Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Hellboy and Abe SapienLet’s hope so. This story suggests that Guillermo del Toro is up for making a third Hellboy film.

The only thing stopping it is the small matter of getting $120 million funding.

The first two were brilliant pieces of escapism – the second one in particular – so it would be great to see a third instalment. Del Toro is a genius when it comes to this sort of thing – if you haven’t seen Pan’s Labyrinth, then you really should.

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Stalled in the wrong placeBased on search terms used to find the blog:

Do I fail if I stall on my test?

No. Not automatically. It depends on many things, like where you do it, how many times, and how you deal with it. Stalling is NOT automatically a serious (or “major”) fault.

If you stall once when moving away or stopping, then as long as you start the car safely and move away or stop correctly afterwards, the worst that will happen is that you’ll get a driver fault (and you may not even get one of those). However, if you repeatedly stall when moving away, as a rough guide you’ll get away with it maybe two or three times (a couple more if you’re lucky) until the examiner decides it is a real problem – then you’ll get a serious fault for it.

If you stall at a junction a lot depends on what is happening behind and in front of you, and the delay, danger, and inconvenience that results. For example, if you want to emerge from a junction, stall, and miss a gap in heavy traffic – which causes inconvenience to those behind you – then you can easily get a serious fault.

If you stall in the middle of a junction (i.e. when turning right), the risk of inconveniencing others and causing a dangerous hold-up increases dramatically. It is possible to recover completely from this and come out of it with only a driver fault (and maybe not even one of those), but a serious or dangerous fault is also possible.

Much depends on how you deal with it. Stay calm, and make sure you get going again quickly and safely.

Will I fail if I stall twice?

As I said above, it depends on how and where you do it. The short answer is no, not automatically. However, stalling is a control issue, and you’re being assessed on how you control the car as part of your driving test. Any stall is bad and should be avoided, but if it happens just deal with it as I’ve explained elsewhere in this article and keep your fingers crossed.

If you stall, you can’t undo the fact that you’ve done it. But you can prevent it snowballing into other faults or further stalls.

If you repeatedly stall in the same situation – when moving off, for example – then you really can’t control the car and are probably chasing down a fail. You can’t blame nerves – the examiner is marking you on what he or she sees. As I say, avoid stalling – but deal with it properly if it happens.

If you stall several times in different circumstances – let’s say once in a queue of traffic, once during a manoeuvre, and once right at the start of the test –you just need to keep your fingers crossed and not let it worry you. You might legitimately blame it on nerves in this case, and the examiner may interpret it that way, too.

Will I fail if I stall more than three times?

An examiner once told me he worked on the “five strikes and you’re out” principle. Not all examiners adopt the same approach, and it certainly isn’t written down anywhere that they have to. I tell my pupils to assume “three strikes and you’re out – if you’re lucky!”

As I’ve said above, you can fail for stalling just once if it happens in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if you deal with it inappropriately. Stalling occurs due to poor control of the clutch and gas pedals – you cannot just blame it on nerves, though this may be a contributing factor. So if it happens more than once it is definitely edging towards being marked as a serious fault. Three or more stalls is even further along the path.

I have seen people pass their tests with more than three stalls having been recorded. However, I’ve seen many more fail for less than that.

How many times can you stall on your test and still pass?

How long is a piece of string? You can fail for doing it once, or pass after doing it any number of times. It all depends on the situation(s) involved.

Simplest advice: don’t stall. If you do, deal with it and keep your fingers crossed.

I keep stalling on lessons and my test is next week

If stalling is normally a problem on your lessons, you simply aren’t ready for your test. You need to sort the problem out and not look for ways of “getting away” with it. You should take your test when you are properly trained, not just because you want to.

Is stalling twice on my driving lesson good or bad?

As I have said elsewhere in this article, stalling is a driving fault. If you do it even once on your test, it could easily lead to a situation resulting in a fail. Do it more than once and that risk increases, because the more you do it, the more it points to an underlying lack of control.

You shouldn’t be stalling on a regular basis on your lessons – if you are, then you’re not really ready for your test. Having said that, we all make mistakes (or have “off days”), and a couple of stalls as an isolated event doesn’t mean anything at all. Just remember that even if you never stall on lessons, if you do it on your test you still run the same risk of failing.

What is a stall?

It is when the engine can’t handle what it is being asked to do and stops. The car (usually) has an engine management system which will attempt to avoid stalls at low revs, but when you try to move off with too little gas set the weight of the car slows the engine down so much it just stops. This can happen even more readily on upward slopes and hills if you don’t set enough gas, or if you don’t accelerate away hard enough as you raise the clutch further.

Sometimes, the car can’t make up its mind whether it is going to stall or keep going, and that’s when you get the “kangaroo hop” everyone associates with learners. If this happens, put the clutch down quickly and you’ll probably rescue the situation. Then apply the gas and find the bite gently again.

What is “repeated stalling”?

Someone has recently been finding the blog on that precise term. I would have thought it obvious that if you stall once, then again, then stall again when you try to move off, you are stalling “repeatedly”. Likewise, if you stall every time you try to move off,  or at every junction, or set of traffic lights, you are also stalling “repeatedly”.

You shouldn’t stall at all, though it can happen to anyone. If you do stall – even once – then it is usually just a driver fault on your test. If you do it more than that – especially if you do it repeatedly – it becomes a serious fault.

