Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Brothers Osborne - wide shotI’ve been to a lot of gigs the last few years, though I haven’t posted any articles about them. I need to do a bit of catching up on that.

Anyway, I went to a brilliant show on Friday at Rock City in Nottingham. After Rush, my favourite genres have to be blues and Southern rock – both of which seem to be very popular these days, and Planet Rock covers them a lot. That was how I came to know bands like Blackberry Smoke, The Cadillac Three, and Brothers Osborne.

Osborne Brothers - wide (2)In fact, I saw The Cadillacs a couple of months ago (hell, it was a year ago!), and Brothers Osborne were supporting them. So, Osbornes announced a headlining tour of their own, I got tickets.

Take a listen to this. They played one of my favourite songs, Copperhead Road, originally written by Steve Earle. They nailed it completely.

It came out of the blue, but I recognised it after the first few drum stomps, just as the mandolin came in.

Brothers Osborne - Jason Graumlich (I think)I have to say that it was easily the best gig I’ve been to in a long time. The crowd was well up for it, and every song was worth listening to. Lots of slide guitar, keyboards, banjos, and mandolins – and extended solos. Although officially a duo, they had an admirable backing band, to whom they gave generous room to perform – the backing guitarist in particular, who I believe is called Jason Graumlich.

The encore seemed unusually long – I haven’t listened to the full recording yet, but there must have been five or more songs. Most bands don’t go above three. But it didn’t matter. It could have gone on for another hour and still been great.

The band seemed awed by the reception. T J Osborne (lead vocals) said that they’d been over here a few times, and if people kept coming to the gigs like this, they’d keep coming back. I’ll certainly be there when they do.

Lucie SilvasThe only slight stain on the night was of our own making – well, my mate’s. That was due to his desire to drink the better beer in the Rescue Rooms instead of the weasel piss you get in the Main Hall. OK, I can relate to that, but it meant we ended up missing all but the last song and a half by the support act, Lucie Silvas. She’s got one hell of a voice, and she went straight on my watch list for her next tour.

I got my own back in the Indian restaurant after, though, where we had the usual decent curry and an argument about Brexit (which I won, as always).

Incidentally, Brothers Osborne performed at Rockstock over the weekend, and they were interviewed by Darren Redick.

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This has made my day. Excellent story on the BBC about how the Met Police are ending chases involving scumbags on motor scooters. Look at their response when they get rammed. No attempt to run off, just shitting themselves. Well done to the Met!

All we need now is for the policy to be extended to everywhere else in the country, and maybe – just maybe – these little pricks might start to wonder if it’s really worth it.

Mind you, if I was going to put any money on it, I suspect the Met will come under pressure to stop doing it, especially if one of the little darlings gets hurt.


Well, that didn’t take long. Less than two hours after that first story, the BBC is now reporting that the Met is under investigation by the IOPC for “three cases involving ‘tactical contact’”.

The IOPC says that one case involves a 17-year old who sustained head injuries in Bexley a year ago. It serves him f***ing right.

Let’s hope the IOPC comes to the same conclusion, and tells him and/or his idiot parents where to go.

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German Traffic PoliceThis made me smile. An 18-year old kid in Germany passed his driving test, then got caught by police with a radar gun doing 60mph in a 30mph zone on his way home (with four of his mates in the car). This happened 49 minutes after his test pass.

He’s got an automatic four-week ban, and will have to take further “expensive” training. He also got two points on his licence, a €200 fine, and his two-year new-driver probationary period has been extended to four.

Plus ça change, eh?

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Hazard Perception Test - CGI still with snowAn email alert from DVSA advises that they are introducing 23 new CGI clips to the Theory Test, which feature adverse weather and lighting conditions.

These are effective immediately for car tests, and will be introduced for the other tests at a later date.

I would assume that the various apps will also include test samples in the near future.

If you follow the link in that email, you can see samples of the clips. I think they look excellent – although I’m not sure I would drive quite so fast as that car in the snow clip is doing (you’d definitely skid in those conditions if you braked hard for a deer).

My only other comment is that I wish we got snow like that when it does snow. My experience is more on the lines of horrible slushy stuff that leaves black crap all over your car. Those clips are very realistic otherwise, though.

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Driving Test SuccessThis post from 2013, but an update is long overdue.

Unless they already have an app, I advise all my pupils that the only thing they need to buy to prepare for their Theory Test is Driving Test Success 4-in1, published by Focus Multimedia (DTS). It is available for both Android and iPhone, and costs £4.99 at the time of writing. Sure, they can buy a book if they want, or use any other service of their choice, but this is the one I recommend.

For many years, DTS was available as a DVD, and I used to bulk buy them from an ADI supply company and sell them on to my pupils at cost (which was much less than the retail price). However, the days of the DVD are behind us and phone apps are almost universal. I’m not sure if they still do a DVD version.

