RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) aims to reduce road accidents by encouraging an interest in road safety, by improving driving standards, knowledge and skill. In order to do this RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders have over 50 local groups that will provide free training to help you improve your driving skills and prepare you to take the Advanced Test.

What is Advanced Driving?

It is a safe, thoughtful and methodical way of driving. Advanced drivers are more observant and better at anticipating changes in the surrounding conditions. Because of this they are able to plan their driving to deal with any circumstances.

Advanced Driving is based upon the ‘System of car control’ as detailed in Roadcraft – The Police Driver Handbook. It is unlikely that anyone will gain a high grade without a good knowledge of the current editions of The Highway Code and Roadcraft.

“Advanced driving is the ability to control the position and speed of the vehicle safely, systematically and smoothly, using road and traffic conditions to progress unobtrusively with skill and responsibility. This skill requires a positive but courteous attitude and a high standard of driving competence based on concentration, effective all round observation, anticipation, and planning. This must be co-ordinated with good handling skills. The vehicle will always be at the right speed with the correct gear engaged and can always be stopped safely on its own side of the road in the distance that can be seen to be clear.”

– DSA, RoADAR, IAM, 1997

The Advanced Driving Test

The RoSPA advanced driving test is regarded as the most comprehensive and challenging available to the public. It is monitored and approved by the Driving Standards Agency.  The test lasts around 90 minutes, and is taken with a RoSPA Examiner, all of whom are serving or retired Police Officers.

The RoSPA Advanced Driving Test is unique as it is graded Bronze, Silver or Gold. A RoSPA gold is the highest civilian driving standard available and the holder will be a master of his or her art. To see more about what is expected, download our Car Test Guidelines (PDF 127kb).

Top Tips on how to pass the RoSPA advanced driving test, from Mike Collins

Think about where you have parked your vehicle to meet the Examiner.  If in a parking bay it should be reversed in, ready to drive out, with the front wheels at an appropriate angle to move off safely and smoothly.  It should, of course, be clean, (I have a problem in giving a grade if up to my ankles in cigarette ash or empty Cola cans, since this is no way to treat a motor vehicle) and with sufficient fuel.

The Examiner will expect you to demonstrate a pre-drive safety check.  Do this even if it is not required, unless asked to cut. I suggest that people imagine that they have been transferred to work in an under-developed country, and have hired a car from “Rentawreck” at the airport.  (I’ve done this, literally!)  Check it out on this basis, even though you know it is probably in perfect condition.  Mention tyres (including the spare and tools), all the electrics including the horn and four way flashers, and go under the bonnet.  Discuss the levels of brake and power steering fluids and the dangers of leaks of these flammable liquids.  Whilst doing the obvious checks on oil and coolant, check also the battery leads and, if possible the washer level.  (If this is not visible or has no dipstick give it a squirt when in the driving seat).  There are several mnemonics for remembering this drill.  POWER, POWDERS, or FLOWERY all work. (The Y is for Yourself!)  I prefer ROWDIES, as this puts it in the right order – outside the car first. (Rubber, oil, water, damage, ignition (for fuel content) electronics and seatbelts).  It was agreed some years ago that this would be the official RoSPA mnemonic but is not always used by everyone.

After entering the vehicle do a methodical interior drill (remembering that this is “Rentawreck”) starting at floor level and finishing at the centre mirror and roof closure if any.  Doing it this way will ensure that you don’t miss anything.  Place the seat so that you are not too close to the wheel, remembering that the ideal position is with elbows and knees slightly bent.  Get as near to the ideal as your build will allow.  On the way up, as well as the obvious  (gear shift position and handbrake checked on) mention the location of indicators, lights, four way flashers, horn and wipers and that the head restraint (for all passengers as well as the driver) will contact with the hart part of the skull, not the vulnerable part of the neck.  Also mention whether you have TCS, ABS or any other little goodies such as sport mode or cruise control.  You may later be asked to describe their function and operation.  If you have installed a radar detector it would be a good idea to remove it (Permanently).

If all this seems to be taking a long time, don’t worry.  If the Examiner wants you to cut it short you will be told!  The object is to make a good impression of your knowledge and methodical systems at an early stage.

Test the brake pedal for pressure and mention the effect that the servo will have when the engine is started.  Make sure that the doors have been closed – ask the Examiner and any other occupants to check their doors.  Now, if the Examiner is ready, start the engine with your foot depressing the clutch (in case of a false neutral) and describe the effect that the servo has had on the brake pressure.  Test the clutch function by depressing and releasing it and carry out a static brake test.  If you have ABS say that it has checked itself and is working correctly.

With an automatic gearbox start the engine in N not P if the vehicle allows you to, explaining to the Examiner that you are avoiding passing through R on the way to D.  If you are forced to go to R due to gearbox design the handbrake or electronic brake must be on fully (or right foot on the brake pedal), and revs kept low.

All occupants should now fasten seat belts and you should ensure everyone is familiar with the release mechanisms in your vehicle.  The Examiner will be, but it does no harm to explain that a child or older person may need a demonstration.  Test belts for correct tension.

