Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

A new series of The Undriveables started on ITV this week. You can catch it for the usual limited period on the ITV Player (you’ll have to put up with the adverts).The Undriveables

This first episode featured an older guy who was actually pretty much typical of his age group, and who responded well to instruction once his faults were corrected. He passed his test after the week-long session. The episode also featured a middle-aged woman who was a different matter altogether.

Just the act of driving a car induced fits of severe trembling (and I mean she was in absolute panic). At one point, and for almost no apparent reason, she had to stop and be physically sick. In another segment she was driving perfectly well, then suddenly panicked and had to stop again. When she took her test it was abandoned. It appears that she hit a kerb hard, then went to pieces again.

As an aside, I once had a middle-aged pupil who simply couldn’t coordinate the clutch, brake, and gas pedals. She couldn’t steer a straight line and change gear at the same time. And whenever traffic lights changed suddenly in front of us she’d slam on the brake and stall the car. She had the attention span and spatial awareness of a gnat! I had tried to persuade her to switch to automatic lessons quite early on because of finances and these pedal issues – and it was clear that they weren’t going to easily go away – but she had bought a manual car already and was adamant that she wanted to pass a manual test. As a result, she was with me for over two years and took over 100 hours of lessons. However, near the end of that time I discovered that she’d sold the car and so I started on at her again about learning in an automatic, explaining that she was still a long way from test standard. I enlisted the help of her son, and we finally persuaded her. She took a further two years, another 100 hours, and 7 driving tests before she eventually passed (she’d still be taking lessons now if she’d stuck with manual). I calculate that she had spent over £5,000 by the time she passed.

I have to admit that I was worried about her. She’d always stayed in touch, and credited me with having taught her to drive. But the thought of her driving alone filled me with horror. I advised her to get a car as soon as possible because she really didn’t want to let her driving get stale (actually, we got on well enough for me to be much more frank about it than that, but this is the general gist).

More than a year later she called me out of the blue. She’d bought a car and wanted some refresher lessons in it. She wanted me to provide them.

I remember that I was just about as scared as I’d ever been each time I took her out. Even with just the brake and gas pedals to worry about she frequently got them mixed up, and on one occasion we arrived back at her house, drove slowly up her driveway, and almost went through the fence and into the the back yard. Within a fortnight of buying the car and driving to work in it, she’d hit her wrought iron gates while reversing out three times (the resulting garage repairs amounted to 70% of the car’s value). She had to get a neighbour to put it in her driveway each evening, and work colleagues to back it out of wherever she’d parked it when she finished work. I subsequently heard from someone who knew her that she’d got rid of the car because she couldn’t afford to run it.

My point here is that there are some people who simply should not – ever – drive, and they are a danger to themselves and everyone around them when they do. Passing a driving test is no guarantee that someone is a good or capable driver. In fact, there are many thousands of people out there who have passed tests, but who are not competent drivers. They’re the ones you see driving slowly, or at a constant 40mph through 30, 40, 50, and NSL zones. They’re the ones who habitually switch lanes at the last minute, or who drift between lanes on roundabouts. They have virtually no awareness or understanding of lane divisions or direction arrows. And they do not learn from their mistakes because they are in a complete daze most of the time. Unfortunately, there is no law preventing them from driving – and nothing that says an ADI should tell them the truth.

I think the lady in this first episode of The Undriveables is a prime example of this. She simply should not go anywhere near a car if she is going to react the way she does – not unless she gets some serious medical or psychiatric help. You see, if she had passed her test, she is almost certainly still going to react in the same extreme way to situations when she is out on her own (or with her two boys in the car). The possible outcomes don’t bear thinking about.

On the programme itself, you have to accept that it is heavily edited for TV purposes. However, there was a lot of evidence of parking on yellow lines and pavements from what I saw. Apart from that, the ADIs featured didn’t do themselves any great disservice. It will be interesting to see subsequent episodes, because the trailers I’ve seen suggest that some of the later featured drivers are typical examples of people who failed the Big Brother auditions.

