At Apple Driving School, learning to drive is about more than just passing the test. Driving instructor Heather Brodrick focuses on teaching defensive driving techniques to ensure each student is a more confident, competent and safer driver in the long run. This approach has led to Apple Driving School becoming one of the highest rated driving schools in the local area as well as being named the Bristol Prestige Driving School of the Year. We spoke to Heather to find out more.

What is defensive driving?

Defensive driving overall does not require high skill or special training. All competent drivers will apply defensive driving techniques whilst using their vehicle to the best of their ability. This is done to try and reduce risk to themselves, and others around them, whilst maintaining safety as the top priority at all times. It involves having good knowledge on road theory and applying that on the road.

What does a defensive driving course involve?

Defensive driving is training the driver in becoming competent in what they are doing, whilst also analysing the situation ahead. The situation can include assessing other vehicles, but also the conditions of the road, what the road sign/markings are warning them of, to help them assess what the situation ahead of them could evolve into. The basic principles of “how, what, when, where, why” will be applied at all times to help the driver understand the situation and what the best solution will be. For example, “What’s the potential risk with this bend ahead?”, “How could the wet weather affect our control if we take this turn at a higher speed?”, “Why do you think the council have made this road 20mph, what might we anticipate from this reduction of speed limit?”

How does this help create better drivers?

Overall, defensive driving helps to create competent drivers who are able to analyse their own driving ability, but in addition helps them to process what the other driver may be thinking of doing. It involves assessing the whole picture in front of them to quickly identify hazards and risks, so they can find the safest solution as quickly and effectively as possible. Generally speaking, you will find high alertness and forward planning will help drivers to remain calm and can prevent issues such as road rage. You never know when your driving may create a lasting image for an inexperienced or nervous driver. With this in mind, it could potentially save lives in the future.

What other benefits does a new driver receive by choosing Apple Driving School?

Apple Driving School have always held the premise that our job is not just to pass the test, but to teach people how to be safe and competent drivers. This is shown by our reviews and our pass rate. We have one of the highest rated reviews online at Yell.com and have had many students go on to develop their driving further – some have now qualified as lorry drivers, bus drivers, taxi drivers, paramedic drivers etc. Phil, who learnt to drive with us, has continued to grow, and is now working as a fully qualified driving instructor for Apple Driving School – starting his career as a PDI at just 23 years old.

We pride ourselves in going above and beyond what is expected from a driving instructor – covering the entire syllabus and ensuring we do not just teach test routes. One example would be Avonmouth Test Centre, it does not include double mini-roundabouts as there are none within the test region. Nevertheless we still take all of our students down to the section in Southmead as we feel it is imperative that people understand all aspects of driving, not just the elements on the test.

Other examples would be teaching our students manoeuvres which are no longer on the test, or even basic principles such as how to fuel up your car and the risks if not done correctly. Alarmingly, 95% of all crashes in the UK are caused by human error. This means the car wasn’t to blame and in essence the crash could have been prevented. This is why defensive driving is so crucial in today’s climate, where so many of us are on the road at all times of the day.

What are the biggest challenges of driving in Bristol and the surrounding areas?

The biggest challenge is a tough question, as there are so many different reasons. The roads themselves are not particularly challenging, unfortunately it’s the attitudes towards driving which make most roads unsafe. If people applied defensive driving and did a little more forward planning, then most of the roads would be relatively straight forward. Most people have a terrible attitude towards new learner drivers, and this can make our jobs very difficult, especially when we have anxious learners behind the wheel! Unfortunately, a lot of people are quick to criticise others but fail to assess their own driving. If people understood, or at least applied their driver theory more often, most people would drive a lot safer and with more certainty.

What is the most important advice you could offer to new drivers?

Take your driving lessons as a learning experience. If you imagine a sand timer hourglass, all of the sand will go through naturally at a more consistent pace if you just let it take its time to go through. If you try and force all the sand through, then none of it will go through the gap. The same rule applies with learning to drive – if you try to rush through every section, then you’ll find you won’t remember everything once you pass your test. That is where a lot of the problems come in; people forget or do not know their practical theory behind driving.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We are a family-run business and we take great pride in what we do. It is our mission to ensure all of our drivers finish feeling capable of what they are doing, and we categorically will not let our students go to test if we do not think they will pass. We do not set people up to fail as that’s not a nice feeling.

We want our students to finish their learning with us, feeling like they are capable of driving a vehicle on their own. After all, the real test is driving on your own with no one there to help guide you. This is why we focus so heavily on theory-based content, so our students can put the theory into practice and identify where the theory has gone wrong: allowing them to correct the mistake before it forms into an actual risk.

We will endeavour to keep training our students to a high driving standard. We are extremely pleased to see our hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. To all our current and previous students, we wish you all the best and hope you continue to drive with our methods put in place.