Do It With Your Eyes Closed!

I can still remember learning about The Reverse Round Corner exercise when I was preparing for my Part 3 test and I learned one thing in particular that taught me a very valuable lesson about instruction although I didn’t realise it until years later when I was learning about training others to become driving instructors.[private-registered]

Like many of those who will be reading this my “trainer” wasn’t a trainer at all, they were someone who had passed the Part 3 test themselves and were showing me how they thought it should be done. When I was being shown how to do this lesson I was encouraged to learn how to communicate the skills that the pupil needed to them when the pupil had their eyes closed!
So I learned how to “talk a pupil” through the whole manoeuvre without them looking (the pupil of course was my trainer). It wasn’t easy! Having to communicate to my “pupil” exactly what they needed to do and when to it when I didn’t really know what I did myself was no easy task. But after a lot of practice with a “training buddy” I could do it, and once I was able to show my trainer that I could “get the pupil” round the corner without them looking and when they made the same sort of mistakes in their steering that the S.E. might make, my trainer was satisfied that I would be able to do it on the Part 3 test.

I wasn’t asked to teach the Reverse Round Corner exercise on my Part 3 test, and perhaps it’s just as well! I’d have done exactly what I’d been trained to do – Reversed the car round the corner from the passenger seat, telling the pupil what they needed to do and when to do it and making sure that our accuracy was reasonable maintained throughout the exercise. Knowing what I know now makes me realise that the S.E. would probably not have been very impressed by this and I would certainly not have passed the test. So – what would I have been doing wrong?

Firstly – I would have done whatever was required to make sure that the pupil successfully negotiated the corner – I would have done whatever was required to make sure we got from the start point to the finish point; I would have been totally focused on the hazard. We’re supposed to be showing the S.E. our instructional skills not how well we can drive, The S.E. isn’t assessing our driving skills whether we’re doing it from the driving seat or the passenger seat; it’s not even necessary to “get round the corner” at all and whether we do (or how many times we do) on the Part 3 test is dependent on the environment, other road users that might interrupt us (we might have to go back to the start point more than once if there are vehicles emerging from the road we intend reversing into), and the errors our pupil makes.

My determination to drive the car through the exercise meant making several stops and I was constantly checking that we were not getting out of position – and this meant I was looking at the kerb as well as keeping a “weather eye” open for other road users. I was far too busy to pay any attention to the pupil! I didn’t see this as a problem, I was making so many checks in relation to our position and other road users that I was easily able to recognise the moment something was about to go wrong, and I was well “tuned in” to listening for any change in the engine noise that would suggest the pupil was going to go too fast.

My determination to successfully complete the manoeuvre by driving the car myself meant that the pupil wasn’t learning how to do it! I didn’t realise that job was to let the pupil do what they could do and intervene when they showed me that they needed my help. The control skills that I had worked so hard to develop were actually demonstrating a lack of control; all the S.E. would have seen would be an instructor who was persistently stopping the car and not allowing the pupil to show what they could do.

Whilst I was able to identify the fact that the car was out of position (and do it at the moment it happened) I didn’t know why it happened; it could have been because the pupil used too much or too little steering or had done it at the wrong time – it didn’t matter to me because all I was concerned about was making sure we stayed reasonable close to the kerb. I WASN’T ABLE TO IDENTIFY OR ANALYSE ACCURACY ERRORS PROPERLY.

My need to focus on the kerb and the general driving environment meant I rarely looked at the pupil and although they had their eyes closed in practice it wouldn’t have been the same on a Part 3 test! I would not have known what observations the pupil was or wasn’t making! Probably the most important thing on the test marking sheet from the DVSA’s point of view – if the pupil isn’t looking in the right place how can they react to what they see?

If I’d been asked to instruct this PST on my test it would have been a disaster!

But I learned something very important from my trainer which stood me in good stead later once I’d discovered that my job was to know what the pupil was doing instead of doing it myself. I had an intimate knowledge of exactly how to do the manoeuvre – not in an unconscious way that experienced drivers have; but a conscious awareness of exactly what needed to be done at every moment of the exercise – and I was able to communicate it to a pupil.

What I had to learn later though was it wasn’t my job to drive the car – my job was to show the pupil how to drive the car and know whether they were or not! I had to look at the pupil and not the kerb or the driving environment and let them do the exercise, accept that they might make mistakes and deal with them when they were.

My trainer had taught me to do it “the wrong way round” I didn’t have to be able to communicate the actions that the pupil would be making to them with THEIR eyes closed – I had to be able to exactly the same thing with MY eyes closed. I had to be able to do it without looking at the kerb or the general driving environment. My eyes wouldn’t really be closed of course, instead of looking every but at the pupil I know now that my focus has to be on the driver, if I make sure that I’m checking to see whatever I’ve told the pupil to do is being done I’ll see the errors when they’re made and be able to analyse them. The control skills that I had already enable me to deliver an effective remedial action and show the pupil what they need to know when something is done wrong.

When I do the exercise now I only take my eyes off the pupil once we’ve got to the start position from the place we’re the briefing was done to check that we’re the right distance from the kerb – and only then once the car is stopped and secured. Once the exercise begins I’ll only look away the pupil when I’ve taken control and stopped the car because they’ve made an error (if I need to), the only time I always look is at the point of turn (again once the pupil has stopped there because I’ve told them what to look for and what to do when they see it), and the only reason for this is that I need to know when to tell the pupil to apply their steering to begin negotiating the turn. At all other times I’ll be asking the pupil to look in the correct place and tell me what they can see – and when they do I know if the accuracy needs any attention.