Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

TickWell done Tony, who passed first time today with just 5 driver faults. He holds the record for being my longest-serving pupil – more than four years since his first lesson.

Actually, I didn’t hear from him for three and a half years somewhere in the middle of that because of work and money issues, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

Mind you, that car he bought when he first started lessons hasn’t been moved off his driveway in the intervening period, so I think his bank balance is in for a bit of a surprise when it meets the service bill!

He’s been fun to teach and is a very competent driver.

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We have several silver birch trees, and the last couple of years have seen them beginning to drop their leaves as early as June! We were worried, and all the Googling for a solution led to numerous inconclusive answers (even from experts) that didn’t seem to fit in with our problem at all.

Miracle Gro Azalea FertiliserThe most common suggestion was that it was due to the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches).  While this might be a problem in North America – and in some places in the UK if you believe what you read – we had none of the symptoms other than leaf drop, which can obviously occur for a lot of other reasons. Nor were we growing our trees in a swamp or semi-desert – two other suggestions from various high-profile experts.

Anyway, before you go looking for someone who can apply the necessary controlled pesticide which kills Birch Borers, or digging your trees up in order to plant Mangroves or Desert Palms, try this first. It’s based on the KISS principle – keep it simple, stupid. I’d lay odds that this is your problem, and not an invasion by North American bugs.

Buy some Azalea fertiliser – it is available in virtually all garden centres, and online (including eBay, where I bought mine). It only costs about £8 for enough to last a couple of years. Make it up as directed on the pack, and spread it around your trees. Make sure you cover a wide area, because the roots extend outwards quite a long way.

Assuming that you don’t have a Bronze Birch Borer infestation – and I bet most of you don’t – and haven’t planted your trees in a semi-aquatic environment, you will see a dramatic improvement within days.

I’ve written this very late in the season, but as I say our trees’ leaves were yellowing back in June almost before they’d fully opened. We were having to sweep them up daily. There were no catkins, either (these usually appear before the leaves).

After a single application of the fertiliser in June, the leaves stopped dropping almost next day, and within about a week the entire canopy was a healthy green. We didn’t have to sweep up a single leaf the whole summer after that. The trees also threw out some catkins.

In the end, we simply hadn’t been looking after our trees properly.

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Note this updated policy on the GOV.UK website. You may remember that I wrote about this topic back in February 2014.

Cameras fitted for insurance purposes will be allowed providing they:

  • are external facing and do not film the inside of the vehicle
  • do not record audio from inside the vehicle

DVSA will under no circumstances accept, comment on, or review audio or video footage provided by a test candidate or third party to facilitate a challenge to the conduct of any theory or practical test or its result. Any footage received in connection with an allegation of criminal activity or intent will be referred to the police.

I notice that certain individuals are claiming that this is evidence of the DVSA back-pedalling. It isn’t. You couldn’t record tests before and you can’t record them now. Nor would any attempt to retrospectively influence a test decision be given any consideration by the DVSA. Anyone stupid enough to try and take things that far would have to go through the courts using private and very expensive routes. Mind you, some people are that stupid.

It should also be noted that DVSA has stated:

If an examiner believes a test is being filmed they will ask the candidate to switch off the camera, if it can’t be switched off or the candidate refuses, the examiner will terminate the test.

Personally, I think DVSA is being too lenient and has merely bowed to pressure from the National Clown Associations. On the other hand, for all practical purposes DVSA has made no real concessions, yet the Associations appear to be well chuffed with their “victory”.

I just hope DVSA realises how far some of the Chief Clowns might be prepared to go if they get hold of video footage of contested tests from any angle.

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No word from the DVSA yet (see addendum below), but Vauxhall has said that any Corsa or Adam registered since May 2014 should not be driven until it has been inspected and repaired if necessary.

Apparently, a component in the steering system “falls below Vauxhall’s quality standards”. You can interpret that any way you want, but what it really means is that a faulty part has been used. From tomorrow (Saturday, 27 September 2014) – and they probably mean sometime during the day, and not at 1 minute after midnight – you will be able to check to see if your vehicle is one of those affected by going to Vauxhall’s website and clicking the relevant link. In the meantime, their advice is not to drive it.

It is likely that DVSA will refuse to conduct driving tests in affected vehicles without proof of inspection and/or appropriate remedial work. Any ADI conducting lessons needs to be aware of the interim warning not to drive the car.

