As How-2-Drive enters its second decade in business, we’re launching a kindness campaign calling on other road users to be more patient and considerate towards learner drivers.
Our founder Howard Floyd, who launched How-2-Drive in 2009, is leading the team in appealing to other drivers to remember what it felt like to be a learner, and understand how their behaviour can make lessons more stressful for beginners.
He said: “A lot has changed in learning to drive over the last decade, including a big overhaul of the driving test. But one thing that hasn’t really changed is the way some drivers treat pupils and their instructors on the road.
“It is as if some people see a driving school-branded car and lose all sense of good manners or how to drive responsibly. In some cases, what they are doing is actually illegal.”
Making life difficult on the road
“Our instructors have countless examples of our learners being treated badly,” he said. “From being followed too closely, to dangerous overtaking, even if they are driving at the speed limit, or drivers deliberately getting in the way while the pupil is trying to carry out a practice manoeuvre.
“One of our team, who didn’t have a pupil in the car at the time, was even spat at while being passed by a van driver, and he was literally doing nothing other than driving in a straight line down the road at the same speed as other traffic.
“The effect of unkind behaviour towards learner drivers is to make what can already be quite a difficult experience for them – getting used to driving in traffic and being aware of all the potential hazards, both absolutely necessary – much more stressful than it needs to be.
“Everyone who is on the road has at one time been in the same position where they had to learn, so to treat other people in this bullying way, they must have short memories.
He also said it is unfair to assume driving in front of or behind a learner driver is risky. “It is not easy to qualify as a driving instructor, you have to go through a rigorous assessment,” he said. “So you can rest assured if you do see a learner driver on the road, they are in good hands and are not likely to be performing dangerous manoeuvres.”
How-2-Drive has three top tips for drivers to be more supportive of learners on the road.
Keep a safe distance
Tailgating a learner driver isn’t just rude and putting unnecessary stress on them, it’s also bad driving and you could be breaking the law. Every driver should keep a safe distance between themselves and other vehicles, so that they have time to react if they need to. Remember to leave even more space in poor weather conditions.
Keep your gestures to yourself
Making rude hand signals, honking your horn, or even shouting verbal abuse at learner drivers is aggressive and unnecessary, and may also be breaking the law (you should only use your horn to alert other road users to a genuine danger). If you get a buzz out of abusing learner drivers, it says more about you than it does the learner.
Just give it a minute
Even if a learner driver is really getting your goat, chances are they’ll be pulling over or turning down another road before too long, so it’s really not worth getting annoyed about. This could be the first time this driver has ventured onto a main road, they could be doing a mock test, or even the real thing.
Howard also has some advice for learner drivers who experience bullying or abusive behaviour towards them.
Try and take it in your stride
Learning to be a safe driver of course includes dealing with hazards that can occur around you, including the unpredictability of other drivers. Someone honking their horn, driving erratically around you, or even shouting abuse is not behaviour you should ever have to put up with. If it does happen though, stay calm and your instructor will guide you through any tricky situations.
When you’re doing nothing wrong, there’s no need to do what the other driver is trying to make you do – whether it is to speed up, pull over or just generally disappear from their sight. It’s particularly important, for example, when you are waiting at a roundabout or to emerge from a junction. The actions of other drivers behind you should never push you into pulling out too soon, or make mistakes you wouldn’t normally. Focus on your own driving rather than what they are doing, and your instructor will let you know if you need to change what you are doing.
Talk about it
Being treated badly by other drivers isn’t something you should just accept as being part of the learning experience, because it shouldn’t, and it can be upsetting. If you feel like it has knocked your confidence or is affecting how you feel about having lessons, make sure you speak to your instructor about it. They are helping you to become a safe driver and that isn’t just about technical skill, but also making sure you are confident in your driving.
On the radio
Our instructor Terry Clarke, who delivers intensive driving courses in Norwich, spoke on BBC Radio Norfolk about the behaviour of other drivers he has experienced with and without pupils in the car. You can listen back to his interview from 1:31:00.