Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Shaun the SheepPeople often find the blog on something to do with sheep. The latest made me smile – it was “what should you do when passing through a sheep”. The mind boggles, but I know (I think) what they meant.

The word “sheep” isn’t specifically mentioned in the Highway Code in this context, but the following rule is the relevant one (it comes under “other road users”):

Rule 214

Animals. When passing animals, drive slowly. Give them plenty of room and be ready to stop. Do not scare animals by sounding your horn, revving your engine or accelerating rapidly once you have passed them. Look out for animals being led, driven or ridden on the road and take extra care. Keep your speed down at bends and on narrow country roads. If a road is blocked by a herd of animals, stop and switch off your engine until they have left the road. Watch out for animals on unfenced roads.

It’s happened to me before where I’ve rounded a bend on a country lane and the road is blocked by a herd of sheep being moved from one field to another (twice in 18 months, though I haven’t had one for a few years now). I’ve also come across sheep just wandering on the road in the Peak District, and one time a lamb had escaped from a field and was being chased by someone trying to recover it.

I’ve also encountered cows browsing on the bushes on the outside of their field (I’m not sure who shit themselves the most that time I came round a bend on a single track road – me, or the bullock that had got through a fence, a stream, and then a hedgerow to meet up with me). Then, of course, you have horse riders – the normal ones who give you a wave, and the ones with attitude problems who take racehorses out.

In the case of the sheep being herded, I stopped and turned off my engine (and had a quick chat with the farmer who was at the front, and who explained to me that the quad bike they were using was cheaper to run than a sheepdog). If they were just wandering around in small groups, I passed slowly, keeping my eye on them. In the case of the lamb, I stopped, then put my hazard lights on when I saw a car come over the brow of a hill behind me.

What should you do when passing sheep on the road?

Someone found the blog with this question recently. It’s from the theory test, and the correct answer is to slow down and drive carefully. In reality, though, stopping and turning off your engine is often the best course of action, so make sure that’s not an option if you see this question.

Should you report a sheep in the road?

Of course you should, if it’s running loose from a fenced field or on a main road (as opposed to being herded by someone), and clearly shouldn’t be there. Someone could get killed. Use your own common sense – I’m no expert on sheep, but I know if one’s meant to be in the road or not.

This doesn’t apply to extremely rural roads, such as in the Peak District, where there are no fences and sheep wander freely across roads. You just drive with care and deal with them as necessary.

Who should you report it to?

Assuming it shouldn’t be there – and bear in mind what I said about places like the Peak District, where sheep do roam across roads – I would either report it to the farmer (if I knew where the farm was), or the police (if I didn’t, or if there was a significant danger).

A sheep on rural road isn’t the same as one on the M1.

I’ve never had to report sheep, but I’ve reported cows on a few of occasions – all times, to the farmer.

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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. They eventually admitted they were in error, but it was too late and I had purchased and started using a PayPal Here card reader.PayPal Here card reader

Since 2015, I have taken more than £70,000 in card payments through PayPal Here. As time has gone by, the number of people paying me by card has increased, and right now I’d say that about 90% of pupils pay that way. The rest still use cash (occasionally, someone will block book and hand over up to £700 in notes), and a few use bank transfers (block bookings sometimes come in this way). 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 using their card by contactless (if pupils have them) but anything above £30 by card has to be by PIN. Contactless phone apps depend on the app they’re using, and many pupils use these to pay several hundred pounds with no trouble.

Since I began using it, PayPal has updated the app several times, and it is extremely convenient being able to sign into the app 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 as well (it says it can take “up to 2 hours”, but less than a minute is typical). iZettle took nearly a week most times – and we’re talking a business week here, so Bank Holidays both here and in Sweden (where iZetlle is based).

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?

Under £50 right now – often less if they’re doing an offer. I have three of them as a result of offers just so I have backups, though I am still on my first reader.

Is there a monthly rental fee?

No. You buy the card reader outright and only pay a fee per transaction.