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This article from 2013 has also started attracting a lot of hits.

The article I wrote about how to reverse around a corner is very popular. I note that many people find it using search terms like “which way should I steer” or “I get confused which way to steer when reversing”.

I find that the majority of people have a problem with which way to steer – at least to begin with – and for some it remains a problem for them. The last two weeks alone, I’ve had this conversation with about half a dozen pupils. Maybe this explanation I’ve been using will help you work out how to overcome any problems.


I’m not going to give a lesson on psychology, but the diagram above represents how your brain has a conscious and a sub-conscious part. The sub-conscious part is programmed with habits and instincts, and it kicks in when you’re stressed or under pressure. You can think of it as the little voice in your head that makes you do things without you realising.

If you play football or tennis, the way you dribble the ball or strike it with the racquet is something you don’t really have to think about. However, when you first started out you had to think about it a lot until you’d got it nailed down. What you had to do was use your conscious mind to develop new habits in the sub-conscious part. Once you had installed your new skills as habits in your sub-conscious, playing the game became a formality.

It’s exactly the same when learning to drive, and especially when reversing. Somehow or other – and it happens for different reasons for different people – your brain will have acquired the sub-conscious habit of steering the wrong way when you reverse. When carrying out a reverse around a corner you’ll already be a little stressed, so your sub-conscious usually takes over and makes you steer the wrong way. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially when your conscious side knows which way you should steer – but that’s where the answer lies, and you have to try and make use of it.

The trick is to keep stopping, which cuts the stress right down, and consciously working out which way you should steer. Or in other words, trying to prevent your sub-conscious from assuming control. If you can do that, there’s no real magic involved from there onwards: you steer left if you want to move the car closer to the kerb; and you steer right if you want to move away from it. You have to be careful not to think too much, though, because that means your sub-conscious will be arguing with your conscious – you have to simplify the decision-making process as much as possible. As soon as you allow your sub-conscious to chime in with “ah, yes. But…” the whole thing is likely to go wrong again.

For some people it’s still a huge challenge. I had one this week who was even arguing with me over which way to steer, and another who has big problems preventing her sub-conscious from interfering (even when I ask her “which side is the kerb”? So which way will you steer?” there is a pause while she tries to weigh up her conscious saying “left with her sub-conscious screaming “but you’re reversing, so it must be the other way”).

So remember. Keep stopping. Steer towards the kerb to get closer to it, and steer away from the kerb to move away from it.

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This article was originally written in 2010. It has had a run of hits recently.

Some time ago, a magazine printed an article which implied that driving examiners had been failing people for crossing their hands when steering. It seems that this came about because the then latest update to DT1 (16/03/2010) – a DSA (DVSA) internal guidance document – had added the following:

To ensure uniformity, when conducting car or vocational tests and ADI qualifying examinations, only assess the candidate’s ability to control the vehicle and do not consider it as a fault if, for example, they do not hold the steering wheel at ten to two or quarter to three or if they cross their hands when turning the steering wheel. The assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control.

It is worth considering what the previous version (dated 28/04/2009) said on the same subject. I’d paste it, but I can’t – because nowhere in that document does it say anything about the method of steering!

I think what had become clear to the DVSA is that a few examiners had been failing people for crossing their hands, not holding the wheel at ten to two, and so on. These examiners, who obviously were incorrect in their belief that this is how steering must be carried out, now have a document which specifically points out the error of their ways – which they didn’t have before. The paragraph I quoted above virtually says this is what had been happening (i.e. to ensure uniformity, because there wasn’t any) and that the examiner’s assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control (which some examiners were clearly not complying with)).

I think the magazine should have clarified the situation, but in actual fact it has given certain ADIs plenty of new grist for their anti-DVSA mill. However, “crossing hands” is something many ADIs simply don’t properly understand, and I suspect this applies to the magazine editors too..