DVSA has issued the anticipated response to the recall notice as of Monday 29 September 2014, which can be read here. In a  nutshell, they say:

If your vehicle is affected, you won’t be able to take it on test without written proof that the vehicle has been checked by the manufacturer and remedial work carried out if needed.

DVSA examiners will accept documents from the vehicle manufacturer or the manufacturer’s appointed representative or dealership.

They also point out that any tests taking place within the next 5 working days can be cancelled and rearranged free of charge. Outside of that, normal rules apply.

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I saw this on the morning news and it gave me a few unpleasant flashbacks – to work, not school!

Ofsted has reported that persistent low-level classroom disruption is damaging pupils’ learning and long-term prospects. Ofsted says that leadership and authority is lacking, so the problem isn’t being addressed. As you’d probably expect, the namby pamby head teachers don’t agree. The BBC article lists the following as examples of disruptive behaviour:

  • Disturbing other children (38%)
  • Calling out (35%)
  • Not getting on with work (31%)
  • Fidgeting or fiddling with equipment (23%)
  • Not having the correct equipment (19%)
  • Purposely making noise to gain attention (19%)
  • Answering back or questioning instructions (14%)
  • Using mobile devices (11%)
  • Swinging on chairs (11%)

The morning news showed several dramatized examples, one of which really triggered the unpleasant flashbacks for me. You see, you don’t need to be a teenager to be distracted by people with issues.

In the final years of my employment in the rat race, I was plagued by people who were socially deficient. We had been forced to adopt an open-plan office arrangement – successively losing a dedicated office, then 5 foot cubicle walls, and finally ending up with secretarial walls that barely extended above desk level. At the time I left, they hadn’t quite got to the stage of mandatory sharing of underwear and bodily fluids, but that’s the direction it seemed to be heading.

On my island of four desks, I had my boss to my left. He had this habit of licking out his coffee mug (inside and out) complete with slurping every time he had a drink. To my right was this guy who made sandwiches at his desk, and he would get butter all over his keyboard, mouse (which I was responsible for maintaining), and workstation area. One time there was fish roe – the cheap caviar kind – all over it as well.Fish Roe

He was not computer literate and was a one-finger typist. The combination of sticking keys and his inept typing literally shook the desk group every time he hit a key, and God help you when he decided to delete a block of text… backspace, backspace, backspace, backspace… It was like an earthquake.

He used to eat vegetables from his father’s allotment – one whole lettuce, one whole bell pepper, one whole parsnip, etc. at a time – as though they were fruits. He would bite ravenously into oranges, apples, and pomegranates. The juice was everywhere. One time he apparently climbed into his car pooler’s car one morning with an opened tin of pilchards for putting on sandwiches later that day.

Then, directly opposite me, was a hummer. It took me months to figure out where the annoying background noise was coming from, but I eventually nailed it. It turned out that when he was at his workstation he just hummed all the time. An annoying, low-pitched, almost constant hum.

On a neighbouring desk island another colleague was clumsy and heavy-handed. She was only happy when she wasn’t getting her hands dirty, and therefore spent a lot of time in and out of stationery cupboards and drawers. It was slam-bang-slam-bang whenever was around. She knew it annoyed me and would simper “sorry, Fergus” every time she did it or heard me tut.

About the same distance away, but in a totally separate department (it was open-plan, remember) on another desk group, there was a buyer who conducted every single phone call on full-volume speakerphone. She listened to all her voicemails using it, and if she called someone (which buyers do a lot) she would similarly use the speakerphone while she rummaged loudly in cupboards waiting for someone to answer. When they didn’t (which people who buyers call tend to also do a lot) she would just let it ring and ring until it cut off, and then redial. She’d do this almost constantly when she was at her desk. When she had to go out for a meeting, she doused herself in that cheap Impulse deodorant, which floated around the office via the air-handling system for an hour or more.

So I can fully understand how bad behaviour in the classroom can have a detrimental effect on the education of children. It’s just a shame that no one can take the problem seriously in the workplace. None of my ineffectual and incompetent managers would.

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Mine’s already on pre-order from the Rush Backstage Club. There will be an R40 boxed set released in November, featuring over two hours of unseen footage and a couple of never-before heard songs from the early days.

I am convinced this is a precursor to the announcement of an R40 world tour in 2015.

