“ The National Driver Improvement Scheme is available throughout England, Scotland and Wales and run by Local Authorities or Private Companies who act as service providers to their prospective Police Authority. When a person is involved in a Road Traffic Incident and evidence is collated by the Police which indicates that they have been Driving Without Due Care and Attention or Reasonable Consideration to Other Road Users contrary to Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act, 1988. The person/s involved are given an option to either have the incident referred to the Crown Prosecution Service where they may receive a fine and penalty points on their driving licence, or an opportunity to attend a National Driver Improvement Course. „
A Day to Remember
Theres a day thats probably going to be imprinted on my mind for many years to come. On December 8th 2005 I was driving to meet a colleague at his home to then set off and follow him to a customer. It was about 9.30am, I wasnt tired, I hadnt been drinking but Ill admit I didnt know where I was going. My slightly dodgy Sat Nav was having a huffy morning and had stopped talking to me, causing me to miss the turn-off and sending me on a detour down some farm tracks. My phone rang and I picked up the call on my bluetooth headset. As I prepared to rejoin the main road the sun was low and shining off a wet road surface. The farmers hedges were in need of more than a trim and the visibility was obstructed. I looked right, looked left for a bit longer than normal and stupidly pulled out without realising that the car Id spotted on the right was suddenly a lot closer than expected.
Seconds later, I expected to be dead but after I counted my limbs, I realised there was no blood anywhere and I wondered at the bad smell of airbag gas. Two cars sat in the road badly crunched and the other driver and I got out and held each other in the middle of the road, both shaking.
Yes it was my fault even though the police said shed probably been speeding. But if my car hadnt been in her path there wouldnt have been a collision. Both of us were unharmed other than a burn to my arm from either the airbag or the side impact protection curtain, and a minor whiplash and bruising we were both very lucky. It ruined my Christmas and left me really distressed.
A few months later, I got the letter giving me a choice be prosecuted or attend a National Driver Improvement Scheme training course. Whilst I doubted there really were sufficient grounds for prosecution and had my friend as a witness that one of the police at the scene said from the tyre marks that the other driver was going too fast I wasnt about to put that to the test. As you can imagine, the choice was simple. If I successfully completed the course, any possible charges would be dropped and Id not receive any points on my license. Its not a cheap option though; Id have to take a day off work and pay around £150 for the one and a half day course. But after having a nasty accident, I really wanted to learn as much as possible about how to avoid something like that ever happening again.
Many people think that attending one of these courses is a soft option and its true that most of us would consider being tied in the village stocks and pelted with rotten vegetables as a better alternative than going to court. However, the cabbage approach whilst amusing for friends and neighbours and humiliating for the person involved would totally fail in the key objective of actually helping people to be better drivers.
Now lets get one thing straight I wasnt a bad driver. I took my test at 17 and had successfully driven for over 20 years without ever hitting anyone or suffering more than a few rear-endings (I was always on the receiving end). My accident history was completely blameless I would have had a maximum no claims if I hadnt been on company insurance policies for the previous 8 years. I was driving around 25000 miles a year and considered myself pretty good and pretty safe. However, in one moment of not concentrating fully, I failed to spot a hazard and wrote off £25k worth of BMW and learned the hard way that all those expensive safety devices really do work.
I was nervous about the course I had dealt with the accident by telling anyone and everyone that it was completely my fault and I wasnt going to pretend otherwise. I think thats probably an important step in getting over something so traumatic like having to admit you are an alcoholic before the therapy can work. My fear in advance of the course was that wed be locked in a room with a load of tutting coppers and made to address our offending behaviour a sort of cross between school detention and a good ticking off. I rang up and paid my money in advance by credit card - if you dont show up that way they get your £150 AND still take you to court.
Lets Face the Music and Drive Day One
On a grey March Friday morning I drove round to Northants Cricket Ground to face my punishment. I followed signs to a holding area where one by one, a steady trickle of rather sheepish looking people turned up clutching their paper work. Of course you cant help but wonder what they did so the conversations kicked off very quickly. One guy had been a white van man and fell asleep at the wheel and ended up with himself and his van plastered over the back of an articulated lorry. Another had been hit by another driver on a roundabout in Milton Keynes in what sounded like a 50:50 incident but the other driver was married to a policeman and insisted it be taken further. With a couple of exceptions (most noticeable the girl who blacked out at the wheel and woke up in traction after rolling her car through a field) most people were pretty willing to accept that theyd messed up.
In total there were about 18 of us and we were called into a meeting room and met by a couple of warm and friendly trainers and a large amount of coffee. Thankfully it was an entirely police-free setting the instructors are not police employees although many have taught police driving skills. With registration and coffees out of the way, we gathered on the seats around a projection screen.