How much do they charge per transaction?

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

PayPal takes 23p for each £1 you take

NO. THEY. DON’T.

I saw some clown state this recently, and it’s bollocks. On a £25 lesson, the fee is 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.

SumUp has a fee of 1.69% per transaction. Yes, that’s less than PayPal’s fee. In a typical year, with SumUp you’d be paying £634 in fees. With PayPal you’d be paying £1,030. I like PayPal (and a lot of pupils use it anyway), and think the extra I pay is worth it. That’s just me.

Some vendors have no fees

And they keep the money longer to get interest on it to cover their costs or charge a rental fee. There’s no free ride when it comes to clearing card payments, and someone somewhere pays for it.

The charges are a rip off

Fine. Keep taking cash.

You’re not going to get away from transaction charges if you also want a decent service. 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 seem to be the older ADIs who think like this, 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 dozens of cheques – 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 fees and lost lesson time, and cheques (which are useless to you until they’re banked, and 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. I’d been waiting for something like PayPal Here or iZettle – and there are others – to appear, and got in on the ground floor.

What about cheques?

What about them? No one has attempted to pay me by cheque for at least 4 years now (though they only did before because it was either that or cash). A couple of new pupils have asked initially if I take them, but when I point out the card machine and the fact that everyone has a card even if they have a chequebook (otherwise cheques are pretty useless), it’s never mentioned again.

I can take pupils to a cashpoint

Good for you. I, on the other hand, don’t need to. The card machine becomes the cashpoint, so it’s more convenient for me and more convenient for them. And that is certainly not going to affect their opinion of me in a negative way. Of course, if I insisted on frog-marching them to a cashpoint… who knows what they might think?

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 payment in front of them and they get an instant texted receipt. 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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The Chillmax AirI saw this thing advertised on TV. Then, the same evening, I was shopping in Asda and saw it on display. I am an idiot for things like this, and bought it on impulse so I could test whether it worked or not.

As a chemist, I know full well that if you want to cool a large space down effectively you’re going to need something that uses a special refrigerant. And from a practical perspective – where people are going to be in that space, and you need to cool for long periods – that is going to mean some sort of motor-driven compressor, a closed radiator filled with the refrigerant, and a big fan. Oh, and an exhaust pipe through the wall to get rid of the heat removed from the air, and a collection bucket for the moisture it takes out, because a proper air conditioner dehumidifies the air it cools.

Anyone who has used a normal fan will know that you only feel “cooler” if you’re sweating. That’s because the fan evaporates the sweat, and that has a transient cooling effect. This same evaporative cooling effect can even be used to freeze water – albeit in very small amounts (and if you’re lucky) – when you force diethyl ether (the stuff they used to use as an anaesthetic) to evaporate quickly. The evaporative cooling effect of different liquids varies greatly, and ether will cool down to a very low temperature if you do it properly. However, ether is both highly flammable and toxic, so apart from demonstrating it in the school lab (where I remember it from, along with the massive headache it gave me), it doesn’t have much practical application these days (though early refrigerators used it, which was spectacularly dangerous).

The Chillmax Air uses the evaporative cooling effect of water. The unit consists of a reservoir at the top, which you fill with normal tap water, and this drips down on to a radiator unit which has ten sideways-stacked fibre panels in it through which a fan blows air. The water evaporates from the fibre panels, and the evaporatively cooled air comes out through the front grille. According to the marketing spiel on the TV ad, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re going to get frostbite if you sit too close. I knew this wasn’t going to happen – but I wanted to know just how effective the Chillmax Air was.

When I set it up and turned it on, the first thing I noticed was that the fan is quite powerful, so you get a good flow of air directed at you. The next thing I noticed was that the air did seem a little cooler compared with what my desk fan was blowing at me. It also felt different in another way, which I’ll come to later. But the big question was how much cooler was the exhaust air?

