Wake-up call for drivers everywhere

Clearway Driver Training in the Maidenhead Advertiser newspaper

Reproduced with the kind permission of the Maidenhead Advertiser

by Daniel Darlington of the Maidenhead Advertiser

Thursday, October 2nd 2008

Read the online version of this article on the Maidenhead Advertiser website

Let this be a warning to you motorists. Our reporter Daniel Darlington, who passed his driving test first time, embarked on a refresher driving course to see how he would fare today and - with a total of 26 faults - failed miserably. Here is what Daniel has to say for himself.

"First let me start by saying that driving is not my forte. It is not that I am inept, just that I don't consider a vehicle and its engine to be an extension of my manhood. Out on the roads I am captain slow, Mr sensible, the James May of driving.

You're more likely to find me dawdling along at 40mph in the middle lane of a motorway, than careering past traffic in the fast lane at break neck speed. In short, I drive like your mother.

My one crumb of masculine comfort is that I can say to my friends, chest puffed out with pride, that I passed my driving test first time, when I was just 17.

So when I was given the chance to pass my test again with Clearway Driver Training in Slough, I jumped at the chance.

Fist waving pedestrians and horn honking motorists had convinced me that a driving refresher course wouldn't be the world's worst idea, and I was keen to starve off complacency and banish those lingering doubts over my driving competency.

The omens were pretty good. It is more than a decade since I ditched those ball and chain L plates and made a dash for freedom from the DVLA testing centre in Hexham, Northumberland.

Astonishingly my comatose companion that day passed that wet behind the ears novice with virtually no faults, and since that fateful day I have thankfully kept all my cars in one piece.

With thousands of driving miles under my belt and experience in America, Australia and Europe, surely passing my test a second time would be a synch?

And with that confidence coursing through my veins I swept into Upton Court Park, in Slough on Thursday, intent on showing my tester Paul Kirkpatrick, 36, a thing or two about driving.

Paul set up his driving school in November 2004 and is a former BSM instructor of some repute.

He has spent years clawing at the dashboard and shrieking like a cheerleader in an honourable quest to turn nervous learners into consummate pros.

Jumping into his black Skoda, I adjust my seat, mirrors and try to ignore the two Advertiser cameras which are trained on my reddening face.

I put the gearstick into first and with a swift glance to the rear we are off - splutter, splutter, jerk and stall as, we roll to a rather premature stop and I have not even pulled out of the car parking space.

And then, just for good measure, I stall the car again. "Start the engine again and try and calm down," says Paul.

Small beads of sweat break out on my brow as I ashamedly put the car back into gear and kangaroo-hop out into flowing traffic on Upton Court Road. The next 40 minutes flash by in a blur; aimless conversation wafts over my head while I concentrate on giving Mr Kirkpatrick the smoothest ride of his life.

Keeping to the speed limit, checking my mirrors, performing my compulsory manoeuvre with ease, I cruise back into the car park after the test with a cocky self-assuredness.

I turn off the engine and settle back into the comfortable leather seat and wait to hear the good news.

"Mr Darlington, I can inform you that you have unfortunately failed your driving test," says Paul.

"You have made 26 minor faults and I have also marked down four serious faults."

One serious fault comprises a fail and I managed to get four big ones for observation and signalling - in less than 30 minutes.

Surely there must be some mistake? But Paul hands me the test sheet and it is all there in black and white

My pride is stung, but it is not the failure that hurts so much.

I have been rejected too many times to get down and gloomy about that.

It was the scale of the failure that was disheartening. In footballing terms this was a thrashing, a six-nil whitewash, with your goalkeeper sent off for good measure.

And I am a young, relatively experienced driver in the prime of my life. What chance do the elderly, the infirm or those who drive fairly infrequently have?

In American states drivers are forced to retake their test every few years, but in Britain we are allowed to drive on in blissful ignorance of our faults until old age or illness overcomes us.

Surely a chance to pass your test again is a better system and could lead to a reduction in the number of fatalaties which litter this nation's roads every year.

I am a failing motorist, but I have been given a wake-up call and a reprieve.

I thank Paul for his kind words of wisdom and head back to my silver Polo, car keys in hand.

Paul seems rather reticent to let me drive off and I can hardly blame him.

How many other failing drivers are dashing around on Britain's highways and byways? It is a sobering thought.

Paul Kirkpatrick is a DVSA Approved Driving Instructor. For more information on Clearway Driver Training, call 01753 583 038 or visit the website www.clearway-driver-training.com.