Note that stalling even once can be marked as a serious (or even dangerous) fault if you do it in the wrong place or at the wrong time, as I have explained elsewhere in this article.

Why do learners stall so much?

Actually, if they’re being taught properly, most learners don’t stall much at all. The time when stalling is most likely to occur for a typical learner is when it comes to moving away promptly. Stalling occurs due to poor control of the clutch and gas pedals, as explained above, and early-stage learners have not developed this skill. So when in a stressful situation (or if they’re not prepared) then they can easily lift the clutch too quickly, resulting in a stall or a kangaroo hop.

Stalling when moving off is not the same as stalling after they’ve stopped – or rather, it does not occur for the same reasons. It is quite common in the early stages for new drivers to pull over and take their foot off the clutch before they’ve put the car in neutral (often, they’ve tried to put it in neutral and got it into another gear instead). So stalling after they’ve parked is a completely different situation to stalling when they’re in flowing traffic (something I’m always quick to point out to them).

Some learners find clutch control much more of a challenge, and these might stall a lot more than the majority do. It’s simply a case of working hard to correct the underlying cause, which varies from person to person.

What should I do if I stall?

Above all else, don’t panic! Your absolute main priorities are to get the car started safely and to move it promptly out of the way, maintaining control throughout.

Your priorities are NOT to automatically stamp on the footbrake, put the handbrake on, and get it into neutral. Sometimes, that’s what you will have to do – but other times it will just make the situation worse by causing a delay in getting going again. Remember that if you cause a hold up, that’s far more serious on test than a simple stall that you quickly and safely deal with. You have to decide at the time which is the best way to deal with it.

Start the car quickly, check that it’s safe, and move away.

Do I need to use the handbrake if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. Sometimes, putting the handbrake on (and/or selecting neutral) just adds to the delay. You must do what is appropriate for the particular situation you’re in.

If you’re likely to roll backwards or forwards into danger then use the handbrake. The examiner’s brief is that you deal with things safely and maintain control if you stall – not that you systematically use the handbrake every time.

Should I go into neutral if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. However, if you are going to start the engine with the car in gear, make bloody sure you have the clutch down. Some newer cars won’t start without the clutch down anyway, but if yours isn’t one of those the car will lurch forward if you start it in gear with the clutch up. That’s almost certainly a guaranteed serious or dangerous fault because you are not in control and you are not safe.

Should I put the handbrake on and go into neutral every time I stall?

As I explained above, this may add to the delay and allow a dangerous situation to develop, so the answer is no – not automatically, and not every time. Some instructors argue that because you might panic, then you should go through this laborious routine for every stall. That is a bit of a cop-out, though.

Every situation is different – and plenty of them are such that if you did go through the full handbrake/neutral routine then it would push you into a fail, whereas using another approach would not.

Should I stop if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. Slamming the brakes on when it isn’t necessary could quite easily cause someone to go into the back of you at a busy junction if they see you start to move. It’s hardly much consolation knowing it was technically their fault if they’ve written off your car and given you whiplash (and are probably blaming you anyway with their insurer). You have to decide whether you need to stop or not depending on the individual situation.

Why did I stall?

A lot of possible reasons, including:

  • not depressing the clutch before stopping
  • being in the wrong gear for the speed
  • not enough gas when moving off
  • bringing the clutch up too quickly
  • using the handbrake incorrectly (e.g. using it to stop or leaving it on when trying to move off) with the clutch up

It could be any combination of these. Before you try and move off again, make sure that you’re in the right gear. That eliminates one possible cause.

Remember that you need to calmly set the gas, find the bite, check all round, then release the handbrake. Keep your feet still once you have the bite, then after the handbrake is released apply more gas and gently raise the clutch all the way. The most common reasons that people stall when moving off are that they panic and keep lifting the clutch beyond the bite while the handbrake is still on, or they suddenly lift the clutch after they release the handbrake. It has to be a smooth action.

Keep all these stages absolutely separate. If they all start to merge together it is a recipe for disaster! There will be plenty of time to develop overlapping control once you gain experience – but as a learner you must work on the basics and keep everything structured so that you can develop good basic control skills.

Why does my car “kangaroo hop” when I change gear?

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that learners often bring the clutch up too quickly without having enough gas set. So the car lurches forward, then decelerates as it nears stalling point. However, sometimes there is just enough gas set for it not to stall, at which point it lurches again, and then the process repeats itself. That’s the “kangaroo hop” in action.

If you don’t change gear smoothly – and I mean bring the clutch up gently, then apply the gas – you can get the same effect. You may find that it’s more of a problem if you were taught in a diesel and are having problems in a petrol car (i.e. you’re not setting enough gas), and you may find that it’s also a problem in older cars (try having your car serviced if you really think there is a fault).Acceleration and gear changing

In the majority of cases, it is probably because you’re changing gear too soon so you’re in the wrong gear for the speed the car is moving at. The two graphs of speed against time show how an experienced driver will accelerate in 1st gear, and when the car is well into the 2nd gear speed range he will shift into 2nd gear, then repeat for subsequent gears. Learners (and new drivers) will often robotically shift from one gear to the next before they’ve built up enough speed. They will also sometimes compound the problem by taking too long to change the gear, so the car actually slows down during gear shift.

What causes my car to “switch off” when I’m driving up a steep slope?

