Providing a welcome break for most, the recent festivities saw the second part of my Observer training.
This time the routes we drove were solely down to me and my fellow trainee, which made some elements much easier and others a lot harder! For example, because I'd initially scoped the route and driven it, I knew what was coming up, what actions I was hoping to see and where to look to find them. As an Observer you need to be much more than just a 'passenger', instead you are an active participant - constantly assessing the Associate and offering advice where needed. Having rehearsed the route in advance I knew when speed limits were going to change, where the tricky corners were and had planned which hazards I could use to check that the System was being correctly applied. All of this meant that, in theory, my eyes could be in the right place at the right time.
However, in addition to all of the above, the Observer is also responsible for giving timely, and most importantly accurate, directions. This is an area both my training partner and I need to work on for the next run. Consider the confusion at being told "go straight over at the next roundabout" (does the Observer actually mean don't turn the steering wheel?!) or "at the roundabout ahead, turn left". According to the invaluable training manual, directions should, whenever possible, comply with the "Alert, Direct, Locate" formula - alert the Associate through a command like "I want you", before directing them to what they need to do "to turn left" and locating it "past the row of shops" - to avoid any ambiguity.
As before, it was stressed that during a typical run (insofar as any drive is 'typical'), the Observer needs to be alert enough to take advantage of any opportunities which arise during the drive to use them as examples. This could be a cyclist on the opposite carriageway or a bus at a bus stop (driving plans), a church coming up in the distance (bearing in mind most Mid-Kent runs take place on a Sunday morning, you can reasonably expect parked cars, a potential change in speed limit down to 30mph and possibly pedestrians), telegraph poles or hedges on a country lane etc. There are numerous different situations which occur each time we set off that, as Advanced Drivers (or Associates), we naturally deal with. An Observer's role is to use these to illustrate some of the fundamentals of the theory.
The final element of this training session was the completion of the run sheet. This is a most important piece of paperwork since it gives both the Associate and future Observers some valuable feedback which they can then use to improve. Having seen this from both angles - as an Associate when I was doing my Test and now as a future Observer - I can sympathise with this; I know that on the Sunday runs I've taken part in I have devoured the content on run sheets to get an idea about what to look out for during the next hour or so. It should be used to reinforce the good points to the drive, with examples given so that they can be used as mental anchor points, as well as raise some elements for future work (such as practising commentary, reading the manual or working on the System).
The completion of this I initially found challenging but am confident that, like so much of what I am learning, repeated practice and experience will help.
Neil Lakeland - Trainee Observer.
Neil Lakeland with fellow trainee observer Peter Bott ready for their next training session.
Follow this link if you missed Neil's first instalment.