Wrong Diagnosis = Wrong Remedy

By Jane Clarke in consultation with John Brown
Printed in ADI NEWS December 09

Following the results of the DSA Consultation Paper earlier this year, a programme of measures have been put in place to improve and modernise the way in which people learn to drive and are tested. The initiatives are based on education and incentive, and are designed to strengthen the way that people learn, with the aim of making the novice driver a safer driver. But are the DSA doing enough? Have they really addressed the root cause of the problem? In order to answer these questions we shall take a look at how the novice and indeed the driving Instructor are currently trained and assessed - this is where I believe the root cause of the problem lies.

Failing  There is ample evidence to suggest that the current way new drivers learn is unsatisfactory; too many people are taking their test before they are properly prepared or fully trained as fewer than half of the drivers pass the test first time. According to the article ‘Peer Pressure and Poor Preparation’ (ADI News Nov 2009) 19% of young drivers have only ever practiced on driving test routes with an instructor, many admitted to driving differently when amongst peers with 15%  performing illegal driving manoeuvres. If this is the case then their preparation is far from satisfactory and the area we should therefore also be looking at to make changes is the way that driving instructors are trained and tested.
The teaching methods currently adopted by PDI’s ADI’s are, in my view, a reflection of how the criteria for the Instructional (Part 3) and Check test are interpreted. The requisite  for these type of test, and the Driving Test, is perceived by many as having firm boundaries and requirements; thus many instructors are reluctant or afraid to adopt a more flexible approach during these tests for fear of failure This subsequently has a ‘ripple’ affect throughout the entire training process; ADI Trainers employ inflexible’ black and white’ teaching methods, the ADI (who doesn’t know any different) teaches the novice using the same techniques, resulting in poor driving standards on the roads.

When teaching methods become too rigid, the pupil is unable to cope outside of those   constraints when they are then required to deal with the unusual or unexpected. Driving is anything but black and white, so it makes sense that driving instructors should not teach in that way. Pupil centred learning is the key to success; more emphasis should be placed on facilitating the learning process by actively involving the pupil in the decision making process, encouraging them to learn by experiences and adapting teaching methods to suit the needs of each pupil. This is especially relevant when teaching those who have learning difficulties or disabilities.

Coaching For Success.  John Brown is a respected authority and specialist in tutoring students with Specific Educational Needs. I have recently had the pleasure of discussing educational theories with John and was inspired by the results that he has achieved by simply being flexible in his approach. On qualifying as an ADI, John was disappointed to find that ADI’s were expected to use a ‘one method fits all’ system of instruction, and found that the rigid methods of instruction, ‘placed too much emphasis on Obedience and not enough on Ownership’. John found this could be counterproductive for those that found it difficult to remember or follow instructions, but who were never-the-less capable drivers. He now adopts an approach that implements ‘Driver Development’, rather than driving instruction. This method, which does not restrict him to teaching a system, allows him to teach in the way in which the pupil learns most effectively. His methods when teaching those with learning difficulties and disabilities are equally applicable to all those undertaking driving lessons or learning any new skill, and are proven to be highly effective and successful.
I have included the following example which John refers to in his book ‘Driving is About Turning Disability into Ability’ in the hope that it may inspire instructors to ‘think outside the box’ and adopt a more ‘user friendly and flexible’ approach to teaching. 

Tailoring Teaching.  An autistic student came to John after having driving lessons for a  number of years with numerous instructors, totally demoralised and disillusioned by the whole process; his last mock test resulting in 20 serious faults. John took a couple of lessons to get to know the pupil, and soon discovered that his problems stemmed from the fact that he was not able to process the mass of information that was given to him in one go. John’s approach was to focus on what he could do rather than what he could not do.

A few lessons teaching him to drive for himself, instead of following instructions which made no sense to him, and he passed very well first time. His previous instructors could not get beyond the basics, and expected him to follow what they wanted from him, rather than what was right for him. His whole driving was inhibited by what he was not allowed to do (a symptom of autism exacerbated by instruction) - it was the freedom John gave him that led to his success.