It’s stalling. You haven’t got enough gas set, you are in the wrong gear, or a combination of both. It can happen going forwards or backwards.

If you’re talking about something else when you say “switching off”, take it to a garage and get it looked at.

How should I handle a stall?

It really depends on the situation. You can use the full handbrake/neutral procedure sometimes, but there are many other cases where just restarting the car is going to be the quickest and safest way out of a stall.

In the middle of a busy junction, for example, if you start to move forward but then stall, you could quickly start the engine while the car is still moving as long as you don’t roll into a dangerous position. Keep the clutch down as you restart it.

How do the examiners assess a stall?

DSA SOP DT1 only gives only one example:

Assessment Criteria – (example)

Driving Fault

After stalling at a road junction, handbrake applied but attempts to start the engine whilst in gear.

Serious Fault

At a road junction, engine started whilst in gear, resulting in vehicle entering the new road with potential risk to other road users.

Dangerous Fault

Any situation brought about by a lack of ability to recognise the need to operate or being unable to operate the controls, which directly affects other traffic or pedestrians and causes actual danger.

This requires interpretation because it doesn’t cover every possible situation.

To start with, serious (S) and dangerous faults (D) are easy to identify. If the car moves into the new road – whether in gear or not – it is marked S or D. The division between a driver fault and a serious (S) fault isn’t as clear cut.

If you stall and restart the engine with the clutch down and still in 1st gear, as long as there is no risk to other road users, this is technically only a driver fault (but it may not be marked even as that). It is perfectly OK to do it, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t use the handbrake as long as you’re in control.

If you start the car in gear, but have the clutch up, the car will lurch. If it doesn’t enter the new road and there is no other risk or danger, it may only attract a driver fault, although it could easily be regarded as a serious (S) fault. If you’ve applied the handbrake when this happens then it may swing things in your favour. This is why some instructors end up blindly teaching the handbrake-neutral routine – albeit without realising why they’re doing it.

Of course, if you do the same thing twice or more – i.e. lurch forward without realising the clutch is up, or stall due to being in the wrong gear when trying to move off – then you’re moving deeply into serious (S) territory.

Hopefully, you can see the point here. If you are a competent driver then you can restart and continue as if nothing happened without using the handbrake or going into neutral. But if you stall and get any of the expected behaviour wrong, the meter starts to rise – how high depends on how much of a hash you make of it! And robotically applying handbrake/neutral creates its own problems because it takes time and causes longer delays in getting moving again.

It is important to stress once more that every situation is different and has to assessed at the time it happens. What is a driver fault one time could be a dangerous (D)  fault another, just because of who is on the road behind and in front of you.

Is stalling dangerous?

It depends on where you do it, but yes – it can easily be very dangerous.

Cars behind will see you start to move, and will expect you to move off normally and accelerate through the junction or crossing. If you stall they might not see you stop and could easily drive into the back of you. Rear-end shunts, as they’re called, are one of the most common bumps news drivers (and driving instructors on lessons) have to put up with. And even if the car behind you manages to stop, the one behind him might not – and it is all because you stalled.

Admittedly, from an insurance perspective it will almost certainly be considered as the fault of the driver behind who didn’t see you stop, but that’s no consolation if your car is all banged up (and your own insurance might still rise as a result, because you’re going to have to lodge a claim). Remember that even minor damage to an old vehicle might see it get written off by the insurers, and you’re not likely to get the same money you paid for it.

You might also cause serious problems if you stall in the middle of a junction as the lights change, and traffic starts moving towards you from the other roads.

Stalling when moving away from a parked position tends to get marked as only a driver fault (under “control” on the marking sheet). However, doing it repeatedly means that you can’t control the car and it usually becomes a serious fault once it is clear you cannot move off reliably.

Does stalling damage your car?

Or as the term used to find the blog went, “can stalling a diesel break ya car”?

Cars are tough, so the occasional stall is unlikely to do any harm. However, when you think about how the clutch works, if it wasn’t so tough – or if the stall was a bad one – the potential for damage is always there. Part of the problem is that a stall can vary from just asking a little too much from the car on a slope as you move away all the way up to lifting your left leg up at the same speed as a bullet whilst pushing the gas pedal to the floor with your right. And it doesn’t matter whether it is petrol or diesel.

It happened to me a couple of years ago. Without any warning whatsoever, a pupil who was otherwise a perfectly competent driver at that stage of his training somehow managed to put the clutch down and bring it up again twice in roughly the same time it takes to blink when he panicked in moderate traffic. As a direct result of hammering the clutch surfaces together like that, I needed a new clutch (£800).

Just face the fact that stalling is not good however you look at it, and that you should avoid doing it.

Can you stall in neutral?

No. Not unless there’s something wrong with your car. Learn how the clutch works, then you’ll understand.

Can you stall a diesel?

Yes. People who have reached test standard only have problems when they switch to a petrol car because they have been taught the finer points of control incorrectly. Simply because they didn’t stall in the diesel they learnt in doesn’t mean diesels can’t be stalled – they can.

It’s worth noting that some modern cars are “semi-stallproof”. If you stall them, then immediately put the clutch down, they will automatically restart. They still stall, but there’s no fiddling with the key and restarting and moving off again is much quicker. You still need to make sure you know why you stalled, though – otherwise you’ll just do it again.

Do petrol cars stall more than diesel ones?

