Sunday, 14 March 2010

Pass Plus

When you've passed your driving test, you can go on to do a further brief course that covers things you may not have encountered on your driving lessons. In particular, when available, this means motorway driving, but there are other modules as well.

In return for taking the extra lessons, some insurance companies will reduce your premium, often by far more than the course costs you.

The government subsidise this scheme. The taxpayer pays for people to become better drivers, and it seems that although everybody has to pay a small amount of extra tax, society as a whole benefits from fewer accidents and a higher overall standard of driving.

The winners of course, are as follows:

  • Us instructors, who get extra work, more money, and a bit of variety in our jobs.

  • New drivers, particularly those in high risk groups.

  • The insurance companies themselves, who get money from the government to incentivise this scheme.
  • Society as a whole because of fewer accidents and a higher overall standard of driving.
The losers are:

  • Taxpayers! I'm trying to find the figures on how much the subsidy actually is, but the figure has not yet yielded to my queries. I have e-mailed the Driving Standards Agency for more information. I'd imagine the figure amounts to several million pounds, which sounds a lot until you divide it by the number of taxpayers. Until I get a response, I suppose it's possible that the insurance companies themselves pay for the scheme, because it shows statistically that pass-plussed drivers are less likely to have an accident.

The Pass Plus course covers town driving, driving on rural roads, driving at night, driving in bad weather, dual carriaqeways and motorways. As I've mentioned, I place a lot of emphasis on motorways, because I tend to make sure the other elements have been covered thoroughly, well before my pupil passes their test.

There is a syllabus, but there are no hard and fast rules about how much time is devoted to any given element, nor how that time should be broken down. Typically, one of my forms may show that 8 hours have been covered, but that's because there is overlap. An hour spent driving on a motorway, in the dark, in the pissing rain, may show up on the report sheet as 3 seperate hours.

How people choose to divide the time is done by negotiation between the pupil and myself. I encourage people to do it in one big lump, although I'm happy to do it as 2 blocks of 3 hours, or 3 blocks of 2 hours, or even at a push, 4 blocks of 90 minutes.

Why one huge 6 hour drive?

Well, firstly, from my point of view, it makes very efficient use of my time. I'm not spending time travelling from place to place to do that 6 hours of work.

Secondly, it allows a lot more scope for where we go and what we do. You can go a long way in a 6 hour journey. So that allows me to turn the pass plus into a sort of adventure day. We go somewhere a bit exotic, like the Peak District or Snowdonia, rather than the familiar roads of Wirral. Such a trip covers extensive use of the motorway network, rural roads, including some pretty challenging roads like the Snake Pass, busy town centres in places like Stockport and Warrington, and Dual Carriageways like the East Lancs Road.

Obviously, driving for 6 hours is a big task. You could easily travel from Birmingham to Glasgow in that time, and you wouldn't do such a journey without taking a break, so I make sure we take a couple of breaks. I buy my pupil lunch in some country pub, about half way through the course, and we do put other stops in along the way. One of my favourites is the Snake Pass Inn, just off, you guessed it... The Snake Pass. They do a wild mushroom and asparagus risotto that's just to die for, dahlings.

And that's what I've been up to this afternoon and evening.

M53 - M56 - Assorted city roads through Stockport - Various rural roads to Glossop - Snake Pass - Lunch - Snake Pass - M60 - M67 - A580 - All kinds of stuff through Warrington, Widnes and Runcorn - M56 - Some horrible pitch black country lanes around Neston - Back to Birkenhead along the M53.

And today has been easy. The time flew by. I was with an enthusiastic and competent driver, who I've really enjoyed teaching. The roads were generally fairly quiet. The lesson flowed along beautifully, and before we knew it, we were back home filling in a form.

It's not always that straightforward. When I'm teaching, I'm concentrating on what's going on around me just as much as if I was behind the wheel myself, and I'm also paying close attention to everything my pupil is doing. - Another reason why I wouldn't do a 6 hour session without putting breaks in.

When the going is tougher - When the roads are more challenging, when my pupil is less able or confident, when I have less of a rapport with the person I'm with, the time can drag far more. Not everyone can deal with the 6 hour course, and every single person I've done this with has had times where their standard of driving has deteriorated. I do have pupils that I wouldn't attempt this with.

Today has been a fine day's work well done by both my pupil and myself. Here's to many more.

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