Today Catherine Bearder MEP wrote an article for the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
Please see below for the full text:
I first heard of the IAM after entering a Woman Driver of the Year competition arranged by the IAM and the Women's Institute in the 1993. I won the Western region heat and came thirteenth in the national finals. If I was able to do that, I thought, why not take the official test? I went on to have four observation runs in my Volvo estate with a local police officer, Dave Cherrington of Thames Valley police. It is very important to me to keep up my driving skills. Since I was elected as a Member of the European Parliament for South East England last year, I've had less time to drive, so I work hard to guard against bad habits creeping in!
I've always loved driving, and I can't remember a time when I haven't had a car. I first learned to drive when I was fifteen. Rather than taking the conventional approach, the first vehicle I drove was a Fordson Major tractor. I'd asked my dad to teach me to drive, but his best effort was to point to the tractor and tell me to do what I'd seen him do. The first time I stepped on to the tractor my ignorance about the gears led me let the clutch out with a bang and to do a wheelie from standstill. It was a good job I was holding tight and I certainly wouldn't recommend this method of learning to anyone.
Gradually I progressed to an old Morris van that I drove around the farm. By the time my 17th birthday came around my dad insisted I had a few lessons from a professional. After watching his daughter race across the fields on his farm, I'd forgive him for thinking it would take many hours for someone to mould my cavalier driving style into one fit for the roads. However, never one to disappoint, after just four lessons and two months road practice I passed my test first time and was ready to buy my very first Mini Van.
Later when I lived in Africa with my zoologist husband I found myself responsible for the aged Land Rover and had great fun driving around the game reserves, with even more hairy moments. On one occasion I was driving around the not-quite roads in the bushveld while he and three other students observed the animals on the back. Somehow we picked up a slow puncture, and spent the rest of the evening in a race against time. Either we made it out of the reserve with the quickly-deflating tyre or we would get stuck in an open top Land Rover surrounded by lions and hyenas. I'm glad to say my experiences in the tractor came in very handy that day as I managed to drive home, gingerly avoiding rocks and potholes. We got home just before the tyre deflated completely.
It's remarkable how the way we drive affects the world around us. Other than the obvious safety element, a careful approach to driving can do a lot to reduce our carbon emissions and therefore help protect our environment. I recently discovered that by simply changing the way we drive, we can reduce our fuel consumption by up to 15%. Not only would this help people out at a time when all of us have a little less money in our pockets, the reduction in CO2 emissions would be an important step towards reaching the targets the UK has set for ourselves, at home and in Europe.
Driving is very important to many of us in society. The world we drive in is changing, and with it so must the way we drive. I am very grateful to all the volunteers who do the assessments and tests for the IAM and who do so much to improve the driving skills, and therefore the safety of so many of us.