‘You need to be prepared to unlearn a lot of stuff,’ warned the friendly, plain-talking chap from my local Institute of Advanced Motorists. ‘It may initially reduce your confidence a bit. A few lessons in, you may find yourself thinking, “I’m really not sure about this! What have I let myself in for?” Finding yourself halfway between the way you used to drive and the new IAM way of driving can be disconcerting.’ Before adding reassuringly: ‘But you just need to persevere, push through that short-lived period of doubt and you’ll find it very worthwhile indeed. About 90 per cent of our local members pass the test’
I contacted The Institute of Advanced Driving about becoming an associate member – you become a full member by passing your IAM test – because after thirty years behind the wheel I finally have the confidence and maturity to accept that my driving may possibly, and very hypothetically speaking of course, not be quite as perfect and impressive as I think it is.
Others less proud than me don’t have to wait quite so long. You can apply to become an associate member of the IAM after only a few months driving experience (one year in Northern Ireland due to speed restrictions on newly qualified drivers).
Founded in 1956, IAM uses the British police force’s system of car and motorcycle control. ‘The System’ as it is imaginatively dubbed, was devised in 1937 by the famous racing driver the Earl of Cottenham to reduce accidents during police pursuits.
The racing theme continues to the present day with a forward from Nigel Mansell in the IAM bible, How to Be a Better Driver, a simplified version of the official police driving manual, included in your welcome pack when you join. ‘I’m not sure whether I was more nervous on the grid of my first Grand Prix in 1980, or during my own IAM Test,’ he admits. ‘What I do know is that I found achieving both goals extremely satisfying – as I’m sure did fellow racers: Graham Hill, Sir Stirling Moss, John Surtees and Geoff Duke – all IAM Advanced Drivers.’
Perhaps the idea behind all of this talk of racing is to reassure people like me that submitting yourself to further driving lessons, criticism and testing after a lifetime on the road is no shame. That you’re alpha rather than beta. Fast lane rather than slow lane. And that advanced driving is thrilling!
But it’s certainly not the case however that people who have passed their IAM test are risk takers. They are a whopping 70 per cent less likely to crash, and consequently enjoy lower insurance premiums (around 10 per cent on average, though bigger discounts are available from IAM’s associated insurance company). Research also shows they make much smaller claims when they do – which suggests the ‘System’ works in minimising the very serious threat posed by other people’s very bad driving. As an added bonus, advanced drivers have been shown to have better fuel efficiency as well.
IAM’s official purpose is: ‘to improve the standard of driving and the promotion of road traffic safety for the public benefit, in particular by (but not limited to) the operation of an advanced driving test.’ Skills taught include speed, safe distances, gear changing and cornering. Most of all, IAM teaches you how to take in more information about the road ahead and potential behaviour of other road users and process it more usefully. 99 per cent of 2,500 people polled who passed their advanced test said that it improved their driving, 90 per cent said it had given them greater awareness of other road users, while 66 per cent said it had helped them avoid a crash.
People who have passed their test also report more enjoyment of driving. And given that the IAM’s instructors, or ‘observers’ as they are called, are all volunteers who do the job in their spare time for nothing but their love of driving and helping others improve their own there is clearly much enjoyment to be had in the process of teaching – and learning from an enthusiast.
Despite Nigel Mansell’s recalled nervousness when taking his advanced test, the test, usually taken after about six ‘observed runs’ (in your own car), is generally a much more enjoyable affair than the L test, as there is less stress involved. A fail doesn’t affect your licence and you can retake it as often as you like. In total 400,000 people have attempted the advanced test and the national pass rate is around 75 per cent. You remain an advanced driver for life – there is no retesting. No-one can take it away from you.
The test lasts about 90 minutes and covers 30-40 miles of urban and rural roads and motorways/dual carriageways. Conducted by a police Class One examiner, it represents a great opportunity to learn from a very capable, very keen professional driver.
And even a driver as perfect as myself can’t resist that. So I’m looking forward very much to my first ‘observed run’ – and learning how imperfect I am.
Associate IAM membership costs £149, includes handbook, observed runs, the test and 12 months RAC membership.
Drive Check, a 60 min assessment of your driving skills by IAM expert, costs £39.
- Guest Blogger: Mark Simpson. Journalist, Writer and Broadcaster