Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

AR-15 Assault RifleAfter the recent tragedy in Florida, and yet another mass shooting spree in a school, with multiple fatalities, it seemed like the time had finally come for America to realise that virtually unrestricted gun ownership had to be curtailed.

Donald Trump looked like he was about to make a decision that would finally make him come across as a proper POTUS. No, he really did.

It would appear that the solution he is now suggesting involves allowing teachers to carry guns so they can get into shootouts with lunatics like Nikolas Cruz.

Cruz, you might recall, was carrying an AR-15 – a semi-automatic version of the M16 used by the US Military – which he used to kill 17 people. He had a total of 10 weapons, though the identity of these is being kept secret for some reason (no need to guess why, since American gun laws wouldn’t put ownership of a small thermonuclear device outside the reach of the average citizen, purely on “constitutional” grounds). It is known that he purchased a shotgun and an AK-47, and the owner of the shop which sold them to him appears to have done so willingly and with no fuss whatsoever.

This is made so much worse by the fact that Cruz appears to have been a certified head case (if anyone had bothered to check) – certainly enough of one for any sensible person not to sell him a blunt stick, let alone military-grade weaponry (and lots of it).

Trump’s idea is that teachers would carry “concealed” weapons. You don’t need to be an expert to realise that it would be extremely difficult to conceal an AR-15 unless you had very long legs, since it is almost a metre long and weighs about 3.5kg. Therefore, a teacher would have something much smaller and much less accurate except at close range. In short, a hand gun. So Trump’s idea is for teachers to put their lives in guaranteed danger by confronting people like Cruz who, it must be said, could also be carrying grenades (I believe that these can be obtained legally, though with difficulty), explosives (more easily obtained or manufactured), or any number of noxious substances. Of course, where control is so lax to start with, obtaining such materials illegally is even simpler.

I don’t want to make light of a very serious issue, but if this is what Donald Trump thinks will solve the problem, there is every likelihood that his next idea will be for helicopters to drop gasoline on wildfires in order to extinguish them.

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Sable black grapesWell, I’m on a voyage of discovery, just lately. It might have something to do with getting older and worrying more about my health. On the other hand, it might just be that I simply have too much time on my hands, sometimes.

I recently wrote about how cashew nuts can turn your poop almost white if you do what I did and eat a bucket of them all in one go. That post has been remarkably popular.

My latest discovery concerns black grapes, and how they can turn your poop green.

If you want to research it yourself, start out like I did, and proceed on the assumption that you’re not suffering from cancer, failing organs, scrofula, rickets, mange, abduction by aliens, and so on. Instead, assume that it might be due to something you ate – especially if you ate about half a kilo of it just before you went to bed.

Eating a lot of anything which is purple, blue, or green can give your poop a green tinge, just like a whole punnet of Sable black grapes last night did to me this morning. Blueberries can do it, too.

Incidentally, you can also get green poop if you have diarrhoea and stuff passes through you too quickly. You can also have it if you have an underlying illness that needs treating, so if it persists for more than a day, see your GP just to be on the safe side.

Also incidentally, if you suffer from hypochondria, don’t look at your poop if you ate a lot of beetroot.

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Feminist OlympicsAnyone tell me when it starts?

I mean, I know all about the GB women (well, I would if I’d bothered to read it), the South Korean women, the North Korean women, the synchronised North Korean cheerleaders (women), the joint North and South Korean women’s ice hockey team, a bronze medal a British woman won in Sochi in 2014 in something that’s nearly a sport, and women from a few other countries who have already won medals this year. Oh, and a woman from Britain who won’t be taking part because she broke her foot. And a pointless vlog by some woman competing in something else that’s also nearly a sport (look, winter sport is caning it downhill as fast as you can on TWO skis – long ones – and maybe weaving in and out of some poles stuck in the snow, perhaps even ending up in intensive care – not poncing about on short skis (or even just one fat one), doing somersaults, or doing it to music).

But I was, like, wondering when the proper sport begins.

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A SquirrelThe media is having a hissy-fit over the possibility that new drivers could face restrictions after they pass their tests.