When someone who has never driven before starts to steer, almost invariably they keep a firm grip on the wheel when turning. Their hands might start at ten to two or a quarter to three (using the clock face to describe hand position), but by the time they have turned the wheel half a revolution or so one way or the other their arms are crossed and they can’t go any further. Most turns at junctions require at least ¾ of a revolution of the steering wheel, so the pupil ends up going wide and panicking. Crossing hands in this way – with a fixed grip on the wheel – is obviously not “under control”, and it is why it is important to get them into a good steering routine right from the start.

“Hand over hand” steering is not the same thing as “crossing hands”, and it never has been except in the minds of those who don’t understand. It is perfectly safe for pupils to reach over past one hand when turning if they are in control. No one has ever said that hands must remain on either side of the steering wheel or else you fail (well, except for those who simply don’t know what they are talking about).

It’s a tricky and delicate issue. A lot of ADIs have ambitions to become driving examiners – sometimes because they aren’t getting on too well as ADIs – so almost by definition any misunderstandings will be carried over into their new role. This poor understanding of steering and “crossing hands” is a prime example, and it explains why some examiners might have been failing pupils and thinking it was the right thing to do.

I mention this simply because I was reading a forum the other day where someone made the comment:

I’ve noticed the xmnrs are a bit more relaxed with steering these days and the crossing of hands seems to be allowed providing car control has not been affected.

This is typical of how the magazine article was interpreted by a lot of instructors, when in fact absolutely nothing had changed as far as what is acceptable where steering was concerned. Any previous problems with test fails due to “crossing hands” or not holding the wheel at ten to two were due to examiners not knowing what they were doing, and not a change of DVSA policy.

I must stress that all the examiners I know are perfectly capable, I respect them, and I have no issues with them at all.

Why shouldn’t I turn the wheel when the car isn’t moving?

Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called “dry steering”. The examiners do not mark you on it, so it doesn’t matter if you do it or not during your test.

However, it is extremely bad practice for various reasons:

  • it can damage your tyres
  • it can damage your steering mechanism
  • it can rip up the road if the surface is hot

Normally, your tyres are rolling as you turn the steering wheel. When you dry steer, they are scrunched over whatever they’re sitting on top of. Gravel, glass, nails, all kinds of rubbish. At the very least it wears them out quicker, but in the worst (but not particularly uncommon) cases you can get a puncture from it – especially if you’re on a nail or glass and it’s wet. In hot weather, the scrunching action can actually damage the surface, which then contributes to the formation of potholes.

When you dry steer, you can feel the extra resistance (and even on newer cars with advanced power steering, just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean the same strain isn’t being felt somewhere else). Obviously, that resistance has to be fought against, and that means additional wear and the possibility of failure in the steering mechanism.

Replacing burst tyres or fixing worn out steering is likely to cost a lot of money.

Except in certain circumstances, dry steering on purpose is for bad drivers who can’t steer properly to begin with.

Can dry steering damage my car?

Potentially, yes. And it can also damage the road. All this is explained above.

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TickWell done Maddie, who passed with 8 driver faults today. She’s been one of my “serial failers” of this year, but the beta-blockers really helped us on lessons, and we got there in the end.

The effects of beta-blockers really are amazing. What they do is break down the shields or barriers that cripple many nervous people on their lessons. Learning can then take place, along with a growth in confidence, because the nerves are not firing off uncontrolledly as they were before. This increased confidence naturally also has a positive effect. Subsequently – and certainly once the pressure of passing their test is gone – people don’t need to take the tablets anymore.

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A few people have found the blog on this search term in the last few days. I wasn’t sure why until I checked, but it’s because episode 11 of the documentary “Metal Evolution” is being shown, and all three members of Rush are interviewed in it (which is an achievement on the part of the producers and Sam Dunn, since Neil Peart doesn’t do many interviews, and he is very forthcoming in this one).Rush trio

Actually, you can buy this highly acclaimed documentary series on DVD and Blu-ray, and it is really worth having if you’re into rock music.