I’m sticking my neck out here, but you can only realistically get access to the entire official revision question bank by paying someone some money – especially if you want a polished and reliable interface. Free apps might contain only a sample of questions from the full bank, or they don’t include the correct up-to-date questions (someone might be using the old question bank). DTS contains every official DVSA practise question in a clean interface, and it also comes with 85 Hazard perception Test (HPT) clips, including the excellent CGI ones. You also get an electronic copy of the Highway Code, and a Road Signs app.

The Theory Test app also has a voiceover feature, and it will read the questions and possible answers out loud to you. Remember that you can choose this option on your actual Theory Test if you need it, so it is a useful feature.

But there is a free version

Yes, and it only contains a small sample of questions and no HPT. Try it, by all means. But don’t think that you will pass if you just run through it a few times. It’s only £4.99 for the full app and HPT clips, so stop pissing around and buy it. The Theory Test costs £23, so risking failing it needlessly is false economy.

This is a true story. Not that long ago I had a pupil who I’d advised to download DTS. He failed his Theory Test several times, and after each one I was asking him how he was doing when he used the app. He assured me he was getting 100% in every test. After the next fail – and I can’t remember how many he had taken up to that point – I remember asking what app he was using. He told me it was DTS, but I asked how much he had paid for it. He replied “nothing. It was free”. I could have killed him – he was getting 100% by being asked the same ten or so questions every time!

Does DTS do voiceover?

Yes. You enable it in the settings, make sure your phone’s media volume is turned on/up, and it will then read out each question and answer automatically as you do tests on it. You can ask it to repeat as necessary.

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I saw it on the TV earlier today. It’s another JML one (remember PediPaws and the Turbo Brush?) This time, it’s for Hollywood Pants – a lower-body garment that appears to be capable of the equivalent of turning a hippopotamus into a cheetah without the need for liposuction.

Take a look at the TV ad above. Now, I am a scientist by training, and I am aware of the Law of Conservation of Mass. Essentially, this says that matter can be neither created nor destroyed, but it can be rearranged. So my question is this.

When those women put those pants on, where does the fat actually go? Because it’s not inside the pants, that’s for sure.

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Illuminati symbolismA DVSA email alert advises that DVSA is running a trial where they will send text messages to candidates in the run up to their tests offering advice on how to be prepared, not to take their test before they’re ready, and how to stay safe once they’ve passed. The trial will run between now and March 2019.

Not all candidates will receive the texts, as it is a trial. Instructors are advised to reassure pupils who receive such messages that there is no cause for concern. Also, instructors who book tests on their pupils’ behalf might receive the messages instead. I stress again, it is a trial.

Now, there are two ways this can go out here in Instructor Land. One, on my side of the tracks, it seems like a reasonable idea which can’t do any harm, and which in no way interferes with my job. Or two, on the side where all the smack head anarchists live, it is obviously a DVSA conspiracy whose only purpose is to spy on ADIs and deliberately poke their noses into our job.

Let’s see what happens.

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STOP PRESS: PayPal has an offer live at the moment – until 30 November 2018 – where the card reader only costs £34.

I originally posted this article in October 2015, shortly after I started using PayPal Here to take card payments from pupils. Before then, I’d been using iZettle, but I had an unfortunate experience with them which forced me to find an alternative. Basically, iZettle updated their app and it wouldn’t install on my phone. When I contacted them, they basically told me my phone wasn’t supported – even though it had been up until then. They nearly destroyed my business overnight, and effectively told me “tough”. I was not happy. They came back to me sometime later and apologised for their error – apparently, the app had been given an incorrect filename on Google Play, and that was the cause of the problem – and gave me almost £1,000 of free transactions – but it was too late. In the two weeks it took for them to admit their mistake, I had purchased and started using a PayPal Here card reader.PayPal Here card reader

I’d considered PayPal Here even before iZettle. But at that time, PayPal Here was brand new, and staff were even more inept than iZettle’s, and more or less told me any money I took wouldn’t be accessible to me for 30 days because of a “reserve” that existed on the account I’d set up. I wrote about that at the time. PayPal was easily the better option on paper, but not having access to my money was obviously a major issue, so I went with iZettle.

To this day, I have no idea what the hell was going on with that “reserve” malarkey, but when iZettle went titsup I contacted PayPal again, and in the intervening time they appeared to have recruited  people who knew what they were doing and actually wanted to do it for me.

So, anyway. Armed with a new PayPal Here reader and a reserve-free PayPal account in 2015, I set to work.