I fired up my trusty data logger and left it in front of my desk fan for 30 minutes for the control data. Then I moved it and suspended it in front of the Chillmax for the same period of time. This is what it recorded (red line is the switch over point).Chillmax Air - temperature recording

The ambient temperature where I ran the test was about 26ºC (it rose by about half a degree because I had entered the room, turned on the TV and my PC, and so on). The Chillmax brought this down by about 2.5ºC (the blip at the end is where it had just run out of water and was starting to warm up again).

So, the Chillmax definitely cools the air that passes through it, albeit by a small amount. Let’s work on the assumption that it would be able to get the same 2.5-3.0ºC drop no matter what the ambient temperature was. It’s for you to decide if that’s worth the investment, but be aware that if the ambient temperature is 38ºC, pulling it down to 35ºC still means it’s damned hot.

But there’s a little more to it than that. I mentioned that the exhaust from the Chillmax felt different to what my fan was throwing at me, and not just cooler. If I was going to try and put a word to it, I’d say it felt softer. I knew what it was right from the start, but my data logger really showed what was happening.

This is the data for relative humidity recorded at the same time as the temperature measurement, above (red line is the switch over).Chillmax Air - relative humidity recording

As already explained, the Chillmax works by evaporating water on fibrous panels by forcing air across them. That water has got to go somewhere – so it comes out as a vapour in the cooled air. Well, most of it does. Some of it actually condensed on to my data logger and began to drip during my test. I have since discovered that it also condenses on the front grille and can drip periodically, so you need to be careful if you put it on a shelf with, say, your laptop underneath. This is especially true if you’ve set the grille (which is adjustable) to aim slightly downwards, which you probably would do if it was above eye level. And the fan is powerful enough to project the drips forward when they drop.

The ambient humidity in the room where I did the test was about 43%RH. The Chillmax sent that up to nearly 58%RH. The drop at the end is where the water ran out, and it is likely that it would have settled around 58%RH. And that was why the air from it feels softer – it’s very humid. When you turn the Chillmax on, you can actually see the vapour to begin with in the right light.

It’s this humidity of the cooled air which really brings into question whether the Chillmax is worth the investment. Most people will already know that you can have a hot summer day in the high 20s where it is comfortable and pleasant, and another – perhaps slightly cooler – one which is really sticky and sweaty. That’s because of the humidity, or water vapour in the air.

Air can hold water vapour, and the maximum amount that it can hold varies with the temperature. At low temperatures, air might only be able to hold a few milligrammes of water per kg, but at higher temperatures this can go up to nearly 100g per kg of air. This is generally referred to as the humidity, but the important measurement – and the one people are really meaning- is the relative humidity (RH). This is the amount of water in the air expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount it could hold. When the RH hits 100% (more or less the dew point, though there’s a bit more to it than that) at any temperature, then any additional water will condense out immediately. It’s why your car windscreen fogs up in winter as soon as you get inside because your breath and perspiration causes the dew point to be exceeded. But even at lower RH values you can still get some condensation if there are nuclei which promote it (such as data loggers and the grille on the front of the Chillmax). The main thing, though, is that at higher temperatures, high RH is uncomfortable.

The real problem with evaporative cooling comes with changes of temperature on already very humid days. If it is 30ºC outside and 90%RH, dropping the temperature by 3ºC will send the RH up automatically – possibly hitting the dew point even if no extra water vapour was added. But with the air already containing almost 30g or water per kg at 90% RH, and sending the RH higher by cooling a few degrees, the Chillmax is pumping out another 500g of water during it’s run time – and that’s likely to hit 100%RH immediately. On a hot and sticky day, you’re likely to notice dampness when using the Chillmax because of this. Furthermore, if the RH is increased when it is already high, evaporative cooling from your sweat is less effective, and you could actually feel more uncomfortable even though the air is a few degrees cooler.

