Going for GOLD
Carol Bundock overcomes her misgivings to be the ‘face’ of an older driver campaign – and finds it a rewarding and educational experience.
I have been driving for 40 years. I admit there have been a few little prangs along the way, and maybe I have been on a speed awareness course, and just possibly more than one concrete post has hurled itself at my bumpers from time to time, but on the whole, I’m a safe driver. After all if you’ve been doing the same thing for such a long time, you must be good at it, right?
When Norfolk County Council approached me and asked if I would be the figurehead for their Older Driver Campaign, my feelings were mixed. Me, an older driver, surely not, and what had they heard about my driving that made them think I needed to improve on anything?
My fears were allayed, however, when I learnt more about GOLD – the Guidance for Older Drivers programme. Its aim is towards maintaining a safe driving future for us all. It is definitely not a way of removing older drivers from the road, but a chance to look at any changes in a positive light, and help people adapt their driving to overcome any potential problems.
The county council launched the campaign in January, and recognise the importance of supporting older drivers to “help them keep driving safer for longer”. The core of the campaign is a one-hour refresher course with a qualified instructor, to look at how you drive, and what improvements, if any, you could make.
This is the point. How many of us are really sure we’re driving properly? I cringe at the thought of the theory test new drivers have to take nowadays – how many of us would pass that, let alone an actual driving test.
So it was with a certain amount of trepidation I went for a drive with Matthew Batterbee, one of the council’s approved instructors. The programme encourages you to use your own car, and Matthew was keen to stress it wasn’t a test, even though it felt a bit like it! “It’s rather like an MOT for the driver, and very much aimed at protecting yourself from other people’s mistakes,” Matthew told me, as he explained the principles of defensive driving. “Most accidents happen when people run out of time and space.”
Matthew was keen to stress that as older drivers, we do have a wealth of driving experience, but it’s important to refresh our skills, and make sure no niggling bad habits, turn that experience into bad driving. Instantly I found that by strictly adhering to the speed limits in built-up areas, and not doing 35 in a 30mph limit, (oops!), I actually felt calmer and more relaxed. Matthew also pointed out that by not driving so close to the car in front (another minor failing) I was not only able to see more of the road ahead, but if that car suddenly braked, I would have time to stop safely.
With the price of fuel to consider, less quick braking and speeding up, will help fuel economy. At the end of the session, I felt good, in fact I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and knew it had highlighted both good and not so good points in my driving.
Like many of us, I drive my grandchildren around, and that responsibility has made me more aware of how I drive, and what a very precious cargo I have every time I take them out. I always seem to be on the go, rather rushing from one appointment to the next, and even though that won’t change, my approach to how I drive when under pressure, will. I once read a road safety poster which said, “Better late, that THE late”. Salutory words, and worth remembering whenever we get into our vehicles.
Okay, so I know you’re dying to find out how I got on with the refresher course. Matthew Batterbee said: “Carol’s drive today was a good, confident and aware drive. Key points that came up were controlling speed in lower limits, leaving more space ahead when following traffic and bearing in mind defensive driving with the knock-on benefits of safety and less wear and tear on the car, and possible fuel economy.”
I was happy with that, and if you see my face on a poster or even the back of a bus in the coming months, think, if she can do it, so can I. Happy and safe driving.
GOLD aims to reassure, refresh skills and improve confidence for drivers in any of the following areas:
Night time driving
Negotiating junctions and roundabouts
Driving in heavy traffic
Dealing with complex road systems
Recognising and understanding road signs
Any areas of concern specific to the driver
If medication is affecting the ability to drive work with health professionals to help maintain a safe driving future
Regular eye tests and examinations recommended (free from the age of 60) as drivers need to demonstrate the ability to read a number plate at 20 metres (c60ft).
The cost for this one hour session is £29. For further information contact Norfolk County Council on 0344 800 8020 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Older drivers can also be referred to the GOLD scheme, through relatives who feel concerned about an elderly family member’s driving. Free, confidential guidance and advice by calling 0344 800 8020 or by emailing roadsafety@norfolk. gov.uk.
In Suffolk the GrandDriver membership scheme, based at the county council’s Ipswich headquarters, has been developed to help older drivers update knowledge and skills. Call the council’s public enquiry line on 08456 066067 or go to www.suffolk roadsafe.et