Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Originally posted in 2009. Updated for early 2017, and again in late 2017.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum last year someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

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

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy (Nottingham is certainly no exception here) means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

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

You see, having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Which makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den, I suppose.

Those of us who remain here on Planet Earth will carry on doing things the way they do now: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

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

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

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

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

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

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

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

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

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do lessons in snow cost more?

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

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

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

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

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

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

Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes. When we had that first heavy snowfall a few years ago I cancelled a lot of lessons to begin with, but in later falls I cancelled less. I hardly cancelled any the second winter with heavy snow. This year (2017), I have cancelled two lessons on the morning of 10 December as the snow has come in, mainly because I don’t know how bad it is going to be just yet, the pupils in question live on sloped roads, and that Highways England has advised not to travel unless it is essential around this way.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

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

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the roads. Most recently, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was very frosty and the side roads were icy. I also had one cancelled due to fog.

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

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

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

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

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it – it’s on the cover note that no one bothers to read which goes with the confirmation email.

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

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1815, 1915, 2015, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And it doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

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

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

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

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

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Fossil fishVarious alerts from DVSA over the last week. These are summarised here. Not so much a “strike” but a “work to rule”.

It’s the same advice as usual. Not all examiners are union members, and not all those who are will necessarily be involved. Turn up for your test as normal, get a free rearranged date if it doesn’t go ahead. They also include advice to consider changing your test now to avoid problems – which sounds more ominous.

The action is scheduled to start 23 November 2017 and no end date is given.

From what DVSA has said, the action is primarily a continuation of that we experienced over a year ago, but with the added complication of the new driving test due to become active on 4 December. The union is apparently “trying to link the dispute with health and safety risks” associated with the new test.

As I have written elsewhere, I have no issue with the additions to the new test per se. However, I have huge issues with the removal of the turn in the road and corner reverse manoeuvres. The new manoeuvres are so simple that my cat could do them, and they in no way represent a like-for-like replacement. But they are not dangerous.

As I’ve said before, the PCS union is a fossil, and thank God that only a small number of examiners are thick enough to belong to it.

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Cannabis plantsI just saw this on the BBC website. Apparently, someone dumped some bin bags full of cannabis plants at the side of the road near Harrogate in Yorkshire. Police are asking anyone with information to come forward.

It made me smile. You see, about 3 years ago, I’d stopped on a quiet road between lessons to grab a sandwich and do some emails, and I was aware of some dumped vegetation in the gateway I’d parked in. I did a double-take, and realised it was three large bales of cannabis plants – probably several kilos.

I phoned the police and they weren’t interested, citing something about only being interested if the plants had buds on them. They said if I was concerned I should call the council, though they didn’t have a number. I looked one up and called. After about 50 phone options – none of which came even close to covering such a find – I plumped for one which sounded as though they might be able to help. I tried to explain what I’d found, then the line went dead.

I thought: f**k them. I didn’t try again.

Over a period of about three months, the bales gradually decomposed and that was that.

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As I’ve mentioned in the About Me section, I seriously considered becoming a teacher before I went down the route of being a driving instructor. I like teaching people.

I saw an advert on the TV just now from the Department for Education pushing its Get Into Teaching campaign.

I think it’s fair to say, judging from those in the clip, that I wouldn’t be able to do it now. The advert clearly implies that only women and possibly those from minority groups are eligible. The video above carries interviews with seven people (six women, one male). The second video in the series has ten interviews (8 women, two men).

It’s funny, isn’t it? If it had been the other way round, World War III would probably have started.

I hate positive discrimination. It is usually far more deliberate than the usual type everyone gets worked up about.

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I’ve not done one of these for quite some time, but I am currently being driven to distraction by the most annoying TV advert of the year. It’s for TUI Holidays, and it features an irritating, gap-toothed woman, and a thin, whiny female voice singing an already-irritating song (“Ain’t Nobody”, by Rufus and Chaka Khan). Apparently, the actress in the ad, Bethany Louise Slater, is also the singer.

It’s made worse by the fact that TUI appears to be sponsoring Sky One this Christmas, so the bloody thing is on at least twice every 5-7 minutes – i.e. at the start and end of every ad break.

