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A PHYSICIST WRITES . . .
As I rounded off last month’s column with a discussion of why the great majority of drivers are reluctant to reach for the benefits of an advanced course, I never guessed that this would be a main topic aired at our monthly [Thames Valley Group] meeting a couple of weeks later. Or that the guest speaker would be Mike Quinton, the new Chief Executive Officer of IAM RoadSmart. When I did learn that our top man was coming, I couldn’t resist attending the meeting myself.
Mike told us that he had been in the job for six months. Early on (in his talk, I mean) he revealed that not already being an advanced driver, early on (in the job, I mean) he had embarked on the course. And just two weeks back he had passed the test. So right now he was probably more advanced (this was my thought rather than his) than most of us who had gone through the process longer ago!
Some of the numbers he gave us were impressive: since it was founded in 1956, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (as it was until 2016) has raised the standard of driving of nearly half a million drivers and bike-riders to a higher level. The roll-call of active members is currently not far short of 100,000. Mike pointed out, however, that this figure has not changed much in the past few years – and when you compare it to the 30 million or so UK drivers, it’s a drop in the bucket...
IAM RoadSmart seizes every opportunity for publicity in the media, so why aren’t the applications pouring in (faster, that is, than existing members are dropping out)? Mike himself thought that a significant reason was the term ‘advanced driving’, with its echoes of sixth forms and taxing exams (which really don’t reflect a course that takes you forward at your own pace, and puts you through a test that you should by then be able to pass without great difficulty).
After some other group members had offered their views, I chipped in: when the IAM first added the name RoadSmart, I had thought that this was merely jumping on the bandwagon of everything being labelled ‘smart’ these days. But suddenly (at the meeting) it had occurred to me that advanced driving could itself be renamed smart driving, to catch more people’s attention and suggest to them that this activity would raise their esteem among their friends.
Mike Quinton certainly heard me, but whether he took the idea on board only time will (or might) tell! The discussion then moved on, or should I say back, to the subject of new young drivers: having passed their test, they are in one of the two age-groups at highest risk (the other being the elderly), being inevitably tempted to explore the limits of their car and their driving, and to transport and impress their friends. This is of course the ideal time for the IAM to catch them – but what’s the attraction to them of immediately having to undergo further instruction?
Mike said that a graduated licence is being considered by the Department of Transport. This could impose restrictions on a driver for two years after passing the test, such as lower speed limits, no late-night driving, a limit on the number of passengers, restricted engine size, a reduced alcohol limit, and having to display P plates. (I’ve read that a trial scheme will be launched in N Ireland next year.) Anyway, the word graduated started my mind turning, and so later I raised my hand again.
Couldn’t the IAM push the concept of a single graduated licence that would apply to all drivers and cover all stages: learner, novice (as above), ‘qualified’ (or some such label for the current licence that wouldn’t encourage average drivers to think they were expert), then advanced (or smart) and maybe, listed at the top, the F1RST and Masters qualifications from the IAM? I should explain that I didn’t put any of this detail into my question at the meeting – what I proposed was simply to make advanced driving appear as the natural next step from the ‘qualified’ level, by being listed as such on everyone’s licence. But did Mike Quinton understand what I was getting at? Might it be accepted by the DoT? Would it work? Who knows...
In the coffee break I was approached by someone who remembered that last year I wrote about cycling, including mentioning that to go left round a bend you first steer (briefly) right, probably without realizing it, in order to generate the necessary tilt to the left. He had a related question for me about riding with hands off the handlebars, namely which way do you first lean when you want to go left? I played for time, thinking it might be a trick, or that he knew the answer already. Finally I said: read my column!
It only took a little working out. If you’re not handling the handlebars, most bicycles will steer left or right according to the tilt you give them – whether you are on the saddle, or walking along holding it. Also, the physics of taking a left-hand bend is the same as when you are riding hands-on: to get round, you (rider and bike) have to be tilting left.
To achieve this the front wheel must steer right for a moment, as with hands-on above. But to make that happen, the bicycle itself needs to lean to the right. And to get it to do this, on a nicely balanced straight-line course, you first have to lean to the left (by which I mean relative to the bike). The end result is the bicycle tilting and steering left, and round you go. What you mustn’t do is think about it!
I can give you more Don’ts (see below) for no-hands riding, in case you possess a bike and are tempted to try it. But first, what’s the attraction of it (apart from being able to show off)? Cycling websites tell us that professionals find the skill highly useful when they want to eat or drink, or add or remove clothing, without stopping and being left behind by le peloton. It can also help anyone develop better control of their bicycle generally.
But as you might imagine, cycling hands-off is almost as risky as driving with no hands on the wheel. Do not attempt it near people, traffic or obstacles, or on an uneven surface, or in a cross-wind, or in Australia (where it’s illegal in public spaces), or without toe-clips (because if a foot loses contact with its pedal you will crash). Also, you must keep your speed up and all your extremities protected...
But who am I to lecture you: I haven’t ridden a bicycle in 40 years!
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