Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Pebbles on a ropeIn this months issue of Intelligent Instructor magazine, there is an article from the RAC, the heading of which suggests that motorists could face being fined and getting points on their licences if they stop inside the cycle forward area (advanced stop lines) at traffic lights. The full RAC news release is here.

I’m absolutely in favour of that, because the number of drivers who ignore them totally – especially taxis, Audis, BMWs, motorcyclists, and other crap drivers – drives me mad. They’re there for a reason, and shouldn’t be ignored.

However, there are no links whatsoever indicating where this has come from, or how reliable it is, and the only quoted source appears to be “Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy”. On top of that, motorists can already be fined for stopping in the box (see later). So you have as much balance as you’d have trying to place a rock on a tightrope. Consequently, I did a bit of Googling, and immediately came up with this article in The Sun (a UK tabloid, registered at the Post Office as a comic). This one is much more interesting.

In this article, dated only a couple of days ago (and more recent than the RAC story, which is from last week), it seems that cyclists could find themselves being fined up to £1,000 if they go over the second (stop) line. And as we all know, most of them do (the ones that don’t use the pavement at the last minute instead, then skip back on to the road once they get across the pedestrian crossings). To be fair, there are no absolute links in this article, either, though they do quote rather more balanced sources than the RAC does.

The thing is, drivers can already be fined and get points on their licence for stopping after the 1st line – and that’s official, from the police. So is the fact that cyclists can already be fined for crossing the 2nd line. It isn’t actually illegal for a motor vehicle to stop in the cycle area unless you do it after the light has changed to red – it’s not illegal if the light changes as you are passing through the box. Of course, the problem with that is that it has to be witnessed by a policeman or caught on camera.

It would appear that the only thing changing is the price list. I cannot see how they could possibly make it completely illegal for a motorist to stop in the cycle area, since there are sometimes extenuating circumstances. The one that jumps instantly to mind is on someone’s driving test – they haven’t seen a red light, the examiner uses the dual controls, and they stop in the box. It happens – it actually happened to one of mine less than a month ago – and the only alternatives would be to shoot the red and either get a prosecution notice or collide with someone, or brake so hard someone goes into the back. DVSA would love having to deal with the fallout from those.

You will also note that the cycle forward area is only for pedal cycles. Motorcycles and motor scooters are classed as motor vehicles along with cars, buses, vans, lorries, etc., and are not supposed to use them. I don’t need to point out that motorcycles and scooters routinely weave past and stop in them.

The only change that I definitely think should be made is that cyclists get fined the same as motorists for not complying with the rules. And if that is increased from the current £50 (for cyclists) to the suggested “up to” £1,000, then tough.

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I originally wrote this article back in 2011 following an RAC story about bad car posture. I must confess I was dismissive of it – and still am to some extent – but my writing style has changed in the nine years that have passed. I’ve also had a string of hits on the subject recently. So an update was due.Human spine

We’ve known about repetitive strain injury (RSI) for many years. It’s where repetitive movements usually involving the hands and arms can result in tendon and muscle damage. True RSI can be a very serious and debilitating problem for some people, but there are many more people who either mistakenly attribute every ache and twinge to it, or who are just pulling a sickie at work. This is largely due to the difficulty in diagnosing it.

The RAC decided to coin a new term – repetitive driving injury, or RDI. They went on to claim it affects half of all British drivers, and said that it was due to poor posture. Symptoms apparently include foot cramps, aching sides, stiff necks, headaches, and eye strain.

Sorry, but if we are using RSI and RDI in the same breath, eye strain is not an RSI issue – if you have a rest your eyes are fine again, and you’re not going to do them any long-term damage just by using them to look at things. The same goes for cramps, aches, and stiff necks in the vast majority of cases. Yes, they might be brought on by bad posture or doing something your neck and legs aren’t used to (going on a six-hour drive, for example, when you normally don’t go further than Tesco half a mile away once a week). But again, a bit of a twinge a couple of times is not going to do you any lasting harm. Christ! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pulled my back cleaning the inside of my windscreen due to leaning and stretching, and that isn’t RDI. And there is no way that “half the population” is suffering from it, when genuine RSI only occurs in up to 10% of the population.