Possibilities include:

  • night-time curfews
  • speed limit restrictions
  • restrictions on number and age of passengers
  • lower drink-drive limits
  • restrictions on engine sizes

No one should worry just yet. With such organisations as the RAC and Brake poking their oars in, each with its own preferred set of restrictions, any changes are unlikely to happen at all – let alone quickly. Add to that the fact that this was raised in Prime Minister’s Questions, and all that Theresa May has said is she’ll “look into it”, and the likely date of implementation is well over the horizon.

If it happens, Theresa May won’t still be PM. That you can be certain of.

I don’t have an issue with some form of graduated licence. If it were up to me, no one would be allowed to drive an Audi or BMW (ever), any car with any sort of modification, or when wearing a baseball cap or hoodie until they’re at least 30 and have taken an IQ test to show that they’re smarter than, say, a squirrel.

Anyone who is learning to drive now can forget about it affecting them. Remember that some time this year, learners are supposedly going to be allowed on motorways with ADIs (driving instructors). This was announced officially in August 2017, following “government proposals” in January 2017. There was a consultation circulated in December 2016. But this was the fulfilment of something that started back in 2011, which announced that learners were going to be allowed on motorways in 2012. A total of well over 7 years.

And we still don’t know when in 2018 it will happen. It requires an Act of Parliament to implement, and there is no sign of this happening. The government managed to get itself voted into a minority at the last election, Brexit is causing more and more headaches for an increasingly aged-looking May (the worst of these being Boris Johnson), and autonomous electric vehicles will apparently be the norm from sometime next summer (if you believe some of the crap that gets written).

Graduated licences are probably way off.

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TomTom Screen GrabIt was announced last year – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the driving test began using satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

I toyed briefly with the idea of buying one, but I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. These days, if I ever need to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. So I decided to give that a go in the weeks leading up to 4 December. Google was OK, but its choice of route can be somewhat creative, and it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Plus, since it isn’t a full-blown navigation tool as such, storing routes is fiddly at best.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android – this turns your phone into a  virtually complete TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display. TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav for up to ten years for the same price as a standalone that would be out-of-date within a year.

As I pointed out in my article about the first month of the new test, the satnav can exacerbate any underlying issues learners might have with roundabouts and large junctions. Here’s why I think that is.

The voice instruction from the satnav for the route shown in the image above would be:

Go around the roundabout, third exit, Hucknall Road

(Edit: I am reliably informed that the DVSA satnavs now give an exit number and a direction – I’ll be damned if I can make my TomTom GO app do that, though.)

Without the satnav, the instruction might be:

At the roundabout, turn right, third exit

The phrase “turn right” is the critical part. With a satnav you have to create that instruction yourself by referring to the on-screen map and/or road signs. I’d never thought about it before, but looking back, pupils were simply not using road signs to any great extent because they never had to. Even with the original independent driving section, following signs to “somewhere” specific is much simpler than having to use the signs to work out where that “somewhere” is. And any problems are multiplied by the fact that every twist and turn of the satnav route involves a new “somewhere”. It’s a new pressure for the pupil to handle.

Any instructor will be aware that learners often struggle with roundabouts – sometimes, right up to their tests. One of the most common reasons for messing up on them is lane discipline. The examiner will usually mark it under “observation/use of mirrors”, but the real problem is that the learner has simply straight-lined. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t check their mirrors if they weren’t aware they’d switched lanes in the first place. Often, they can do the roundabout perfectly on lessons, but every now and then you’ll get one who botches it on test because of test pressure.

Someone whose ability to deal with roundabouts is this close to the edge in the first place is going to be under significant additional pressure if they have to follow a satnav route around them, and especially so if they have to deal with ones they’re not familiar with. This is still true, even if the satnav gives identical instructions to what a human would (see edited comment above).

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

Some of those I have expected to have problems have taken to it remarkably well. The biggest problem so far is with those pupils who only listen to the instructions and try to follow them blindly. However, they’re not test-ready, so it is a work in progress.

How should you use the satnav?

Look at the picture above. The main window shows the immediate route you are following. In the case of the roundabout shown here, that would appear in the main window about 300 yards before you reach it. The first satnav voice instruction occurs at that point, so you’d lose maybe another 100 yards while that is being given. That wouldn’t give you much time to get ready to deal with it unless you were really confident of where you were going.