They stall more easily. If driven properly – with enough gas and in the correct gear – petrol cars do not stall any more or less than diesels do.

I had my clutch replaced and now the biting point is completely different

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt! And it’s horrible, isn’t it?

Don’t worry, though. When I bought an 18-month old Citroen Xantia many years ago, at its first MOT the garage told me the clutch was worn and would need replacing soon. Since I didn’t do many miles, I ended up driving it for at least another 4 years, but eventually the clutch began to slip and I had to bite the bullet. When I went to pick it up after the clutch was replaced I couldn’t move it out of the garage!

As time had gone by, the biting point had risen gradually and I had just gotten used to it. With the new clutch, the bite was now right back at the lower end of the pedal movement and my foot’s “memory” kept trying to go to the higher position – which meant stalling. A lot.

It took a few hours to get used to it, and a few minutes each day for about a week until my foot was re-trained. It’ll be the same for you, so just persevere and it’ll be all right.

I just bought a car but I keep stalling it

A lot of my learners tell me this. Again, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with it or you. All cars are different and whenever you get in a new one it will take time to get used to it.

My car has a weak biting point

Although this could mean a lot of things (it was a real search term used to find the blog), it most likely refers to the clutch slipping. That usually means the clutch is virtually gone and needs to be replaced. Trust me, if you try to drive your car it could easily just give up on you and leave you stranded (with expensive recovery charges).

Why do I keep stalling my diesel car?

Usually, diesels are harder to stall than petrol cars. If you are stalling your diesel – and you are absolutely certain that if you got in a petrol car then you wouldn’t stall – my first reaction would be to suggest you have a fault and need to get it looked at in a garage.

As I have explained, a stall is when the engine is asked to do too much and stops. It usually happens because you bring the clutch up too quickly, don’t have enough gas set, or a combination of both these things. Stalling is more likely when you’re moving off uphill, and it gets even more likely as the gradient increases (i.e. the steeper the hill).

Are you sure you’re putting gas on? Your instructor’s car – if it was a diesel – was likely to be new and properly serviced, and you may well have been taught (incorrectly) not to set any gas. It isn’t just petrol cars that become more temperamental as they get older, and it may be you are trying to drive your instructor’s way in a car that just cannot handle it.

Why do petrol cars stall?

All manual cars can stall. Diesel engines are less prone to stalling because they usually have more torque – or “turning power” – which means they’re harder to stop. People who have been taught inappropriately (i.e. not taught to set gas, or allowed to be clumsy with the clutch) will have problems if they drive a petrol car simply because its lower torque makes it easier to stop the engine when it has load applied to it.

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Costa Diet CoffeeSomething made me smile today. I was at the Trent University for a driving test and while my pupil was out I went to one of the cafes on the campus to get a coffee, as is my wont.

It was lunch time, so the place was full of students (God, was I ever like that?) While I was waiting to order my coffee I was semi-fuming that the two people in front of me both seemed unable to complete the simple task of ordering a drink and sandwiches without necessitating a complicated discussion with the counter staff, nor of paying the couple of pounds (student subsidies) cost of their meal without the need to use a credit card and take at least two tries to get the PIN right.

The girl immediately in front of me was… erm… quite chunky, and – these were students, remember – clearly operated on the premise that it’s OK to stand in line, then go and look for something else in the cool cabinet, then push back in, then go and have another look, and so on. Her last trip to the cool cabinet resulted in the selection of a very healthy carton of courgette and carrot sticks (probably around 50 calories).

I noticed that her coffee, though, looked like the one in the picture above.

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GBP vs USB - 11 Jan 2017I just did a quick check of the exchange of the GBP versus USD and noted that it is currently at a new 30-year low of $1.206. The previous low was in early October last year at around $1.211.

And still the retards who voted to leave the EU are convincing themselves that everything will be all right.

It won’t. And it’s going to get much worse.

Oh, and one more thing. If it wasn’t for Donald Trump and his influence on the strength of the USD, GBP would probably be much lower than this.

Oh dear! Just had a look now, and pre-trading movement shows it off the side of another cliff – it’s down at 1.200, probably as a result of Theresa May’s continued incompetence and determination to destroy the country.GBP vs USD - late 15 January

WE must remain in the EU. When will they realise this, and decide to overrule the halfwits who voted to leave?

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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. 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. 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.

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Nerve synapseI’ve updated this old post as it has attracted hits recently.

In spite of what some instructors claim – that people aren’t ready for their tests and have been taught incorrectly if they’re nervous – nerves are something that can have an adverse effect on the outcome of many pupils’ driving tests, no matter how good they normally are behind the wheel. Ironically, it’s the same nerves many ADIs experience when they start shitting themselves as soon as their standards check appointment arrives on the door mat.

Up to a point, nerves (or butterflies) are absolutely normal. Anyone who reckons that they don’t get them is either a liar (likely) or just way too cocky for their own good! There are some people, though, for whom nerves are massively debilitating.

A long time ago now, I picked up a new pupil who’d taken FIVE tests before she came to me, and she eventually passed on the FOURTH attempt with me. But I had never seen anyone who got it quite so bad on test day! One one occasion we had to stop during the journey to the test centre for her to be sick, and yet she was a great little driver. Since then, quite a few pupils have admitted to me that they’ve thrown up on the morning of their tests, most have trouble sleeping the night before, and others have had real problems with the shakes once out on test, admitting that they couldn’t control their legs during manoeuvres (I’ve witnessed that happen several times).