Proper air conditioners remove water from the air they cool – so much so that the best ones have humidifiers in them to stop the cooled air from being too dry (in my car, for example, if I have the A/C on the lowest temperature setting my lips start to feel sore because they’re losing moisture). Proper A/C units use a special refrigerant similar to what you get in fridges and freezers, and they cool the air so much that the RH goes beyond the dew point and most of the water condenses out – that’s why you get a pool of water under your car if you stop with the air conditioning turned on in humid weather (or have problems with them icing up if they’re badly drained). It’s also why it is nice and comfy inside an air-conditioned car (apart from your lips) when it’s hot and sweaty outside, even if you have your A/C set at a normal temperature rather than deep-freeze mode most people use. Dry air feels crisp, whereas moist air feels… well, softer. Almost like a sauna if it’s hot enough. The Chillmax does the opposite of normal A/Cs, and adds moisture.

Aesthetically speaking, the Chillmax is a cube – more or less – about 15cm along each side. There are two buttons on the top rear, one which changes the fan speed to one of three settings (or off), with a blue LED for each, and another button that turns the night light on or off. There’s a flap on the top front through which you add the water. The radiator system is a plastic-framed insert which you access by pulling the front grille out. It slots in and out easily. You can’t replace the fibre inserts in the radiator (well, I think you could if you could get hold of them), but you can buy the whole radiator assembly from JML for £15. My only major gripe is the power cable. The jack plug that goes into the Chillmax is quite short and doesn’t go into the socket very far, so it is easy to dislodge it. However, the cable itself is quite long, and the  mains plug is a moulded UK type.

JML claims the Chillmax can run for up to 10 hours per fill, but this is undoubtedly on the lowest of the three fan speeds. At top speed, it runs out in less than three hours. To be fair to it, you do still get a noticeable cooling effect on the lowest speed, and since the water lasts longer then, less of it will be getting pumped into the air at any one time, and that might offset what I said about humidity very slightly – but it’s still being pumped out.  JML sells the humidification as a positive without relating it to the comfort relationship between temperature and RH, but note what I said above. If you want to cool down in humid weather, it probably isn’t just the temperature that needs to come down, certainly not a mere 3ºC drop, and definitely not if that means pushing high humidity even higher.

Update: I have now tested it in what I considered to be hot and sticky conditions. In actual fact, the only reason it felt hot and sticky was apparently because the temperature in the room was 3ºC higher than when I did it before. It was uncomfortable compared to the last time – the kind of weather that means you’re sweating even when sitting still.

Here’s the temperature log (red line again shows the switch over between desk fan and Chillmax.Chillmax - temperature log in hot and sticky conditions

The Chillmax still achieved a similar temperature drop to the initial test. However, the air did not actually feel any cooler blowing on my face. If anything, it was more uncomfortable, though this is a subjective comment. The graph for Relative Humidity below explains why.

Chillmax - RH log in hot and sticky conditionsThe ambient RH was similar to last time, but the Chillmax sent it up to about 70%. This is why there was no noticeable improvement in comfort – the small temperature drop was cancelled out by making the air more humid (i.e. sticky). The increase in RH was greater than the last time I measured it, and I can’t immediately explain that, though it may have had something to do with ventilation (there was no wind at all this time, though there was a breeze in the original test, and with the windows open some of the humidity would have been removed).

You might find the Chillmax useful. It’s quite a smart little device – it’s not a Rolls Royce build, but it’s not badly made for what it is – and not that noisy (but you can hear the fan on the top speed). It certainly cools the air. A little, at any rate. Unfortunately, the increase in humidity that goes along with that cooling definitely seems to cancel it out out at higher temperatures.

A final note: the previous model used to be called the “Arctic Air”. I can see why they changed that!

Does it really work?

Well, it does cool the air by a few degrees, but it also sends the humidity up. So if it is already humid and sticky, the cooling effect is completely cancelled out by the extra stickiness. You might get away with that if your windows are open and there’s a through-draught in your house (or personal space), but if it’s also very hot you may not see any benefit at all.