The information bars at the top and bottom are the really important features. The bottom one tells you what road you’re on, and the top one tells you what you’re going to be asked to do next, how far away that is (it can be anything up to several miles), and the new road’s name and number. In this case, the satnav top bar will inform you that the next thing you’re going to have to deal with is a roundabout, and that it is a right turn. I think this one was about half a mile away initially. The distance counts down until the voice instruction is given, usually at about 300 yards (it can be 500 yards or 200 yards depending on the speed of the road). The road number is usually what will be painted on the road surface in the lane you need on large roundabouts, and it will also appear on the various road signs. The satnav repeats the instructions several times as you get closer.

You have to use that top bar to be able to plan ahead, especially if you’re not confident. You have to give yourself time.

So, why do people have a problem with that?

I have observed that some people can do every roundabout I ask them to do perfectly when I am giving verbal instructions, but the instant they try to follow a satnav route with those same roundabouts, there are problems. These problems occur to greater or lesser extents depending on the pupil, the roundabout, their confidence at complex junctions in the first place, and what is happening around them at the time. Having to do things independently, with more formal instructions from the satnav, is simply shining a light on underlying issues.

Doesn’t this mean that maybe not all those who passed their tests previously are fully competent with roundabouts?

Unfortunately, yes. Even with the best will in the world, instructors and DVSA have been producing candidates/new drivers who – in some cases – have to do roundabouts in what you might call a “robotic” way. And we’re only talking about certain roundabouts, even then. This would easily tie in with what we see on the roads, where a large proportion of the general, full driving licence-holding public doesn’t seem to have a clue on roundabouts.

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Anyone due to take their first driving test in the new format, a bit of advice.

  • make sure you can handle roundabouts and multi-lane junctions competently when following satnav instructions
  • make sure you can do it on roundabouts and junctions you may not have driven on before

The satnav gives instructions differently from the verbal instructions your instructor or an examiner might have previously given. Whereas you might previously have been asked to “turn right, third exit, follow the signs towards Nottingham [or whatever], the satnav will say something like “go around the roundabout, third exit, A52 [or whatever]”.

Although the examiner might give some limited guidance in some situations, you need to be able to use the satnav display and any road signs to work out where you want to go. In a way, you have got to construct the old-style instruction in your head from the new-style one.

All the manoeuvres (edit: a reader points out that the reverse bay park is still done only at the test centre) can now be done away from the test centre, and that means the test can travel further before having to head back. Some of the routes are MUCH longer than any of the ones from pre-December 2016. Consequently, if your instructor doesn’t know about them, you may not have driven on many of the roads and roundabouts.

The new test is actually easier than the old one if you look at it objectively. However, the details above mean that SOME people will inevitably find it harder.

I’m going to do another article about the satnav, and I’ll add a link to it on this one once I’ve written it. Here it is.

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Lewis HamiltonOr, he will have if some people get their way.

He told his (young) nephew, who was wearing a pink princess dress and holding a magic wand on an Instagram post, that “boys don’t wear dresses”. He’s since apologised, etc., etc., etc. But as you can imagine, that’s not enough, and more blood needs to be extracted before he can still not be forgiven.

The world gets madder by the day, and there are calls for Hamilton to be stripped of his MBE.

What’s funny is that if he’d have said boys must wear dresses, no one would have batted an eyelid. Or, if they had dared, they’d have quickly been slapped down.

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No Polish Fishermen signIt’s funny when you look around various discussion forums, and see how the attitudes of Brexiters have developed since June 2016.

Brexit, of course, was the stupidest decision this country has ever made – marginally ahead of the decision to hold a referendum in the first place, and so allow morons with serious problems in their heads to decide on something that is so far above their understanding, it’d be more likely that someone could throw a stone into the sun than these people make a rational choice.

As any objective person will already know, the voting demographics show clearly that (and these are general conclusions):

  • older voters voted to leave
  • younger voters voted to remain
  • people from deprived area voted to leave
  • people with no qualifications voted to leave
  • people with higher education voted to remain
  • at least twice as many older voters voted than did younger ones

I know this will upset Brexiters, but no matter where you look the demographics throw up the same general conclusions. Like it or not, the result was, overall, strongly associated with educational achievement, age, ethnicity, and position on the social ladder.

