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The Check Run

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Objectives of the Check Run, by Ian Hughes:

As a Senior Observer, I carry out Check Runs for Associate Members on a regular basis. This process is not as simple as you may think. The Check Run is in effect the mock exam, where I am making a detached assessment of driving competence and determining whether the driver has achieved the level of competence required to pass the Advanced Driving Test. Based on the evidence provided by the associate, I have to make a judgement-call as to whether the associate is test-ready. I am not implying that the drive will be perfect: we all have continuing development needs and sharpen and develop skills over time.

Some associates evidence the required level of competence and are likely to pass on their first attempt. Others present development needs, which need to be addressed, before progressing to the test. A detailed written report identifies key development needs and issues to be considered which can often be achieved by a further 2 to 3 driving sessions before test. Please note: a Senior Observer is also happy to complete more than one Check Run, per associate.

Other associates are simply not test ready and therefore, the report acts as a development tool to support the associate with their Observer. It re-enforces the work being undertaken by the Observer. From the outset, the Observer should inform the Senior Observer, whether they feel the associate is test ready or whether the exercise is to support on-going development needs. The danger of not doing so may suggest the Observer has key development needs. It is therefore vital the purpose of Check Run is communicated fully.

I will not recommend that an associate takes their test until I am satisfied that they are ready. This is not a guarantee of passing. However, it does reduce the number of associates who fail at the first attempt. The Group has a first-time pass rate of approximately 90%.

The Observer's Role Prior to the Check Run:
The Observer should have assessed, developed, and challenged, the driving competence of their associate. The associate should be taken out on wide range of roads to verify that the associate's skills are not just skin-deep or a veneer. Throughout the 'Skill for Life Programme' the associate's skills are developed and challenged by taking them out of their comfort zone by using roads they are not familiar with. The range of roads should include all types of roads, including dual-carriage ways, motorways, cities, towns and major urban conurbations. Remember: success by the inch is a cinch, success by the yard is hard! Associates are individuals and their progress will vary. By using this approach it is more likely that the associate will drive consistently at an advanced level, maintain and continue to evidence competence, demonstrating full application of the system of car control, together with a full understanding of the Highway Code and its application. It is important that the associate is both physically and mentally prepared. I have conducted Check Runs where associates have admitted that they have not read the Highway Code. Knowledge and understanding of the Highway Code, together with Roadcraft, is essential.

The Senior Observer’s Expectations and the Pre – Briefing:
1. A clean car, both externally and internally. This includes a clean windscreen and glasswork. First impressions count.

2. An associate that is familiar with Roadcraft and can explain the system of car control, limit points, and understands the principles of Advanced Driving. Associates should be prepared to answer questions on both Roadcraft and the Highway Code. The associate should be able to explain the use, and application of, limit points and how the limit point is used to determine speed into a bend.

3. The associate should be able to provide a clear pre- car safety check, which includes the following:
• Damage to the outside of the vehicle;
• All lights have been checked;
• Tyre pressures from cold, tyre wear, tyre damage. They should know the correct tyre pressures for the vehicle;
• The spare tyre must be legal and should also have been checked like any other tyre;
• They should be able to lift the bonnet of the vehicle, and undertake the following checks: oil and coolant level, screen wash, brake fluid, power-steering fluid level, leaking hoses looking for traces of leaking coolant;
• In the cabin: driver’s seating position – the seating position must be set to enable the driver to apply smoothly pull and push steering, mirrors, all doors are closed, all occupants have put their seat belts on, the static brake test;
• De-clutching, starting the engine all red warning lights should go except the hand-brake warning light;
• Rake of steering wheel. This might not apply to all cars.

4. The associate will need to present all legal documents including their driving licence. Insurance and Mot Certificate may also be requested by the Senior Observer. They are expected to bring their exam application form which may be completed after the Check Run if they are recommended for immediate test, or if there is only minor work to be done with their Observer.