The original eBay Motors source survey (described as “a study”, when it is merely a poll) says that it is caused by people not knowing how to adjust their seat. What? Half the population doesn’t know how to do that? It’s more a case of people choosing not to adjust their seat properly, or simply not bothering.

Every pupil I take on, I teach them the cockpit drill, and get them to adjust the seating and mirrors properly. After closing the door, the first thing they should adjust is the seat:

  • left leg should be able to push the clutch right to the floor with a slight bend at the knee (i.e. no stretching)
  • seat height should be adjusted (if possible) so that the eyes are about half-way between top of the wheel and top of the windscreen (also if possible)
  • the seat back and steering wheel position should be adjusted for optimum comfort, but so that with outstretched arms the wrists will rest on top of the steering wheel (if possible)
  • the head restraint pad should be level with your ears (if possible)

I say “if possible” in the above list, because some pupils are very short or very tall, or are carrying extra body weight, and they have to adjust things as best they can. By doing it in a structured way, the driver will not have to stretch to operate the pedals or contort themselves to operate any of the controls.

However, I have no control over them once they pass their tests, and many – the males in particular – will be intent on cultivating an image to take precedence over everything else. For example, sitting in a bucket seat in a reclined position, eyes barely level with the top of the steering wheel, right arm draped over it so they’re leaning about 20 degrees towards the middle of the car so they can see how they look in the mirror and fiddle with the stereo to find the most irritating thump-thump-thump-thump-thump track possible (or the one where they lean 20 degrees to the right, elbow on the door arm rest, stroking their bum-fluff stubble)… you see (and hear) it every day. I had one recently who, for some reason best known to himself, had decided to start changing gear by twisting his wrist round and gripping the stick from above – resulting in finding 1st instead of 3rd about 80% of the time. After I bollocked him about posing he went back to the way I’d originally taught him and the problem went away (and he passed first time a few weeks ago).

Pupils often have to be pushed into the cockpit routine for quite a while after the first lesson. A lot of them (again, mainly the males) will leap in and try to put it in gear, even though at that point they can barely reach the pedals when they’re up (and don’t get me started on the mirrors). Others (mainly the females) will insist on moving the seat so far forward that the steering wheel is literally a few centimetres from their chests, their arms are cramped right up, and the pedals are almost underneath them.

On more than one occasion a pupil has complained of cramp or leg discomfort during a lesson, even after doing proper adjustments. It’s most common with new drivers, especially when doing a manoeuvre, or if we’re driving in heavy traffic (with a lot of clutch work).

And it is not RDI.

It usually comes down to poor “driving fitness” in people who may not use their leg muscles very much. It goes away after a few lessons – though I’m sure it will come back if they start trying to “be cool” by posing once they pass.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated early/late 2017, early 2018, and once again in late 2018.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

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

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

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

Having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Still, I guess that makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den (it could go on right after the new parents with a “great idea for a line of baby clothes”).

Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

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

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

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

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

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

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

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

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

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018).

If your instructor tells you this, I am telling you in the most absolute terms possible that you need to find another as soon as possible, and not spend a penny more with this one. I’m going to hedge my bets here, but he is simply lying to you. I have never come across any insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather.

If he’d told you it was too dangerous, that would be different.

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do lessons in snow cost more?

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

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

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

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

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

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

You should never drive in snow

Sorry, but that’s total nonsense. Advice “not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary” only applies to the point at which snow is falling, has recently fallen, or if other extreme conditions prevail (extreme cold, high winds, and so on). It most certainly does not apply to partially melted snow conditions.

Unless a specific and current warning is in place, the decision to drive is with the driver. If someone chooses to travel once the worst of any snowfall is over and conditions improve, they are not going against any warnings.

If you are frightened by driving in snow or icy conditions, then put the car away and don’t go out.

Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes. When we had that first heavy snowfall a few years ago I cancelled a lot of lessons to begin with, but in later falls I cancelled less. I hardly cancelled any the second winter with heavy snow. In 2017, I cancelled two lessons one day in December as snow came in, mainly because I didn’t know how bad it was going to be, the pupils in question lived on sloped roads, and Highways England had advised not to travel unless it was essential in my area.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

I am a driving instructor. It is my job – the way I make my living. If I cancel all my lessons, I don’t make any money at all. Up to a point, I can cope with that. Beyond that, though, I will have problems.Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?

Some years ago, when we had a lot of snow for the first time in 26 years, I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks, the reduced cash flow started to bite, and I realised I was being far too cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I realised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching prop with many pupils. Not the beginners or nervous ones, but everyone else, certainly.

Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.

I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

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

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the main roads. In February 2018 during our visit by “The Beast from the East” (aka the “Kitten in Britain”), I had an early morning test go out with snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway).

Conversely, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was cold and the side roads were icy with that white frosting you get. I also had one cancelled due to fog (which was localised near the test centre, as it is situated next to the River Trent). Since I have no political aspirations, I simply go along with what the test centre decides. The alternative is to make myself look like a prat by arguing on social media about something that I can’t change, simply because my opinion isn’t quite the same as that of the test centre manager in a few cases. Most of the time, the test centre is spot on with its decision.

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

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

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

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

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, or 2018, etc.)

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1818, 1918, 2018, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And it doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

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

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. Some people who take driving tests are nowhere near ready, and DVSA knows that. Therefore, DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

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

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

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Smearing windscreen in rainI’ve mentioned this in the smearing windscreens article, but we’re approaching that time of year where it gets wet and cold, and a lot of crap gets thrown on to your glass and builds up into a nasty film that doesn’t easily wash off.

I’m always amazed that some people only put water in their wash bottles (if they have anything in at all). I’m even more amazed that some of those using just water are ADIs – and my amazement maxes out when I hear them trying to justify it.

Water on its own does not have sufficient wetting properties to attack oil, wax, and grease. Even proper washer fluid can have problems, which is why you get that mosaic pattern left behind when you wipe in the wet. You need a good detergent to clean off oily deposits, and a small amount of alcohol to assist with wetting. Alcohol also functions as an antifreeze, so whereas using just water means you’re going to get a popsicle with the first frosts, a proper washer fluid will protect you to well below freezing.

A typical concentrated screewash that you dilute yourself is usually used at levels between 10% and 25% in water depending on the weather, and a 5L bottle costs about £5. Depending on whether you’re making a summer or winter mix, every 5L of diluted washer fluid therefore works out at between 50p and £1.25. If you use the concentrate neat – I’ll talk about that later – then obviously a batch costs the full £5.

In a bad winter, with lots of rain and slush, I will easily get through 5L of washer fluid each week. In a dry summer, I might use only a quarter of  that. Over a whole year, I would be paying around £30 for washer fluid if I made it from concentrate. It’s not really a lot of money, but it’s still an overhead.

Of course, you can buy ready-to-use washer fluid, where the dilution has already been done for you. If you find a suitable bargain, you can pick it up for between £2 and £3 for 5L, but the normal retail price is similar to that of a bottle of concentrate. It means that you’re paying between £1.50 and £5 extra for what you can essentially get out of a tap! A lot of people buy this ready-to-use stuff, but if I were to do so, it could cost me between £75 and £170 a year depending on how much I’d paid for it.

Also remember that retailers are sneaky and they put prices up in winter. At one time, for example, my local Makro was doing BOGOF on the concentrate I used to use – and it was a good price to start with. But they only did it during the summer when demand was low, and in winter the price doubled and there was no BOGOF. If you buy it, stock up when it’s cheap.

So, is it possible to make your own screen wash cheaper than this? Washer fluid needs to be able to do two things:

  • clean
  • not to freeze when it gets cold

It’s basically just a mixture of alcohol and water with a bit of detergent.

