Today was our first day spent entirely on the road, and boy was it great.

We’ve been driving a little Mondeo hatchback ST, a diesel model, and once we’d finished our POWER checks this morning, we got going and headed out to the M4. As usual with my colleagues on the course, I was volunteered to be first at the wheel, so I got to enjoy handling a motorway slip road at 0845, heading eastbound.

Quick acceleration up to the limit, into lane 3 and another push up to around 80mph[1] and we start looking at ‘leapfrogging’. Basically a technique where we ensure at all times that we’re not 3 abreast, we’re not alongside a ‘heavy’ and that we have space to our left so that in an emergency, we have a gap that we can use other than the central reservation – a sterile zone. Thus, your driving is a series of leapfrogs from gap to gap. All using very little if any, braking but plenty of acceleration sense and keeping the revs up high before changing. Very interesting techniques, very easy to see how it’s so much safer. One quick shout out to the navy focus driver behind me who flashed us a few times wanting to get past. At 80-ish mph, flashing an unmarked police car may have not been his brightest move of the morning, but fortunately we were too busy training to care about him and before we could let him past and educate him to the error of his ways he took an exit.

Up then onto the A465 past Neath, and some more driving at speed, building confidence and looking at how you handle hazards at those speeds. Quick change of drivers, and then we’re up over the Penderyn road – a fantastic road, and then up to Libanus where we changed drivers again. From there, we headed up towards Brecon on the A470 and then over to Sennybridge on the A40 where we stopped for a quick cuppa. Off again down past the Cray reservoir along what is an exceptionally fast road, and then down to Craig Y Nos where we stop to swap drivers and I’m up again.

I take her over the top through Onllwyn, down to Glynneath and through the town itself. A quick lesson in “dominating the road”[2] and we’re through and back onto the A465. A few more swaps over various roads – all quite fast, and we’re back to Headquarters for lunch (yes, all that in a morning!). On the way a shocking example of how not to drive resulted in a quick bit of sharp driving from Jon under our instructor’s experienced tuition and we pull the gentleman over. Julie, the instructor (an operational police officer, ex-traffic) had a quick word about the use of mobile phones whilst driving before we carried on.

 In the afternoon, we had a quick familiarisation drive in the Bridgend Landrover that we’d use for our response driving tomorrow before picking Julie up and heading down through the Vale’s lanes. The afternoon was spent getting used to the Landrover – which was a bit of a shock after the Mondeo – and we all had the opportunity to drive it.

The style of driving is interesting – a lot harder than my normal driving, though this is specifically looking at building our skills at emergency response driving. Certainly a lot more expensive on fuel – I’m having to rapidly adapt my driving when I get into my own vehicle. However, this system of driving makes you stop and think about the hazards on the road. I have no doubt that my driving is orders of magnitude safer than before – and I really wasn’t that bad a driver then. I’ve told Sean that I’d like him to take the IAM test after he passes his standard category B test because that teaches you this system of driving. Julie did say that it was a shame we only had one week with them – and I agreed – I’d love to do the three week course, but it just isn’t feasible.

Anyway, to bed now – I have a day of response driving ahead of me tomorrow along with plenty of classroom work about the law and where we get our powers of exemption from.

[1] This is a police response driving course and was specifically designed to show us how to drive at these speeds. Under these conditions, we’re exempt under the Road Traffic Act, so don’t try this one at home, kids. *wink*
[2] Fnar!

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