Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Original article published in 2008. Updated August 2016, and June 2018.

Ford Focus cockpit

The topic keeps coming back because it is relevant to all learner drivers. When I wrote the original story, DVSA – or DSA, as it was then – had just updated its Internal Guidance Document (DT1) to say:

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.

The part I’ve highlighted was an addition, and in previous versions of DT1 the steering technique was not mentioned. Even so, no examiners round my way ever failed people for “crossing their hands”. You see, all DVSA was doing with this update was making sure that its examiners were clear on the subject (hence the phrase “[ensuring] uniformity”). Reading between the lines, it seems that there had been complaints about one or two examiners around the country who had been faulting candidates unnecessarily. Reading even deeper, I would surmise that these were ex-ADIs who had carried their ideas about “crossing hands” and “holding the steering wheel properly” across with them when they gave up teaching.

The bottom line is that as long as steering is under control it doesn’t matter how a pupil does it. They can steer with one hand, with their palm, use hand over hand… it simply doesn’t matter. And it hasn’t mattered – not officially, anyway – for a very long time. I emphasise again that the change to DT1 was a clarification and not a major change in policy.

A lot of ADIs and PDIs get hung up on this whole business of  “crossing your hands”. Two versions ago, Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) said:

Turning – When turning the steering wheel, avoid crossing your hands. Except at low speeds, this can reduce your control and can cause an accident. Feed the rim of the steering wheel through your hands. Vary your hand movements according to the amount of lock you want.

This is called the pull-push technique.

TES was not saying that you shouldn’t cross your hands. It just quite correctly pointed out that the rapid steering action that a hand-over-hand method can lead to might give rise to a loss of control at higher speeds. But there is a huge difference in the effect produced by whipping the steering round quickly as you’re turning into a road at 20-30mph compared with the same action at 5-10mph.

The only type of  “crossing hands” that ends up being wrong in almost all circumstances is the one where pupils grip the steering wheel tightly and turn from their shoulders, keeping their hands in a fixed place on the steering wheel. This nearly always results in insufficient lock to get round the corner, resulting in wide turns, or possibly over-steering if the pupil suddenly panics and shifts their grip to get the car round. Just about every learner does it like this on their first lesson.

The last two versions of TES (most recently, 2015) have merely said:

You should

  • place your hands on the steering wheel in a position that’s comfortable and which gives you full control
  • keep your movements steady and smooth
  • turn the steering wheel to turn a corner at the correct time

Personally, I rue the loss of the extra detail in the version before this. I see it as a dumbing down exercise, and far too many people are ready to believe that it’s some sort of admission that the “pull-push” method was bad, when it most definitely wasn’t. The pull-push technique – where steering is achieved by alternately pulling the wheel down with one hand, then changing grip and pushing it with the other – certainly isn’t the only way to steer, and people who can already drive shouldn’t be forced to use it. But for most beginners, who have not yet developed a suitable technique, it should definitely be a starting point for them. It requires hand coordination which, in turn, becomes a foundation for good car control.Playing "keepy-up"

A good analogy would be with a professional footballer. He can play “keepy up” for hours on end because it is an important basic control skill – but you will rarely see him do it on the field. However, the coordination required to do it enables him to do other things during matches that he would otherwise struggle with.

It’s the same with steering. Being able to use pull-push properly is an important foundation skill that drivers should possess, even if they end up rarely using it in favour of a more chav-like style. Once beginners can do pull-push, they can steer easily without going wide on bends and corners. They are less likely to over-steer into kerbs, and are more confident as a result, being able to adjust their steering in a controlled manner. A major drawback to hand-over-hand steering for beginners who know no other way is that they can easily panic and over steer.

The new wording in TES could actually be taken as a mandate for teaching poor steering methods by some instructors, because it’s easier for them and easier for their pupils. Some people are already under the mistaken impression that it’s “coaching” to let people develop bad habits in preference to teaching them properly.

Incidentally, when someone pull-pushes the steering in one direction, the natural return action frequently involves push-pull. They’re not two separate methods like some people seem to believe. It doesn’t matter whether you pull first, or push.

Why shouldn’t I turn (dry steer) the wheel when the car isn’t moving?

Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called “dry steering”. There’s no rule or law which says you mustn’t do it, and examiners do not mark you on it. I have much less of an issue with it than I once did when doing manoeuvres. However, it can bad practice for several reasons:

  • it can damage your tyres
  • it can damage your steering mechanism
  • it can damage the road surface

Scrunching your tyres over gravel instead of rolling over the road surface leads to more wear. Doing it on glass or nails can give you a puncture. The extra strain involved when dry steering leads to more wear in the steering mechanism of your car. And scrunching your tyres on tarmac in hot weather can chew up the surface, which holds water in winter, and which can cause cracks if the water freezes – leading finally to potholes. You’ll get some smart arses telling you they’ve never come across an example where dry steering has caused actual damage, but the reality is that every time someone has to replace a tyre, dry steering could have contributed to its overall wear and tear.

Replacing a tyre is going to cost you a few tens of pounds at the very least. Fixing worn out steering will cost hundreds of pounds. Potholes can cause hundred of pounds worth of damage to your car – plus you pay taxes for them to be (eventually) filled in, so it makes sense not to contribute to their formation. However, your car is not going to spontaneously fall apart in the middle of the road if you dry steer occasionally, so don’t worry about it too much.

Except where pupils have a genuine problem and need to dry steer, as the default steering method in all situations it is an excuse for laziness and bad driving practices. Dry steering should be discouraged for most drivers, most of the time.

I find that many pupils can’t control the car and steer at the same time, and they need to dry-steer

That’s fair enough, but make sure you’re not just looking for an easy way out. In all the years I have been teaching, the number of pupils who couldn’t be taught to control the car at low-speed and steer pull-push at the same time, and so have had to resort to dry steering, have been relatively few. The vast majority of learners have initial problems with just about every aspect of driving, but that doesn’t mean they should be taught a dumbed down approach at the first opportunity. In my own experience, based on the observed skills of pupils I’ve picked up from other instructors, that is exactly what seems to be happening. Dry steering is seen as an easy way out.

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

Yes, I agree, but it can usually be overcome. Having said that, as time has gone by, I have less of an issue with dry steering than I once did during manoeuvres. The real problem  for most is to do with multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking doesn’t mean doing two things at the same time. The human brain can’t handle that. What it does mean is carrying out several tasks concurrently. I know that sounds confusing, but let me explain.A plate spinning act

Think of a plate-spinning act – the thing where some guy spins plates on the ends of sticks and keeps them all going without any falling off. He starts with one plate, sets it spinning, then uses the time before it starts to wind down to set another going. Now, he goes back to the first and gives it a boost, then he sets a third plate going. He can now go back and boost the second, and maybe the first again. Then he spins up a fourth plate. And so on, until he has many plates all spinning. All he has to do is give each plate a boost as necessary. This is proper multi-tasking – the plate spinner does one thing at a time, following a sequence.

Let’s apply all this to the turn in the road (TIR). In the worst case, a pupil will start moving without having a clue what they’re going to do next – and the car just moves off along the kerb as their brain tries to figure out what’s going on, and what they should do next. Not quite as bad, but still very messy, is the case where the pupil tries to get the car moving, control the speed, and steer all at once. What usually happens is that the car lurches (perhaps stalls), which distracts them from steering. Then, if they try to steer, their foot comes up off the clutch and the car accelerates, which distracts them again and the steering stops. By this time, they’re almost at the opposite kerbside with very little steering applied.