Alcohol – as ethanol – functions as an antifreeze and a wetting agent. The whole subject of freezing point depression in alcohol/water mixtures is a huge topic in physical chemistry, but the bottom line is that pure water freezes at 0°C, whereas adding different amounts of alcohol lowers the freezing point. A 10% ethanol/water mixture freezes at -4°C, a 20% mixture freezes at -9°C, and a 30% mixture freezes at -15°C. A typical commercial concentrate (£5 for 5L) which claims it freezes at -6°C when used neat must therefore contain 15% alcohol.

Alcohol is the most expensive ingredient in screenwash, and a 15% solution will have 750mls of ethanol in a 5L bottle of concentrate. Ethanol can be purchased for around £2 per litre, so a 15% concentrate will contain about £1.50 worth.

Whatever detergent you use has to be relatively non-foaming – you don’t want bubbles blowing down the street when you use it – and it has to be the kind that is actually going to attack the crud that get on your windscreen. This is another big chemistry subject, but to cut a long story short, Traffic Film Remover (TFR) is ideal. TFR gets anything off your car – tar, oil, mud, insects, bird crap, dead squirrels, that sort of thing. I get mine from JennyChem, and it costs £12.50 for 5L. However, you only need to use it at a concentration of between 1% and 2%, so 5L will go a long way – you need about 15p to 30p worth of TFR in your DIY concentrate. One 5L bottle of TFR will make up to 70 batches.

A batch of DIY concentrate will therefore cost around £1.70 versus £5 for commercial brands. Each batch of diluted washer fluid will cost you between 17p and 45p.

What if the temperature goes below -6°C?

When we had those two cold winters some years back, the first one caught me out, and my washer fluid froze – even though I’d followed the directions on the concentrate bottle. I’m a chemist, so the solution was simple: I nipped into a hardware store and bought a small bottle of methylated spirit, and poured that in. After half an hour or so, my wash bottle was defrosted. That was when I got the idea of making my own washer fluid – I would always know what temperature it was good down to.

So, the answer is to increase the amount of alcohol in your mix. Even using your DIY mix neat is going to be a lot cheaper than buying a low-temperature version – the price is proportional to the amount of alcohol in them. But for even lower temperatures, increase the alcohol to 20% or 25% in the concentrate and use it neat. It’s still cheaper than buying it.

How can I prepare for cold temperatures?

You just have to use common sense. In summer, using concentrated screenwash neat is just a waste of money, so it makes sense to use it at the 10% dilution (negligible antifreeze properties). When it gets colder, a 25% dilution will be good to about -2°C. If it gets very cold, use the “concentrate” neat to protect down to -6°C. If it gets really cold – below -8°C or so – add extra ethanol to the neat concentrate. An extra 500mls (£1 worth) will protect down to about -12°C.

Can I make it with more alcohol in it?

Yes, but be careful. Ethanol is flammable, and on its own has a flash point of 14°C (that means that at that temperature and above, a combustible vapour exists that can easily be ignited). A 10% solution in water has a flash point of 49°C, which is much safer. A 20% solution has a flash point of 36°C, which is still safe unless you store it in a very hot place. A 30% solution has a flash point of 29°C, and this is quite likely to be encountered in hot weather. My advice is not to exceed about 25% of ethanol.

If you make up the DIY concentrate using 1L of ethanol instead of 750mls, it’ll be good down to  -9°C. In fact, I am fairly certain that the brand I used to use was once safe down to that temperature, but somewhere between 2010 and the present it started referring to -6°C as the lower limit. I suspect they reformulated to cut costs, and dropped the alcohol content from 20% to 15%.

Don’t store a strong winter mix in your car during the summer. And definitely don’t carry any neat ethanol during the summer months, and only the smallest amount in winter in case you have to do an emergency defrost like I did that one time.

It seems complicated making your own

That’s why there is a market for ready-to-use screenwash. It’s up to you.

What kind of water do you use?

