I always thought that I wanted to be an observer however, after passing my advanced driving test in April 2007 and starting a new job shortly afterwards, I discovered that I did not have the time to give. During the subsequent years, the idea stayed at the back of my mind and I promised myself that, once I'd divested some of my other voluntary roles, I would revisit it. That time came a few months ago.
After meeting my Training Officer and sitting in the back during one of the Sunday morning runs to see how the experts do it, my first training session quickly arrived; I was a trainee with the Mid-Kent IAM Group once more. This time however, I was destined to sit in the passenger seat.
The first thing I noticed was that it's not as easy as you may think. Being an Observer means not only do you have to give the directions to the Associate in a timely manner (therefore watching the road to spot your waypoints) but you also have to try and watch the Associate at those critical times in order to guide and advise them on how to improve their car control and driving. It is totally different to being a normal passenger where, as drivers, we watch the road and see where we're going. Now, on approaching a hazard, I need to remember to look at the floor to check if the Associate is using the System correctly or overlapping. This is not a natural instinct.
The Observer also needs to give feedback, both positive and negative, and gently probe so as to find out what the Associate understands and where gaps may exist. This is not always easy and certainly during my first session there were a number of pregnant pauses which I struggled to fill. Thankfully the other person I am training with also experienced similar difficulties! It was emphasised that on a typical drive opportunities will present themselves, either through road conditions or the actions of other road users, and these can be used to illustrate how the System - which as we know underpins everything - can be correctly applied. Doing this is much harder than it sounds since to be a good observer you have to be constantly checking, assessing and analysing each action and comparing it to how you, as an Advanced Driver, would've dealt with the same situation.
So, what else did I learn? I found out during my run (where I acted as the 'Associate' and my training partner the 'Observer') that a few bad habits had slipped in to my driving that need to be rectified. I discovered that there are a couple of gaps in my knowledge regarding the finer points of the Highway Code (such as the speed lorries are limited to on a motorway) and, most importantly, I realised I needed to refresh my memory of the book since this is the Bible and the foundations upon which everything the Associate does can be built.
Our next training run involves devising a route and completing that all important run sheet. The next blog post will let you know how I get on!
Neil Lakeland - Trainee Observer.