If the Examiner is ready you can now, at last, move away.  Remember that on a down-slope it may, depending on the vehicle and on other circumstances, be appropriate to move off in second gear.  Do a moving brake test before reaching a necessary braking point, if possible.  Warn all occupant first, and aim for about 20mph.  If circumstances prevent this tell the Examiner why you have not done it.  Now that he or she is giving you route directions you will have to listen for them, but I advise getting in a bit of commentary as early as possible, whether or not invited to do so.  If this is not wanted, you will be told!  The point is to let the Examiner know that you are a trainer driver, aware of, and using, the system of car control.  The first left or right turn or roundabout is a good trigger.  The Examiner will, of course, have picked up very early on whether or not you are doing things correctly.  Bring in a two second check, verbally, as early as you can when outside the 30mph area.  Under thirty a sensible distance only is required – we do not necessarily expect a two second gap then, although it may be appropriate.  However, do not leave too big a gap in slow traffic, it will invite intruders from left or right, on feet or wheels.  Remember to keep looking for Bob in slow traffic, he will often be found in the nearside mirror.  (Oh, that’s the bloke on Bike.)(Or even worse Tom, who can be found in either Mirror!)  Remember to expand your gap on wet or slippery conditions.  Comment in the state of the road surface, the amount of white paint, and the presence of street furniture.  I hope to hear mention of escape routes, usually on the left but occasionally on the offside.  Talk about any split co-efficient of friction (“split Mu” in the Greek Alphabet) that you drive over, especially when wet, but it’s a relevant demonstration of driving knowledge to mention it anyway.  Discuss the sun if it being a help (shadows or bars of light showing openings) or a hindrance (low ahead or behind) and any other factors on the day, such as patches of ice or wet or gusty winds.  Any form of commentary is a help to the Examiner in judging your knowledge and efficiency, and it will also help you to settle down in to the drive.

There are no special tips for your general drive, except to follow the guidance from your training sessions and course notes.  Mention “Fleetcraft” and “Roadcraft” as training manuals.  Keep good gaps, with constant checks on all three mirrors and mention that you’re doing them.  Slightly exaggerate head movements.  Keep the commentary going unless asked to stop it.  Most Examiners enjoy listening to a good one.  Remember the rules for braking – straightest lines feasible and as early, smoothly, gently and progressively as possible are the main ones.

Keep thinking.  Look ahead as far as possible and try to avoid surprises by anticipating problems.  Expect every green traffic light to get worse, but hold off a bit on the approach to red ones – they will get better.  Talk about this.  A good aim is never to have to stop for a red traffic light.  It’s not possible of course, but you can try!  Avoid surprising other drivers, especially those behind you.  Aim to have a reason for every signal, including the brake lights, and then you can explain, if asked, what the signal was for.  Anticipating currently unseen traffic, behind, in front or to the side is a valid reason.  Make sure that signals that you do give are not ambiguous or confusing to other drivers, and bring this in to your commentary.  Remember the value of gentle repeated “dabs” on the brake pedal (“I am intending to slow down” rather than “I am slowing down”) and a brief negative indication (“I am not turning off the main road”) on the approach to a fork or unusually shaped junction.

The Examiner, who will be a serving or retired police traffic officer, is used to driving powerful cars and will expect to see a “sparkling” interesting drive.  He will not give a good grade if either bored or apprehensive.  Speed limits must be adhered to.  If you find that you are a mile or two an hour – it should not be more – over the limit, confess the fault and bring it back, (checking mirrors first).  You will get credit for noticing – and we can all let it slip a little sometimes.  A value of the commentary is that you can admit to faults in this way so that the Examiner knows that you appreciate the error.  On the other hand, do be progressive, use the roads up to the safe speeds, bearing in mind that limits are limits, not targets.  Try not to be over-cautious at, for example, roundabouts.  Be careful, look and think, but there is rarely any need to wait for a 100 metre gap unless the approach speed of other vehicles are very high.  Aim to try not to have to come to a stop at a roundabout.  Slow down on the approach, using the features of car control, so that you can get the view, changing down if necessary and try to “flow” through, filtering smoothly into traffic already in the system.  This, of course, if not always possible, but aim for it.  However, no other vehicle should have to slow down or change course due to your actions.  A good exercise is to try to avoid coming to a stop on a moderately long route, i.e. slow up to roundabouts, traffic lights, junctions etc, then get the view and go.  This encourages good forward observation and thought, perception of danger and a smooth, flowing and therefore safe drive, rather than a proliferation of “gas and brakes”.  Obviously, luck plays a part, but it is worth practising and aiming for.  Another useful exercise during test preparation is to see how far you can drive, on a winding road, without touching the brakes unless forced to.  This improves observation and bend assessment no end.  One definition of good driving is that the less you are using the brakes the better you are performing.  (Another definition is to make progress unobtrusively – difficult in the Rolls Royce, whose owner I regularly test!)  Choose the route carefully and only do the “brake” exercise with an instructor present and compliant.  Do use the brakes if it becomes necessary!

