Born to be Trialled

Do you want to get your motor running and head out on the highway? Well, if you didn’t obtain your learner permit before April 4th 2011 you’ll have to complete Essential Driver Training [EDT] before you can even sit your driving test.

EDT was introduced by the Road Safety Authority almost 12 months ago as part of the Road Safety Strategy 2007-2012.  Approved Driving Instructors [ADI] offer 12 EDT lessons, which cover the most important skills, knowledge, and behaviours while sponsors help and support learner drivers by accompanying them during practice drives.

So, almost one year on, how has EDT fared?

Michael Dolan, ADI Chief Examiner with the Road Safety Authority says economic downturn has led to a reduction in the numbers learning to drive.

“We went from a space back in 2008 where we did, I think around 423,000 driving tests over an 18 month period down to something like 100,000 driving tests so [there is] about a quarter of the activity going on in the sector.”

The downturn has made it difficult to gather data but the organization is carrying out a comprehensive review to see how the programme has been implemented on the ground.

“We’re talking to learner drivers, their parents, driving instructors, sponsors who go out teaching them, the insurance companies, the Gardaí and examiners and driver testers who carry out the practical driving test to see what impact if any it’s had”, Mr Dolan says.

The report isn’t due until August but Mr Dolan does say that “in general [there’s] a sort of mixed message out there at the moment. People come to it with a different perspective.”

DCU student Meabh McDonnell began learning to drive with a negative view of EDT. “I felt that it would take me longer to be ‘ready for the road’ and that the more lessons I needed, the more it was going to cost me”, she explains. Róisín Peddle wasn’t thrilled about the idea of paying for 12 lessons either.

Mr Dolan says a lack of awareness about the programme left many learners hesitant and admits that confusion still an issue almost 12 months later. “Learners are going along and expecting that if they do twelve lessons that will be twelve stamps in their EDT log book. That’s not the case, it depends whether it’s an EDT lesson they’re doing or not.”

“What clearly needs to be communicated to everyone is the need for them to have an understanding of how they’re progressing through the learning to drive programme. Without doubt there’s confusion there and it’s leading to complaints and frustration.”

Ms Peddle had an idea of what was involved when she started EDT but was still confused about the particulars of the process: “I knew about the 12 lessons and the logbook but not the sponsor thing” she says. Ms McDonnell understood that she would have to take 12 lessons but didn’t realise that there was a recommended two-week wait between EDT lessons.

“I think the two week spread is a bit ridiculous”, states Grainne Coyne. She began learning to drive before EDT came into effect. “My parents weren’t always available to give me a lesson and if I had to wait two weeks I would find my confidence would go and I would get rusty.”

“The lesson plan is odd”, Ms Peddle adds. “Driving is a practical skill, and I think lesson one is something like ‘find where the steering wheel is’. The only way you’ll learn to drive is by driving, plus it’s one of those skills that people learn differently, so I think the lesson plan and logbook are a bit pointless.”

She is also critical of the need for a sponsor. “I don’t have a sponsor as neither of my parents have access to a car at the moment and only one or two of my friends can drive. I think that’s a bit unfair on older people in particular, who mightn’t have too many people to ask.”

However, Mr Dolan is adamant that practice with a sponsor is vital for a learner when they’re developing a skill. “Not everybody has the luxury of being able to afford all the practice with a driving instructor. There’s research that shows even if you could, that’s not the best way to do it. The best way to do it is through a blend of the two, formal and informal practice”, he claims.

“People say that to us, they say I can’t afford a sponsor, how am I going to get through it? We say EDT hasn’t made any changes there, if you can’t afford a sponsor now and we understand why you might not be able to, surely you were in that situation before where you couldn’t afford a sponsor either before EDT did exist?”

One change that did come was the introduction of a logbook in which ADIs and sponsors must evaluate learners. It includes a section for self-evaluation, which Mr Dolan highlights as one of the most important features of EDT. He says self-analysis plays an important role in battling dangerous driving.

“We’re still having accidents above an acceptable level. Why is that? It’s because of the behaviour and the attitude, and that’s what we need to address. Getting people used to analysing their own performance early in the learning process will impact positively on the outcome for them in the long term”, he states.

Ms McDonnell has been reviewing her logbook but claims it’s more of an accessory than a necessity for her. “It is helpful for reminding me about what to improve on for the next lesson, but often I remember those details anyway”, she says. Peddle finds herself at the other end of the spectrum: “I keep meaning to [review the logbook], but I don’t really. I have to go back and fill it all in.” 

Ms McDonnell  is currently at the halfway point and is sure that she will need the next six lessons in order to improve her driving. She says EDT is good for first time drivers but believes it would be inconvenient for learners who just want to improve their skills.

“It’s an expensive system for people who may not have a large income”, she adds. “Driving lessons are costly and having to pay for 12, if not more to get you started, is a big inconvenience.”

Ms Peddle can see one big advantage: “I’ve heard so many horror stories of people having blazing rows with family members when they’re teaching them to drive. A professional won’t have the emotional involvement and shouldn’t start shouting at you. Plus you are less likely to pick up bad driving habits from an instructor, so it should make for a higher standard of driving in a few years.”

She believes that the system could be useful in battling careless driving and says it’s frustrating when you’re trying to drive by the rules but other drivers aren’t. “I think a lot of older drivers would benefit from proper lessons”, she states.

“[EDT] is the way forward without a doubt” says Mr Dolan, “but there’s an information deficit and my hope would be that we can clear that up.”

Almost one year on, what can we say about EDT? The system is still new and there may be room for review but you need to be aware of your obligations and expectations as a learner driver.

Especially when you’re tempted to fire all of your guns at once and explode into space.

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