The Enhanced Rider Scheme (ERS) was launched around four years ago as a joint Driving Standards Agency (DSA) and Motorcycle Industry Association road safety initiative. The scheme is designed to encourage riders, regardless of ability, to continually develop their skills. The trainers offering the scheme will be DSA-certificated via the Register of Post-test Motorcycle Trainers (RPMT).
So what’s it all about? Well, the DSA say it’s “for fully licensed motorcyclists who have passed their test” and goes on to list the kinds of riders who would benefit:
riders moving to a more powerful bike, etc.
In short, they say it’s for pretty much everyone. The idea is that once you have found an ERS trainer near you, they take you out to assess your riding, then either issue a ‘DSA certificate of competence’ if you don’t need any further help, or design a personalised scheme of training to bring you to the required standard if they believe you need it.
The big carrot at the end of the course is that there’s a certificate issued to every rider who completes the programme which, depending on their insurance provider, could lead to a discount.
Writing on the RAC forum back in October 2009, ‘DSAgovuk’ responded to a question about why riders shouldn’t simply go the more familiar IAM/RoSPA route. He wrote:
“The main difference between ERS and some of the other schemes available is that ERS is tailored to the individual, rather than being a ‘one size fits all’ training or assessment package.
“The ERS is training designed for fully licensed motorcyclists who would like to improve certain areas of their riding skills.
“As training is tailored to your needs, you do as little or as much training as required – mostly to help reduce key risk areas in on-road riding, such as bend negotiation, overtaking, filtering, positioning and junctions.
“ERS training starts when you book an ERS assessment with one of the expert trainers from DSA’s voluntary Register of Post-Test Motorcycle Trainers (RPMT).
“The assessment will identify your main strengths and weaknesses but there is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ – no test is involved and you cannot lose your licence. If your riding skills are satisfactory, the process ends there and you will be issued with an ERS certificate.
“If you do need training, the trainer will prepare a personalised training plan for you and concentrate on specific areas needing attention, rather than taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach.
“Once you’ve completed your training, you’ll receive a report and a ‘DSA Certificate of Competence – Enhanced Rider Bonus’, which then qualifies you for an insurance discount.
“ERS is delivered by accredited trainers who have passed rigorous training and met the highest standards of instruction before joining the RPMT.”
Whilst I tend to agree what the problem with the IAM / RoSPA route is that you have to fit your riding around their ideas to pass their test, the claim that all ERS instructors “met the highest standards of instruction” didn’t cut much ice with a couple of RoSPA guys on the forum. One was a RoSPA examiner and had examined a couple of couple of ERS accredited trainers and failed one and given the other a pass at bronze level. He said: “they were in simple terms riding to a DAS standard”.
Not surprising really if they were DAS instructors, as access onto the scheme for Direct Access instructors was automatic once they passed an extended version of the basic DSA theory test! Sure, there were a couple of assessments that the instructor would need to pass at a later date, but they would have two bites at that in any case, and in the meantime whilst waiting for the DSA to find time to check-test them, they could call themselves ERS instructors. Access was also automatic for riders holding police riding qualifications – not ‘instructing’, just riding.
In fact, the only people who had trouble getting onto the register were those already qualified and working as advanced instructors! Despite the coordinators of my BTEC informing the DSA and MCIA at an early stage in the development of the ERS about their EDEXCEL-moderated award and providing full information about it, it was ignored when it came to qualifications allowing automatic access to the register.
Eventually, the DSA did allow me ‘grandfather rights’ access to the register and indeed I was provisionally accepted onto it after I sent them an email with a statement saying I’d been running advanced training since 1996. Not exactly a rigorous check, and certainly nothing like those carried out in the course of my BTEC.
So I foresaw issues with the ERS, in particular the dilution of the pool of decent advanced training with a mass of training schools all rushing to qualifiy their DAS instructors as ‘advanced’ to run the ERS. And that’s exactly what’s happened. Type “Enhanced Rider Scheme” into Google now, and there are pages and pages of trainers offering the course.
But maybe in the time the scheme has been running, the ERS trainers have been able to get to grips with the syllabus and produce some decent training?
Well, it would be nice to think that, but to be brutally honest the standard the ERS requires isn’t high enough. I’m not the only one to think this. RoSPA trainer GrahamW on the RAC forum said:
“It worries me that people might be tempted to do it not realising that it is nowhere near the standard they could aspire to.”
Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what’s happening. Riders are taking the ERS, getting their certificate and thinking they’ve got an advanced riding qualification. I’d say it directly compares with a Bikesafe riding assessment – get a clean bill of health on Bikesafe and you’d get a pass on the ERS, but you’d still be some way short of an IAM test pass.
But surely something personalised in terms of training must be good? Well, again the evidence for that isn’t reassuring. Three years ago I picked up two training courses from riders who’d both had a disappointing experience with basic schools running ‘add-on’ advanced training via the RPMT. Here’s the first case. After the second, I questioned the ability of standard DSA training schools to deal well with post-test training via the ERS / RPMT.
