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C is for clutch

The clutch pedal is the scary one. If not treated gently, it can take you by surprise and also cause damage to your car.

The clutch pedal decides if the engine is connected to the wheels. When the clutch pedal is all the way up, the engine is fully-connected to the wheels. With the clutch pedal pressed all the way to the floor, it disconnects the engine from the wheels.

Between the fully-up and fully-down position is the biting point, where the engine is just beginning to get connected with the wheels. This point is essential for getting the car moving smoothly, and you will need to practice finding it.

How does it work?

To see an animation of how a clutch works see this video from Simon Raisbeck
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DL0j0eKD8Y

To see a real clutch, have a look at this video from Eric the Car Guy
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfjGohWy-OU

To see how it interacts with the gear box see this video from Learn Engineering
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCu9W9xNwtI

When is the clutch used?

The clutch is used for a few things when driving, and it can be thought of as a standby button.

  • When moving off from stationary, the clutch is raised slowly to bring the car out of “standby”.
  • When changing between different gears, the clutch is used to temporarily take the power away from the wheels while the gears reposition themselves.
  • When coming to a complete stop, the clutch is pressed down to put the car into “standby”

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B is for Brakes

Question: what do the brakes do?

If you said “stop the car” then you need to read on. If you said “slow” the car then that’s great (but read on anyway).

The brakes are a method of reducing the speed of the car. If you put your foot on the brake, the car will slow down. If you keep your foot on the brake for longer, the car will slow down more. Eventually, if your foot stays on the brake, you will slow down so much that you will stop. Congratulations, you have just discovered how to stop the car smoothly and routinely.

Pressing the brake gently will allow you to lose speed gradually and keep your passengers comfortable at the same time. You’ll need to do this early because it takes a long time.

Pressing the brakes firmly will slow you down in a shorter amount of time. Occasionally, firm braking is unavoidable, but if you find your braking is fierce all the time then it means you weren’t planning ahead properly, and you deserve to spill your coffee.

The £2 magic carpet challenge.

Place a £2 coin on the front shelf. Go for a drive and imagine you a driving a magic carpet. Brake as smoothly as possible. If the coin falls off the dashboard then your passengers get to keep it.

Thus challenge also work if you place a full cup of iced water between your legs.

Feel – Firm – Feather

Feel-firm-feather is a method of ensuring a good, smooth braking technique. When your forward-planning tells you that you need to begin the braking process, press the brake pedal just enough to feel that the car is slowing. Then gradually depress the brake pedal more and more until the rate of slowing is satisfactory. Keep adjusting how firm the pedal is pressed until your desired speed is reached. Finally, if coming to a complete stop,feather the braking by easing off the brake pedal just before the car stops to a complete halt. This prevents the uncomfortable “lurch and recoil” at the give way line, and ensures your coffee stays in its cup.

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Safe And Fuel Efficient

Whats the optimum speed for maximum fuel efficiency? Put the calculator away. Don’t bother with those fancy torque/power graphs. Just follow a few basic rules of thumb.

Keep a constant speed

Newton was correct: maintaining a constant speed uses less fuel than constantly changing your speed. A constant 65mph is better than fluctuating between 63mph and 67mph. Cruise control (or the speed limiter function) can help you achieve this.

Going slower than the lorries means you have to slow down and then speed up again to re-establish your braking distance every time one overtakes and pulls back in front of you. Lorries are legally required to have a physical speed limiter device restricting then to 58mph. If you do 60mph, you are more likely to be able to keep a constant speed by ensuring the big wagons stay behind you.

On a three lane motorway, plan ahead so that you don’t find yourself having to slow down behind a lorry in lane 2 while waiting for a safe overtaking gap in lane 3. Maybe in these circumstances a steady 65mph may be better until the wagon-congestion had passed, when you could slow down again to the magic 60mph.

Time is money

A 100 mile journey at 60mph takes only 1 hour and 40 minutes. At 70mph the same journey is only 15 minutes quicker but uses significantly more fuel. Some figures from my own car:

I regularly make a journey from the Midlands to North Wales; a round trip of 240 miles on the M6, M56 and A55. Apart from a short section around the England/Wales border, the speed limit is 70mph all the way. If I maintain maximum speed, the journey uses about 20 litres of fuel: at 2018 prices that’s about £25.

The same journey at 60mph uses about 12 litres: a saving of about £10. The time difference is only 20 minutes each way.

In summary

To reduce your fuel bill, and enjoy the thrill of lowering your car emissions, aim for a speed which is low but where you can keep it constant. On a road shared with lorries, 60 is a good balance. Oh, and just leave 15 minutes earlier.

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Blue badge holders only

A controversial one, but bear with me: I am not condoning the misuse of disabled parking bays.