Tap water will work for most people. It’s probably what they use when they’re diluting commercial concentrate. However, tap water contains dissolved minerals – especially in hard water areas – and it leaves white streaks when it dries. It’s best if you use distilled or deionised water. Distilled/deionised water doesn’t do that. The only problem is that unless you already have access to it – and you might – buying such water is relatively expensive (50p per litre), and would add £2 to the cost of your DIY concentrate.

Personally, I used either rainwater (boiled) or the condensate from a dehumidifier we have to inhibit condensation and mould growth. If you store this source of water, make sure you store it with the alcohol already added, as that inhibits the growth of algae.

I just use water

Water on its own is no good. If the temperature falls, it WILL freeze. Even if it doesn’t freeze in your main washer bottle, it will in the pipes and at the nozzles. Water alone also doesn’t clean many things off the glass – it won’t touch oil, grease, or squashed insects, and it will struggle with tree sap.

If you do get a freeze up, trying to use the pump might cause it to burn out. Although I haven’t come across the problem recently, it can also cause pipes to burst or become detached from the main bottle (many years ago, that was a regular occurrence on a Citroen Xantia I used to have).

And remember that if you are driving without the ability to keep your windscreen clear, you are committing an offence. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 says:

Every wiper and washer fitted in accordance with this regulation shall at all times while a vehicle is being used on a road be maintained in efficient working order and be properly adjusted.

Arguably, you are not complying with this if you just use water. If it freezes (or the bottle is empty) and you drive, you’re definitely not complying with it. It is shocking that some ADIs are apparently doing this.

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Reel of magnetic tapeThis time of year must be when most ADIs renew their badges judging by the traffic recently. Someone asked me the best way to mount your badge in the car.

Well, when you get your badge, they also send you a plastic wallet to put it in, and this has a sticky side so you can attach it to the windscreen. It’s fine if it’s your first one, but I hate the damned thing. It’s too big and thick, and it messes up the glass. It gets degraded by the sun and you can’t switch it between cars (it keeps falling off if you try). And it starts to peel if you get screen cleaner anywhere near it, so the exposed sticky surface starts to attract dust and dirt, and looks bloody horrible after a few months.

There are all kinds of ‘aids’ available (at relatively huge cost for what they are), such as wallets and suckers, that you can get from eBay or specialist ADI suppliers. A lot of people apparently use Blu Tac, and some even go for Sellotape or packing tape. These mess up your windscreen, too – wit the added benefit being that they look like crap! And Blu Tac softens when it gets warm and your badge is likely to fall off (I once tried it for keeping cables tucked around the edge of the windscreen, and found that out).

I make my own mounts. I got the idea many years ago when I installed fly screens on windows in my house. They’re attached using magnetic tape – a bit like the stuff inside fridge doors (well, a lot like it, in fact).

Magnetic tape comes in two parts – A and B – representing different magnetic poles. Basically, A is attracted to B, but A will repulse A, and B will repulse B. So what you do is buy a length of each part, then cut four 1cm pieces of each. Stick a piece of side A in each corner of your badge (the tape has a peel-off adhesive back). Attach the four pieces of side B magnetically to these, then peel off the backing. Now push the whole thing carefully on to the windscreen where you want it (make sure the glass is clean and grease-free before you do this). You now have a secure magnetic mount, and you can easily take your badge off whenever you need to.

Magnetic tape costs as little as about £2 per metre, so £4 for a metre each of part A and part B and you’ll be set up for at least 20 badges. I don’t think many ADIs will see more than 10 – even if they do the job for their entire working lives. I’ve seen a few cars using this method now.

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I had a pupil pass his test a few weeks ago, and when he handed his licence to the examiner at the end, she looked at his photo and said “bloody hell!”

He looked nothing like it.

It turned out that when he’d applied for his provisional licence, he’d accidentally ticked “use my passport photo” – which was fine, except that he’d had his passport for six years. So his licence photo had him when he was eleven years old!