It’s also worth pointing out that an R40 boxed set is planned for later this year featuring 6 discs and lots of bonus material as well as their recent (post-hiatus) performances. I’ll be getting it, that’s for sure!

Correction: There is a new show, Classic Albums 4, featuring Rush and their albums 2112 and Moving Pictures. Again, Neil is included prominently, along with Alex and Geddy. The show was originally aired in the US in 2010, but it has taken this long to come over here!

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The DVSA has released the latest statistics for 2014 covering check tests and the new standards check.

The key points of the period between 7 April and 30 June are:

  • 2,520 standards checks carried out
  • pass rate was 81%
  • 24% of ADIs achieved Grade A, 57% achieved Grade B

I note that in some quarters, the usual agitators have suddenly become expert statisticians again as they dismiss these figures without having a clue what they actually mean.

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I saw this story on the BBC website. It shows a video, which has been released by Norfolk police, of a motorcyclist travelling at 97mph on the A47. He had a helmet camera fitted. The rider, David Holmes, died after he rode into a car which was turning right. The BBC has edited out the impact, which is apparently in the full version – which can be seen on the Suffolk police website (I haven’t watched it here, and have no desire to do so).

Apparently, the car driver was prosecuted for causing death by careless driving. I suppose that the charge of “careless driving” sends something of a message – it wasn’t classed as “dangerous” – but I can’t for the life of me see what the driver could have done to anticipate some Neanderthal halfwit coming at them out of the blue at almost twice the speed limit. Not unless we are to assume that all motorcyclists are the same and they could be behaving like this at each and every junction. Or that the fault always lies with the motorist, and not the rider.

The Norfolk police quite rightly make no apologies for releasing the video, in spite of the negative comments it may attract. I make no apologies for my opinion on the matter, either.

Holmes’ family have allowed the video to be released.

Mr Holmes’ mother, Brenda, is shown on the video talking about the heartache of losing a child and makes a plea for people to be more careful on the roads.

She said if the video could save one life, it would be worth it.

Although I have sympathy for her, I hope she is referring to insane motorcyclists and not just car drivers. But I don’t think she is, because on the Suffolk police site she is quoted:

I know he rode fast that day, he loved speed but he also loved life. This hasn’t been an easy thing to do but I just hope that somebody benefits from the warning; that people slow down and take time to look for bikes.

Holmes was travelling at nearly 100mph, for God’s sake – that’s almost 50 metres per second! From his perspective, the chance of someone turning right at a right-turn junction was a damn sight more likely than that of someone bearing down on you at 100mph – which is how would have seemed for the motorist. I don’t see anyone loudly proclaiming that Holmes should have anticipated things better, do you? It’s bloody obvious who was at fault. If he’d been travelling within the speed limit the accident almost certainly wouldn’t have happened, and the comments by the “expert” rider in the video miss that point entirely. Looking at the footage, if Holmes had been driving at the speed limit (or around 25 metres per second) the issue of whether he could have avoided the accident or not would have been moot – the car driver would probably have seen him, or would have had time to turn safely if he was farther back. At 60mph, it would take about 4 seconds to stop, whereas it would take around 6 seconds at 100mph – and this is for a car (not a bike) under theoretically ideal conditions. The distance travelled in those additional two seconds would be huge, and don’t forget that if you double your speed, your braking distance is about four times longer.

You simply don’t expect some prat to be coming down a hill at that kind of speed. The most frightening thing is that if they are, most drivers wouldn’t stand a chance of anticipating it. And quite frankly, they shouldn’t have to.

Just for the record, any car driver who drives dangerously (or carelessly), or who breaks the speed limit, deserves to be prosecuted. But so does any motorcyclist who does similar.