It is common to see private car parks such as supermarkets, shopping centres, cinemas etc providing accessible parking bays with signage stating “BLUE BADGE HOLDERS ONLY”. My wife is disabled but does not have (and does not wish to have) a blue badge. But I still park in disabled bays when she is with me. I feel it is morally acceptable, and the law is on my side.

The blue badge scheme was established to provide disabled drivers and passengers with certain exemptions and/or priveliges on council owned roads.

If you have a blue badge yourself, take a few minutes to re-read the booklet that came with it (you did read it didn’t you?) In there you will find the following phrase a blue badge is intended for on-street parking only. So supermarkets can impose whatever arbitrary rules they like about blue badges: they have no meaning and I can ignore it. Unfortunately, with many private car parks being “managed” by greedy external agencies who threaten me that I may be fined for parking in a disabled bay without following their meaningless rules, the myth self-propagates.

Private car parks have a legal duty to provide accessible spaces as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act 2010. It is this act, and the protected characteristics within it which determine a person’s entitlement to use a disabled parking space: not a blue badge. By telling a disabled person they cannot use a reasonable adjustment unless they agree to be labelled with a blue badge, the car park owners are themselves in breach of the equality act, and are on very unstable ground.

Just as there is an increase in awareness that not every disability is visible, remember that not every disabled person wants to be labelled with a blue badge.

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Driving with anxiety

What is the best way forward when somebody says they want to learn to drive but are extremely nervous? Some people would say “you need to find out why”. But what if you don’t know the reason behind your anxiety? I can still help…

Firstly, I don’t need to know what makes you anxious: I can find that out for myself as we go along. It is more important for me to ask the following question: How will I know when you are anxious? Will you tell me? Will you go quiet? Maybe your body language will change? If it helps we can agree on a system of traffic lights Red Amber Green to make it easier to know how you are feeling.

Red means “I’m not coping with this situation a nd I need help to get out of it immediately”.

Amber means “This situation makes me feel slightly anxious but it doesn’t stop me from functioning.”

Green means “I’m feeling entirely comfortable and not feeling anxious”. Green is nice but if you are feeling totally green and stress free then are you actually learning anything?

My job is to keep the lesson in the amber zone for as much as possible. If we agree, I will take you to the red zone; just a small step outside of your comfort zone, to see how it feels. And then back to amber.

Secondly, we need to agree that making mistakes is ok; in fact I encourage it, and I won’t shout at you. If I see you are about to make a mistake but it will be safe, then I’ll let it happen. Then we can talk about why it happened. If it won’t be safe to let the mistake happen then I will tell you what to do or, if necessary, step in and take control.

The only rule in the car is that you work with me to analyse these mistakes and find a way to stop it happening next time.

I create a calm environment in the car and, by teaching you defensive driving, I help you keep the outside world calm too. If you want to bring music, just pop it on a memory stick. If you want me to tell you jokes, I can do that too! I even have teddy bears in the car (James and Pooh), and they have been known to help with certain topics.

And that’s it … I struggle to understand why all driving instructors don’t teach the same way.

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Driving with dyslexia

What difficulties may be faced if you are dyslexic and want to learn to drive? How can you overcome those difficulties?

Difficulties you may face

  • Identifying road signs and deciding how to act on them
  • Understanding the language used in the Highway Code
  • Understanding the questions in the theory test
  • Planning for the road ahead
  • Planning for other road users
  • Coordinating what you see with what your hands and feet do

How can I help?

  • Provide support and practice for your theory
  • Implement various techniques to help your planning and awareness
  • Find ways to minimise and then eliminate mistakes
  • Make use of diagrams unique to our school
  • Provide a calm, distraction free learning environment
  • Use your existing skills and find similarities to driving skills

I can also use multisensory learning and the Japanese shisa kanko system. Shisa kanko means “point and say”, and the method has played a big part in keeping Japan’s 200mph bullet trains completely accident free (watch video).

If you were worried about learning to drive because of dyslexia, get in touch and see how I can help.

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A is for accelerator

The accelerator increases the amount of fuel being sent to the engine. Pressing the accelerator pedal increases the engine speed, making the car go faster. Easing off or releasing the accelerator makes the car slow down. The accelerator is sometimes called the throttle (more common amongst motorcyclists).

Accelerator Sense” is a technique which requires the driver to plan ahead and adjust the car’s speed using only the accelerator pedal; the brakes being used only when a more rapid reduction in speed is required.

Often called the gas pedal, it is the rightmost pedal in most cars and is operated with the right foot. The term “gas” is from gasoline the American word for petrol.

The spring mechanism, which pushes the pedal upwards when the driver removes their foot, is an example of a fail-safe mechanism.

Eco-safe driving suggests that the accelerator is used gently, although when a sudden increase in speed is needed, a “foot to the floor” technique is used.