This is the second article considering right turns and test failures. Bearing in mind that there are probably more accidents at right turns than in any other junction manoeuvre, it’s paramount that learners are fully aware of the risks and how to avoid them.

Steering Clear

When turning right, it’s essential that the driver looks well into the new road, rather than along the bonnet or down at the kerb (short observation), but I still see many learners who are not doing this. ‘Short observation’ is the main cause of ‘swan-necking’ and other steering problems when turning right. What’s more, this short observation issue can often be exacerbated by the instructor. A common instructional error is to encourage the learner to stop too far forwards when waiting to turn right from a main road to a side road. If the front of your car lines up with the centre line of the side road it’s too far forwards for most junctions. It might sometimes be necessary to position ‘well forwards’ to get a view around parked cars or other obstructions, or on rare occasions, to deter cars from pulling out of the junction to the right, but at most junctions it makes far more sense to position further back. Why? Because when a car is positioned too far forwards it requires much more steering effort to turn and then to straighten up in the new road, making errors more likely. Coupled with ‘short observation’, this can cause major problems. Monitor your own waiting position when turning right – is it the same as the position that you teach?

Lateral Positioning

It’s commonly taught to position ‘just left of centre’ when turning right. Nothing wrong with that as far as it goes. But in and of itself it doesn’t teach learners to think. For example, where is the centre? Is the white line the centre? Or do we mean the centre of the available space, when there are parked vehicles on the right for example? Is a position near to the centre always safe and sensible in the face of approaching traffic? If there is insufficient room for vehicles to pass on the left/inside of you, then moving to the right serves no practical purpose, but it does place the car nearer to the approaching danger! It also tightens the angle of turn at the junction that can, in turn, add to steering issues. Be careful not to fall into the ‘rote trap’ of teaching things like ‘just left of centre’. Ideas like this might be useful guides in early learning but should never be delivered as ‘rules’. Your learners need flexible skills that will help them to deal with all eventualities.

Decisions, Decisions

Learner’s often find it difficult to make the ‘stop or go’ decision when they first start making major-to-minor right turns. To help them during the first few attempts, you might take some responsibility for decisions. Alternatively, you might give them ‘decision making practice’ while you demonstrate around a right-turn route with them deciding ‘wait or go’ from the passenger seat. It will also help to explain that there are, in fact, three decisions available when turning right.

These are:
1 Stop and wait
2 Go
3 Don’t know!

It might seem odd that I have included ‘don’t know’ as a decision, but learners need to understand that it is perfectly normal to feel unsure about what course of action to take. Defensive driving depends on
a degree of uncertainty, so by legitimising ‘don’t know’ as an active process, you will help to remove the pressure that some learners feel when making decisions. The important learning point with this is: ‘Don’t know, Won’t go’. It means they must reduce speed until they have either made a decision to go, or alternatively, reached the point where they must stop.

Looking At You, Kid

One of the scariest things that an instructor can experience is a right corner cut. I still recall a near miss situation during my third week as an instructor – my learner cut a corner so badly that a car approaching along the side road passed us to the left. After that I learned very quickly that I needed to take more control if I was going to stay alive long enough to enjoy my new found career! In 2018 there are still some instructors who are confused about how ‘taking control’ fits with the concept of client centred learning. They feel that modern teaching is all about asking questions and that they should never be giving direct instruction. However, when you are in a situation where the learner is not in full control, asking questions will almost always be futile. When necessary, give clear early instruction on speed reduction, rather than waiting until the car is near to the junction and traveling too fast to turn safely. If you find that you repeatedly have to give instruction or talk-through on right-turns, or indeed in any other situation, consider your route planning and make sure that your learners fully understand how the responsibility for risk will be shared at all times. Make sure that your learners get plenty of right-turn practice, sufficient (agreed) help when required, and are never faced with busy right turns, or any other situation, where they feel out of their depth. Build up to complexity with practice and experience.