But surely three years on with experience running the courses for all that time, you’d think trainers would improve? Well, I’ve recently been corresponding with a rider who’s been questioning what he’s been learning via the ERS ten years after passing his test.
He was hoping for something on machine control, in particular counter-steering and brake and throttle control in bends, but other than the advice to “accelerate out of the bend when the view opens up”, he’s got nothing. No help on braking for corners and no mention of how to deal with a bend that goes wrong either. It turned out that the training on bends had taken place on quick, well-surfaced A roads, where “there was little need for braking or leaning” and the threepenny bit lines the trainee knew he took on occasion simply didn’t happen, because the roads weren’t testing enough! So much for the focus on cornering as a high risk area! He was also interested in how body positioning can affect cornering, but instead he’s been told he needs to focus on positioning at junctions and on his lifesavers being performed two seconds before turning.
Now with any training course, there’s an element of “fix what’s broke first” and of course what the trainee THINKS they need training on may not be their weak area – and the instructor did mark the trainee ‘A’ for machine control. Nevertheless, by this point, I was beginning to think that the trainer involved probably isn’t from an ‘advanced’ training background. This all sounds horribly like riding to DSA test standard – ie, if you get round a corner without running off the road you’re good enough. It would also explain all the emphasis on precision when taking rear observation and lifesavers and when positioning junctions. All the trainer seems to have done is try to change the trainee’s existing style to fit his idea of what a good ride should look like rather than look at what the trainee wanted.
He admitted that he felt his town riding had improved but he also felt that he hadn’t made big improvements for the time and money. In his words, he was wondering if he was being strung along. And there’s the rub. If you’re after the insurance discount, you’re now trapped. You have to keep working with the instructor, taking his word that more work is required. Whether he’s right and he’s being strung along I can’t say, but it does seem in this case if the trainee can’t see an improvement he certainly hasn’t been ‘sold’ the training he’s been receiving even though he’s paid good money for it.
It’s not looking good for either personalised and open-ended training, or a high standard, is it? And in this case he’s been paying £70 for two hours training each session. That’s pretty much exactly what I charge by the hour, so for a cornering session in which he’s only learned that he should “accelerate out of the bend”, I’d say it’s pricey.
But it’s not just basic schools who seem to be underselling what can be achieved on training. I found another report online about an assessment ride taken in front of an ERS instructor who was ex-police. After an initial ride lasting perhaps an hour, the rider was picked up for clipping apexes in corners and encouraged to maintain a ‘safety bubble’, not to cross the centre line to see round corners, and not to filter to the front but to tuck in behind the lead vehicle. I could take issue with all three comments if they weren’t qualified by “in certain circumstances” but the real question I’d ask is, is this all you get for your assessment, particularly as his 40 mile ride after the interim debrief was marked as “perfect”? Maybe there was a lot more comment that’s not been reported but I do wonder about the lack of feedback and the time spent riding. When I run an assessment, I take riders out for about 90 minutes of riding in total and we cover about 30 miles tops, but in that time you’ll be exposed to some tough choices by the nature of the roads I use, and you get a comprehensive written debrief. It’s not just a pleasant ride out.
I mentioned earlier that the standard the ERS achieves is similar to a Bikesafe assessment, but there’s a very big difference between Bikesafe and the ERS. A bespoke training course like mine is not competing with Bikesafe, which is and was always intended to be, an inexpensive ‘health check with handy tips’ – useful but hardly a training course, and most people who do it recognise that. Exactly the same could be said of the ERS, if you just do the assessment and get the certificate at the end of the ride.
But should the instructor decide you need to make some improvements before he can issue you with the certificate then you are going to have to pay for training. So now the ERS is directly competing with existing post-test training, both of the IAM and RoSPA flavour as well as with commercial post-test schools like mine. And now you’re paying a similar sort of price for what seems to me and those RoSPA trainers to be inferior training.
So before you book a course of training via the ERS, ask exactly what you’re after. By all means do the ERS if all you all you want is an insurance discount certificate after a quick assessment.
But don’t confuse the ERS with a proper advanced course. If you don’t get the certificate, ask what you want next. The IAM and RoSPA for all their faults will give you training to a far higher standard than the ERS, and you’ll still get a certificate when you pass their tests.
And if you want personalised but still properly planned training courses then look for a good advanced instructor. Pop over to see what I offer over on www.survivalskills.co.uk if you want to see how personalised but targeted training should work. You may not get the ERS certificate but you’ll get a far more intensive and carefully constructed training course.
And if you’re in any doubt about what I’ve written about the relative standards, I’ll simply refer you to the advice the rider with the ‘perfect’ assessment was offered by his assessor at the end of his day out – that he should take further training to reach the required standard to pass his IAM test.