Since then, I have taken more than £50,000 in card payments through PayPal Here (I’d also taken a fair bit through iZettle before that). As time has gone by, the number of people paying me by card has increased, and right now I’d say that about 70-80% of pupils pay that way (2018 card takings look like being about 30% higher than in 2017). The rest still use cash (someone block-booked 30 hours of lessons a couple of weeks ago and paid me £700 in notes, which I banked, because it isn’t mine yet), a few use bank transfers (a couple of months ago a new pupil’s father paid me £700 for a block booking this way), and a couple have routinely paid using contactless apps on their phones. I refuse to take cheques – if someone has a cheque book, they have a card, and I can read that instead.

The PayPal Here reader can carry out transactions via contactless, PIN, and swipe (though swipe is not necessary in the UK). Single hour lessons can be paid by contactless (if pupils have them) but anything above £30 has to be by PIN (contactless phone apps depend on the app they’re using, and one pupil easily paid for £50 two-hour lessons contactless this way).

Since I began using it, PayPal has updated the app several times, and it is extremely convenient being able to sign in using my fingerprint these days.

The massive benefit of PayPal over iZettle is that the money from a transaction goes into your PayPal account instantly. When you transfer it from there to your bank account, for all practical purposes that is instant, too (it says it can take “up to 2 hours”, but less than a minute is typical). With iZettle, it took nearly a week – and we’re talking a business week here, so Bank Holidays both here and in Sweden mattered – for money to get into your bank account.

How long do PayPal Here payments take to clear?

For all practical purposes, they’re instant.

When you take a card payment either by chip & PIN or contactless, funds are instantly transferred to your PayPal Here account. You can leave them there, or transfer them to your bank account whenever it suits you – either from the app or from PayPal on your computer.

My only minor gripe is that you have to transfer the money manually – you can’t set it to go straight into your bank account. It’s on my wish list.

How much does the card machine cost?

At the moment (2018), a PayPal Here card reader costs £54.00. They have special offers from time to time, where the machines are cheaper than this, and my backup was purchased when an offer was in place.

How much do they charge per transaction?

It’s 2.75%. For each £25 lesson paid for by card, you “lose” 69p.

Other card reader vendors have lower fees

I’m not saying you must use PayPal. Just be aware that other vendors’ fees are often on a sliding scale (iZettle’s was),  and you only get the lower rates if you take more than a certain amount per month – which for an ADI is often quite high. I triggered iZettle’s lower rate fees a couple of times, but the lower rate only applies to takings above the threshold.

For example, if there is a threshold at takings of £5,000 per month, and you pay 2.75% up to that, and 2.5% above it, then if you take £5,500 in that month, you pay 2.75% on £5,000, and 2.5% on £500. To get any real benefit, you’d need to be taking £10,000 per month or more. Small multi-car driving schools might benefit, but a self-employed ADI wouldn’t.

The charges are a rip off

Fine. Keep taking cash.

You’re not going to get away from transaction charges. A fee of 69p is nothing on a £25 bill. All you have to do is increase your prices slightly and you’ve covered the fee, anyway.

But I can save money if I don’t have to pay transaction fees

As I say. Fine. Keep taking cash. You probably also believe your car isn’t an overhead because you own it (it is), and that if you don’t have to pay a franchiser then you’re better off by the whole franchise fee (you’re not). A card fee is an overhead, that’s all.

I can’t see the point of taking card payments

Fine. Keep taking cash. It does tend to be the older ADI who thinks this way, though.

For me, from the day I first became an instructor, the ability to take card payments was on my wish list. As years went by, having to carry lots of cash around (sometimes, a heck of a lot) and make frequent trips to the bank was becoming a major headache. Bank branches – especially convenient local ones – are an increasingly endangered species, and with parking and lost lesson time, and cheques (some weeks, every pupil would pay by cheque), it was more like an atomic migraine than a headache. There is a business cost associated with that, which is proportional to how often you have to go to pay money in. With cheques especially, I’d only have a cash flow if I went to the bank, since £1,000 of cheques in your wallet is pretty useless. I’d been waiting for something like PayPal Here or iZettle – and there are others – to appear, and got in on the ground floor.

Is it of any benefit to take card payments?

As I said, it has saved me a lot – in monetary terms, and in terms of my sanity.

But another benefit is less tangible. Some pupils might be impressed if you pull out an iPad and have a glitzy demonstration video to get some point across. Believe me, many more are impressed when you tell them you can take card payments – even more so when you actually take a card payment from them. This might become less true in the future as the dinosaurs gradually die out, but right now it works in a highly positive way.

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Asda forecourtFor as long as I can remember – from way before I was a driving instructor – I have repeatedly heard the old story trotted out about how supermarket fuel is of inferior quality and can damage your engine. I even got it from an Esso cashier a few years ago when I told him I could fill up at Asda for up to 10p per litre less than what the Esso garage had just hiked its prices to.

Before I go into any detail, let me just say that that claim is a load of bollocks, and is perpetuated by people who don’t have a clue.