Edit: And it’s not just me. TV Ad Music refers to the music thus:

Such a shame, then, that they’ve chosen to soundtrack the ad with a terribly insipid cover version of… The trend for anaemic covers of classic songs in TV ads is long established…

Campaign describes it:

Turkey of the week… It’s a cheesy ad with poor singing and dancing…

And a lot of others.

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This is an old article from 2010, but it’s had a run of hits recently, and I have updated it.

Someone has found the blog several times on the search term “abandoned tests”. I’m not exactly sure what they were looking for, but here’s a bit of information that is probably relevant.

I’ve had several abandoned tests in my career as an ADI. No matter how you look at it, they are embarrassing for you and traumatic for your pupil. One of them was around 2006 – the candidate tried to drive into a No Entry street leading off a roundabout after being told to “follow the road”.

When I discussed it with him afterwards he said that all that was going through his mind was “go straight ahead unless told otherwise” and that he’d seen the signs, but that instruction just ended up taking precedence in his head. He had been one of those learners who takes things in very slowly, even though he was a very intelligent lad (very good at Maths, and went on to study it at University). Once he’d made the error, he just lost it and the examiner pulled him over and abandoned the test. I had to walk about ¾ mile to find him where the examiner had stopped the car. He passed his test soon afterwards.

Another one was in 2008. That pupil was extremely slow, and although he was up to test standard, I don’t think his mind was ever going to be able to stay there. He got the Bay Park exercise right at the start of his test, and finished just on the line (which isn’t an automatic fail). He leaned out the door and said to the examiner “have I failed?”, and the examiner replied “I’ll tell you at the end”. Unfortunately, his mind was so one-tracked he was still thinking about the Bay Park when he attempted to drive into the gate at the end of the Test Centre driveway. The examiner abandoned it there and then, less than 5 minutes in, and about 5 metres outside the test centre. I vividly remember the examiner asking “is he on anything?”

In another example from 2013, a very nervous pupil made a simple mistake – and one which might not have been a test fail in the first place – but then cracked up and couldn’t continue. She was hysterical from what the examiner told me. She passed easily the 2nd time (which I had expected her to do the 1st).

And my most recent one was earlier this year, with another nervous pupil who had found learning difficult. The test hit her so badly that she pretty much forgot how to drive (by this time, instructors could go out on tests, and I was sitting in on that one). She’s taking lessons with me again right now.

Although you always blame yourself, you can’t control what a candidate does when they are out there with the examiner. It all depends on what kind of people they are. All the you can do is teach them as well as you possibly can.

In a nutshell, when an examiner abandons a test, he/she will leave the pupil with the car and inform you of the location when they get back to the centre. Sometimes (from what I’ve been told), he will walk back with the pupil and have a chat. If you’re sitting in, you can take the examiner back to the test centre. The examiner cannot supervise a learner due to insurance cover, which is why he cannot bring them back once the test is terminated and the candidate becomes a learner again. Having said that, the examiners up here will make every effort to take the test to its conclusion back at the centre, and they will even dissuade candidates from terminating tests as long as there is no danger to them or the public.

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OktoberfestA few years ago, on a now-defunct forum, one of the resident fossils took issue with comments I had made on the page where I provide the PST marking sheets for download. It was around the time DVSA (or DSA, as it then was) introduced CCL (client-centred learning) as part of the expected skills of an ADI. I had pointed out that since the Standards Check was going to be looking for evidence of CCL, and since learners were being taught using it, at some point the same approach would have to be used for ADI qualification on the Part2 and 3 tests.

My only point at the time was to indicate that once I had access to the necessary marking sheets for the new test, then I would make them available.

DVSA announced in 2016 that the Part 3 test would indeed be changing – an outcome so obvious that I can take no credit whatsoever for predicting it several years earlier. However, DVSA is not renowned for its efficiency or constancy, and although I cannot now recall the precise sequence of events (i.e. delays) to the change since its announcement, this latest email indicates that they still haven’t got the necessary Parliamentary approval, and the proposed start date of “late October” has been put back yet again.

No dates are given, but since any ADI with a test booked needs to be aware of what is happening, it would be logical to assume that the best-estimate start date for the new test has got to be at least as far away as the current longest waiting time between booking and taking a test. In other words, several months – and that’s several months from the date Parliamentary approval is gained, which may not be for several months in itself!

