Have you ever stalled? I have, and so has your instructor or trainer.
Do you know what to do if you stall?
It will happen to you, that's pretty much a nailed on certainty, so get to know how to deal with it now.
You must, without question, practice a routine to deal with stalling on your driving test. You may rarely stall, but if you do and the first time you have to do anything about it is on your driving test, you just may regret it.
I've trained many Instructors for standards checks and to help them with ADI Part 3 and it's amazing how many have no idea what to do if their learners stall. It's a kind of suck it and see exercise.
I've written a tutorial on what to do if you stall that should be useful for learners, ADI trainees looking to take their Part 2 or Part 3 test, and qualified instructors who have trouble dealing with it when it happens to their learners. Whatever routine you learn or go through, it's important that you do have some sort of plan to deal with it.
I was recently in Sheffield with a friend who's a fully qualified ADI. He'd asked me to help prepare him for his upcoming standards check and he had a learner all prepared for a 2 hour lesson. Although the ADI in question knows I'm writing this blog post I promised not to reveal any details.
Let's cut to the chase. After about 25 minutes of the lesson had passed we found ourselves on a well know roundabout in Sheffield with cars and vans coming at it from all directions. If you think any roundabout in Scunthorpe is busy, I promise you you've seen nothing like this one.
We were in a queue with maybe 12 or 13 other cars in front of us, creeping slowly to the give way lines to enter the roundabout. All was going well, the learner had done a great job so far, but the busy situation just wasn't helping.
We got to within a couple of cars of the front of the queue, then . . . Oh, oh . . . The engine died with a jolt and we had stalled. The cars in front disappeared leaving an empty space ahead that seemed to be mocking us.
My ADI friend who was in the front passenger seat simply said "no problem, let's just get started again"
He's right, stalling is not a problem at all, so long as you know what to do about it. You can ignore the beeping horns and forget about the angry faces you're imagining in the cars behind you, all you need to do is run through the very quick routine you've learned and practised.
Unless of course, you don't have a routine?
Before I'd even had chance to take a second look around us after our car had come to a not very pleasant stop, the driver reached for the ignition key and just turned it. As she reached for the key, my first instinct was to say "STOP!" to prevent her turning it because it was obvious what was going to happen, but there were two reasons why I didn't.
First, I wasn't the instructor on this lesson, I was a guest and the training time I was there for was for the instructor, not the learner.
Second, we had that big clear space ahead of us and I knew that there were no pedestrians crossing.
She turned the key and I was hoping she had the clutch down because I could clearly see from the back seat that we were still in first gear.
Nope. The clutch wasn't down. We lurched forwards about 3 feet as she tried to turn the engine, and then the car died again.
If you're a learner reading this and you think you'd never make this mistake, think again. It's well known (and very common) that any cause of sudden stress or distraction can throw out of your usual calm way of thinking and your normal reactions go out the window.
The learner said later that she couldn't believe she'd 'forgotten' to press the clutch down or go into neutral (she should have done both) but the truth is that this is very common indeed. A little stress, feeling under pressure and no doubt embarrassed are all the ingredients you need for a short term brain fade that can make any of us act out of the ordinary.
If you're an instructor reading this and you think none of your learners would make this error, then good luck when they do, because at some point they will.
Here's the bottom line. If this had been that learners driving test, she would have failed it instantly, there and then. The examiner would continue the test but her result would be bitter disappointment back at the test centre car park.
This would no doubt be marked as a serious error.
Well, we had lots of room ahead of us and no one was actually put in any danger, but the examiner quite rightly would ignore those factors. The examiner would be thinking, as the instructor should have been, "what would happen if this learner stalled again when there is no room ahead or there are pedestrians walking in front?"
Is it unreasonable to expect that pedestrians may see the car stall and think "aha . . . Here's my chance to cross!"
No, not at all, in fact it's the most likely outcome. If our learner instantly reached for the ignition when a pedestrian was just in front of the car the result is easy to imagine.
So, because there was no one actually in front of the car this can't be a dangerous error, but because danger could have been caused if someone was there, this has to be a serious error. Serious or dangerous, who cares, it's still a driving test fail.
My instructor friend recovered the situation but was also quite stressed by what had happened. After the lesson was over we chatted about it at length and I can assure you that all his learners from now on will practice a routine for stalling.
It's easy to learn, takes only a few seconds to go through and it just may save your driving test.
You don't need to deal with this for the first time on your test when you may be feeling quite nervous to start with. You can learn it, think about it and practice it. Never forget that after a stall you'll usually be in a very vulnerable position, often in the centre of the road. You need to take extra care that all is safe before you move off again.