It definitely doesn’t do what you might think it does from those TV ads. It would be fine if it just cooled, but the fact that it also humidifies is the main problem you’re likely to experience.

From my own use of it, I would say that it is a better humidifier than it is a cooler.

Will it cool more if I use ice water?

No. Evaporative coolers are not influenced significantly by the temperature of the water used in them. The temperature of the air that comes out depends on the temperature (and humidity) of the air going in, and the science of evaporation.

Can I use it to cool my PC?

Someone found this article on the search term “jml chillmax air for pc cooling”. If they mean what I think they mean, no, there is absolutely no way you want to be blowing damp air into your PC.

They might have meant powering it from a PC. The mains adapter is rated 5.0V at 1.8A, so assuming the Chillmax does draw 1.8A (and it probably doesn’t, as this is the maximum rating of the adapter) then your PC couldn’t supply that current from a USB port. USB ports are rated at 0.5A or 0.9A depending on the type. Dedicated charging USB ports can handle up to 1.5A, and although that’s a close call (the fan in the Chillmax looks like a computer fan), personally I wouldn’t risk trying to power it from a PC.

Can you get larger versions?

You can certainly get larger evaporative coolers. The working principle is that the larger the surface area of water, and the greater the airflow over that water, then the greater will be the possible drop in temperature at the front end. However, cooling effectiveness is influenced greatly by the RH of the air going in.

If the air is very dry, then a large evaporative cooler might be able to drop inlet air at 30ºC down by as much as 10ºC. However, if the inlet air is very humid, the temperature drop could be as little as 1ºC. In the UK, the realistic temperature drop you could expect on a non-humid day for a large cooler would be around 5-6ºC, but on a sticky day you’d only get about a 3ºC drop.

Suppliers of these devices say that they need good ventilation or extraction, and I would imagine that’s so the humid air can escape. If you’re evaporating more water to get better cooling on larger devices, you’re also producing a lot more water vapour.

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I got an email tonight from the Food Standards Agency (I’m signed up to alerts). It’s amazing how many recalls are issued each week – they’re mostly for bits of plastic or salmonella contamination, though many are labelling issues where something in them isn’t declared on the label.

The one I received tonight was of the latter type. The Co-op is recalling something called a “Veg Taster”.

Because of “undeclared fish”!

I can’t find out what a “Veg Taster” is, and I’m certainly not going out to buy one. But the name suggests that it is suitable for vegetarians. They do “Fish Tasters” as well, and the undeclared fish in the FSA alert involves salmon, so you can sort of half guess how it happened.

Joking aside, though. It could be a problem for anyone with a fish allergy.

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Disc and Drum brakesThis often crops up with my pupils, especially when mum or dad is involved in their driving practice.

Back in the day, the standard way new drivers were taught to slow down was to change down through the gears sequentially, using the engine to slow the car down after each change, then completing the stop using the brakes. One of the main reasons it was done like this was because of ‘brake fade’ – a phenomenon whereby the brakes worked less effectively as they got hotter, which happened if prolonged (especially downhill) or harsh braking occurred.

In those days, most brakes were drum brakes. In these, the brake shoes are semi-enclosed and not easily cooled by air flow. Nowadays, most cars have disc brakes at the front, which have an open design and so are readily cooled by air passing over them. Furthermore, technology has improved significantly, and the materials used to make brakes and brake pads are much less prone to the problem of brake fade than their counterparts from the latter half of the last century were.

To do sequential changing properly requires good anticipation and forward planning. The whole point is that with each gear change down, the clutch needs to come up to allow the engine to slow the car down. And here lies the problem – mum and dad only know about 4-3-2-1, but don’t understand why, so little Johnny is taught to simply de-clutch about 200m away from the approaching traffic lights, and carefully move the gear lever from 4, to 3, to 2, then to 1st gear while coasting the whole distance.

It seems to have escaped a lot of people’s notice, but we are now well into the 21st century and, as such, Driving: The Essential Skills (TES), says:

As a general rule, use the brakes to reduce speed before changing down to the most suitable gear for the lower speed.