I’d picked up on the visual difference when he first started lessons with me, but he hadn’t told me the full story. I hadn’t pursued it because I’m used to people of that age looking nothing like their licence photos (even down to hair colour being different between black and blonde, or with and without tattoos and face jewellery in some cases). I usually ask them how long they were in custody for when they had it taken – pointing out that my photos are the same, and that those photo booths must have a switch inside that can be set to “NORMAL-CRIMINAL”.

I made sure he took the licence and applied for his full entitlement himself, instead of the examiner doing it. I also explained how he had to keep the photo up to date in future – renewing it every 10 years… or if he had another full-face transplant in the meantime.

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ADI Green Badge montageThis article was originally written in 2010, and things have changed a bit since then. This article now refers to the current (2018) procedure.

My ADI badge was due for renewal in October 2018. I got the initial alert that my DBS check (formerly the CRB check) needed to be renewed in early April – 6 months before my badge expired. This alert came from DVSA via email.

I applied for my DBS immediately online. DVSA supplies you with a PIN number and a secret word. You apply via an online form.

Once you have completed your DBS application, you take a printout of the completed form along with the necessary documents to a Post Office branch that does identity/document checks (you can find a branch at GOV.UK). Note that your local Post Office will almost certainly not have this facility – you will need to go to one likely to be situated in the middle of a large city, with no easy parking, and with queues of people with prams and other annoying things, doing what people who use Post Office branches in the first place usually do. In other words, be prepared for a long wait.

Be careful with your initial DBS application. I am paperless, so had to go to my bank separately to get an official bank statement printed out as one of my check documents. You have to physically put the date of the statement on your application form – even though it is clearly printed on the actual statement. The problem is that you can only use a date in the past, so get the statement first, then fill the form in the next day. Trust me: if the statement date is today or in the future, the online system won’t let you proceed, and if you try to post date it, the Post Office will reject it because the dates won’t match.

If you are using your driving licence as a check document (and you probably will be), the date you have to physically enter on the form is the date you passed your test. It is NOT, as you might reasonably expect (as I did), the “valid from” date on the front of your licence (i.e. when you last did your photo update). It’s totally f—ing stupid, but that’s how it is, and it isn’t explained anywhere that I could find (nor was it such an issue any of the previous times I had a CRB/DBS check done). The woman at the Post Office told me it catches a lot of other people out , too. Basically, if you don’t remember the exact date you passed your test (and I bloody well didn’t), you have to infer the date from the list of entitlements on the back of it.

It’s a stupid system, because the dates on bank statements and driving licences are integral to those documents, and all you are effectively being checked on is whether they caught you out when asking you to write them down on a separate form. It’s even more stupid when you get it wrong, and the Post Office worker shows you how to fill it in properly with the correct figures, so you go away (you have to generate another form) and make the corrections. There is no security aspect to it whatsoever.

I used my passport, my driving licence, and a bank statement as my check documents. I had recently had to apply for a new passport and used this instead of my birth certificate (which has to be an original, and not a copy like mine is).

My DBS certificate came through about seven days after the document check was completed (the check at the Post Office triggers your application process). It costs £6.00 for the service.

Now we come to the actual renewal of your Green Badge. There is no warning later in the year from DVSA – it’s up to you to keep track of your application.

Every Green Badge expires on the last day of whatever month you originally registered in. You apply to renew as soon as possible in the month in question. In my case, with my badge expiring on 31 October, I had to apply any time from 1 October (I would not have been allowed to do it on 30 September).

You simply log into the IRDT system – which every instructor should have access to – and make your application. You will need to provide the number on your DBS certificate, which DVSA will have a copy of/access to. You need a means to make payment (credit or debit card). It costs £300. I applied for mine on 1 October, and it was issued and is now current since 2 October. It arrived in the post 5 October, and has an expiry date of 31 October 2022. All set for another 4 years, now.

To summarise. Assuming you have a credit or debit card, and are not still holding out against technology and the internet, the times taken to actually get both the DBS and your new badge are very short. The documentation and chasing around required for the DBS application is a right pain in the arse, so plan ahead. Application for the Green Badge is simple.