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Imagine that you have an online retailer who sells, let’s say, groceries. They fulfil all orders from their own warehouse. You place an online order which includes a bag of flour. When your shipment arrives, you find that instead of flour, you have been supplied with 2kg of Cocaine. When you protest, the supplier apologises, insisting that it was a computer error and you were supplied with the wrong item.Kung Fu Panda

Now, I don’t know about you, but there is no possible scenario I can imagine which explains the error away properly. Yes, there may well have been a computer glitch. But how do you explain the Cocaine in the first place?

On a related note, I saw this story on the BBC website. Apparently, the London School of Economics (LSE) sent out a welcome email to its students – 25% of whom are East Asian – and some “test names” from the database resulted in people being identified as Kung Fu Panda.

The university says that other test names used include Piglet, Paddington, Homer, Bob and Tinkerbell.

Yes, but there’s no mention of people being identified by those names. More telling is this bit:

The use of this ‘name’ merely reflects that a member of staff who set up the test record is a fan of the film.

It’s an odd name to choose. Joe Bloggs or John Smith are the ones I usually go for. I’d steer well clear of double-barrelled monikers if I were testing a database. They also say:

The email was sent to all students and did not target students from any particular background.

The article doesn’t mention any non-Asian examples. What I do know is that Asian students usually turn up a week or two earlier than everyone else (I’ve mentioned this before). Maybe Finding Nemo is in that database somewhere, too?

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This story on the BBC caught my eye. It begins:

As many as three quarters of a million young people in the UK may feel that they have nothing to live for, a study for the Prince’s Trust charity claims.

This makes me angry whenever I read it, but not for the reason you might expect. My reason is based on one of the examples given in the story, where a young male tried to kill himself because he couldn’t get a job. His story begins and ends as follows:

Excluded from school at the age of 14, [he] had no qualifications…

…But after attending a course run by the Prince’s Trust, [he] built up his self-confidence and gained new skills and qualifications. Now 23, he works in a residential home for young people and is studying towards a youth worker level 2 qualification.

I seem to be the only one who can see that it is bad behaviour (and whatever caused it) and the subsequent lack of qualifications which was fundamental problem. Once he had sorted himself out and gained some sort of education – which he should have got 10 years earlier – he got a job. Surely there is an obvious lesson to be learnt here?

It’s all very well rattling on about how people who have been unemployed for a long time suffer depression, but much of the time they brought it on themselves by bunking off school (and getting away with God knows what). Childhood isn’t childhood any more. You get 14-year olds who think they’re adults – often egged on by well-meaning but incompetent parents and teachers – who simply refuse to study properly at school. You don’t need 40 GCSE A* passes to get a job, though God knows that’s not difficult these days. Just a handful of Grade Es passes as an education and is more than enough to gain employment. It might not get you into Merchant Banking – you should have got the A*s if you expected that – but it’s certainly a lot better than having a disciplinary record the FBI probably has a copy of.

Too many kids think they’re grown up at 12 and get away with it. It’s a shame they only seem to actually grow up in their 20s once they’ve realised that the gutter they have crawled into isn’t as cool as it once seemed. Reading between the lines, many of the kids referred to in that article did not have stable family backgrounds (many young girls have got two or three kids of their own by the time they get to his stage). This is where most of the problems stem from.

The Prince’s Trust says:

If we fail to act, there is a real danger that these young people will become hopeless, as well as jobless.

As far as I’m concerned, any action needs to be for the generations still at school – to force them to get a bloody basic education instead of pissing about until they’re 20-something then expecting the world to save them.

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TickWell done to Brendan, who passed today first time with 10 driver faults. What made this one sweet was the fact that I found out only last week that he has anxiety issues requiring medication, which explained why he had good days and bad days on his lessons.

I like it when I can help people get over these sorts of problems. And he’s already signed up for a motorway session, which I’m sure he’ll enjoy.

This run of passes has certainly helped balance out my overall pass rate for the year, which stands at a paltry 45%. However, my first time pass rate is 70% – 13 out of 19 passes were all first-timers. But I still feel bad about those serial failers. This time last year my overall rate was almost double what it is now.

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