The narrow victory by “leave” emboldened people overnight, and the underlying reasons why many voted as they did became clear. A primary reason was effectively racism, and Brexit Neanderthals became active immediately. Although the media may have played things down since then – and they have – it hasn’t gone away, and this latest story just shows what bigots we have in this country, and how Brexit has made them all big and brave.

A sign was put up at a fishery in Oxfordshire by the owner, Billy Evans. It said:

NO VEHICLE ACCESS


NO POLISH OR EASTERN BLOC

FISHERMEN ALLOWED


NO CHILDREN OR DOGS

I’d bet any money that Evans wouldn’t have dared put that up prior to June 2016, and that the Brexit result gave him the wings to do it now. However, his use of the term “Eastern Bloc” – which ceased to have anything much other than offensive overtones in the early 90s – belies his age and educational background.

Evans appears to have put the sign up based on second-hand information from like-minded people, and has been forced to take it down. He could still face legal action, since the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said it was “unlawful”. What’s really frightening is that there are actually people in this country allowed to go about unsupervised who couldn’t see that right from the start.

Evans is quoted:

I do not tolerate thieves, wherever they come from.

I will stand up for what I believe in. If they want to call me a racist for stopping thieves coming on to my property then that’s what they’ll do.

He is obviously too stupid to realise that he has declared ALL Polish and “Eastern Bloc” people to be thieves with his sign.

His solution now appears to be to threaten to close down the fishery completely so that no one can use it.

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Wagamama noodle dishEvery year now, I make a concerted effort to fill my diary up to the rafters in the weeks running up to and during Christmas. I do this because I know from past experience that – without fail – as soon as Christmas starts to bite, people are going to start cancelling due to “illness”.

I don’t mind so much if they’re honest with me, but in the vast majority of cases any “illness” is simply a front for wanting to go Christmas shopping, do overtime, get pissed, recover from being pissed the night before, or to save money at this expensive time of year. Over-filling my diary means I still have a relatively decent amount of work remaining. This year has been better than most so far, but in the last two weeks I’ve had at least half a dozen last-minute cancellations and two no-shows (followed by profuse apologies, and claims of mortal illness).

Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times. With every year that passes, the trend is for people to get lazier and more dishonest. Which is probably why companies like Wagamama have strict working policies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally against zero-hours contracts (they cost me a small fortune over a typical year if I have teenage pupils who work at McDonalds), and Wagamama’s apparent rule that you have to get someone to cover for you if you can’t get in stinks to high heaven. But I guess it is one way of managing lazy, lying scumbags you’re unfortunate enough to have working for you.

But it is this message to staff at one London branch which has upset the union. The Christmas week rota has the following attached:

No calling in sick! may I remind you that if you are unable to come for your shift it is your responsibility to find somebody to cover your shift (as per contract and handbook). Calling in sick during the next 2 weeks will result in disciplinary action being
taken

Naturally. Wagamama’s head office as distanced itself from the message. The Unite Hospitality union, of course, has more to say:

To threaten workers with disciplinary action for being sick is not just morally reprehensible, it may be unlawful under the Health and Safety Act and Equality Act as it discriminates against those with long-term physical or mental health conditions.

The irony in the fact that the message targets lazy liars, whereas the union supports them, is lost on Unite Hospitality.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated for early 2017, and again in late 2017.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum last year someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

  • Until February 2009, it hadn’t snowed to any appreciable extent in the UK for around 26 years!
  • We had two bad winters, but since then they have been relatively mild ones with almost no snow.
  • When it DOES snow a little it is usually gone inside a week or two.
  • Snow – and especially in the UK – is usually extremely localised. The media talks it up so it sounds like the whole country is blanketed in a metre of the stuff, especially if a few wet flakes fell in London.
  • This  is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their yuppie wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy (Nottingham is certainly no exception here) means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

Will I be ditching my normal pupils and specialising in snow driving? Will I be buying a Ski-doo and offering lessons on that? I don’t think so.

You see, having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Which makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den, I suppose.

