He had his excuses for failure ready, but Sean O'Grady found an advanced driving test had a therapeutic effect

As I approached the HQ of the Institute for Advanced Motorists to take my advanced driving test I had my excuses ready. The Audi A6 I was driving was too big to manoeuvre properly. Its V8 335bhp engine was too awesome to keep to silly speed limits. I'd been too busy to prepare. I couldn't remember all those stopping distances in the Highway Code. And certainly not in metric. I was tired through overwork

As I approached the HQ of the Institute for Advanced Motorists to take my advanced driving test I had my excuses ready. The Audi A6 I was driving was too big to manoeuvre properly. Its V8 335bhp engine was too awesome to keep to silly speed limits. I'd been too busy to prepare. I couldn't remember all those stopping distances in the Highway Code. And certainly not in metric. I was tired through overwork

All were flimsy (except, of course for the last one). Millions of drivers deal with much bigger machinery than an A6 every day. I had, in fact, read the IAM's manual cover-to-cover six times. I had been on the IAM practical course with a helpful instructor, who managed to put me right on a few things. I was honest enough to confess my worst driving sins (mild road rage and speeding). I had practised my driving and tried to improve it. I sort of knew I ought to pass. But I had to have something to comfort myself with during what I expected to be an hour-and-a-half ordeal, my occasionally sloppy and often erratic driving habits scrutinised in microscopic detail by the IAM's examiner with the ultimate humiliation of a "fail".

In fact my examiner, like all the IAM's examiners a former police driver and a former chief examiner of the institute, did all that he could to put my mind at rest. No parrot-learning of stopping distances was required. The IAM's test, he gently explained, is all about observation, hazard detection and avoidance. It is essentially practical.

So off we went. The London traffic bit was fine, conditions that I am all-too used to. I had broken my tendency to change down through the gears as I approached junctions, keeping both hands on the wheel and maximising control, but I was in an automatic anyway. "Brakes to stop, gears to go", as the IAM's jingle goes.

Then it was on to the A-roads around Berkshire. I agreed to do a little "commentary" on my driving, not compulsory, but it does help one think about the road ahead much more methodically. Then it was the motorway again, clear but with plenty of evidence of the poor lane discipline that makes motorway driving such a frustrating experience.

I passed, despite hesitation at roundabouts and some haziness about speed limits. More than the cheaper insurance and other little benefits, the IAM course had a real therapeutic effect on me. I really do try not to speed now, my lane discipline is iron and I try to stay calm. My fellow road-users have good reason to thank the IAM.

For details of IAM courses contact them at 020-8996 9600 or visit iam.org.uk

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