So you’ve got to be a real idiot to argue that it isn’t a problem.

Some time in the dim and distant past, one of my then nervous pupils went to see their GP and was prescribed beta blockers. The change was astounding, and since then I have advised anyone experiencing serious problems with their nerves to go and see their own GP and explain the situation. Most of the time, these are also prescribed the medicine – though there are occasions when it turns out they can’t have it for medical reasons, which is why it has to be your GP who decides. Just a word of advice: if you’re going to try it with your own doctor, whatever you do don’t say to something like “my instructor said…”  They hate that.

Beta blockers are the real deal and they definitely work for controlling extreme nerves. They can’t stop you being a crap driver – but they can ensure that you’re not a nervous crap driver, and therefore open up the way for you to learn things better.

At the other end of the scale you have things like Rescue Remedy and Kalms. You can buy these from anywhere and a lot of people swear by them. I’m sceptical, and here’s why. This clipping is from the Rescue Remedy website and it lists the ingredients:

RESCUE Remedy is made up of a five individual flower essences that help you cope with the different emotional aspects of stressful situations:

Rock Rose is used for terror and panic

Impatiens addresses irritation and impatience

Clematis is for inattentiveness and a lack of focus

Star of Bethlehem is for shock

Cherry Plum helps with irrational thoughts and a lack of self control

The history page adds this:

Wanting to make his remedies more available to the general public in the 1930s Dr Bach [Rescue Remedy inventor] enlisted the help of the Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy in Duke St, London. Under his guidance they began to make and sell the remedies from the Mother Tinctures he supplied them. In 1990 this relationship was formalised and since then Nelsons (the Nelsons Homeopathic Pharmacy’s parent company) has been responsible for bottling and distributing RESCUE Remedy.

So, Rescue Remedy is a pretty much homeopathic product (though not officially, as it doesn’t have the same rites performed over it during its manufacture as homeopathic products do). This means that even the most sensitive laboratory instruments would struggle to find even a single molecule of any of those so-called ‘active’ ingredients in a bottle, and a single drop of the stuff on someone’s tongue is hardly likely to banish nerves.

Of course, this doesn’t make Rescue Remedy a complete waste of money. If some people believe in this kind of thing and are susceptible to the placebo effect then you could say that it’s worth the £4.00 they’ll have paid for it.

CapsuleAt the time I wrote the original article, there was a thread on a Student Room forum where someone had asked for others’ experiences of using Rescue Remedy. The ignorance and misinformation there was astounding. Someone mentioned beta blockers, which elicited the response:

Ooh, interesting. How would I purchase Beta blockers?

That same person had previously been prescribed propanolol, but didn’t bother to collect the prescription. But propanolol IS a beta blocker – it’s the one GPs usually prescribe when someone goes to them to discuss their nerves.

Someone else posted:

Absolutely, and yea, beta blockers are very good. I’ve heard similar for Ritalin, never taken it though.

Beta blockers and Ritalin are at opposite ends of the spectrum, not least because Ritalin is a controlled substance which is open to abuse and dependency. You’re not supposed to take Ritalin if you suffer from nervousness or anxiety, and when you first start using it you are advised against operating any machinery which involves concentration. Ritalin also comes with a swathe of unpleasant and outright dangerous side effects, and you’d have to be stupid to take it unless it was for its intended purpose (and even that is questionable).

To make matters worse, some of my own pupils have been advised to have a few shots of vodka to help them (and I make it clear if I get a whiff of alcohol on lessons or test day they aren’t going in my car).

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Three Wise MonkeysThis is funny. You’ve probably come across the various ‘assistants’ which respond to your voice on today’s computers and smartphones. One of the biggest at the moment is Alexa, Amazon’s assistant, and it comes with the Amazon Echo – a device that personally I can’t see the point of, but it appears quite a few other people can.

The Echo is a smart speaker system which listens continuously and responds to your voice commands. It does apparently useful things like play music, create ‘to-do’ lists, sets alarms, and provide weather and travel information. The same stuff you can do with a few mouse clicks or thumb twiddles. Except that it costs about £150.

This story from America tells how a San Diego news station was reporting on how a six-year old child had cost her parents a lot of money by accidentally ordering things via the family’s Echo device. She apparently said “can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” and shortly a $160 dollhouse and 4 lbs of biscuits arrived in the post.

During the report, the reporter said “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse’.”

The first problem is that in order to trigger the Echo – specifically, Alexa, which is the assistant running on it – you have to address it by name – Alexa – and then it listens. The second problem is that it turns out voice-controlled online ordering is activated by default on the Echo account. The third problem is that anyone who is prepared to pay £150 for a small mono-speaker employing technology that tries to be human but isn’t is not going to be the sharpest blade in the knife drawer, and will not have changed any of the default settings.

So when the reporter uttered the words “Alexa ordered me a dollhouse”, Echo devices all over San Diego, which were also listening to the show, immediately ignored the grammatical tense and began ordering dollhouses for their owners. CW-6 News said “plenty” of viewers’ boxes had placed orders.

Which is another reason I don’t want one. Mind you, I did look into it a few months ago before I knew how much they cost.

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Peter SarstedtLast year seemed to have been a terrible year for legendary artists dying. It looks like 2017 isn’t going to give up on the trend, as I just read that Peter Sarstedt has died.