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This story has been all over the news today. The iPhone 6 was only released last week, but there are numerous reports coming in of the phone bending when it is in people’s pockets.Bent iPhone 6

TechRadar appears to be trying to skim over the issue, but they do have a point when they say that withstanding someone’s fat arse on top of it while crammed into a back pocket isn’t something that you will find on the spec sheet.

A few months ago one of my pupils got an HTC One M8 – one of the sexiest phones on the market. I’ve got one, and I’ve treated the screen with a special liquid coating to protect it. My phone is in a luxury leather case, and I have it on a lanyard and only ever keep it round my neck or in a breast pocket. My pupil, on the other hand, kept his uncased and stuffed in his pocket with his keys and loose change!The HTC One M8 is curved

Most of my younger pupils have iPhones. They are a status symbol, of course, although they are also vastly inferior to an increasing number of other phones on the market today (the HTC One M8 included). But status symbol or not, the physical condition of most of the phones I see is unbelievable. They have cracked and scratched screens as a result of being shoved into tight trouser pockets – and because of being frequently dropped.

As far as the iPhone 6 is concerned, TechRadar says that any phone will bend if you apply enough force. Well, that’s only true if you start talking about extreme forces. What they fail to mention is that the iPhone 6 is flat, whereas the M8 – which is also constructed out of aluminium – has a curved back. This curvature gives a huge boost in overall strength when a perpendicular force is applied. It’s a bit like building a bridge with an arch alongside one which is simply rectangular. The arched one can support much more traffic (and it is why the arch has been used for more than 3,000 years in such constructions).

TechRadar tiptoes around the likelihood of a design flaw. However, the rectangular design and thinness of the iPhone is a design flaw. You can only go so far with thinness before distortion becomes a distinct possibility as a result of forces which thicker versions could withstand with ease. It would appear that the iPhone 6 is one of those things that is only sexy until you touch it – at which point the chances of breaking it increase dramatically.

This story comes hot on the heels of another series of Apple cock-ups following the recent iOS update.

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A new series of The Undriveables started on ITV this week. You can catch it for the usual limited period on the ITV Player (you’ll have to put up with the adverts).The Undriveables

This first episode featured an older guy who was actually pretty much typical of his age group, and who responded well to instruction once his faults were corrected. He passed his test after the week-long session. The episode also featured a middle-aged woman who was a different matter altogether.

Just the act of driving a car induced fits of severe trembling (and I mean she was in absolute panic). At one point, and for almost no apparent reason, she had to stop and be physically sick. In another segment she was driving perfectly well, then suddenly panicked and had to stop again. When she took her test it was abandoned. It appears that she hit a kerb hard, then went to pieces again.

As an aside, I once had a middle-aged pupil who simply couldn’t coordinate the clutch, brake, and gas pedals. She couldn’t steer a straight line and change gear at the same time. And whenever traffic lights changed suddenly in front of us she’d slam on the brake and stall the car. She had the attention span and spatial awareness of a gnat! I had tried to persuade her to switch to automatic lessons quite early on because of finances and these pedal issues – and it was clear that they weren’t going to easily go away – but she had bought a manual car already and was adamant that she wanted to pass a manual test. As a result, she was with me for over two years and took over 100 hours of lessons. However, near the end of that time I discovered that she’d sold the car and so I started on at her again about learning in an automatic, explaining that she was still a long way from test standard. I enlisted the help of her son, and we finally persuaded her. She took a further two years, another 100 hours, and 7 driving tests before she eventually passed (she’d still be taking lessons now if she’d stuck with manual). I calculate that she had spent over £5,000 by the time she passed.

I have to admit that I was worried about her. She’d always stayed in touch, and credited me with having taught her to drive. But the thought of her driving alone filled me with horror. I advised her to get a car as soon as possible because she really didn’t want to let her driving get stale (actually, we got on well enough for me to be much more frank about it than that, but this is the general gist).

More than a year later she called me out of the blue. She’d bought a car and wanted some refresher lessons in it. She wanted me to provide them.