TIR (assuming we’re doing it as a three-point turn) can be broken into three identical stages, each looking a bit like this:

  • select gear
  • find the bite
  • look around
  • release hand brake
  • control speed
  • get full lock on
  • control speed again
  • look around
  • control speed
  • watch the kerb
  • control the speed
  • stop

If we apply the plate spinner approach, where controlling the speed is the same as giving a plate a boost, we have a nice structure that can be followed in a steady sequence. As long as the car’s speed is kept low, everything else just happens.

My instructor is teaching me to dry steer

As I said earlier, you won’t fail for doing it on your test, and I now have much less of an issue with dry steering on manoeuvres than I used to. However, it is bad practice to do it when you definitely don’t need to. It can damage your tyres and other things and it is something you need to avoid whenever you can. If you’re parked in a tight space, the only way you’re ever going to get out is by dry steering.

I can’t master “pull-push” steering

If you can steer safely and in control, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Even using the palm of one hand and driving like the chavs do is perfectly acceptable… as long as you’re in control. However, if you are a beginner and you don’t already have a suitable way of steering, pull-push is a good technique to master. You can easily practice it at home using a book or dinner plate as a dummy steering wheel.

If you want to steer left, move your left hand to the top of the wheel (or dinner plate), grip, and pull the wheel down until your hand is at the bottom. Move your right hand to the bottom, grip, let go with your left hand, then push the wheel/plate up. To continue steering, move your left hand to the top again, change grip, and repeat – although you’ll probably have full-lock on before you complete the third movement.

To steer right, start by moving your right hand to the top of the wheel and pull down, etc.

Using pull-push means you always have more steering available to you. Using big turns is good for getting full-lock quickly, but you can use small shuffles for more precise steering as needed.

Get the dinner plate out and make sure you can do it.

Do you have to use “push-pull”?

It’s actually called pull-push, but whatever you call it the answer is “no”. As far as I am aware, you have never HAD to do it that way – you’re probably confused about being told that by your own instructor, or by someone else whose instructor told them. The examiner doesn’t care how you steer as long as you’re in control.

That’s not to say that you can literally steer anyway you like, though. Pull-push (or something very similar to it) done properly is definitely the best way – especially for learners.

What about “palming”?

This is what I refer to as “chav steering” – it’s where someone uses the palm of one hand to rotate the wheel, and it is the favoured method of people who are trying to cultivate an image.

I often pick up pupils who use it, and I don’t immediately try to change them unless there is a problem with control. I’m perfectly happy for them to use it when they’re doing manoeuvres because of the low speeds involved. However, if they try it when turning into a road or round a sharp bend, if my guts flip even a small amount as a result of the change in momentum then I’m right on it, and they will learn how to steer using pull-push.

Palming to steer at normal speeds and in normal situations is pretty much pointless because you simply don’t need to steer that quickly. Beyond that, it comes back to that thing about image again – which is fine for an established driver (where you’d call it a habit), but not for an inexperienced beginner who just wants to look “cool”. Steering too quickly adds an additional sideways component to the forces acting on the car, and that increases the risk of a skid or spin-out, and palming can easily lead to that. And remember that this kind of accident is common among younger inexperienced drivers.

Is it OK to teach learners to “palm” the wheel?

Well, if they remain in control when they are steering then there is no fault for the examiner to mark. However, if they steer too quickly when turning left or right into side roads or bends then there most definitely is a control issue and the examiner might well mark it. With an inexperienced driver, showing them how to palm the wheel is a pointless additional risk.

A decent instructor should not be teaching palming as a preferred steering method for beginners. There’s too much that can go wrong with it. For established drivers the risks need to be assessed and dealt with honestly. Quite simply, too many ADIs steer like that themselves and this is why they teach it. It is bad practice, though – much like dry steering.

They used to fail people for “crossing hands” when steering

I’m going to stick my neck out here. But…

No. They. Bloody. Well. Didn ‘t.

Stop keep repeating things you heard as if they were fact without knowing what you’re talking about. Crossing hands has not been an issue in itself for the 40 years I’ve been driving. The only time it is a problem is when the learner grips the wheel and turns from the shoulders. At some point, the arms cross and they can’t steer any more – even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That will be marked under steering control.

Hand over hand steering – where the hands do cross over each other – is perfectly OK. It’s actually better in some cases. This has always been the case.

If crossing the hands has ever been worthy of a fail in its own right, it must date from so long ago that the people who keep going on about it probably weren’t even born, so it’s about as relevant as marauding dinosaurs. I mean, they used to have more rules for horse-drawn carriages than self-propelled ones in the Highway Code, but no one worries about what the sign of waving a whip over your head means.

The whole issue of “not crossing hands” comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them. Indeed, some instructors so obviously misunderstand the issue even now that it is easy to see how this nonsense is perpetuated.

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

It isn’t rocket science, so don’t let your pupils think it is. Remember that as long as they are in control it doesn’t matter how they steer. Having said that, if they have not driven properly before it is a good idea to teach them how to use the pull-push method first (and to avoid dry-steering), and then let them develop their own style from there. Pull-push requires fundamental skills that they can use in their own style. Let them practice with a large book or diary – if you have a dummy steering wheel, so much the better.

Once they know the principle of steering, the next step is putting it into practice. For most new drivers that’s not a problem and just getting out on the road is enough for them to hone their skills. However, some new drivers need a bit of extra help with knowing how much to steer and when, and finding an empty car park which is big enough to drive around in a figure of eight pattern is great for practising this.

How do I correct someone’s steering while they’re driving?

This is an actual search term used to find the blog. It might be necessary for an instructor to position the car correctly for a learner simply by holding the steering wheel and steering slightly from the passenger seat. The pupil can then zero in on their position relative to the kerb or white lines and learn from that.

How many turns is full lock?

It varies from car to car. In my Ford Focus it is currently just over 1¼ turns either way, but in the previous model it was just under 1½ turns. One of my pupils has a car where it is nearly 2 whole turns.

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

Read the previous answer. Full lock is when the steering wheel won’t turn any further. It will go “clunk” against the end stop.

One turn is one turn. If full lock is more than one turn, then no, full lock and one turn are not the same.

How much do I need to steer?

Don’t get bogged down counting quarters or halves of turns of the wheel (except perhaps during some manoeuvres). Steer as much as you need to by watching where you’re going and making the car go there.

If you get muddled when it comes to straightening the wheels after having turned to full lock, it can sometimes be useful to count your hand movements needed to get full lock in the first place, then count the same number of hand movements back. Obviously this depends on having a reliable technique – it won’t work if you use hand-over-hand one way, and tiny little shuffles going the other.

I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?

The clue is in the question. Too much of anything is likely to be wrong.

If you steer “too much” on bends you are liable to clip the kerb or put too much sideways force on the car, which could lead to you spinning out or losing control (among other possible bad outcomes). So, yes. It is dangerous – and wrong.

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

In my experience, the following are all high on the list:

  • looking at the steering wheel
  • looking too close to the front of the car
  • looking at the kerb
  • not looking ahead
  • being distracted by other things
  • gripping the wheel too tightly
  • not moving their hands when steering
  • steering too much or too quickly
  • steering too little or too slowly

The list is really endless, but not all learners make all these mistakes. Most pupils who have problems tend to specialise in one particular fault.