When I was very young, one of my earliest memories was of his hit ‘Where Do You Go To My Lovely’. In fact, I watched it on a BBC compilation just the other night.

Thanks for the great memories, Peter. RIP.

Incidentally, there will be people out there ready to take the piss when they see that video. A comment by someone under that YouTube video says it all, though.

I am 16 and this is one of my favourite songs along with Life on Mars, Sunny Afternoon and all the “classics”. To everyone on here commenting about how they remember buying this when it first came out – you are so fortunate to have experienced this live and at a time of such iconic music! Listening to these incredible songs almost makes me feel as if I lived a little slice of it myself… I’m not bashing the music of my generation, though, because I like lots of that too, but there is something timeless about this era which I really hope is treasured and never fades away.

There’s hope for humanity, after all.

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Learner car - front viewI covered this years ago when the blog was still young! It was around the time of the last big rush of people wanting to become driving instructors.

More recently, I pointed out that the current climate is ideal for new ADIs because there’s a lot of work around. However, being metaphorical about it for a moment, a summer is always followed by a winter. Brexit is effectively the autumn which will develop into a nuclear winter – one that’s likely to take hold within the next couple of years, and which will last for an entire generation or even longer.

But I digress. Someone found the blog today with the search term “how long does it take to get adi badge [sic]”. Maybe I shouldn’t read between the lines, but whoever asked that seems to be thinking about it all wrong. It comes across as being purely about getting money, not least because someone who is serious about becoming an ADI would already have an idea of what is involved.

You need to pass three exams to become an ADI: a theory test (Part 1), a test of your driving ability (Part 2), and a test of your teaching ability (Part 3). Putting aside the work involved to pass them, you could book a theory test for some time in the next few weeks. Then you’d be free to book the Part 2 test, which could be a few weeks later. Finally, you’d be free to book the Part 3, which could be a few weeks after that. In an ideal world, you could pass all three parts within a couple of months.

In reality, though, the waiting time for the Part 2 and Part 3 tests is likely to be anything up to 2-3 months depending on where you live (in some places it may be more). So realistically, even if you pass each one at your first attempt – and you can’t book the next stage until you’ve passed the previous one – you’d need about 6-7 months just to fit them all in.

The last time I looked, the pass rate even for Part 1 was shockingly low at around 50%. Part 2 was also around 50%, and Part 3 was around 35%. You can only have a maximum of three attempts at either Part 2 or Part 3 within two years of passing Part 1, otherwise you have to go through all three parts again once the two years are up. I’ve gone through this calculation before, but if 100 people start out intending to become ADIs, using these pass rate figures as a worst case, only 50 of them will go on to take Part 2, only 25 will take Part 3, and ultimately only 9 out of the original 100 will succeed in getting their green badge. I stress that this is a worst case scenario, but it isn’t that far off the reality. Becoming an ADI is not an easy ride.

Those who are successful are unlikely to pass all three tests first time. They might, of course, but most don’t. If the wait for Parts 2 and 3 tests in your area is 3 months, each additional attempt will add a further three months to your overall qualifying period. Even if someone passes Part 1 (which can be taken an unlimited number of times), if they end up having three attempts at both Parts 2 and 3 (which is not uncommon) then the overall qualification period will be over 18 months absolute minimum. If they fail three times within the two year window, they have to wait until the window closes before doing the whole thing all over again.

Those pass rates are the result of a combination of the ability of people taking the tests and the difficulty of the tests per se. The fact that they’re so low should be a strong indication of how much work is involved getting up to test standard, and also of the risks any prospective ADI is taking in choosing to embark on training where there is potentially a greater than 90% chance of failure.

That risk needs to be considered when you look at how much it is going to cost you to qualify. At the time of writing, the Part 1 test costs £81, and Parts 2 and 3 cost £111 each. Every new prospective ADI assumes that they will only take one attempt at each test and end up paying £300 to qualify – even though the statistics strongly suggest otherwise. One attempt at Part 1, and a more realistic three attempts at each of the others would end up costing about £750. Most people will end up spending closer to this for their tests than the lower figure. But this is just the cost of the testing, remember, and you’re going to need at least 40 hours of Part 3 training (likely to be charged at £30-£35 per hour, possibly more) and let’s say 10 hours for Part 2 (ditto). That adds up to around £1,700 for training on top of test fees, and even this is a bare minimum. Assuming you can pass without much training is fine when you’re signing along the dotted line to apply to be entered on to the register, but once your test is looming most people suddenly realise their naiveté and end up postponing it or wasting one of their three lives. Either way, they have to pay for more training.

It’s impossible to say definitely how much money you’ll end up spending – you may be one in a milion who literally does it for £300 – but the vast majority will end up risking several thousand pounds on something with a high risk of failure. It’ll take at least 6 months to pass, but probably up to a couple of years. And if you fail, the money and time are both gone – there are no refunds.