As its over a year ago and as each local authority probably slightly alters the way they run the courses, I wont go into a detailed description of everything that happened or in what order. If you get called up for one of these courses, I wouldnt want to totally spoil the surprise. We kicked off with a couple of presentations focused on getting us to learn to spot hazards more effectively. We heard about the shocking difference between survival rates for children hit at 20 mph and those at 40 mph although speed wasnt a focus of the course none of us were there for speeding offences. We learned about what stopping distances really mean rather than mindlessly memorising them when wed studied for our tests years before. We saw photos of road scenes and had to spot the likely problems. We were told about accidents and asked to work out what caused them. We were given handy little bits of info that stuck in the mind (e.g. when you see a SLOW sign on the road, its very likely someone had a really nasty accident there so have some respect).
We formed small groups and played with toy cars, using them to re-enact accident descriptions. We talked about the mistakes wed made and got comfortable with admitting our own failings and some of the upset the accidents had caused. There was a lot of group interaction and pretty much everyone joined in. We were handed our own copies of the Highway Code and told to go away and swot up for a test the next day. One gentleman in his 70s admitted hed never read the Code in his life and plenty of others had clocked up many decades since theyd last seen a copy. One young lad had difficulties reading and was going to struggle with the Code.
And then we went driving.
A piece of advice if the person running the course is nice, have a good chat with them in the breaks. As a result of this, I ended up in a car with just one other woman and the chief trainer he basically picked the people he wanted to have whom he thought wouldnt be too stupid. And he sent the three largest men in the room off with a trainer he didnt like and whom he knew had a really small car Im glad I wasnt in that one.
Into the cars and off we went initially for a drive normally, dont put on any airs and graces session to be observed and for the trainer to take notes on how we were doing. I knew there were some things I would get picked up on hand over hand steering (yep, we all do push-pull to pass our tests and then revert straight back to crossing hands as soon as we pass). I was also picked up for my tendency to drive along one handed with my left had sitting on the gear stick. My driving partner did her session and the trainer picked her up for bad use of mirrors and driving too close the car in front. The trainer than took over and gave us a demo. He was so friendly and so human that it certainly didnt feel like we were being told off he just wanted us to improve what we were doing. With just two of us to the one instructor we got plenty of practice and reinforcement of key improvement points and before we knew it, we were back at the cricket club for the debrief and sent home to prepare for our theory test.
As you can imagine you get back in your car with a sense that its not so much a car as a motorised accident waiting to happen. There are hazards everywhere that you hadnt spotted before. I drove home practising my commentary driving for the next day, talking away to myself about all the hazards and what I would do to avoid them.
On the second day we started with a quick theory test and I was quite surprised how much I knew or had remembered from reading the Code the night before. Some of the scores were pretty pitiful. And then back to the cars and out for some more serious driving including country roads (with tips on maximising the distance you can see by changing your road positioning) and then onto the M1 in the chucking down rain trying to improve our own space awareness, to give other users more time to see what we were doing, and to observe just what awful risks other drivers were taking. Finally after a couple of hours we were back to the cricket club for a debrief in the car park and a review of how much wed both improved. Reassured that wed passed the course by showing significant improvement, we were sent on our way.
Several weeks later a letter arrived from Northants Police arrived, acknowledging that Id successfully completed the course and no further action would be taken.
A year later
Last week the company I work for sent another colleague and me on a ROSPA defensive driving course. This is policy for all company car drivers and part of the companys commitment to health and safety. And Im happy to say that over a year after my NCIS course I still remembered a lot of what Id been taught and knew that I wouldnt get picked up for anything really basic. I still have work to do on not changing down when slowing down (very old fashioned apparently and not at all the done thing these days), and I have to slow down my manoeuvres and not compress my mirrors-signal-manoeuvre into something so slick that all three steps are pretty much synchronous got to take my time and give other drivers time to see what Im up to. In about 6 weeks time well have another day training followed by the dreaded ROSPA test. If Id not had my NCIS I know Id have a lot more that I needed to change.
Do I think the course works? Absolutely. In just a day and a half I really felt an improvement in my driving a and much greater awareness of hazards. Compared to getting a fine and points on my license, by taking the course, I and the other drivers faced up to our own fallibility (and perhaps mortality) and did something to cut the chance of the accidents happening again. Had we just been fined and pointed, we'd have been no better drivers afterwards.
Many police forces also run Speed Awareness courses which are for people whove been caught by speed cameras the course content for that is quite different and focuses more on getting people to face up to the dangers of speed.
From what I recall, any driver attending either of the two courses who gets caught offending in the same way within the next 2 years will not get the option to do the course again. It will be a fine or court appearance and no second chances. However, somewhat bizarrely, you could do the Speed Awareness within 2 years if youd previously done the NCIS (or vice versa) but lets hope you learned your lesson sufficiently the first time that you wont need to go back again.
Im now in severe danger of turning into one of those annoying boring safe drivers you know the type who wear string backed driving gloves and flat hats. Other than that I can honestly say the NCIS was enjoyable, educational and well worth the time and money. I could say its almost worth having an accident in order to get the chance to review your bad habits but that would be a pretty dumb thing to do. I would recommend to anyone to call up a local driving school or find a local advanced driving group and get a bit of coaching. You never know when it might save your life.