In short, don’t expect the new Part 3 testing regime to come into effect until 2018 (that’s my estimate). At least 2018 (that’s my cynicism).

Fair enough, I could be wrong, and they might get approval tomorrow, but I doubt it. Taking the Part 3 is stressful enough for people as it is. Knowing that the test was changing will have meant they will have been trained specifically for it, so to be told that it’s old-style PSTs is really going to screw them up.

On the one hand, it’s all the government’s fault for being so inefficient. But on the other hand, DVSA should not have announced a semi-specific start date before Parliamentary approval had been gained. It was obvious that it simply wasn’t going to happen to a fixed timescale.

It also makes me wonder when learners will finally be allowed on motorways. That also needs Parliamentary approval, and back in August it was expected “in 2018” (the ‘first half’ being implied). At this rate we’ll be lucky if it happens during the current government, which takes us right back to where we were before.

And these are the same twats trying to take us out of Europe. Make up a suitable sentence using the words “piss”, “up”, and “brewery”.

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White ElephantAn email alert from DVSA says that they are creating:

…a new team of dedicated Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) examiners, who’ll be conducting ADI qualifying tests and standards checks 5 days a week.

No dates or timings, no names, no locations. Just this email.

I’m not sure what to make of it just yet. Most of the stuff this “team” is going to do I could already obtain from my test centre if I simply phoned up (or went in) and asked. I don’t like being cynical towards DVSA, but this has all-cost-and-no-gain written all over it. And it uses the word “team”, which is never good.

We shall see.

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Horse's rear endI originally wrote this way back in 2010, and it was only a simple couple of paragraphs thrown out following a search term used to find the blog. Since then, I get periodic hits on the same search term: driving examiners are arseholes. I had another today.

Assuming that it’s a candidate who is searching, the lack of a question format suggests they are seeking like-minded people to rant with, rather than to actually ask if examiners are arseholes. The person using the term probably thinks they’ve been hard done by on their test after having failed, and is seeking to blame the examiner – quite possibly, in my own experience, in spite of ample evidence from their drive that the examiner was right.

On the other hand, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that it is an instructor who has taken exception to one of his pupils failing their test. I’ve seen more than one take to a forum to vent their anger at a test fail they disagreed with (at least two in the last month).

Examiners are not arseholes.

The purpose of the driving test is to ensure that a candidate meets the bare minimum requirement to be allowed out on the roads unsupervised. The pass ‘mark’ is actually quite low, which means that anything below it is going to result in a fail. That’s the way it is, and nothing the candidate or instructor can do is going to change it.

If you don’t check your mirrors a few times when you should have, you will accrue faults, but miss them one time too many and you will fail. You will fail if you miss the check even once if there is someone behind or alongside you. The same is true of blind spot checks, and observations at junctions. You will get away with poor checks up to a point, but if it’s obvious you have a problem in this area you will get a serious fault (and if there’s someone behind or coming towards you, you will fail immediately).

You’re expected to stop at amber or red traffic lights. If you could have done safely, but don’t, you will fail. Furthermore, you’re expected to understand how traffic lights work – green filter arrows, etc. – and if you sit there holding up traffic when you should be moving off, then you’ll fail for that, too. If you completely miss traffic lights, or drive in such a way that it looks like you have, you will fail.

If you don’t stay in lane – demonstrate good “lane discipline” – you will accrue faults. If you weave across lanes when someone is behind you, you will fail. If you don’t realise you are doing it – and let’s face facts here, if you knew, you wouldn’t be – you will fail. If you change lanes without checking your mirrors first, and signalling if necessary, you will fail.

If you pull out in front of someone, you will fail. If you did it because you thought you “could make it”, you have no excuse whatsoever. If you stall you will accrue faults, and one stall too many will result in a fail. If you cause a hold up by stalling even once, you will almost certainly fail for that alone.

If the speed limit is 30mph, it doesn’t mean you can drive at 40 and expect to get away with it. Anything illegal is a fail. And if the speed limit is 60mph and the road is clear, doing 30 is causing a hold up and you’ll fail for driving like that. You need to see the road signs, and be confident enough to drive according to what they tell you.

