Learning to drive made simple

Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI

There have been many books written about learning to drive.

These books often span hundreds of pages and make driving seem like some deep art or something that can only be mastered properly as a Class 1 police pursuit driver. In fact, one of the most popular books written on this subject was just that, written for class 1 police drivers under pursuit conditions (chasing the bad guys).

Unlike the people who write these long-winded books, I’m well known for making things simple, breaking things down into bite-sized manageable chunks. Now I’m writing this article to show you just how simple it can be to learn to drive.

learning to drive made simple

The science of learning (pedagogy)

Wait – don’t switch off.

I said I’ll make this easy, but I want you to understand how you learn in an easy way so you can recognise this in your lessons. Everyone moves through stages; some stay on one stage longer and others race through. Nearly ALL learners at one point will hit a plateau, a bit where they feel stuck and can’t move on. But you will move on. It won’t seem like it at the time but you will.

So what are the stages of learning?

1. Unconsciously bad or have never done it before

This is the beginning stage when you learn something new or try to change a bad habit. You are at the stage where you know nothing about it or you do it badly but you don’t know you do it badly.

2. Consciously bad

You’re starting to do it or are made aware that what you’re already doing isn’t quite right. You start to learn to do something but still have difficulty in doing it.

3. Consciously good

This is the stage where you can do something right or well IF you concentrate on it. It feels good!

4. Unconsciously good

This is when you can do that thing without thinking about it. It becomes natural. This is the stage you need to be at with everything for your driving test.

You’ll move through each stage at different speeds. Some almost instantaneously, some a little longer.

Routine helps

Your driving instructor has probably talked about a couple of routines. In fact, they may have mentioned many routines but in my opinion there are only two that really matter.

The two I’m about to go into essentially cover everything you’ll need to get started with as they contain the basics for every driving task. I use these routes for training driving instructors and your examiner on the test day will be using them too, its how they spot any faults – so it’s about time I revealed them to you:

Warning: I’m about to show you some acronyms. Please don’t panic – I’m going to break them down for you and make them really easy to learn.


MSM was created by the DVSA (the examiners) a long time ago and has been adapted to the longer MSPSL. The last ‘M’ became ‘PSL’. It really is an essential learning tool, as is POM.

So what does each one stand for?

MSPSL becomes:

  • Mirrors
  • Signal
  • Position
  • Speed
  • Look

And POM:

  • Preparation
  • Observation
  • Move

driving lesson routines

These are all you need

Everything you do when driving a car contains at least one aspect from the above routines.

MSPSL is used when the car is moving and POM when stationary and moving off – or carrying out a manoeuvre.

Do you remember that learning stage, consciously good? This is where these routines start to work. As you say each thing you will remember or be able to work out what you need to do.

So, instead of trying to remember everything, you only need to remember bits and put it together.

For example, you might be having trouble turning left, but if I asked you ‘all I want to know is which mirrors you would use?’ you might tell me centre and left. That is of course if you have reached this far in your lessons.

More explanation of each letter.

Now I’m going to condense all those books I mentioned earlier into just a few paragraphs. I’ll make it easy.


  • M is for Mirrors
    • The Highway Code tells us a few things about mirrors.
      • They should be checked regularly
      • Before changing speed
      • Before changing direction
    • When driving
      • If you are turning or moving left, check your centre and left mirror
      • If you are turning or moving right, check your centre and right mirror
      • If you are changing speed, slowing, or speeding up, check your centre mirror.
  • S is for Signal
    • The Highway Code tells us a few things about signals
      • Give signals in good time
      • Signals are used to warn others of our presence or our intentions.
      • Signals must not confuse
    • When driving
      • Ask your self in any given situation, ‘will anyone benefit from a signal?’
      • Then ask yourself, ‘would that signal confuse anyone?’
  • P is for Position
    • The Highway code tells us a few things about position.
      • Drive on the left
      • Keep to the left lane unless road marking say otherwise
    • When driving
      • Drive in the middle of your available space (lane)
      • Keep space all around you, at least 2 seconds between you and the car in front of you.
      • When overtaking return to the left when possible
  • S is for Speed
    • The Highway code tells us a few things about speed
      • You must drive at an appropriate speed
      • You must not break the speed limit
    • When driving
      • Look for clues as to the speed limits
      • Ask yourself ‘what is an appropriate speed and gear?’
      • Ask yourself ‘am I going too fast or too slow?’
  • L is for Look
    • The Highway tells us a few things about look (observations)
      • Look effectively
      • Check blinds spots where appropriate
      • Look well into the road
    • When driving
      • Look as far down the road as you can see
      • Before turning, look well into the road you are turning into.

Let me give an example of where you’d use MSPSL:

You’re about to turn left into a side road. You’d ask yourself the questions following questions. See how the thought process flows:

MSPSL routine


  • M, Mirrors
    • Which mirrors?
      • We’re going left, so centre and left mirrors
  • S, Signal
    • Which signal?
      • Left
      • Would anyone benefit from a signal?
        • Probably, so yes, signal
      • Would it confuse others?
        • Maybe if it’s too early and there’s another junction just before ours
  • P, Position
    • What position?
      • We’re turning left so probably move to the left a little
  • S, Speed
    • What speed?
      • Slowing
    • Which gear?
      • Maybe second?
  • L, Look
    • Where would I look?
      • Look well into the road on the left

At first all this might seem a lot to take in, but it will soon move from the consciously bad to the consciously good stage where it will become second nature.

Now you try the next one. Even if you’ve never driven a car, I expect you can still follow this routine logically.

You’re approaching a parked car and you will need to move around it.

MSPSL routine example 2


  • M, Mirrors
    • Which mirrors would you use?
  • S, Signal
    • Would a signal benefit?
    • Would a signal confuse others?
  • P, Position
    • What position would you pass the parked car?
    • When would you return to the normal driving position?
  • S, Speed
    • What speed would you pass the parked car?
  • L, Look
    • Where will you need to look and what are you looking for?

You can apply the above to any given driving scenario while on the move.

But what about the other routine I gave you, POM?

Remember this is the routine to use when moving off or on a manoeuvre

  • P, Preparation
    • What do you need to do to prepare the car to move?
      • Set the gas, find the biting point on the clutch etc
      • When you’re at that biting point then move to the next one
  • O, Observation
    • Where do you need to observe?
      • Manoeuvre, all round effective observation?
      • Moving off, mirrors and blind spot(s)?
  • M Move
    • What do I need to do to control the car moving here?
      • Slow speed control?
      • Corner control?

Let me use another example:

You’ve stopped at a stop sign and are about to move off turning left.

POM routine example 1


  • P, Preparation
    • Find 1st gear (probably) Set the gas and find the biting point.
    • Only when you have this biting point move on to the observation
  • O, Observation
    • We’re at a junction so look well into both roads effectively
    • What do you need to look for? Gaps in traffic, pedestrians etc.
    • How will anything effect your decision?
  • M, Move
    • When safe, move off
    • Do you need to keep the car at the biting point while turning?

This routine is very effective on manoeuvres. Too many times we see someone make great observations then prepare the car to move. Of course by this point the situation has changed, and they move off when it is no longer safe to do so.


Combining these routines together with your regular driving lessons should give you a good understanding of just how easy things can be.

The routines take away a lot of the decision-making process, leaving you to concentrate on your mirrors, signal, position, speed, where to look, what preparation, observation and how to move off.

Treat each part of the routine as an individual item and soon they will all fit together seamlessly making you unconsciously competent. Remember, this is the level we’re trying to get to, where we don’t even need to think about doing it correctly. This is how you’ll pass your driving test.

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