, too.
There’s constant input from Drew as we trundle our way through the countryside of Berkshire and Wiltshire. Systematic approaches to roundabouts and junctions need a lot of work, and we stick at it for the rest of the day. I certainly feel that I’ve learnt a great deal even in this short space of time, but it only takes one little error on my part and – it appears – Drew won’t let me forget about it for ages afterwards. Never mind, that’s a way of learning and instilling some solid facts into my brain.
Tonight, I pick up Roadcraft and refresh my memory on ‘The System’ of vehicle control that’s at the very core of all advanced driving. Information, position, speed, gear and acceleration. And tomorrow will be spent round and round the roundabouts of Chippenham, getting position, speed and gear correct.