I remember that I was just about as scared as I’d ever been each time I took her out. Even with just the brake and gas pedals to worry about she frequently got them mixed up, and on one occasion we arrived back at her house, drove slowly up her driveway, and almost went through the fence and into the the back yard. Within a fortnight of buying the car and driving to work in it, she’d hit her wrought iron gates while reversing out three times (the resulting garage repairs amounted to 70% of the car’s value). She had to get a neighbour to put it in her driveway each evening, and work colleagues to back it out of wherever she’d parked it when she finished work. I subsequently heard from someone who knew her that she’d got rid of the car because she couldn’t afford to run it.

My point here is that there are some people who simply should not – ever – drive, and they are a danger to themselves and everyone around them when they do. Passing a driving test is no guarantee that someone is a good or capable driver. In fact, there are many thousands of people out there who have passed tests, but who are not competent drivers. They’re the ones you see driving slowly, or at a constant 40mph through 30, 40, 50, and NSL zones. They’re the ones who habitually switch lanes at the last minute, or who drift between lanes on roundabouts. They have virtually no awareness or understanding of lane divisions or direction arrows. And they do not learn from their mistakes because they are in a complete and terrified daze most of the time. Unfortunately, there is no law preventing them from driving – and nothing that says an ADI should tell them the truth.

I think the lady in this first episode of The Undriveables is a prime example of this. She simply should not go anywhere near a car if she is going to react the way she does – not unless she gets some serious medical or psychiatric help. You see, if she had passed her test, she is almost certainly still going to react in the same extreme way to situations when she is out on her own (or with her two boys in the car). The possible outcomes don’t bear thinking about.

On the programme itself, you have to accept that it is heavily edited for TV purposes. However, there was a lot of evidence of parking on yellow lines and pavements from what I saw. Apart from that, the ADIs featured didn’t do themselves any great disservice. It will be interesting to see subsequent episodes, because the trailers I’ve seen suggest that some of the later featured drivers are typical examples of people who failed the Big Brother auditions.

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This article from 2013 has also started attracting a lot of hits.

The article I wrote about how to reverse around a corner is very popular. I note that many people find it using search terms like “which way should I steer” or “I get confused which way to steer when reversing”.

I find that the majority of people have a problem with which way to steer – at least to begin with – and for some it remains a problem for them. The last two weeks alone, I’ve had this conversation with about half a dozen pupils. Maybe this explanation I’ve been using will help you work out how to overcome any problems.


I’m not going to give a lesson on psychology, but the diagram above represents how your brain has a conscious and a sub-conscious part. The sub-conscious part is programmed with habits and instincts, and it kicks in when you’re stressed or under pressure. You can think of it as the little voice in your head that makes you do things without you realising.

If you play football or tennis, the way you dribble the ball or strike it with the racquet is something you don’t really have to think about. However, when you first started out you had to think about it a lot until you’d got it nailed down. What you had to do was use your conscious mind to develop new habits in the sub-conscious part. Once you had installed your new skills as habits in your sub-conscious, playing the game became a formality.

It’s exactly the same when learning to drive, and especially when reversing. Somehow or other – and it happens for different reasons for different people – your brain will have acquired the sub-conscious habit of steering the wrong way when you reverse. When carrying out a reverse around a corner you’ll already be a little stressed, so your sub-conscious usually takes over and makes you steer the wrong way. It can be incredibly frustrating, especially when your conscious side knows which way you should steer – but that’s where the answer lies, and you have to try and make use of it.

The trick is to keep stopping, which cuts the stress right down, and consciously working out which way you should steer. Or in other words, trying to prevent your sub-conscious from assuming control. If you can do that, there’s no real magic involved from there onwards: you steer left if you want to move the car closer to the kerb; and you steer right if you want to move away from it. You have to be careful not to think too much, though, because that means your sub-conscious will be arguing with your conscious – you have to simplify the decision-making process as much as possible. As soon as you allow your sub-conscious to chime in with “ah, yes. But…” the whole thing is likely to go wrong again.

For some people it’s still a huge challenge. I had one this week who was even arguing with me over which way to steer, and another who has big problems preventing her sub-conscious from interfering (even when I ask her “which side is the kerb”? So which way will you steer?” there is a pause while she tries to weigh up her conscious saying “left with her sub-conscious screaming “but you’re reversing, so it must be the other way”).

So remember. Keep stopping. Steer towards the kerb to get closer to it, and steer away from the kerb to move away from it.

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This article was originally written in 2010. It has had a run of hits recently.