Remember that it is important to identify the precise cause of the fault. Someone might not steer enough going round a corner, but it could be simply that they were trying to change gear or cancel the indicator. In some cases, though, question them and you may well find it was because they were thinking about a mistake they made earlier. The trick is to dig the real fault out.

My pupil keeps moving the steering wheel all the time, even on straight roads

It’s probably because they’re not looking far enough ahead. Think about it: your hands will follow your eyes without you being aware of it, and this means that if you watched a video of yourself driving on a straight road, your hands would be making small corrections the whole time. Learners tend to look much closer to the front of the car, and as a result their adjustments are more frequent, and of greater magnitude. Get them to look a couple of hundred metres further on – point out various things for them to look at – and there’s a good chance their steering will become very smooth.

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

If they’re in control it doesn’t matter. They should try to keep two hands on the wheel, but dropping to one hand now and then isn’t a problem. It can even be a good exercise to get them to steer with one hand – their road position often improves dramatically, because they are concentrating more.

How can I practice steering?

Well, first of all, don’t over think the subject. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a pupil who couldn’t steer within a few minutes – and certainly not within 20 minutes or so – so you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Occasionally, I do get people who have an initial problem with pull-push steering if they’ve never done it before. What I do in those cases is whip out my diary, which is A4-sized, and get them to pull-push-pull one way, then the other. I demonstrate it first, of course. Once they’ve done the correct hand movements once, it’s no problem after that (it’s a bit like those Chinese puzzles you get, where once you know the secret you can do it with your eyes shut). In the past, I’ve had pupils who have practiced at home using a dinner plate (and even one of those kiddies toy steering wheels would do it – as long as you lock yourself in somewhere with the curtains drawn so no one will laugh at you!)

As I said previously, once people have the ability to do pull-push, I let them develop their own method from it.

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Bismarck MagazineHoly cow, they’re at it again!

I wrote an article in 2015 about a monthly magazine where you gradually got parts to build a model of The Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. Although issue 1 was priced at £2.99, subsequent issues were £8.99 and the full series was 100 issues long (totalling nearly £900 to get a finished model).

I just saw an ad on TV for a similar series where you build a model of the Bismarck. The bloody thing is 1¼ metres long and is made largely of die-cast metal (they don’t say how much it weighs). This time, although the first issue is £1.99, subsequent issues are £8.99, and there are 140 of them! So it’ll cost around £1,250 in the end.

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The ford near OxtonI saw this question posed on a forum a while back, the premise being that if you have been trained properly, you could pass your test at any test centre in the country. It comes up regularly.

Many instructors jump on board with it like starved chihuahuas on pork chops, because we all know how better than everyone else they are. It’s a nice theory, and one which should work – in an ideal world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and there are several flaws in the idea.

First of all, even passing your test at the test centre you know like the back of your hand is far from guaranteed. The national pass rate is about 45%, and even after we eliminate every person who shouldn’t have been at a test centre just yet, it still wouldn’t be close to 100%. The best and most well-prepared drivers can get caught out on the day on roads they know well for any one of a hundred different reasons.

Secondly, even Godlike driving instructors would have problems driving in some unfamiliar areas around the country. Nottingham doesn’t have any particularly awe-inspiring features, but a relatively simple one like the Nuthall roundabout – following the A6002 from Stapleford towards Hucknall, for example – would be enough for an experienced but unfamiliar driver get in the wrong lane and be required to do a late change (perhaps on the roundabout itself). There’s no signage on approach to tell you what lane to use in advance, and it’s only when the road suddenly widens from one into four lanes that road markings appear (if you can see them under all the traffic). The lane allocation is not what you’d expect if you were following the usual roundabout principle in the Highway Code, and it’s a very busy M1/city centre junction with surprisingly short light sequences. Any late lane change during the day will definitely require someone to slow down and let you in (or not if they’re driving an Audi, BMW, Merc, or if they live in Strelley), and that will inconvenience the overall flow at the lights. Even the Godlike instructor would fail if that happened on a test – and since it is on the Watnall test routes (with many more situations like it across all three Nottingham test centres), what the hell chance does a novice driver have if they haven’t been shown how to do it, and practiced it often?

Then there is the general area itself. Taking an extreme case, Mallaig in Scotland has often been cited as having the highest pass rate in the country. This isn’t because the drivers who take tests there are better than anywhere else, but is almost wholly as a result of the fact that Mallaig is a tiny fishing village in the middle of nowhere. It has something like 10km of roads in total, no dual carriageways, one small roundabout, and a total population of under 200 in a village of 67 dwellings (and about 1,000 inhabitants in the total catchment area). It is 140 miles away from the nearest motorway, and only a few miles north west of the place where Connor MacLeod was born in Highlander. And it does around 20 tests a year – that’s one thousand times fewer tests than are conducted in Nottingham, which is by no means at the other end of the spectrum from Mallaig (parts of London probably hold that honour).

Even given the apparent simplicity of the road network there, there’s still no guarantee that someone from, say, London would automatically pass in Mallaig without practice, and I suspect that Mallaig’s occasional less-than-perfect pass rate in any given year is partly down to outsiders thinking they can pass there after reading about it, even though they can’t drive properly anywhere else.

There are no certainties in driving, and definitely not in driving tests. If there was, there would be pass rates of 100% by the bucket load, and instructors would be boasting more zero-fault passes than you could shake a stick at. The best you can say is that the odds of passing shift from whatever they would have been if you change things. Taking a test in an unfamiliar place will almost certainly shift them down, and a simpler road network is likely to shift them up. But unless everyone heads to Mallaig, the degree of simplification would be minimal, and would merely introduce new roundabouts and weird junctions for some learners to get into a panic over.

Lastly, no one who claims their pupils would pass no matter where they took their test has ever evaluated it. It’s impossible to do so, since you can’t test the same pupil in different places. Everyone is different, and every test is different – even if it uses an identical route to the one before it.

Sometimes my own pupils get it into their heads, when trying to book a test sooner than is available at the nearest centre, that going for one elsewhere would be a good idea. I only deal with Nottingham, so if they come up with Sutton in Ashfield, Loughborough, or Leicester (and they do), I refuse outright. If I don’t know how to get there without looking it up, they can forget it. I’m more amenable to the idea if it’s another Nottingham one, but not if they only do one hour lessons and a simple round trip is more than 30 minutes or so in good traffic. I will also usually put a block on it if they want the test within a couple of weeks and haven’t driven the area before.

If they persist, a quick drive around the relevant area is usually enough to get them to change their minds. Once they’ve seen all the lorries and roads full of potholes around Colwick, the Nuthall and IKEA roundabouts for Watnall, or the Long Eaton roundabout for Chilwell, most decide to stay where they were before. Sometimes, the grass on the other side isn’t quite as green as it once seemed when you’re walking over it barefoot.

Which test centre do you recommend?

The nearest one. If a pupil can only do one hour lessons, and lives in Long Eaton, with the Chilwell TC five minutes away, and we’ve done most of our lessons around Long Eaton, Chilwell, Beeston, and Bramcote, they’re not booking a test at Colwick, which is a good 30-40 minutes away, solely on the grounds that their mate (who lives there) passed at it last week. Not without a big discussion, anyway. I once did a test at Colwick with someone who lived in Long Eaton (we’d done many of the two hour lessons over there, mainly at night), and on test day it took us over an hour and a half just to get there – we arrived a few minutes late. Fortunately, she passed.