5. The associate will be advised that they are in control of the car at all times. They will be asked to follow the road ahead, and that route directions will be given to them in plenty of time. They will be briefed that the Check Run is part of the process to support them in achieving a pass in their advanced driving exam. It is an impartial assessment of their driving competence to determine if they are achieving the level required to pass the exam. They will be advised that it is not a guarantee that they will pass the actual exam. They are asked to relax and to be business-like with their driving. If they make a mistake they should try not to dwell on the error. Just ‘Enjoy Yourself’, and drive!

6. Lastly, the Associate will be expected to do a ‘Cockpit Check’ (ASPS):
• A = All doors secure (check dashboard for warning lights);
• S = Seat and mirrors correctly set for the driver (seat first);
• P = Panel (check warning lights and gauges) and pedals are acting normally;
• S = Safety belts of all occupants fastened correctly.

The Drive:

1. The route is designed to challenge the associate and for the associate to evidence their application of the system of car control. The route will include a mix of roads from country lanes to main roads. They will be deliberately chosen to allow the associate to demonstrate observation links and vision scans in the near, mid, and far distance, including cross-views. Both dual-carriageways and motorway driving will form an integral part of the drive. The route will tell me whether the associate’s skills are skin-deep, a veneer, or if they are driving consistently at an advanced level sufficient to pass the exam. I will attempt to put them under a little pressure in challenging situations.

2. Many modern diesel vehicles will not allow you to stop them in 5th or 6th Gear. The anti-stall feature in the engine and torque makes stopping in 5th or 6th gear near impossible. The ability to block change gears needs to be evidenced. Remember, you don’t always need to apply the foot brake before selecting the appropriate gear. Once you have achieved the appropriate speed you can take the gear. Use of acceleration sense is a vital element.

3. If the car is an automatic or has a tiptronic box, the associate should be able to understand the features unique to the car, and when it is appropriate to override the automatic function. Leaving the shift in “D” throughout the drive is not acceptable nor is driving an automatic as though it has a manual gear box.

4. I am looking for a smooth, well-balanced drive, where the associates can make progress to the speed limit, yet adjust speed in relation to the degree of hazard and threat. A simple comment when the speed limit cannot be achieved is a useful tip or practice even when an associate is not comfortable with commentary. Smooth application of the brakes and understanding weight distribution of the vehicle is essential. Corners should be taken at a constant speed to maintain vehicle stability. Evidence of early planning and anticipation is expected throughout the drive. Gear changes should be smooth, both up, and down, the box. Overlapping brake and gear change should only be used where it provides an advantage. Please spend time discussing brake/gear overlap with your associate. Refer specifically to Roadcraft pages 69 and 70, and ensure your associate understand when this should be used and when it should not be used.

5. Commentary, at present, is not a compulsory element of the exam. Some associates cannot provide commentary without their driving suffering significantly. However, I do believe that a good commentary acts as a development tool, in achieving the highest level of advanced driving competence. It also evidences the application of the SYSTEM (Information, Position, Speed, Gear and Acceleration) and is an aid to both driver and examiner. Please encourage the development of this skill, but do take into account the individual associate.

Post-Drive Feedback:

1. At the end of Check Run the associate will be asked a number of open questions. Specifically, what parts of the drive went well? What areas of the drive did not go well? What do they consider that their development needs are?

2. All associates, in my experience, have evidenced competence at an advanced level. However, the consistency varies considerably. Hence my feedback will always include praise balanced with the reality of what needs to be achieved to become an advanced driver. Remember, we are not expecting a perfect drive: put simply, no-one is a perfect driver! The overriding objective is that once the associate passes the exam, they become their own observer and they critique themselves to self-develop their own driving skills. The Check Run Report reflects the feedback already given, acting as tools for the Observer to action development so the associate go on to pass the exam. Remember, the associate can have more than one Check Run.

3. Remember the associate needs to a take his licence and insurance certificate, together with an MOT certificate, if appropriate, so that the examiner can inspect them.

4. The Associate Liaison Officer, Chief Observer and all of the Senior Observer Team are here to support you and your associates.

5. If your associate is not test ready, we have their and your best interests at heart. We want to make sure that the associate is as well prepared as possible, to succeed in becoming an advanced driver. Remember, it is a ‘Skill for Life’.