All fuel sold in the UK must conform to EN228 or EN590 (petrol and diesel, respectively), and unless you have a car which states otherwise in the manual, it will run comfortably on fuel which meets these specifications. The only difference is that some major garages may include extra additives designed to improve performance of their basic “premium” grade (and note that I said “may”). The “super” grades definitely contain additives, along with that other “additive” of about 10p per litre on top of the forecourt displayed price. EN228 and EN590 ensure that any fuel does not damage your car, and they also ensure that you don’t get the famous “residues that gunk up your engine” crap that people love to tell you about. You can read more about it here.

There is no way that the majority of driving instructors fill up with “super”. They use regular “premium” like the rest of us. If I used “super”, my fuel bill would increase by about £500 a year.

When I drove a petrol Ford Focus, the handbook told me I needed to use a minimum of 95 RON fuel. “RON” is the Research Octane Number, and the larger the RON number, the more expensive the fuel. Normal “premium” petrol is the bog-standard grade, and is 95 RON. The higher grade 97/98 RON is the “super” type, and often has an amusing comic book name like “Super-X Excelleratium Ultra Hyper-Q Unleaded Fuel”, alongside some graphic likely to appeal to chimpanzees in fast cars. Higher performance cars tend to specify 97/98 RON as a minimum, but normal cars don’t. Unless your handbook specifically tells you to use higher than 95 RON, you will have no trouble with it. I never did.

A similar thing applies to diesel fuel. The big garages may have a “super” grade alongside the basic one, but smaller garages don’t. For the last 5 years or so, I have exclusively used Asda for my diesel fuel. I have had no engine problems, and I get excellent mileage (over 50mpg).

In 2010, while I was still driving petrol cars, I had a problem with erratic idling on my Focus (across several cars, I should add). Even the dealer tried to argue that it was down to the fuel, and advised me to use “super” and give the car a “good blow out” on the motorway. It was absolute bollocks – the pre-2013 model cars all had the same fault, and a mechanical fix was needed. But if the dealer trotted out that same crap to other owners, the myth would just get perpetuated for another generation.

Supermarket tankers fill up from the same places the bigger garages do. Sometimes, you’ll even see one of the “bigger garage” tankers delivering to a supermarket. But it all meets the EN228 and EN590 specifications.

As an additional tip, I fill up at Asda – where the fuel is always about 5p cheaper than the local garages to start with. I use an Asda Cashback+ credit card, which gives 2% cashback on all Asda purchases (including fuel), and 0.2% on all other purchases. I pay it off before any interest is charged, and since I shop at Asda anyway – spending upwards of £150 on groceries most weeks, and over £100 on fuel – cashback soon mounts up. I know 2% doesn’t sound a lot, but it is the equivalent of about 3p per litre of fuel, so if Asda is charging £1.32, I end up paying £1.29. I save at least £150 a year just based on fuel purchases, and at least double that on everything else.

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UK PassportThis question pops up from time to time. I often gets hits on terms like “can driving instructors sign passport applications” or “can my instructor sign my passport photo”.

On the forums, no one knows the answer – but it doesn’t stop them offering one up all the same. Their answers are mainly based on the fact that they’d like to think they can sign, and proceed from there.

The GOV.UK website lists recognised professions, members of which can countersign passport applications. It is worth pointing out right away that driving instructors are not mentioned. The closest is “teachers and lecturers”, and as much as ADIs like to consider themselves teachers, they are not teachers in the sense the word is intended in an official context.

I have asked the Passport Office for guidance on this before. Their initial answer was:

Yes you would be able to sign a passport application if you are self employed and VAT registered or a Limited company.

I queried this further (most instructors would stop reading after the word “yes”), pointing out that most driving instructors are not VAT registered, nor do they operate Limited companies. The Passport Office responded with:

…a driving instructor can be considered a suitable countersignature not because they are a driving instructor, but if they would be considered the owner/manager of a limited or VAT registered company.

If they would not be registered in this way we cannot guarantee they would be accepted by the processing team.

There it is in black and white. Driving instructors (the vast majority of them, anyway) cannot officially countersign passport applications. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But most are not. If they do countersign a passport application, the application may be rejected because they do not meet the requirements.

Of course, some ADIs might operate a larger school and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered, thus becoming eligible to officially countersign passport applications. And if their company is big enough, it may well be a Limited Company. But that’s a very small proportion of those on the Register.

I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor, but I was always wary because I knew it was a grey area. Any one of those applications could have been bounced back. I’ve never signed one for a pupil because I simply don’t know them well enough (as well as being from a “recognised profession”, you also need to have known someone for at least two years, and I’ve only ever had a handful who’ve been with me that long in all my years as an ADI). It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it turned out that some instructors are signing applications for pupils and even charging money for the service (like some GPs do).

So, technically, the answer is no. The typical instructor cannot sign off passport applications. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.

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