If they really want to use a different test centre, they can do longer lessons to make sure we can familiarise with it.

So, you just teach people test routes?

I’ve written hundreds of times about the distance I cover with pupils on lessons. Someone who I have been teaching from the start will have been on the A46 with me, and many will have been down to Leicester and back on the M1 if they do two hour lessons. They’ll have been on single-track roads, driven through a ford, dealt with horses and nut jobs with a Spandex fetish on country lanes, and quite possibly have seen Southwell Minster. All of them now know where (and what) Newstead Abbey is, and will marvel at how much of Sherwood Forest has fewer trees than a football pitch does. All of them will have passed through at least some of the villages of Papplewick, Wysall, Rempstone, Widmerpool, Wymeswold, Tollerton, and many others, for the first (and possibly last) time in their lives. I did one this week, and we covered over 40 miles in an hour and half lesson.

But no matter where they have driven with me, the test will be conducted within a very tightly defined area, and driving through the ford near Oxton – while useful in its own right – isn’t going to help them stay in lane when they have to deal with the Virgin roundabout in Colwick. Nor is it going to help get it into their heads that when the bus lane ends heading back to the test centre, if they don’t move into the left lane, they’re likely to panic and mess up big time when they realise the lane they’re in is now right-turn only, and the examiner said to go straight ahead at the lights. The ford won’t help them finally grasp that driving on Marshall Hill Drive cannot be done in third gear unless you’re doing 30mph all the way up it, and that those Give Way signs at the top mean that when get there you should take your foot off the gas and be careful of vehicles coming the other way. It won’t help them understand that when people are walking across the road in front of them in West Bridgford town centre, it’s most likely because they’re on one of the seven zebra crossings over about 300 metres, and that it might be a good idea to slow down and stop for them. Oh, and the ford won’t teach them that no matter how many times they try, they can’t go straight ahead at that first mini-roundabout in West Bridgford, because the pretty red signs with a white bar across them say so.

In short, the ford near Oxton has no direct bearing on the outcome of their test. All that other stuff does, and it would be insane not to spend more time on that than on the fringe stuff. I mean, it’s no bloody good if they can drive through a ford, but still don’t see or react correctly to pedestrians in built up areas.

I’m teaching them how to be novice drivers. They can gain 30 years of experience… over the next 30 years by themselves. They’re not going to get that in the three months they’re with me.

People doing intensive courses have to use different test centres

I have my own views on intensive courses, but if you do them and have to book wherever is available, then that’s your affair. I’m not convinced that the test centre used should be dictated by the timescale involved in the first place, but even more so when it is just to avoid taking lessons (which it usually is with mine when they do it). Lack of familiarity with an area is unlikely to go in their favour.

Most test routes are intended to be at least a little challenging, taking in steep hills, one-way streets, heavily pedestrianised areas, and so on. I would lose pupils if I hadn’t shown them these features and they encountered them for the first time on their test. I’d lose even more if a particular individual had issues with certain things, and I hadn’t spent time on specific and more troublesome examples of them on test routes across several lessons to put things right.

Some pupils might not be fazed by unfamiliar territory. But many more are.

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Father TimeAll other news has stopped these last two days (mid-January 2019, when I first wrote this) because of the motor accident involving Prince Philip near Sandringham. Apparently, he’s already back behind the wheel.

The last line in that article made me smile.

Chris Spinks, who led Norfolk’s roads policing team for five years, said the royal would not be shown any “favouritism” in the investigation.

It’s too late, Chris. He already has been if he’s back driving again already. If it had been any other 97-year old who had hit the wrong pedal because of being dazzled by the sun, they’d probably have had their licence confiscated on the spot. And if they’d have driven into a Royal vehicle, they’d still be in the cells helping with enquiries. And at that age, they’d be unlikely to get their licence back without so much hassle that it would be simpler to just forget it.

Age is both a progressive and a relative thing. We’re all affected by it as our lives progress, but some people more so (and more quickly) than others.

On the one hand, age should not be seen as a barrier against learning to drive. It should not be seen as a direct barrier to carrying on driving well into your old age (however that might be defined). However, there comes a point where you – as an individual – have moved as far along the timeline as you can without becoming a serious risk. As I said above, some people get there quicker – and earlier – than others. Getting the pedals mixed up – along with not being able to see very well – is most definitely the point where Father Time is telling you you should stop.

I would bet money that Prince Philip has never got the pedals mixed up before. But he’s 97 – and he has now.

Fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured.


It gets better. If a normal motorist was observed not wearing a seatbelt, the police would go nuts over it (they have done, before). It’s a good job the Duke is not getting “favourable” treatment, isn’t it?


And in the latest update, Prince Philip has done the right thing and surrendered his licence. Whatever the reasons – sensible or political – he’s made the right decision.


And in still another development, he’s got off with it. No further action will be taken. Although my view on older drivers declaring themselves fit, and then proving that they’re not by driving into things, is no secret, let’s hope that the same leniency is extended to anyone who does this sort of thing in future – even if they’re not Prince Philip.

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You’ve got to laugh.

A PDI (trainee instructor) asks for advice on whether it’s best to go it alone in his Part 3 training, or use a franchise to go on a pink licence.

He gets a reply that franchises are a waste of money and he should go it alone using Facebook. Except that the person who left that reply started out with a franchise themselves and left after becoming established.

Apart from the overlap of situations (a PDI aiming for Part 3 is a completely different situation to a new ADI who’s just passed Part 3), it’s like if Andy Murray started advising people to enter Wimbledon when they’ve only just taken up tennis on the basis that he’s won it in the past.

Actually, given the aforementioned overlap of situations, it’s more like Andy Murray advising someone who’s only just taken up cricket to enter the World Snooker Championship because he’s won Wimbledon before.

Anything to have a dig at franchises.

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Our Silver Birch in June 2017This article was originally written in 2014, after my tree began to show yellowing in the middle of summer. It has been popular each year since, but in 2018 it went through the roof!

Note that as of the beginning for February we are about a month away from the time to commence feeding for the 2019 season. And watch the rainfall this year – if it looks like another scorcher, start watering.

Before I continue, let me just state that premature yellowing and leaf drop in Silver Birches can occur for the following reasons:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • lack of water and heat stress

And it’s easy to get all three at once.

Back in 2014, our Silver Birch tree began to yellow and drop leaves mid-June! We were worried, and Googling for an answer was next to useless. Most of the technical advice was North American, and focused on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), or the perils of trying to grow trees in either a desert or a swamp. Our trees had none of the beetle infestation symptoms other than leaf drop, and although the British never shut up about the bloody weather, we were not growing ours in anything other than normally-drained British garden soil.

After a lot of research at that time, and after sifting out the crap, I discovered that yellowing/leaf drop can be caused by deficiencies of nutrients and/or iron in the soil. In 2018, I further discovered that lack of moisture and high temperatures can also cause the same problem. I’ll talk about heat stress later, but I wrote a separate article about it in August 2018. The yellowing problem can affect many trees and plants – not just Silver Birch trees.