Those of us who remain here on Planet Earth will carry on doing things the way they do now: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

Here are some typical search terms people use to find the blog.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much snow there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes sense to do them so you can get valuable experience. But beginners perhaps shouldn’t because it’s just too dangerous for them. It’s your instructor’s decision, even if you want to do it.Snow on road scene 2

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. Your instructor will decide. You won’t get charged for it – if you do, find another instructor quickly. Remember that if the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea.

Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning with the AA, BSM, Bill Plant, or any other driving school. The decision is down to your instructor.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

He or she should do. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask. Why make life so complicated when a simple text will sort it all out? If he just doesn’t turn up, get another instructor as soon as possible.

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Realistically, they should only cancel if there is too much snow on the ground, making driving dangerous. There is the remote possibility that thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain might also provide a valid reason for cancelling – but in the UK, extreme occurrences of these are rare.

The decision to cancel a lesson due to bad weather lies solely with the instructor – not with BSM or any other school – so if yours is doing it when there is obviously no valid reason, you might want to look for another trainer.

Note that although DVSA will cancel driving tests due to fog there is absolutely no reason why your lessons can’t go ahead in it as long as it isn’t extreme.

Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?

Well, there’s no proper law which says your instructor can’t charge you. However, if he or she does (or tries to), find another one quickly because the Law Of Common Decency says that they should NOT charge you. Not in a million years!

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel – but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson – then it is a little more tricky. It all depends on whether the conditions really are too bad, and whether or not your ADI is making the right decision based on the right reasons. Unfortunately, this is between you and your instructor – but as I said above, if you aren’t happy then find another one.

If you want to do the lesson, but your instructor refuses, again – if you’re not happy with that (and you must be realistic about the conditions) – find another one. When I cancel lessons it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. All the others can handle it as long as conditions aren’t too bad. As a general rule, if the advice is not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, or if the roads are gridlocked, then I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

As an example, one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson (we actually moved it back a few days) because I had no idea how long the conditions would last. With hindsight, it was the right decision because the snow continued for about an hour.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If someone is trying to charge you extra for such lessons, find another instructor quickly. Any half-decent ADI will use snow as a chance to teach something many learners never get to experience, not as an excuse to screw more money out of them.

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

A tricky one. Although I can’t vouch for other instructors, if I decide it is too dangerous to take one of my pupils out, then it is dangerous enough for any argument over it to be completely moot. I will always do lessons if I can (especially after my first frozen winter in 2009, where I was perhaps a little over-cautious to begin with) so the issue has never really come up.

If you really do disagree with your instructor, you could phone around and ask a few more ADIs if they have been conducting lessons. If they have, and if you’re still convinced, change instructors.

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing (see the picture above – that orange car is being driven by someone with a full licence, and there isn’t much snow at all, yet they have skidded off the road).

Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes. When we had that first heavy snowfall a few years ago I cancelled a lot of lessons to begin with, but in later falls I cancelled less. I hardly cancelled any the second winter with heavy snow. This year (2017), I have cancelled two lessons on the morning of 10 December as the snow has come in, mainly because I don’t know how bad it is going to be just yet, the pupils in question live on sloped roads, and that Highways England has advised not to travel unless it is essential around this way.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you MUST turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the roads. Most recently, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was very frosty and the side roads were icy. I also had one cancelled due to fog.

If my test is cancelled, will I have to pay for another?

No. They will send you a new date within a few days (or you can phone them or look it up online). And it will not count as one of your six “lives” for moving your test.

Can I claim for out of pocket expenses if my test is cancelled?

No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back – which is one reason some unscrupulous ADIs might try and charge you for the hire of the car on the day as if the test had gone ahead.Snow on road scene 4

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it – it’s on the cover note that no one bothers to read which goes with the confirmation email.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, etc.)

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1815, 1915, 2015, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And it doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Use your common sense. Driving in snow is dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets are covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you WILL skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could EASILY lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions.

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

Incidentally, I keep seeing search terms like “cancelled driving test 23rd” from people located 300 miles away in my stats. The internet doesn’t work like that!

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED NEAR YOU – YOU WON’T FIND IT ON THE WEB.

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