First Steps for the Irish Learner Driver

By: Robin Piggott

The main priority for today's Learner Driver should not bepassing the Driving Test but embracing the philosophy of skillsfor life initially. Surely passing the Driving Test is the mainobjective? Not So!

Your main objective should be to acquire the necessary skillsthat will keep you, your passengers and all other road userssafe. This makes sense, but is not taken on board by a verylarge proportion of Irish learner Drivers, with the result thatwe have an appalling accident record here which impacts on thewhole community.

The first and arguably most important step for the new driver isto enrol with a Professional Driving School who will setthe foundation for both basic and advanced skills and ensurethat safety is a priority. The lack of basic skills throughoutthe motoring population is very widespread and stems fromseveral inherent flaws which are only now beginning to beaddressed by the Government.

Thankfully our membership of the European Club is forcing thevarious agencies that are involved in the whole motoring sceneto take action and implement the various Directives on astructured time scale.

The Irish Driving Test only began in 1966 more thanthirty years after the UK introduced that most feared of lifeevents! Most of the recent EU changes have usually taken effecthere three or four years after the UK. These would comprise theDriver Theory Test, revised Test Marking Sheet, ProvisionalLicense revisions, and Mechanical Checks on the PracticalDriving Test.

Aspects still to be rolled out will be Mandatory Tuition forMotorcycles and Cars and the long awaited Examination andRegistration of Driving Instructors. One of the reasons for ourpoor standards on the roads, particularly within the youngdriver community is that Driving Instructor standards are notsubject to scrutiny. It is quite commonplace to see Instructorsgiving tuition in a pupils car with no L plates displayed. Thisshows a complete disregard for the basic rule of Law and byextension the calibre of instruction has to be mediocre at best.

What can you expect on your first lesson with a ProfessionalInstructor? Will you be taken into a city centre? Will yoube taken on a high speed carriageway? Will you be driving offdown the road in just five minutes? Absolutely not! What willhappen is a concentrated session covering many diverse subjectsrelating to both the workings of the car and all its equipmentand a look at the current Driving Scene into which the newDriver is entering for the first time. An investigation of allthe basic mechanics that are the responsibility of the Driver,and which now form part of the Driving Test, will take place,and a brief discussion on the current requirements of theDriving Test. Once this is accomplished, the basic CockpitDrill will be looked at along with all instrumentation andsecondary controls. Following on from this section, a briefdiscussion on the use of the Gearbox will take place and then onto the most mystical of Car equipment ...the Clutch. (Thatis of course assuming that we are driving a car with a manualGearbox, with its accompanying Stick Shift.) It surprises mostbeginners that it is the Clutch that moves the car and not theGas pedal. In fact, since you are going to be on a level stretchof road for the first tentative steps, it is interesting todemonstrate that the Car does indeed move with the foot no wherenear the Gas Pedal. This is the point at which we are learningthe first real Driving Skill; that of understanding the Term"Biting Point" and how to recognise it. In the very earlystages, a complete mastery of being able to bring the Clutch to"Biting Point" and hold it steady is the key to Driving awaysmoothly in every different situation. No amount of gas pedalusage will move the car unless the clutch is at Biting Pointfirst. Once the car begins to move, and is building up a littlemomentum, then the clutch can be fully released gently and theGas pedal then comes into play. Next follows a briefdemonstration of the clutch control technique by the Instructorfollowed by the Pupil. The sequence of moving off safely comesnext, followed by the Real Thing, but of course it's no usegetting going if you then don't know how to stop safely whichwill also be demonstrated. You are now on the move practisingstarting and stopping and the adrenalin is finally pumping afterall the Theory! Guess What? You will be doing the wholeprocedure in Reverse within a few minutes. Yes that'sright...Reversing! Reversing is such an integral part of every daydriving that it's something that can't be left till later. If itis put off, then chances are that fear of failure will begin tocreep in and that is not the object of Driving Lessons. So thereyou have, in graphic (almost) detail, the first steps on yourDriving Career. If you are going to progress steadily then youshould be prepared to do plenty of homework in between yourLessons, with a pad and pen as well as reading the Notes whichyour Instructor will have given you! There is plenty more wherethis came from, so take time to look at all the resourcesavailable and you should be well on the way to the basicapprentice stage after three or four weeks. The Driving Test isnot a consideration at this stage and will only be addressedwhen you have a suitable level of skill built up over severalmonths.

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