The problem we had in 2014 was characterised by bright, canary yellow leaves – just like in the Autumn – which began falling off the tree. As I said, it started in mid-June, and although the yellowing wasn’t as widespread throughout the tree as it is during Autumn proper, it was worrying all the same. I can’t honestly remember where I found this now, but somewhere in the hundreds and hundreds of forum pages and obscure “ask the expert” sites rattling on about the bloody Birch Borer I came across two ideas that made absolute sense, and which could be implemented without calling in David Attenborough and Rentokil. The remedies are easy to implement.Fertiliser and Iron Treatments

Nitrogen deficiency is resolved using ericaceous fertiliser (for lime-hating plants, which is what birch trees are). It is available from various manufacturers, such as Miracle-Gro, and can be bought from most decent garden centres and from many online retailers (including eBay and Amazon, where I usually get mine). It only costs about £5 a box, and there’s enough to manage a decent sized tree for at least half a season. You can also get liquid and slow-release varieties.

Normal fertiliser is no good – it has to be the ericaceous stuff – and you just dissolve it in water and spread it around the tree. Remember that the roots extend outwards quite a long way and you’ll need to cover a wide area, but concentrate on the drip-zone (the area covered by the branches). The slow-release versions are just sprinkled on the ground and watered in, and they apparently work for up to 3 months (I make sure I brush them into the gaps between paving stones, or the edge of the lawn).

Leaves suffering from chlorosisLeaves that look like those in the images here are suffering from iron deficiencyknown as chlorosis.

Leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll, which is green. Simplifying the issue, chlorophyll allows plants to convert light energy into sugars they can use by the process called photosynthesis. Chlorophyll contains iron, so if there isn’t enough iron you get less chlorophyll, and the plants compensate by shedding leaves. That’s what you can see here.

This problem is resolved using sequestered (or chelated) iron, such as Maxicrop, shown above. It comes as a liquid, and you can mix it with your fertiliser and water it in at the same time.

Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosisAny soil nutrient deficiency may also lead to new leaves being small and misshapen, instead of the classic Birch leaf shape. Some of ours were like that in 2014.

After a single application of fertiliser treatment in 2014, leaf drop stopped almost immediately once the already-dead leaves had fallen. The tree even threw out some catkins, which had been absent up until then. In 2015, I started feeding every few weeks from March with both fertiliser and iron and we had no leaf drop at all. In 2016, it was the same, with very fat catkins hanging from the branches, along with quite significant new growth. In May 2017 our tree looked like the photo at the top of this article, and here’s a close-up of the leaves from that year. Does that look healthy, or what?

Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017An additional treatment for the longer term is to water-in iron (ferrous) sulphate periodically. This replaces iron in the soil, too, but it also acidifies the ground over time, which is beneficial for ericaceous plants. It’s also very good for your lawn – iron sulphate is a moss-killer and a grass-greener (it’s sold for these purposes).

Why does it happen? Well, you have to bear in mind that when trees and plants die back in winter, the leaves they shed decompose and return nutrients to the soil as they do so. In urban gardens, though, leaves are usually swept up and taken to the rubbish tip to keep the garden looking tidy. Over time, the soil becomes depleted of those nutrients and you get problems like this. It’s fairly obvious looking at it now, but I was like everyone else in thinking that when you planted a tree you just forgot about it and let it grow – when it turns out you need to look after them almost as much as you would a tomato plant or an ornamental cactus!

You have to keep the treatment going at least once a month between March and September, and you have to follow the same routine each year (or at least over alternate years).

In June 2018, my tree once again started to produce a few sprays of yellow. I wondered what was going on, but I immediately linked it with the prolonged high temperatures and low rainfall, and after Googling it I concluded my tree was suffering from heat stress. The solution to this is deep watering – you have to get water down to the tree’s roots.

One way of achieving that is to use deep watering spikes. These are tapered tubes that are driven into the ground around the tree, and into which water is fed slowly so that it gets to the roots deep down. I didn’t have time for that this year (with the ground as dry as it was, it’d have been like trying to hammer a 6-inch nail into plate steel), so I resorted to the sprinkler method. Every night, I set the sprinkler going and watered for a couple of hours, then moved it and repeated the process (we didn’t have any hosepipe restrictions, and I wouldn’t have continued if we had). This allowed water to seep down deep into the soil. It fixed the problem in less than a week, and the tree has thrown out quite a bit of new growth. In fact, I had sort of half-noticed that hedgerow tree canopies seemed a little sparse this year, and with hindsight the same was true of my Silver Birch. However, the new leaves that have appeared since I started deep watering are much larger.

As a result of the heat stress problem, and still needing to keep the other treatments going, I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. I can highly recommend that device – the Access Irrigation Static Dilutor.

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. Not the ones which are canary yellow, anyway, since they’re already dead and will have to fall off the tree (a bit of wind speeds that up). The important thing is that by feeding and watering the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable within a short time.

I would imagine that chlorosis could be reversed if it is caught early, since pale leaves are not necessarily dead – they’re just iron-deficient. In that case, you might be able to save some yellowed leaves by applying the chelated iron treatment. I have a real example of that. In early June 2018 (before the heatwave) I noticed my neighbour’s usually-dark green Cherry Tree leaves were pale and many yellow ones were falling. I told her about the iron treatment and she bought a bottle. The leaves on that tree are now dark green again and no more have fallen.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back once the tree has used up what you’ve fed it, especially if you bin the leaves again the following autumn. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients and water, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year (or if the soil is dry and there are no prolonged periods of rain) nothing gets returned to the soil.

Treat your trees from March until September. Feed at least once a month (even two to three times during the earlier months) – and water regularly in hot weather anyway, as they do need moisture.

How often should you feed?

I initially started doing it once a month in the first season, and carried on at the same rate into the second and third. However, I now do it twice a month because one year – and I can’t remember which – towards the end of the season I noticed a few signs a chlorosis about a month before the normal autumnal change.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping a few leaves. It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once or twice a week should be enough, though more frequently won’t hurt if the dry period is prolonged.

As I explained above, the hot weather we experienced in summer 2018 caused my tree to show a some yellow leaves. I commenced deep-watering from June, as well as feeding regularly. This is the first time heat/drought has been a problem, so it caught me out a little. However, after a week of deep-watering leaf-yellowing stopped completely, and the tree has been healthy throughout the rest of the heatwave (as is the lawn, which was parched brown).

Remember that after a period of drought (or prolonged dry weather) it needs an extended period of rain to wet the soil again, especially deep down. A few heavy downpours won’t do it, and you will still need to help things along.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

The short – and very obvious – answer is: in the Autumn. It can vary a little up and down the country (just as Spring tends to start earlier the further south you are), but in the Midlands they usually start to show sprays of yellow from late September to early October. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

In 2016 (almost overnight during the first week or so into October), ours produced a lot of yellow on the inside, whereas the outer canopy remained green – it looked rather nice. The neighbours’ trees had much sparser canopies than ours and they had clumps of yellow all over. Astronomical Autumn officially begins sometime towards the end of September in the UK (meteorological Autumn starts in early September) and you probably can’t do much to fix your trees after August if you’ve got the early yellowing problem. I’d still recommend a good feed or two, but not beyond the end of September. But be ready to start feeding from March.

It’s worth noting that a few isolated yellow leaves on a tree which fall in windy weather are not really indicative of a major problem. When you have sprays of yellow, or if you’re losing dozens of leaves in one go, that’s when you should take action.

Why do birch trees drop leaves so early?