In the early stages of learning to drive, it may help you to become familiar with the gearbox if you change down through each of the gears in turn. Be guided by your instructor.

It also adds:

Missing out gears at the appropriate time will give you more time to concentrate on the road ahead and allow you to keep both hands on the steering wheel for longer.

Changing down

As a general rule, it’s preferable and safer to brake to the desired speed and then change down into the appropriate gear. It might be necessary to maintain a light pressure on the footbrake while changing down.

That’s quite clear. Current practice is to use the brakes to slow the car down, then change into whatever gear you need for the new speed (although sequential changing is still perfectly OK if it’s done properly). Since many modern cars have 5 or 6 gears, it is quite feasible to slow down in 6th from 70mph and just de-clutch near the end to a stop (actually, you might be pushing your luck a little if you do this from 6th, and may have to drop it down a gear or two part way through, but it will certainly do it from 4th or 5th). You will also note that TES says you can brake at the same time you’re changing gears – if you end up with an instructor who insists on teaching you how to be a police pursuit driver because he’s got a copy of Roadcraft, and who won’t let you brake at the same time you’re changing gears, find another one quickly!

Missing out gears is referred to as ‘selective’ or ‘block changing’. It is absolutely OK to do it – in fact, it is the preferred method, and it is certainly a lot easier to do than sequential changing (but I stress again, sequential changing is fine if it’s done right). You have far less to worry about, which is good for learner drivers.

Unless you are due to take part in the next British Grand Prix, or somehow get access to a time machine and decide to go and live in the 60s, forget about brake fade – you’re not going to experience it except in the most extreme of circumstances.


As an aside, I saw someone post on a forum some highly misleading information about brake fade, and everyone immediately believed him. Brake fade of the kind normal people experience does not cause irreversible damage to your brake pads. Brake fade is usually reversible, and is simply a result of them overheating – going away once they cool down.

I mean, if it was really as terminal as this guy suggested, every car on the roads in the 60s and 70s was pretty much unstoppable by the driver.


As another aside, I recently saw someone comment how they had given refresher lessons to an older driver and had “had to stop them changing sequentially”. This is totally unnecessary – sequential changing is perfectly acceptable if it is done properly, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to change someone’s driving style if that’s how they were originally taught.

A few years ago, I taught a woman in her late 40s who had ridden a motorbike her whole life, but who wanted to switch to a car now she was older. She’d taken lessons 30 years ago, and had apparently got to pretty much test standard. Best of all, it came back to her quickly (though she was nervous). She changed gears sequentially, and she did it beautifully – I didn’t make even the slightest attempt to stop her because she did it so well. She passed first time with a couple of driver faults – which were nothing to do with the gears.

Sequential gear changing is perfectly OK.

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Pinocchio - the teller of truthsI got an email recently from a company which supplies pupils. I don’t have any real problem with places like this (as long as they aren’t ripping people off), but one thing about it made me smile.

The article “Should I Become A Driving Instructor?” is very popular, and one point I make in there several times – indeed, I mention it frequently on the blog – is that independent instructors often go to great lengths to stress how successful they are when they’re advising newly-qualified ADIs on how to start out in the business. “Go independent”, they say. “I did it, and I’ve never looked back”, they add.

So the funny thing is that over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a lots of these people asking on social media if pupil supply companies are any good! I know of at least one who has already signed up to the company that emailed me.

I’d have thought that if you were the mega-successful independent you’ve been claiming to be all this time, who only has to blink to get all the pupils he/she wants, thus making franchises redundant, you wouldn’t need a service like this – and especially not when there are pupils falling out of the sky right now. I mean, by having to rely on such a service, you’re halfway towards towards being franchised, because you’re certainly not doing it all “independently”. Supplying your own pupils is the key detail in being “independent”.