If you drive too fast for given situations, you are going to accrue faults. If you approach a junction or a bend too fast, or slow down too late, if the examiner uses the brake because you haven’t, you will fail. Even if you think you were going to brake, if you were too late you will fail. Harsh braking will accrue faults, and one time too many will get you a fail. Do it in front of someone and you’ll fail immediately.

If you don’t stop at a STOP junction – and I mean stop absolutely dead – you will fail. It is illegal not to stop at these, and slowing to a crawl, no matter how slow it is, is NOT stopping.

If you mangle the gears every time you change them, you will accrue faults. If you use the wrong gear you will accrue faults. Do it one time to many and you will fail. Do it once at the wrong time – going into 1st when you wanted 3rd in moving traffic, for example – and you will fail.

This list is by no means complete. But the bottom line is that if you do any of those things and fail your test, it is because of your poor driving skills – not because the examiner is an arsehole.

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Driver Location SignsI originally wrote this back in 2012, but it has had a run of hits lately so I thought I’d update it.

Although the official line suggests otherwise, I’m sure these signs were around long before I became a driving instructor, and their exact purpose was always a bit of a mystery to me.

You’ve probably seen them. You get them mainly on motorways and they consist of a rectangular sign with yellow writing. There is the name of the motorway, a letter (A, B, J, K, L, or M), and a number. On the M1, for example, if you’re heading one way the letter will be ‘B’, whereas heading the other way it will be ‘A’. The numbers change by 0.5 between each sign.

I had guessed that they had something to do with being able to pinpoint precise locations, and that the signs were 500m apart so the number therefore represented a distance in kilometres. I hadn’t seen them explained anywhere, but it wasn’t until I started teaching people to drive – especially on Pass Plus motorway lessons – that I bothered to find out more.  The trigger was a pupil who knew someone who was a paramedic, and who had been told that these signs “marked the distance to the end of the hard shoulder”.

That explanation didn’t make any sense. It was obviously wrong, since the signs appear even when there is no hard shoulder, and the numbers had no connection whatsoever with the end of it when there was.

Part of the difficulty in finding out what they were for was not knowing what they were called. They don’t appear in the current Highway Code, and Googling for “signs with yellow writing on motorways” or something similar didn’t help (certainly not at the time I became interested , anyway). I emailed the local Police traffic department and that was where I discovered they were called Driver Location Signs.

It turns out that they are “new signs on motorways” as of 2008. That still bugs me, because I’m damned sure they’ve been around longer than that, but maybe I’m imagining it. The Highways Agency has confirmed to me that they were “trialled as early as 2003”, but my memory says they were around even in the 90s. But that doesn’t matter.

Wikipedia covers them in more detail. The AA in slightly less detail. And this one is probably the most detailed.

They consist of three lines of text. The top line is the route name (e.g. M1, M6, M25, etc.). The second line is the carriageway identifier, A or B, and in spite of what The AA says they’re not necessarily London-centric (i.e. just think in terms of ‘A’ being the carriageway going in one direction, and ‘B’ the opposite carriageway going the other). If there are parallel but physically separated carriageways, those running with A are labelled ‘C’, and those running with B are labelled ‘D’. The letter ‘J’ denotes a slip road OFF carriageway A, and ‘K’ a slip road ON TO it. The letter ‘L’ is the slip road OFF carriageway B, and ‘M’ is the slip road ON TO it. Other letters can apparently be used at complex junctions. Finally, the third line shows the distance in kilometres from a known point (usually the start of the road), and is called “the chainage”.

The signs can only be a maximum distance of 500m apart, which is what they normally are, but if there is an obstruction they can be 400m or 300m apart (this explains why they don’t all end in 0.5 km). And they CAN be seen on some newer and very long dual carriageways. There’s a lot more to their placement, but this is a basic summary.

The AA likes to have them quoted when people report breakdowns. I have always assumed that they’re most useful to the emergency services.

There is a Highways Agency leaflet which explains them in simple terms, available to download from Greater Manchester Police.

Knowing what they are and how they work – and being able to explain it – is going to be important when we are eventually allowed to take learners on to motorways (in 2018, if that comes to pass).

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