Mirror, mirror on the screen, what’s behind I haven’t seen? Mirrors have featured in the top three reasons for test failure ever since the lists were published. Over the next two articles I will suggest three key reasons why many candidates fail to see and act on what’s going on behind.

Uncomfortable Viewing

My mother decided to give up driving about eleven years ago when she turned 80. She was an OK driver, but never got over an issue which dated back to the 1960s. Relaxed behind the wheel could not be used to describe her when she was driving, believing it to be a ‘scary’ process and she was not alone in this. Her ‘tension behind the wheel’ was because her instructor never taught her to relax while driving, and so the ‘tension habit’ became the norm for her – sitting forwards, gripping the wheel and grumbling! Despite the tension, Mum drove for around 50 years with only one minor bump. But the roads and traffic were very different for much of that time, and she rarely ventured outside her local area. New drivers who pass the test in 2018 will face far greater driving challenges than my Mum ever did and, with this in mind, we can’t afford to let them get the ‘tension habit’, not least because when drivers are tense, they tend not to use the mirrors efficiently, if they use them at all. I suspect that all driving instructors ensure that their learners adjust the mirrors for the best rear view from the normal seating position; but not all instructors go on to ensure that their learners remain in that normal seating position when driving. I often see driving school cars where the learner is leaning forward with a vice-like grip on the wheel; from this position, correctly adjusted mirrors for a relaxed position will not be much use. What’s more, the problem with this poor seating position is that it can become habit if it is not sorted out early in training (as with my mother). It affects vehicle control and causes fatigue, therefore instigating further negative effects on the drive and inducing heightened nervousness – a vicious circle! The other issue here is that when learners are feeling stressed, they develop ‘tunnel vision’, preventing them from scanning the road ahead, and fail to check the mirrors.

Three Reflections

Nervous tension aside, it’s likely that there are only three key reasons why the mirrors are not checked effectively during the test.

Instruction Failure the instructor is unaware that the driver’s mirror use is weak

Ignorance the driver does not know why the mirrors should be used

Bad habits the driver has been allowed too much un-checked sole responsibility for mirror use before a solid habit pattern of use has been established
This month, let’s concentrate on ‘Instruction Failure’. Many instructors don’t have a routine for checking mirror use. When coupled with the fact that they pay too much attention to the road and not enough to the learner, this can lead to mirror issues going unnoticed. It’s fairly typical for instructors to talk to the windscreen when giving directions and other instructions, only turning to
look at the learner after the instruction has been given.

The problems with this are twofold:
● The instructor might accuse the learner of not checking the mirrors when a check has been made. This can lead to a breakdown in communication because the learner feels as if he/she is being unfairly treated
● The learner might have mirror issues that the instructor is unaware of

To avoid these, always turn to face your learner before you start speaking, this way you will make sure that the mirrors are checked correctly. If the checks are late, you can prompt or question your learner.
Look at the driver when you give instructions and then after the mirror checks have been made you can glance back at the road to check the developing situation. As your learner makes the final approach, you once again need to place your focus of attention on him/her. In short, look at your learner when you speak, not the windscreen!

Seeing is Believing

Some trainers will tell you that turning to face the learner (as explained above) will give them an ‘unconscious’ prompt to check their mirrors. So what? Remember, we need to develop habit-patterns. One
of the best ways to do this is by rote style repeated practice. Even if your learners initially rely on your ‘unconscious prompt’, the repeated behaviour will itself establish a positive habit pattern. However, it’s important to remember that rote learning in itself isn’t enough. Drivers must fully understand why they are checking the mirrors and how to act on what they see. I was once a great believer in the ‘eye-mirror’, but experience has taught me that these offer a limited amount of information and can often leave instructors with a false impression of the learner’s competence when it comes to mirror use. But by turning around to look, you not only gain absolute evidence that the mirrors are being checked, you also gain lots of posture and body language information, providing clues as to how comfortable your learner is with the situation ahead and their position behind the wheel – so they don’t end up with my Mum’s tension habit! Next time: more reflections on mirror use.