How I passed the caravan B+E driving test
I’m quietly confident about practical tests when it comes to things like driving. I’ve driven on mountain passes, I’ve tackled Romanian drivers performing death-move overtakes (in Romania, before anyone goes all UKIP on me), and I’ve towed hundreds of miles’ worth of track at Millbrook Proving Ground as part of the Towcar of the Year competitions. My general outlook is: it’ll work out OK.
Yet, there’s the niggle in the back of my head that, in a test, you can fail. You can muck it up and waste hours of prep and effort. So, when it came time to be examined on things I knew I could do after hours of training and experience, I took a new tact of mindset, thinking: shut up, brain.
Coping with pressure
That silence, waiting for the examiner to tell you the results. Or at least to say something, anything, so long as it’s a noise other than the scratch of his judgy pen against official paper in a tense car on a warm day. It's not something that's easy to deal with, other than just riding out the situation and dealing with the result afterwards, good or bad. Here's how to get to the point of success after some thorough training to pass the B+E test.
Backing up a bit – reversing, if you will – the reason behind me taking the B+E licence test is because I passed my original driving test after 1997. That means I can’t tow an outfit (combined car and caravan weight) over 3500kg. This had to change.
The test itself consists of:
• A reversing exercise
• Uncoupling and recoupling
• Carrying out safety checks on your vehicle and trailer
• A drive on a variety of roads
• Brief question and answer session
The S bend reverse is nothing to be scared of, as you get a lot of time to practise. If you take it slow, you’ll nail it more times than not. The tricky bit comes with having to stop with the back of your caravan in the designated area.
Unlike on-site, you have nobody to look out for you, so it’s a case of carefully moving back for the last bit before jumping out and checking, once, if you’re spot on. If not, simply reverse just that little bit more.
You already know a lot of it, but listen
For the experienced towist, uncoupling, recoupling and the safety checks are mostly common sense along with basic car knowledge (being asked: “how would you check the oil” and similar questions).
Still, it’s surprising how, when hitching and unhitching repeatedly during practise, sometimes what usually comes as second nature just leaves your brain and you draw a blank.
This bit’s all about taking your time and being thorough. The physical checks include tyre tread depth, making sure the electrics plug is in good condition and inspecting the breakaway cable. The key is making deliberate moves to show the examiner you’re actively ensuring the part in question is safe and fit for purpose.
On the road
The drive lasts for about an hour, during which time, anything can happen on the roads. Training consists of making sure you read every potential situation well in advance, and react accordingly so that you don’t suffer from other people being idiots.
For example, if someone pulls out in front of you and you’re forced to brake hard. Yes, they shouldn’t do that, but you can never assume that they won’t. You need to leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can react safely when needed.
Routes around the test centre included tight bridges, a railway crossing on an S bend, streets with cars parked on either side, town roads, dual carriageways, country lanes and plenty of shrubbery blocking your view on junction corners.
Luckily, training is thorough from the start. You’ll realise (or soon be told) exactly where your bad habits come in, even if it’s something that you know is wrong to do. Mine, for example, included cutting corners at junctions. This may only be a minor offence on an empty road, but that’s no excuse. I sheepishly apologise to instructor, Will.
Think of other road users, too
Another sticking point, when driving through town, was blocking a junction. When you’re paying attention to traffic lights, other cars and pedestrians, it’s easy to miss the innocuous turning that you’re suddenly concealing.
On its own, it’s not a major offence, but as soon as a car indicates to turn in, and you’re in the way, it’s a failed test and back to the drawing board! Of course, in my case, said car did want to turn in and I learned my lesson the hard way. Luckily, this was just on a training session rather than the real thing.
So, with my mistakes made and lessons learned, the test came and I passed. My three minor faults came from not using my mirrors enough during some manoeuvres, despite feeling on the verge of whiplash from looking at my mirrors all the rest of the time. Proof again of how thorough the examiners are as well as the training staff.
One of the best things about the Diamond Driver Training experience at Newark is that, while it’s a very serious subject, it’s not a sterile and lacklustre environment in which you learn.
The instructors are passionate about teaching and instilling safety lessons in their subjects successfully, without forgetting fun. There’s a light-hearted approach and a huge sense of camaraderie between the team. At the time of my test, they seemed to have an obsession with the Minions film. So paint yourself yellow for your first lesson and you’re sure to get off to a good start.
That rapport extends, at times, to the point of competitiveness between the team, each confident they can get a pass out of their trainee, as I discovered when asking how I’d done after my exam.
“Awful!” laughed Will. “No,” he continued. “You’ve done well. You’ve taken everything on board that I’ve told you, and that showed in the result.”
Ultimately, while there is nothing particularly difficult on the test, it is very easy to fail it if you don’t listen, stay patient and keep calm. The excellent instructors are there to teach you everything you need to know and more in order to pass.
Keep their advice in mind, read the roads, take your time and think ahead at every stage. Take anything for granted or rush anything and you greatly increase your chances of failure, meaning you’ll miss out on the vital ability of being able to tow heavier outfits.
You'll take a lot on board
Overall, the Diamond Driver Training course will make you a better driver, whether you’re towing or not. Even if you don’t pass first time, the benefits to your own road safety, and that of others, will be vast. But, with a pass rate well above the national average at Diamond, you’re more than likely to come away smiling and ready for a lifetime of caravanning confidence.
For more information on the B+E towing test and more, visit diamonddrivertraining.co.uk
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