Doing a bit of checking as a result of the email I received (you have to poke around a bit) it seems that each referral costs £18. It’ll be interesting to see how long they can keep that up, because I’d bet money that it will rise to £20 or £25 over the next year or two. At the current rate they’re charging, it won’t be high-margin for them, and I would imagine it is dependent on them signing up enough instructors in the area to meet a target in their business plan.

I’ve said before that the driving instruction business is a mature one, and the maximum prices you can charge are pretty much capped in any given location. It isn’t a high margin business, and the best profits are to be had from keeping your overheads down. As far as the entire pupil supply chain is concerned, introducing a stage where someone finds the pupil and farms them out adds a layer of additional cost, and someone has to be paid to do it – meaning someone has to pay for it to happen. The instructor takes the hit, and each pupil referral is equivalent to a lost hour of income.

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Tally marksI’m proud of the fact that I have never had any points on my driving licence. That’s not to say that when I was a newly-qualified 17-year old I was some sort of angel, but as the years have gone by I have become… well, as I already said. Proud. And I always try to convey that to my learners, so that they can aim for the same record.

On lessons I am always aware of the locations of speed cameras and the pupil’s speed around them. This usually results in them asking what would happen if we were flashed on a lesson, and many are surprised to learn that it is the driver who gets the fine and the points. I then explain that if it ever happened in my car, although I wouldn’t legally be able to take the points, I would cover the fine (as long as they weren’t being completely stupid over something).

Many years ago, when I was still a naïve new instructor, I had a pupil who had her test booked but who wasn’t really ready for it. She was from overseas, and just wanted to take it. On the morning it was booked, among other issues, she was moving into and out of junctions at a snail’s pace and causing problems for traffic. Now, she had a serious attitude problem, and on one particular corner after I explained again that she needed to move away more briskly, she deliberately floored it and before I knew what was happening we were doing almost 50 on a residential road with oncoming vehicles. I used the dual controls and pulled her over. After some polite discussion, with both of us knowing full well she’d done it on purpose (but not actually saying it), I simply told her she was not going to test, but that I would cover the test fee. That was the precise moment when I stopped acting as a hire service for desperately bad drivers.

The point of that story is that if we had been caught speeding in that situation, or one like it, I certainly wouldn’t have covered the fine.

I go on to explain that if it could somehow be shown that I was forcing the pupil to break the limit, then I might face a separate charge of “aiding and abetting”, but that isn’t likely to happen in the first place, so it isn’t an issue we need to worry about. Having said that, a couple of years ago I took on a new pupil who had been learning for some time with a local (and very long-serving) instructor up this way, and she told me he had a stick in the trunk of the car that he used to reach over and push the driver’s foot on to the accelerator with if they were going too slow! Make of that what you will.

The next question they ask concerns any points they might get. Many of them are surprised to learn that you can get points on your provisional licence, though it naturally follows from that earlier thing I mentioned where the driver is always held accountable. You can get banned whilst still on a provisional licence (you can get banned even if you don’t have a licence at all).

While you are still on a provisional licence, you will normally receive a ban if you accrue 12 or more “live” points within any 3-year period. The ban is usually for six months.

When you pass your test, there is a two year probationary period during which you’re only allowed a maximum of six points before receiving a ban.

If you have any points on your provisional, these will be carried over on to your full licence. Since you could have as many as 11 points on your provisional and not receive a ban, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically banned when you pass. You’re simply in sudden-death mode – where even a single point after that will result in a ban. Since you’re looking at a minimum of three points for speeding or traffic light jumping, having just three points carried over still leaves you in sudden-death mode until those carried-over points expire.

Any points on your licence are considered to be “live” for three years from the date of the offence (some serious offences can stay live for 10 years – those involving drink-driving or drugs being one example). After this, they are considered as “spent”, but they remain on your licence for a further year. When they’re spent, they aren’t included in any totting up if you were to get caught again. However, if you’re after a job which involves driving (and in a lot of cases, even if it doesn’t),