Gear changing should be done with the “skip” or “block” change method, not sequentially.  I find that this is acceptable going up the ratios as well as down, provided that the vehicle, the road incline and the circumstances are correct for it.  The rationale is that the left hand is of more value on the steering than on the gear lever and that correct use of the wheel is a sina qua non gradient of safe and efficient driving.

With automatic gears remember that you need to allow time for the box to do its job.  The change up or down is fractional but not instantaneous.  The system of car control should not be compressed or concertina’d.  Stay in “d” except for unusually long stops at, say, major road works, or crash scenes, as the box is designed for use that way.  Use the handbrake rather more with an auto box to avoid “creep” which is more likely to happen with an old or worn box).  But, in a manually geared vehicle, ask yourself “will the handbrake bring me any advantage?”  If not, for example at a momentary stop on a flat road, it is better to keep both hands on the steering, using the rationale above and anticipating the ever possible “shunt” from behind.

On the motorway part of your route you must follow the basic principles of keeping a really adequate gap ahead, using all the mirrors more frequently, and anticipating inadequately signalled swerving in our out by other traffic.  Advertise all your own moves well in advance by at least four click of the indicator audible warning, – more if in poor visibility.  The four or more clicks should take place before you have started to move across lanes.  Smoothness, space and observation are hallmarks of good motorway driving.  Avoid “hogging” lane two, but also avoid weaving in and out of lane one every hundred metres or so.  Lane three should definitely be used only for overtaking slower (under 70mph) traffic, with a return to lane two after the overtake.  I know that this is not the attitude held by many on the motorway, but we are trying to do it correctly.  The only exception to this rule is if lanes one and two are both really full of slower traffic.  This, in my experience, is fairly rare except at peak times, or roadworks, collision sites or other heavy congestion when all lanes will be fully anyway.  If you are short of space behind (anywhere, but especially on faster roads) and all that you can see in the mirror is a very large AINACS or OVLOV badge, then give yourself more room in front.  The Examiner will probably fail you if you jab at the brake in these circumstances, but a gentle speed reduction, thus a gentle front space expansion gives you a chance not to surprise the idiot behind.  I recommend reading the section on motorways in “Roadcraft”/”Fleetcraft”.

If the – in my opinion – ill advised raising of the motorway speed limit becomes law we shall need to be very aware of the more frequent 100mph vehicle on wet or icy roads, allow more space as an escape path and be much more attentive to what is going on behind.  (And in front, looking for more frequent crashes).

You will be asked to do a reverse, of some complexity if possible.  As you are allowed to remove the seatbelt when reversing, do so if it will help.  Do not struggle to keep both hands on the wheel, looking backwards effectively is much more important.  Consider that you are searching for a three year old on a tricycle, (I once dealt with such a situation, killed by a reversing vehicle, so this is real life and death, not theory.  I would not wish anyone else to have that experience).  If having difficulty in seeing effectively use you left arm on the passenger seat back to lever yourself up higher.  The main failure I have found on reverses is the effort to do it too quickly.  It cannot be too slow, either on test of in reality.  The slower, the easier, and the safer.  When using the wing mirrors to check available width come to a stop, or at most a very slow crawl, to do so.  It will help to reverse accurately in to a marked bay if you deflect the nearside mirror downwards to pick up the bay line.  This is a nuisance with manually operated mirrors, but the Examiner will be happy to help.  Remember to re-align the mirror afterwards!  Comment throughout the manoeuvre.

On return to the starting point a few questions on the Highway Code, road signs and driving theory will follow.  Revise beforehand.  There are a few rarely seen road signs which catch out most people, and an evilly minded Examiner might just arrange that this book randomly falls open at one of them!  Therefore look up the rare ones, as well, such as count down markers to concealed level crossings (red diagonals on white), minimum speed limits (round and blue) and the rare, but not well known broken white lines on the offside of T junctions.  Your car handbook, which of course you know by heart, should provide enough information for the very basic mechanic questions.

Throughout the test, although using the above tips, try to forget that you are on test.  Think of it more a demonstration drive to get the best price for your smooth, comfortable vehicle from a potential buyer.  This should help any test nerves.

Remember also that the test has been devised be people with a lot of experience, and whilst parts of it may seem a little dogmatic or pedantic, they do have a reason, usually with a road death or injury as an original background, e.g. as with the reversing.  You are trying to demonstrate perfection, which is impossible, but get as near to it as you can.  Believe me, the Examiner also knows that this is impossible!  You must demonstrate that you can control the vehicle safely, legally and efficiently under all conditions, with an appropriate level of knowledge.  If you can do this on test, with someone watching your every move you will be a much safer all round driver.  Remember also that the Examiner is an enthusiast, doing the job for enjoyment and as a public service.  He or she will be interested in your performance and will hope that you pass with a good grade.  All RoSPA Examiners, I am sure without exception, have practical experience of the results of bad driving, often by having to deal with crushed or broken bodies.  Any advice is therefore given, not just to criticise, but to increase your level of skill and reduce your level of risk.

The best of luck – Go for Gold!

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