Intended for healthcare professionals

Career Focus

Advanced driving for doctors

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.332.7556.s254 (Published 24 June 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:s254
  1. Rachel Hooke, freelance medical journalist
  1. Leicester rhooke{at}doctors.org.uk

Abstract

Rachel Hooke outlines what is entailed in advanced driver training and why it is relevant to doctors

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Advantages

  • Lower insurance premium

  • Lower accident risk

  • Reduced severity of accident

  • Personal satisfaction

  • Entry for curriculum vitae

What is advanced driving?

Advanced driving is a refinement of normal driving. You are expected to drive smoothly and safely, anticipate hazards, and keep to the speed limit. Much of it is common sense and techniques which you should have learnt for your driving test but few people do. Some of it is acquired with experience, but so are bad habits.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not about handbrake turns and getting out of trouble. Some advanced driving groups do organise trips to skid pans, but this is not part of the practical course. Neither is it about dithering or driving unnecessarily slowly. Advanced drivers are supposed to make progress where appropriate, which means reaching 70 mph (112 km/h) on an unrestricted dual carriageway if they consider it to be safe.

What is entailed?

Normally, you join a local group through an organisation such as the Institute of Advanced Motorists or the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) Advanced Drivers and Riders (see box).

You pay a fee, which covers the cost of books, subscriptions, and the test. You have to provide your own car and fuel. However, the observed runs (they are not called lessons) are given free by volunteers. You may also have the opportunity to attend theory sessions. Within reason, you can have as many runs as you like, as the only constraint is your observer's time. However, if you are not improving towards test standard as quickly as other people, your situation may be reviewed. Places may be limited, and yours could be given to another associate (pupil) who is more committed and able. A major predictor of test success is mental attitude. People who have been given the package as a present or with a new car may not value it in the same way and are less likely to pass than those who have paid for it themselves.

If you change jobs every few months, it may not be wise to join a local group just before you leave the area. If you know where you are going and can plan ahead, it may be better to time membership with the start of the next block. Find out if the new group has a waiting list and whether you are likely to be able to fit in all your tuition and test within the required time. I once managed to take and pass an advanced driving test less than a fortnight before moving on. However, I had had all the coaching I needed and could probably easily have arranged to take the test in the new area.

Runs must be fitted around the normal working and personal lives of your observer and you. My observer and I both worked shifts (he was a framework knitter), so we were able to meet on weekdays. Some people may be able to do only evenings or weekends.

The more you practise in your own time, the better. If you live in hospital accommodation and never have to travel to other sites, you need to make the effort outside work.

Some advanced driving tests are a one-off for life, with one pass category. Others are graded (for example, bronze, silver, and gold) and renewable at intervals (such as every three years). Some candidates may choose to retake a test or assessment for their own satisfaction, even if it is not compulsory.

Advantages and rewards

The first question that people ask is whether they will receive a discount on their insurance. The answer is not always, but you may be lucky with some companies if you ask. I have found that I can get cheaper premiums anyway, even with insurers that do not offer a reduction. Some doctors believe that insurance is weighted if they are working antisocial hours and driving when exhausted, so any concession is a bonus.

A less tangible advantage, even if not reflected in decreased insurance, is that you are less likely to be in an accident. This is because you are a more careful driver and less inclined to cause one. It is also because you are taught to predict the actions of other road users and react accordingly. Hence, you are less likely to be hit by someone else. If you are unfortunate enough to be in an accident, it will be probably be less severe.

Passing an advanced driving test is a good achievement to put on your curriculum vitae.

Why doctors?

Doctors may have to drive long distances to outlying hospitals on rotations. They may be returning home after night shifts, making home visits, or going to peripheral sites or surgeries. They may have to travel from home when on-call, under pressure to reach the emergency promptly.

Advanced driving teaches you to keep your wits about you, which will offset suboptimal conditions such as tiredness, being lost, or having to look out for hospital signs or house numbers. Having said that, I cannot advocate being behind the wheel when sleep deprived. Nor should doctors take risks in the course of duty, such as speeding or jumping lights; that should be left to the emergency crews.

And finally...

Advanced driving is a great equaliser. You will meet and have fun mixing with people from all walks of life: lorry drivers, engineers, green keepers, factory workers, and other doctors. You can take part in social events, write for the newsletter, and, eventually, become an observer yourself. If you enjoy your driving, then you will enjoy taking it to a higher level. ■