On the other hand, if you insist on using paper money or cheques, won’t use the internet, or want to kick up a stink about which photo you want on your badge… good luck with that. I have no idea what to do in those circumstances.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long do PayPal Here payments take to clear?

For all practical purposes, they’re instant.

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

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

How much does the card machine cost?

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

How much do they charge per transaction?

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

Other card reader vendors have lower fees

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

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

The charges are a rip off

Fine. Keep taking cash.

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

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

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

I can’t see the point of taking card payments

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

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

Is it of any benefit to take card payments?

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

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

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Swarm of GnatsI’ve mentioned this before, but I started the blog way back in November 2008. That first month, I got 7 visits! It’s gone steadily upwards ever since, and at the present rate, I figure that the blog will pass the 1,000,000 visitor mark early in 2019.

So I guess I must be doing something right, even if I’m not pulling in McDonalds or Coca-cola levels of traffic.

I keep an eye on my stats, and investigate any blips. I had one recently where increased traffic was coming from Facebook and landing on the Should I Become A Driving Instructor article. After a bit of digging, I discovered that the owner of a Facebook group had linked to it in good faith.

That article is a long one, and it runs to more than 15,000 words, which is about a quarter of the length of standard novel. For me, that’s no problem whatsoever – I can both read that number of words (in about 20 minutes), and write them (albeit over a longer period). Tossing off a 1,000-worder takes me perhaps an hour, on and off, including digging out and editing a suitable image to go with it. If I know what I want to say, I have no problem writing it down, and the only bottleneck is how quickly I can type (or physically write if I’m putting it on paper). I guess that the only problem with all this is in assuming that other people can cope with that many words. But then again, as I’ve said before, it’s my blog and if they don’t like it, there’s the BACK button.

As an aside, I used to be able to physically write very quickly with what everyone said was “girlie” handwriting (i.e. it was neater than theirs, legible, and flowing). I’ve always had an interest in calligraphy, too. Many years of using computers means I get cramp if I try handwriting for long now, and it doesn’t feel anywhere as neat as it used to be – though pupils often comment on how neat it is.

Anyway, back on topic. It seems, though, that it is me who is somehow in the wrong for making that article 15,000 words long judging from some of the inane comments on that Facebook page!

The reason for this seems to be rooted in what the Internet Age has done to people’s intellects. Consider this question:

Discuss the issues facing someone who is considering becoming a teacher.

For me, a complete answer could easily run to 10,000 words or more. However, for many people today, a perfectly acceptable answer might amount to:

Smile lol

Regular blog readers will already know that I have a low opinion of many of those I have to share this planet with, and who cross my path in the course of a typical day (other driving instructors often make up a fair proportion of those). This is the main reason I don’t have comments enabled.

The point is, though, that if you were thinking of becoming a teacher, which answer is likely to be of most benefit to you? The one with a lot of relevant words on a complex subject written by a teacher, or the one put together by a monkey using random hieroglyphics? Incidentally, if you think it’s the monkey one, just accept that I’m trying to help you.

That’s why the Should I Become A Driving Instructor article is 15,000 words long. It’s not aimed at monkeys.

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Stopwatch faceAn email alert from DVSA advises that from 10 October 2018, the timings of driving tests will be changing for one day each week so that examiners can receive appropriate training and development. Timings on other days will remain unaltered.

It is absolutely no problem, though that hasn’t stopped the usual culprits demanding to know why we – instructors – weren’t consulted over it.

The simple answer is that it’s none of our sodding business what times the tests go out, especially if the changes are only likely to amount to a “13.22” test instead of a “13.35” one. It’s not like they’re adding one at 2am or anything.  As long as we know the test time in advance – which we do, from the moment it is booked – that’s all we need.

It appears (and I’m reading between the lines here) that the day on which timings are changed will be different from centre to centre. I’m sure – if I try real hard – I could twist that into being inconvenient for me. In reality it isn’t, though.

I would imagine that already-booked tests will not be affected – or, if they are, candidates will be made aware of any timing changes.

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