A STITCH IN TIME - Core Competencies for Driving Instructors

by: John Wells on

The core competencies should always be top of the agenda for the diligent instructor. In this article we take a look at how the core competencies are defined and ask whether we should allow faults to occur at all?

Whether taking your Part 3 exam or a Check test, your grading depends on how you perform at the core competencies of driving fault identification, analysis and remedy. Why is this? The reason is simple. Driving faults lead to accidents. Even if your pupil passes a driving test, not knowing that a particular action constitutes a fault could compromise safety for all road users during that pupil’s driving career. Driving is a lifetime skill and you have a considerable responsibility to prepare your pupil not only for a driving test, but also for a lifetime of safe driving.

FAULT IDENTIFICATION: Letting the pupil know WHAT happened. In order to correct a driving fault, the instructor must realise that a fault has occurred. Having identified the fault, it is the instructor’s job to convey that information to the pupil tactfully, and in a manner that encourages the pupil’s participation to avoid the fault in future. It is important that you prioritise and decide which faults are of a serious enough nature to bring to your pupil’s immediate attention, and which  were of a minor nature not worthy of mention within the context of the lesson.

FAULT ANALYSIS: Letting the pupil know WHY the fault happened. It is of little value to the pupil if they are told that a fault has occurred but the instructor then fails to explain why it happened. Having identified a fault, the instructor must explain correctly why the fault occurred. Instructors often confuse cause and effect in fault analysis. This means that the pupil is told that he or she made a fault but given the wrong reason for the fault occurring.

REMEDIAL ACTION: Letting the pupil know HOW to avoid the fault in future: The instructor must explain how to avoid repeating the fault. Your remedy should be offered after an explanation of why the fault occurred. Obviously, you can’t offer effective remedial action if your analysis of the fault was incorrect. From the preceding examples we’ve seen that there are two key elements that aid fault identification. Firstly, the instructor needs to look at the pupil. Secondly, the instructor needs to be anticipate hazards and time his or her observation of the pupil accordingly. If you know your pupil, it follows that you should also be able to anticipate his or her response to the situation developing ahead. That is, you can sometimes anticipate that a fault will occur.

The astute reader will probably now be asking ‘If I’ve anticipated that a driving fault will occur, should I let it happen?’

The answer has to be ‘No!’ It is of no value to instructor or pupil if faults were allowed to occur when intervention by the instructor could have prevented them happening. This is one of the most poorly understood aspects of the core competencies. Many instructors believe that in order to demonstrate their skill at fault identification, analysis and remedy, it is necessary for the pupil to make errors. In fact the opposite is the case. You can’t be given a poor grade for the core competencies if early intervention prevents your pupil making faults. This does not mean that you should be pointing out every hazard in the road ahead. You must give your pupils the chance to identify a problem and take appropriate action for themselves. However, any intervention by you must be correctly timed.
- Too soon and you will not know how your pupil was going to react.
- Too late and your instruction may become hurried and incomplete.

Knowing when to intervene is a matter of experience and sound judgement on the part of the instructor. However, we can still follow the basic premise that the instructor asks ‘What would I do next?’ Good instructors do this all the time and then have the opportunity to intervene to prevent a fault occurring. How you intervene depends on the circumstances and responsiveness of your pupil. Generally, however, intervention involves a ‘prompt’ from the instructor. Prompts can be:
Verbal:
-        A statement from the instructor. E.g. “Mirrors Fred!” Particularly useful when a previous observation fault has been satisfactorily analysed and remedied.
-        A question designed to provoke the desired response to a hazard. E.g. in a lesson on pedestrian crossings you sight the next crossing and observe your pupil. Your pupil appears to have seen the crossing but hasn’t made a mirror check. You could ask “What should you do when you see the pedestrian crossing?” The likely response will be “Check the mirrors”, following which, the pupil will do just that. However, this prompt has advised the pupil what the hazard is. It would be better to use a different question. “What is the next hazard Fred?” allows you to confirm that your pupil has indeed identified the pedestrian crossing, and will probably provoke the pupil to check the mirror. If your pupil identifies that the next hazard is the pedestrian crossing but doesn’t follow with the mirror check, then revert to the earlier question “What should you do when you see the crossing?”
Non-verbal:
E.g. pointing to a mirror. This method is not ideal but may be useful where the instructor doesn’t want to discourage the pupil by repeatedly asking the same question or making the same statement. The non-verbal prompt may also be necessary with pupil’s whose personality makes them unresponsive to question prompts.

So don’t panic if at the end of your test, the pupil, whether real or role-played hasn’t presented a ‘meaty’ fault for you to deal with – a stitch in time…

The above article was drawn from ‘Core Competencies’, one of the ‘instructor skills series of titles by Dr. John M Wells, approved by the DIA and available from all good driving schools suppliers.

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