They don’t. They drop them in Autumn, like all other trees which shed their leaves each year. If yours is turning early, you have a problem – probably one which can easily be sorted by reading through this article.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. I have now invested in a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. However, you can use a watering can and hosepipe/sprinkler as necessary. Note that if the ground is dry, a watering can won’t get the nutrients down to the roots, so a heavy watering is essential.

I do this up to twice a month between March and September. In 2018, I was deep watering every night during the heatwave.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and small branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop. In any case, if it is windy, a few dead twigs are bound to fall off. It’s just nature.

Early in the year, another likely problem is crows. Yes, the winged variety. From March they will be nest-building, and they are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose. We get great amusement watching a pair that have nested near us for the last 10 years or so. They will tear off a hundred twigs and drop them until they get the one they want. It’s nature, so we don’t worry.

If your tree is dropping large branches you might need to get a tree surgeon in to have a look at it.

My tree is taking a long time to show any leaves

I’m not an expert, but if this happened to me – and knowing what I know now – I’d start feeding it pronto. Of course, it might just be slow – some trees do seem to lag behind others – but a good feed can’t do any harm. Mine is in full leaf now (May 2018) whereas neighbour’s trees are still in the process of producing leaves judging from the light that passes through their canopies. In hindsight, and following my observations throughout the year, the heatwave seems to have stressed trees to the extent that their canopies were sparser than usual (leaves were smaller), and this may have been what you were experiencing.

In the worst case, it might not be in good condition at all, but you’d have to call the experts in for that.

I’ve got catkins but no leaves

Someone found the site in April 2018 with that query. You’ll probably find that in a couple of weeks you’ll have lots of leaves. As I have said in this article, I start feeding mine from March onwards. Leaves started sprouting a week or two earlier than the neighbours’ trees in 2018, and the foliage on mine is much denser. The catkins came before the leaves.

I strongly recommend feeding them regularly as a matter of course – and watering if the ground is dry.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July, anyway.

In hot and dry weather, many trees can become “distressed” and start to shed leaves. Silver birches are affected by this. Also, greenfly infestations can cause leaves to die and fall. If a lot of leaves are turning yellow on the tree then you have a problem – quite possibly one of those which are the main subject of this article. However, a few leaves falling is probably nothing much to worry about.

In 2016 the first show of yellow up here on all trees was during the first week in October. In 2017, yellowing began a month earlier, and by mid-September they almost all were clearly changing. In 2018, some birches dropped their leaves in August and were suffering well before that as a result of the hot weather we had. However, my own tree has begun to turn in the last few days of September, along with many neighbouring trees, which is entirely normal. July yellowing is not due to autumnal changes.

Do Weeping Silver Birches lose their leaves in Autumn?

Yes.

When do Silver Birch leaves go all brown?

They don’t. The leaves should go yellow and fall off in the autumn.

I’ve had quite a few visitors from this search term, and when I looked it up it seems that extreme cases of chlorosis can result in leaves turning brown, as can extreme heat and drought (see this supplementary article). It could also be a disease or infestation which you could treat, but the tree itself might also be dead – especially if it has been having any of the problems I mentioned above over previous years. Best to call in the experts.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is going to be a universal issue. You might need a different fertiliser to address any nutrient problem, but iron will likely fix chlorosis.

Recently, someone found the blog as a result of premature leaf drop in their Betula utilis. This is the Himalayan Birch, famed for its peeling paper-like bark, and it is a member of the same family as the Silver Birch. In the Himalayas, it often grows among Rhododendron plants (look at that fertiliser again – are you seeing the connection, here?), so the advice given above would work for the Himalayan Birch, too. And it also worked for my neighbour’s Cherry Tree, as I mentioned earlier.

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This article was originally published in 2011, with updates in 2014 and 2016. It has had a few hits recently, so I’ve updated it again.

Someone found the blog on the search term “adi how to check wing mirror position”. A bit of a strange question if it was from an ADI, but for pupils it is often a problem – certainly to start with.Wing Mirror Position

The wing mirrors should be adjusted to give the maximum view behind without creating blind spots. My own lesson plans use the image shown on here. However, this is not intended to provide millimetre-perfect guides for where to put the mirrors!

The bottom line is that you aren’t interested seeing birds and aeroplanes, or road kill. You want to see as much as possible of what is happening behind you and to your sides. You don’t want to be looking at half of your own car. It isn’t rocket science.

I currently teach in a Ford Focus and I’ve found that a good position position for the wing mirrors from the pupil’s position in the driving seat is when they can just see the tip of the front door handle in the extreme bottom right of the nearside mirror, and the extreme bottom left of the offside mirror. Anywhere near that position is fine – it doesn’t have to be measured with a ruler! Obviously, if you’re an ADI using a different car, you set the mirrors yourself and then look for a reference you can explain to your pupils when they have to do it.

One point I do stress to my learners is that if they plan on using the mirrors for any reversing manoeuvres, it makes sense to adjust them consistently each time they get in the car (during their cockpit drill). If they don’t, what they see can vary, leading to confusion.

An ADI needs to have a rough idea of what the best mirror position looks like from the passenger seat so they know if the pupil is doing things properly. This is pretty much down to experience, because all pupils are different – some sit 4 feet behind the steering wheel because they’re 6′ 7″ tall, whereas others sit only a few centimetres away because they’re 4′ 10″. Consequently, the best mirror position for each learner can vary dramatically.

I remember one occasion many years ago when one of my pupils had driven to a location for a manoeuvre. Just before we started it I casually glanced at her offside mirror and something struck me as being odd. I suddenly realised that I could see the side of the car in it from the passenger seat. When I tested the position later I confirmed that she would have been unable to see anything but the side of the car!

Lord knows what she was thinking, or what she thought she was seeing. She’d been through her cockpit drill and insisted everything was OK, and she was religiously doing the MSM routine throughout the lesson. But she wasn’t actually seeing anything useful at all. This is the sort of thing that instructors need to look out for.

What is the correct position for my mirrors?

You want to see as much as possible of what’s going on behind you and to your side, and not leave any unnecessary blind spots.Blind Spots

The interior and exterior mirrors’ coverage overlaps behind the car, but there are areas where only one mirror provides useful information – and areas where none of them do (the blind spots). The red car in the diagram is in a blind spot, and would not be visible in any of the mirrors, so you’d have to turn to look over your shoulder to see it (this is a shoulder or blind spot check).

There is no advantage to being able to see birds and aeroplanes anymore than there is to being able to check out the squashed hedgehogs. And it goes without saying that the interior mirror is not for checking your hair and make-up.

How you achieve the correct mirror setting is really up to you, but it makes sense to have a consistent position so that you can see the same space around the car whenever you go out. If the mirrors are too high then you won’t see the lines when you’re reversing into bays, for example, but too low means you can’t see behind you properly when you’re driving, which can be a particular problem if the road undulates (i.e. it is hilly).

I get my pupils to use the door handles as references, as explained above. For the interior mirror, the driver wants to see all of the back window with a slight bias towards their left ear. But remember, this is just a very general guideline that I use – it isn’t written down anywhere that you have to use it.

How much of the car should I see in the passenger mirror?

Almost none of it – just the same as with the one on your side.

Although there is no rule that says they have to be set in a precise way, common sense dictates that the mirrors are there so that you can see what’s going on around you at ground level – not so you can stare at the side of your car. Therefore, you want to adjust them so that you can’t see much of the car at all, and not too much sky or road. Being consistent is a natural consequence of that.