Your problems don’t end there, though. If you qualify, you’re going to have to get a car, insurance, and dual controls. If you were the one who asked the question I quoted earlier, then there’s a good chance that you’re the kind of person who is going to want to do everything on the cheap, so you won’t be on the road teaching the next day while you squirrel away trying to get a car. Furthermore, passing Part 3 doesn’t come with a full diary of pupils – when you decided to become an ADI you probably thought “Oooh! £25 times 40 hours equals money, money, money,” and no further than that. Now, and if you’re lucky, a couple of relatives or friends will have asked you to teach their kids. Assuming you’re not ‘doing someone a favour’ (let’s be honest: they probably expect it, and so you probably are), these will be worth about £1,800 in turnover over four months. I can almost see the spinning reels of £ signs in your eyes, but this money will have to cover your overheads, so you’ll be left with maybe £1,100 before tax (and scaling it up, it works out to an annual salary of well under £300 – yes, three hundred). So, you’re going to need tons more work – you need something like 30 hours a week to earn a living wage.

You may have gained an Oscar Nomination from your family for passing Part 3, but the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn. They’ve got hundreds of other ADIs to choose from, and they’re not going to be queuing outside your house. You’re going to have to build up slowly – certainly more slowly than your initial plan might have allowed for. It could take 6 months to two years to get a stable pupil base, and even then you will have to keep working at it otherwise it could all disappear almost overnight. One way or another, that’s going to cost money (or time, which in business is still money anyway). And a huge number of people fail miserably on this business side of the matter.

In summary, it could take two years to qualify, and a further two years to establish yourself. You might do it quicker, but you’d be crazy to assume that and risk capital on it. Far more likely is that you might not qualify at all, and even if you did you might still fail in business. You must allow for that. And if you’re just going to be doing it for the money you think you can earn, do yourself a favour and forget about it right now.

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They Live! - movie screenshotIt’s funny, but you can always recognise a newly-qualified ADI. They know everything, and believe everything.

My last instructor…

In all the years I’ve been doing this job I have never – not once – had a pupil come to me and say “my old instructor got rid of me because I kept cancelling lessons or not showing up”, or any other explanation which puts any sort of blame on the speaker. And yet you get new ADIs expressing their shock when the pupil trots out their alternative explanation for what probably really happened. They believe every word of it.

I’ve got one at the moment (well, not anymore, but he doesn’t know yet), who arranged his first lesson with me for 7.30pm one evening about a week before Christmas. I texted him the day before to remind him, turned up the next night five minutes early, texted him that I was outside, and got a reply 10 minutes later: “can you pick me up from Nottingham, I’m still in town?” My mum had been rushed into hospital a few days before and I needed to go and see her, so I couldn’t extend the lesson time beyond what we’d already agreed – and I didn’t want to just on principle. I rearranged with him for a few days later (without charging him for the first one) and that lesson went ahead. We booked another lesson for the Christmas week – and I mean that he had specifically asked for the lesson on that date. I texted him a couple of hours before to remind him, and back came the reply: “can you do tomorrow [New Year’s Eve] instead? I’ve just literally come back off holiday”. I was fully booked and told him so, and I’ve not responded to his message asking if I had any free time next week because I know he works full time, and will end up wanting another late evening one, which – again on principle – I’m not happy doing. Oh yes, and when I asked him about his lesson goals, he wanted to pass his test “before the end of January”. He can find someone else.

Just about every learner I’ve ever taken on who has had lessons previously has had something bad to say about their last instructor. This one will undoubtedly have one ready for whoever gets him next – and if the ink is still wet on their green badge they’ll believe every word.

It can get really sinister, though. I live in dread of some retard making a false accusation against me just to ‘get even’ over some perceived slight. I notice on a forum at the moment a shiny new ADI is in the throes of publicising a particular Facebook page where some lunatic has reacted to his girlfriend’s issues with her instructor by plastering his name all over it and making accusations of a criminal nature (the accusations from both him and the typical prats who use social media are criminal, and if there’s any truth in them then they’re criminal on the instructor’s side). The shiny new ADI believes every word of it, even though it is effectively nothing to do with him and he knows nothing of the true details, which are contradictory to say the least, and he is prepared to take it further. You get lunatics on all sides of the fence, unfortunately!

He shouted at me…

When two people meet for the first time an initial bond or chemistry – attractive, repulsive, or neutral – is established based on each person’s make up. For mature people, this changes with time as they get to know each other, but for others – and especially if they are immature – this chemistry persists relatively unaltered for the entire time the partnership lasts. There are quite a few 17-year olds out there who are emotionally little more than half that age, and they see their driving instructor as both ‘an adult’ and ‘a teacher’ – two things to be hated at all costs – which immediately sets up a bad chemistry.

Emotionally immature people tend to want what I privately refer to as ‘pink’ lessons where, no matter how many people (including themselves and you) they just tried to remove from the gene pool,  all they want to hear is “that was good, take your time, well done”. Anything else will be deemed ‘shouting’. Fortunately for them there are instructors out there who can provide such ‘pink’ lessons, and who  are prepared to put up with immaturity in spite of the risks associated with putting immature people on the roads. I’m not one of them. The vast majority of pupils – even those who say they are nervous at the start – quickly gain confidence, and if lessons remain ‘pink’ for very long they start to feel stifled. I pick up quite a few who have jumped ship because they felt they were being held back. It probably wasn’t anything malicious or deliberate on the other instructor’s part – they’ve just ended up as victims of reality by trying to live up to their ‘friendly and patient’ claims no matter what!

Another thing to remember is that there’s a big difference between actual ability and perceived ability among nervous pupils. They tend to gauge their driving skills based on how they feel, and not on what they can actually do. Years ago I had a girl who was a brilliant driver but she hated driving, and her end-of-lesson assessments were always negative until we agreed that the baseline was how her driving compared with the previous lesson and not whether she had enjoyed herself.