Some time ago, a magazine printed an article which implied that driving examiners had been failing people for crossing their hands when steering. It seems that this came about because the then latest update to DT1 (16/03/2010) – a DSA (DVSA) internal guidance document – had added the following:

To ensure uniformity, when conducting car or vocational tests and ADI qualifying examinations, only assess the candidate’s ability to control the vehicle and do not consider it as a fault if, for example, they do not hold the steering wheel at ten to two or quarter to three or if they cross their hands when turning the steering wheel. The assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control.

It is worth considering what the previous version (dated 28/04/2009) said on the same subject. I’d paste it, but I can’t – because nowhere in that document does it say anything about the method of steering!

I think what had become clear to the DVSA is that a few examiners had been failing people for crossing their hands, not holding the wheel at ten to two, and so on. These examiners, who obviously were incorrect in their belief that this is how steering must be carried out, now have a document which specifically points out the error of their ways – which they didn’t have before. The paragraph I quoted above virtually says this is what had been happening (i.e. to ensure uniformity, because there wasn’t any) and that the examiner’s assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control (which some examiners were clearly not complying with)).

I think the magazine should have clarified the situation, but in actual fact it has given certain ADIs plenty of new grist for their anti-DVSA mill. However, “crossing hands” is something many ADIs simply don’t properly understand, and I suspect this applies to the magazine editors too..

When someone who has never driven before starts to steer, almost invariably they keep a firm grip on the wheel when turning. Their hands might start at ten to two or a quarter to three (using the clock face to describe hand position), but by the time they have turned the wheel half a revolution or so one way or the other their arms are crossed and they can’t go any further. Most turns at junctions require at least ¾ of a revolution of the steering wheel, so the pupil ends up going wide and panicking. Crossing hands in this way – with a fixed grip on the wheel – is obviously not “under control”, and it is why it is important to get them into a good steering routine right from the start.

“Hand over hand” steering is not the same thing as “crossing hands”, and it never has been except in the minds of those who don’t understand. It is perfectly safe for pupils to reach over past one hand when turning if they are in control. No one has ever said that hands must remain on either side of the steering wheel or else you fail (well, except for those who simply don’t know what they are talking about).

It’s a tricky and delicate issue. A lot of ADIs have ambitions to become driving examiners – sometimes because they aren’t getting on too well as ADIs – so almost by definition any misunderstandings will be carried over into their new role. This poor understanding of steering and “crossing hands” is a prime example, and it explains why some examiners might have been failing pupils and thinking it was the right thing to do.

I mention this simply because I was reading a forum the other day where someone made the comment:

I’ve noticed the xmnrs are a bit more relaxed with steering these days and the crossing of hands seems to be allowed providing car control has not been affected.

This is typical of how the magazine article was interpreted by a lot of instructors, when in fact absolutely nothing had changed as far as what is acceptable where steering was concerned. Any previous problems with test fails due to “crossing hands” or not holding the wheel at ten to two were due to examiners not knowing what they were doing, and not a change of DVSA policy.

I must stress that all the examiners I know are perfectly capable, I respect them, and I have no issues with them at all.

Why shouldn’t I turn the wheel when the car isn’t moving?

Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called “dry steering”. The examiners do not mark you on it, so it doesn’t matter if you do it or not during your test.

However, it is extremely bad practice for various reasons:

  • it can damage your tyres
  • it can damage your steering mechanism
  • it can rip up the road if the surface is hot

Normally, your tyres are rolling as you turn the steering wheel. When you dry steer, they are scrunched over whatever they’re sitting on top of. Gravel, glass, nails, all kinds of rubbish. At the very least it wears them out quicker, but in the worst (but not particularly uncommon) cases you can get a puncture from it – especially if you’re on a nail or glass and it’s wet. In hot weather, the scrunching action can actually damage the surface, which then contributes to the formation of potholes.

When you dry steer, you can feel the extra resistance (and even on newer cars with advanced power steering, just because you can’t feel it doesn’t mean the same strain isn’t being felt somewhere else). Obviously, that resistance has to be fought against, and that means additional wear and the possibility of failure in the steering mechanism.

Replacing burst tyres or fixing worn out steering is likely to cost a lot of money.

Except in certain circumstances, dry steering on purpose is for bad drivers who can’t steer properly to begin with.

Can dry steering damage my car?

Potentially, yes. And it can also damage the road. All this is explained above.

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