Don’t try to adjust your mirrors too far outwards to try and cover your shoulder blind spots – you won’t be able to do it, and you’ll just create two more of blind spots behind the car. What you’re after is almost continuous coverage from the nearside mirror, through the interior mirror, and across to the offside mirror.

How can I adjust my mirrors to eliminate blind spots?

If you mean the blind spots you need to turn around for, you can’t – not with the standard mirrors fitted to the car, anyway.

The only way to cover your shoulder blind spots using mirrors is if you buy additional piggyback ones that fit on top of your existing mirror housing and which can be angled differently (or those round convex ones you stick on the surface of your existing mirrors. Such additional mirrors are often used by people who can’t turn around properly, or in cases where the driver cannot see behind properly due to the vehicle design. A lot of instructors also use them, but I am not in favour because pupils are unlikely to fit them to their own car, and they just promote laziness when it comes to being safe. I only use additional mirrors if I’m teaching someone with a disability which impedes turning around in the seat.

Unless you have a medical condition or some genuine reason for needing extra mirrors, you should not be looking for ways to avoid checking your blind spots properly. Turning around to look is absolute, but using a mirror is by proxy. A mirror is useful if there is absolutely no other way – but it is dangerous and lazy if the mirror replaces the absolute way needlessly.

My instructor told me the car should fill one third of the mirror each side

I’m sorry, but that is complete nonsense. As I said above, there is no absolutely correct mirror position, but there are plenty of absolutely wrong ones. What point is there in wasting a third of the mirror area just so you can look at the side of the car?  I’ve also heard similar nonsense about “two [or three] finger widths” of car being visible, which is also wrong.

Your mirrors are there to show what’s behind you. Adjust them so that they show a tiny sliver of the car, and not too much sky or road.

Can I re-adjust my mirrors for particular manoeuvres?

Yes. My own pupils only adjust it for the parallel park, because I have a method which accurately positions the car relative to the kerb, but I sometimes pick up new pupils who like to drop the mirrors for any reversing (quite a few used to do it when reversing around a corner). If it works for them I don’t try to change it, but if it doesn’t I get them to do it my way. For normal observations, the mirrors don’t need to be moved if they’re adjusted properly in the first place.

If my side mirrors aren’t adjusted properly will I have trouble with parallel parking?

It depends what method you’re using. In order to parallel park you need to know where the kerb is and to judge your position relative to it, so if you’re using your mirrors to determine that, you’ll have problems if the mirrors are badly adjusted, or if they’re adjusted differently each time you get in the car. 

This is true of any manoeuvre or situation where you use your mirrors – if they’re badly or inconsistently adjusted then you won’t be able to see what you ought to be able to.

Can I re-adjust my mirrors if I’m on my Part 2 (driving instructor) test?

Yes.

Can I ask the examiner to adjust my mirror for me?

If you have manually-adjustable mirrors, yes. The examiner will not refuse this request. The examiners’ SOP (DT1) says (or used to):

The candidate may ask the examiner to assist in adjusting the nearside door mirror before a manoeuvre. The examiner should not refuse this simple request, and assist the candidate as appropriate. The candidate should not have to lean across the examiner to adjust the mirror.

If you have electrically-operated mirrors, it is a non-issue since you can adjust them as necessary.

Would I fail if I touched (clipped) someone’s wing mirror?

If you mean clipping it with your wing mirror (or any other part of your car), almost certainly, yes! You could fail just for being too close to someone’s wing mirror, so clipping it would be even worse.

Like most things you can never be 100% certain that it would result in a fail – there might be extenuating circumstances – but in all normal cases it would mean that you were passing too closely, and that has its own box on the DL25 Marking Sheet. You’d get a serious or a dangerous fault for it depending on the actual situation.

I clipped someone’s mirror. Does it make me a bad driver?

Only if you keep doing it. Most people have done it at one time or another, but they learn from their mistakes.

If you actually break someone’s mirror, my advice is to let them know. Years ago, one of my pupils went into a narrow gap too fast, panicked when a bus also came through, and clipped someone’s wing mirror when he steered away. I can vividly remember seeing the glass from the other car’s wing mirror fly up as we went past. I pulled him over immediately, and ran back to the other car – which had someone in inside ready to drive away – and apologised profusely, got their phone number, and informed my insurance company right away. None of this crap about not admitting liability – we were at fault completely.

Who are you to tell people how to set their mirrors?

Yes, that question has been asked in those aggressive terms on more than one occasion (including on forums, where instructors are trying to score points off of each other).

The short answer is that that I’m a driving instructor, and one that knows what he’s talking about. If someone hasn’t done it before – and if they’re paying me to teach them – I will give them the correct guidance they need on all aspects of learning to drive. If your instructor isn’t helping you with stuff like this it is probably because he or she doesn’t know the answer, and he’s taught you not to know it either.

What am I checking for when I use the mirrors?

Anything or anyone that you might hit or inconvenience if you move off. The mirrors are only part of it – you also need to check your blind spots, which are those areas not covered by the mirrors.

How should I use the mirrors?

Generally, at least in pairs. Use your own common sense.

For example, if you’re parked on the left hand side of the road and want to move off, you would typically check your inside mirror, offside (right hand) mirror, and right shoulder blind spot to get the maximum amount of information about what is coming up behind you. However, if you were parked on the right hand side of the road then you’d check your inside and nearside (left hand) mirror, and your left shoulder blind spot.

In either of the above examples, if you’d seen pedestrians, children, people getting into cars in driveways, or anything else that could be relevant, then you may well decide to check your other mirror and blind spot as well.

Do I need to check them in any particular order?

Not really, but checking the inside, wing, and blind spot in that order makes the most sense in most cases. If a car is coming up from behind on a straight road it will initially be visible in the inside mirror. As it gets closer it will appear in both the inside and offside mirrors, then move to only the offside mirror. Finally, it will only be visible in your blind spot until it passes you. And in any case, what is in your blind spot is closest to you, so checking that last gives you the most up to date information to act upon.

However, if you know there is a hazard of some sort behind you – cyclists or pedestrians, for example – look in the mirror/blind spot most likely to tell you where it is and what it’s doing as well. You are not going to be marked on which order you check them in as long as your checks are meaningful.

Remember that it is your responsibility to check properly. In extreme cases it may even be prudent to stop and get out of the car. For example, what if you see a small child on a bike, or even a dog, which then disappears from view as you’re about to move off? Where are they? This is especially relevant if you are doing a reversing manoeuvre of some sort.

Should I do a six-point check?

Some instructors absolutely live for routines like this.

If you insist on doing it, as long as your checks mean you don’t move off when someone is behind you, then it doesn’t really matter. Just bear in mind that while you’re doing two/three of the six checks (which are not always necessary), things could be developing in the other three/four (which are). For that reason, I do not teach this silly routine.

Many years ago, I had a pupil who used to do it. She used to say “no one there, no one there, no one there, no one there, no one there, no one there” as she did it. On her test, which she passed, the examiner commented on it by saying quietly to me outside the car: “she’s not very mature, is she?”

The simple fact is that as long as you are certain it is safe to move off, and the examiner knows that you know, that’s all that matters. How you get that message across to him is up to you.

Is it OK if I check all the mirrors every time?

