Commentary Driving and the Diamond Special Test
This Article is about the use of Commentary driving to develop hazard awareness skills in advanced driving. It is based on the requirements of the Diamond Special test.
Commentary Driving and the Diamond Special Driving test
After giving driving lessons in Nottingham for some years I decided to update my driving skills by taking the Diamond Special test again after some years without retraining. The following article is a guide on using commentary driving to improve advanced driving skills both in terms of forward planning and hazard awareness.
After passing the Diamond Special test in 2005, I considered my driving to be of a very high standard. Upon learning that the test now has a three year life span, I decided it was time to take the test again and purchased the Diamond 'Manoeuvres and Hazard Perception' DVD to use as a study aid. Like most ADIs, I regularly demonstrate the manoeuvres to pupils and did not anticipate having any problems in this area. However, I was greatly impressed by the commentary drive section of the DVD and realised that this is perhaps something I have neglected in my own driving. I have used commentary techniques in a limited way when training PDIs for the part 2 test of driving ability, but have never utilized it as a major part of driver training. After a few 10 minute commentary drives I believed my hazard perception and planning skills to be up to scratch and made a date to re-take the test.
I met Diamond Examiner Russell Jones DipDI in a local area and began the test. After 30 minutes of driving in an unfamiliar area I noticed that my concentration was wavering and I was finding it very difficult to remain totally alert to the driving situation. The route for the Special test was quite complex, taking in many country roads and small villages. Working and living in a city environment, this is a type of driving which I am not practised in. Junctions were obscured by trees and hills which made them very difficult to approach at the correct speed. Driving in an unfamiliar urban location on a multi lane road made reading signs and markings, as well as navigating the traffic flow very challenging indeed.
After 90 minutes of driving the test was over and I was not really surprised to find I was unsuccessful on this occasion. Approaching junctions, timing of signals and late decisions regarding road markings had been the problem areas. The day after the test I had another look at the Diamond Hazard perception DVD and noticed how far below the standard I actually was.
Commentary – training for the intuitive drive
Commentary is a proven way to develop advanced driving skills. It enables skills to be brought into conscious awareness where they can be analysed and refined by the driver aiming for a point where they become intuitive and automatic. I find commentary driving greatly improves the effectiveness of early observations by encouraging an active scanning process, the driver becomes more actively interested in the drive which leads to a greater awareness of the driving environment. A greater sense of timing is achieved, encouraging smooth use of the MSPSL routine and greater vehicle sympathy. Without commentary it is easy for a driver to lapse into a daydreaming state, resulting in looking at a fixed point ahead and missing vital driving information, attention is focussed elsewhere rather than on the driving task.
I found it best to build a commentary system up using the Observation-Anticipation-Planning system shown in the DVD. Start by talking through the hazard routine as you use it, mentioning all stages of MSPSL including physical actions such as mirror checks, braking, gear change etc. This first stage improves the coordination of the controls, encouraging a higher level of vehicle sympathy. Mirror checks become more regular, acceleration sense is brought into play resulting in much less need for harsh braking. Questioning whether each gear change is absolutely necessary develops a much more economical driving style and smoother ride. Timing and consistency in the use of signals is brought to the attention, are you making best use of them? As you get through the awkward stage of talking to yourself expand into MSPSLADA and you will see this is a very flexible and comfortable system of car control, changing from the rigid by the numbers style taught to learners during their early stages into a fluid and involving system of driving.
Next, start to add other elements into the commentary. Road signs and markings can be seen and their meanings spoken aloud, along with the course of action taken as a result of seeing the sign. You may find that signs begin to appear that simply did not attract your attention before. 'Saying what you see' helps to develop an active scanning process. Keeping the eyes moving helps the driver to gain information to the front, sides and rear of the car. This is essential when driving in an unfamiliar area. Late and incorrect decisions are so easy if you are not sure where you are headed for, commentary helps a driver to sort and prioritise visual information leading to earlier decisions, alleviating stress and helping in the forming of a driving plan. Lane changing, speed management and car control all improve when we see the signs and markings early.
Add the actions of other road users into the mix. The unpredictability of some road users combined with an ever changing traffic scene gives the commentary a sense of calm urgency. Attention is totally focussed on the drive, cutting down reaction times by allowing the driver to anticipate the actions of others at a much earlier stage. By talking through the actions of other road users, observation links can be made, helping prevent the driver from having to make last minute snap decisions. As a result all actions take on a smooth and unhurried approach, the driver has taken control of the situation and can more easily manage risk.
Finally, add environmental factors such as road and weather conditions. Notice the road surface, bends, trees and buildings, Is the road wet or dry? By describing the physical environment aloud during commentary, an awareness of how the vehicle is directly affected can be developed and the drive planned in accordance. Potholes and debris in the road can be avoided without the need for harsh steering, the vehicle can be positioned to gain the best possible view of the road ahead, speed can be altered early to allow for restricted zones of vision.
When all these elements are combined into a comprehensive commentary the driver is in a better position to produce the standard of drive demanded by the Special Test. I have also found that after regular practise of commentary, driving instruction improves as well. The learner's attention can be directed towards hazards earlier leading to greater opportunities for the use of Q & A. Inviting commentary from a pupil makes the lesson more interesting by involving them directly in the decision making process as well as developing planning skills.
After much practise of commentary driving I took the Diamond Special Test again and was successful in passing. I did notice a definite improvement in my drive compared with the first attempt. It is good to know my skills are back up to scratch and surprising how much they deteriorate if not practised regularly. I would recommend the Diamond Special test to any instructor who takes their profession seriously as it offers an excellent opportunity to improve a wide range of driving and teaching skills.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hello there. My name is Russ Chaplin. I am a DSA approved driving instructor giving driving lessons in nottingham. I hold the Diploma in Driving Instruction and have passed both the Diamond Advanced and Special driving tests, qualifying me as a Diamond advanced Instructor. I am ORDIT registered to deliver all parts of the Approved driving instructors nottingham qualifying exams as well as Check test re-assessment and training for existing Instructors. I teach driving at all levels and also deliver the Pass Plus post-test training course. After nearly 10 years of teaching driving I am still as enthusiastic as ever.