In many cases, a pupil’s beef about not making progress with their last instructor might have been valid, though not for the reasons they have identified. Reading between the lines, some ADIs (as already noted) attempt to remain ‘pink’ at all costs and end up holding pupils back. Others appear to miss the signs and end up stepping on sensitive toes – and get accused of ‘shouting’. I can always tell if someone has been taught correctly based on how they drive, and in most cases they’ve been taught perfectly well. Any perceived problem seems to boil down to relevance rather than correctness.

You took them where…?

It makes me smile when I see a shiny new ADI criticising those who have been doing the job for a lot longer they have. Ironically, many of us have been doing it for longer than some of these will manage before giving up unless they wise up quickly.

Apparently, you shouldn’t take a pupil anywhere near a [insert detail here] for at least 30 hours. Examples of things that go in the blank space are:

  • dual carriageway
  • roundabout
  • zebra crossing
  • crossroads
  • ‘major road’

The nice thing about this one is that you get it right from the horse’s mouth. And it is utter bollocks!

A few years ago I had a 17-year old pupil who passed his test after only 14½ hours of lessons. On his first lesson, with no previous experience in a car or on a motorcycle, after the initial controls and moving off/stopping exercises we moved from the side roads to bigger ones. Then we moved on to dual carriageways, and ended up doing a 25-mile round trip down the A46 (as close to a motorway as you can get without actually going on one). He handled it all as if he’d had many more hours of training, and was ecstatic at the end. Although he was undoubtedly the best (so far), I’ve had many others who picked everything up almost straight away, and passed in under 30 hours.

On average, at least 10% of my pupils are quite capable of handling larger roads – including dual carriageways – within an hour of commencing lessons. Well over 90% can handle it in the 2nd or 3rd hours. It should be said that a small but significant percentage can’t handle dual carriageways or various other situations in a way I am completely happy with even after 40 hours, and a smaller number still can’t be trusted even after 60 hours! It’s how the world works, but if you keep trundling around car parks and quiet industrial estates with people who really could be out in rush hour traffic, you’re not going to keep hold of them for very long – but thanks for keeping me in work, anyway!

OMG! You used the dual controls…?

Similar to the above, and based on the fact that many Part 3 trainers put it across to PDIs that you should only use the dual controls in an emergency. This is also bollocks, especially in the real world.

The dual controls are there to be used as needed. They’re great for demonstrating things, and as I have mentioned several times elsewhere, if I don’t trust someone in a given situation then my foot will hover over the brake or clutch pedals or even shadow them. Preserving my life and theirs comes way higher on my list of priorities than gambling on whether they’re going to brake in time when they’re already doing it later than I’d like and haven’t responded to prompting.

I blame the examiner…

A lot of those I take on have previously failed one or more tests, and it can be annoying when they reveal they’ve got another one booked already, even before I’ve seen them drive. In quite a few cases, their standard of driving is barely half way towards what I’d consider a typical test standard (indeed, most have only taken literally half the official average number of hours – and some of those turn out to be the types who would require more than the average anyway). The vast majority have something negative to say about their examiner – “he made me nervous”, “he was rude when I stalled”, and so on.

When someone tells me they failed for stalling, they will usually omit important details like “it was on a steep hill, I didn’t brake, we were rolling back faster and faster, and there were cars behind us. Then I stalled two more times when I tried to get going and the lights changed to red again. I stalled because I’d put it in 3rd gear and didn’t realise when I tried to get going again.”

It’s hard to be ‘pink’ (see definition above) when you can see your life flashing in front of your eyes, and I’d imagine this applies to examiners as much as anyone else. Let’s face it: if you’re an examiner, and you have to examine someone who perhaps shouldn’t be there in the first place who does something like this, you’re going to shit yourself! A driving test is not a driving lesson, and people taking them are assumed to be adults, so I, for one, would not condemn an examiner for being abrupt if something like that happened. I consider this when I get the story from a pupil. Actually, some pupils drive me nuts when they stall and then sit looking at me as if to say “what just happened?” as though they have never stalled before, as we enter freefall backwards down a steep slope. I can imagine how examiners must sometimes feel. Newly-qualified ADIs ought to think of this before they set off on their career-long crusade against DVSA.

They got out of the car?

Driving lessons are not the same as real world driving, especially when you are teaching someone something for the first time. When reversing round a corner, for example, you may well sit there for much longer than you would if you were just doing it for real, quite possibly with a few stalls mixed in for good measure. It’s not a crime.

Nor is it a crime if you ask a pupil to get out and have a look at the corner for training purposes (if it’s done safely and legally), and newly-qualified ADIs should bear this in mind before they start shooting their mouths off if they see another instructor doing it. You should never reverse if you aren’t sure what’s behind you, and getting out to check – safely and legally – is an accepted way of being sure. For the same reason, if you’re trying to get someone to understand how what they see in the mirror reflects where the car is in relation to a corner, what better way than getting out (safely and legally) to have a quick look? You wouldn’t do it on a busy major road, but on a quiet residential street or deserted industrial estate…?

If you pick up a pupil who tells you they did this with their last instructor, don’t assume that that instructor advised that they should always do it regardless of location or experience. It was probably their own way of teaching a new skill.

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