It depends. Although checking all three mirrors to pass a parked car, for example, isn’t a fault in itself, the extra delay that the unnecessary additional check creates could cause problems. The most likely one is that you’ll steer out later and you’ll therefore be looking away from the obstruction at the same time you’re getting close to it. One of the most common faults (and causes of test failure) is passing obstructions too closely.

It’s the same when moving off. If you add unnecessary additional checks, the first one becomes quite stale before you’ve finished the last. If you check your right mirror/blind spot first, someone could turn up while you’re looking needlessly to the left. If that happened – and you didn’t see them – you would probably fail.

If you are doing it because you’re trying to cover all the bases and make sure you don’t miss a check in front of the examiner, or religiously performing the Six-point Check Ritual, it’s the wrong way to go about it. Remember that learners tend to be quite slow with their checks in the first place, and extra ones make them even slower – sometimes, too slow.

If it’s because you used to ride a motorcycle, then as long as you’re aware it isn’t absolutely necessary every time in a car – and if no other problems result – then it doesn’t really matter.

Instructors shouldn’t really be encouraging unnecessary checks, though they shouldn’t be trying to stop it if no other issues are cropping up.

I failed my test for observation when moving off, but I did look over my shoulder

The examiner is watching you to make sure you take effective observations before moving off (and in other circumstances). Just looking isn’t enough. You have to actually see, too. That’s what is meant by “effective”.

Think about it. Looking in two mirrors and over your shoulder involves three head movements, but you could do this with your eyes closed and not see anything at all.

I once had someone on a lesson stop at a T-junction to emerge, look both ways, and then try to pull out in front of a bloody lorry which was less than 20 metres away approaching from the right. They had looked, but not seen.

The problem is that when people don’t appreciate why they’re looking or what they’re looking for, they won’t do it properly. In that case they may as well have their eyes shut for all the good their “checks” do.

The chances are that something similar to this is what happened on your test. Or perhaps the examiner wasn’t happy that you’d have seen something if it was coming (even if it wasn’t) because you didn’t look properly.

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gibraltarOr, “How to get deliberately angry over something trivial”.

Brexit is the gift that just keeps on giving. Unfortunately, these gifts are invariably parcels of dog crap.

The latest episode involves the EU’s reference to Gibraltar as a British “colony” in one of the latest documents. The flag-waving tosspots who hold court in this country are up in arms over it. A UK spokesman (well, spokesperson – the BBC probably made sure they spoke to a woman) said:

This will not change due to our exit from the EU. All parties should respect the people of Gibraltar’s democratic wish to be British.

It’s a shame the spokesman doesn’t feel quite so strongly about Gibraltar’s democratic wish to remain in the EU. Their result was the first to be declared and was 96% in favour of remaining! I repeat: 96%.

As far as UK petty semantics goes, Gibraltar is officially a British Overseas Territory. However, up until 1983, even we classified it as a British Crown Colony. Nothing much has changed in Gibraltar’s standing since then, except for the official British term to describe it.

Even in the Gibraltar Constitution Order referendum in 2006 the word “colony” was used. One of the campaign groups at the time issued a press release, stating:

[the new constitution]… is not the act of self-determination which will decolonise us… [and it]… is as colonial as its 1964 and 1969 predecessors

Interestingly, a British film archive website – which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council – carries old film of Gibraltar. What makes it interesting is that the site is called Colonial Film (Moving Images of the British Empire). So people still reckon Gibraltar isn’t a colony?

It doesn’t matter what you call it, anyway. It’s still the same piece of land it ever was, almost wholly self-governed, and still pissing Spain off just by being there. And it is still as much a colony as it ever was (or wasn’t), albeit one which has much more reason to remain in the EU due to its location, which voted with a 96% majority to do so, and which has had that strong desire trampled underfoot thanks to flag-waving morons.

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NextBase dashcamA bit of advice to anyone using a dashcam. I see a lot of people complaining that theirs is playing up, and other advice to regularly reformat the card – which seems to get a lot of people recording again. I strongly believe that part of the problem is with the card, and not the dashcam. Specifically, people are using the wrong cards.

I have always used SanDisk Extreme cards in my dashcams, and I have not had any problems. Extreme cards are not the cheapest, either. They’re pretty high spec. However, I recently wrote to SanDisk and asked them if Extreme cards were OK to use in such applications. Here is what they replied:

Thank you for contacting SanDisk® Global Customer Care. Please allow me to inform you that for Dashcams & security surveillance cameras, we recommend to use SanDisk® High Endurance Memory Cards since these cards are specially developed for high endurance applications and continuous read & write cycles. These cards are built for and tested in harsh conditions and are temperature-proof, shock-proof and waterproof.

Also, please be informed that using Extreme or Ultra line memory cards on these devices void their warranty.

So, using Extreme cards puts them under stress that they’re not designed for. It voids their warranty, but – more importantly if you read between the lines – there is a good chance they will malfunction or play up. I don’t know much about cards from other manufacturers, but I would lay odds that most people with dashcams are using the cheapest card they can find, and they certainly won’t be paying the extra few quid that goes along with high endurance types. Most of the time I see people asking what dashcam to choose they always want a cheap one, and the one they end up buying often costs them less than I pay for a SanDisk Extreme card – so there’s no way they’re going to buy a card even close to that.

I have a GoPro camera that records in 4k video. I bought a high capacity SanDisk card designed for 4k that I had to import from the USA because they weren’t available over here, but before I got it I tested a normal SanDisk Extreme card and the video was as choppy as hell. It wasn’t the card’s fault directly – it just wasn’t fast enough for 4k, and it wasn’t supposed to be. I’m fairly certain that this is one of the problems people experience when they use a card that simply isn’t up to the job in their dashcam.

NextBase insist that Extreme cards are compatible with their devices, and their own cards appear to be rebranded SanDisk ones. I don’t disagree that they work well for me, and probably for everyone else when they’re new. But the niggling problems people keep reporting might not be doing NextBase any favours, because I firmly believe that a lot of them are down to the cards protesting at being used outside of their specification, but the user blames the dashcam.

SanDisk high endurance cards only go up to 64GB, though other manufacturers produce higher capacity units.

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I haven’t updated this in a while, and I really should have.

I have been intrigued by the number of driving school websites carrying these sheets now – even to the extent that they carry the exact same scanning defects that are on the ones I generated. Coincidence? Or uncredited plagiarism? I’m seeing a lot of the latter these days.

Note that the article below is the original from 2014, and the download file is for the old PSTs if anyone still wants them for some reason.

The new Part 3 marking sheet can be downloaded here. There’s only one, and it is the official DVSA website, so it should always be up to date (or have a link to an up to date version).


The blog gets a lot of hits from people looking for the PST (ADI 26) marking sheets used on the Part 3 ADI test. In fact, this file has been downloaded many hundreds of times, yet I think less than PDF Downloadhalf a dozen people have bothered to say thank you (and some websites are carrying ones they’ve apparently pilfered from here, down to the same scanning defects, but not given credit for). It used to be very difficult to get hold of these from anywhere else, and given the graphics work I had to do to clean up the originals, I know that people have got them from here.

Click the PDF image to download the file. It contains all ten PSTs, and they’re full-sized, so you can print them out if you want to.

The PSTs are also given in the Driving Instructor’s Handbook, although much smaller. But you can see what’s on them at least – which is really all that matters.

Just one last word on the “thank you” thing (and the outright plagiarism some people are involved in). If you have anything like the same approach when you start teaching real pupils you may find you don’t stay in business very long.

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