Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

This article was published in 2015, but I’ve started getting hits this year, and DVSA has sent out the first 2016 reminder, so it’s worth an update.

DVSA has posted a new blog entry [original article from 2015] concerning bad weather and driving tests. As we know, apart from being rocket scientists, doctors, psychiatrists, life coaches, political raconteurs, with most having been refused entry into Mensa for being too intelligent, the average driving instructor is also a highly skilled meteorologist.Snow on a road

As DVSA says, they have a duty of care. However, what they don’t say is that tests are pretty much only ever cancelled when it is icy or particularly foggy. I don’t blame them one bit, since the majority of test candidates will not have driven in fog or snow/ice before (many will have cancelled lessons for just that reason in the past, or their instructor will have) and doing it for the first time on their tests is a pretty risky operation for anyone within a 2 mile radius of them.

I can’t understand why instructors get so worked up about bad weather cancellations. Fair enough, it’s lost income (well, for most it is – some still charge their pupils), but it isn’t as if the well-run driving school is going to have a turnover based totally on income from driving tests. It’s more like a maximum of two or three a week.

My own advice is:

  • don’t book early morning tests in winter
  • instructors should avoid having too many tests in a single week… especially in winter
  • instructors should warn pupils at the outset that tests get cancelled in bad weather
  • instructors shouldn’t act like it’s never happened before in front of the pupil if they get cancelled
  • instructors shouldn’t blame DVSA

You can whinge and whine as much as you want if tests get cancelled, but you won’t change the test centre manager’s mind. Life is much more relaxing if you just accept that it happens and learn to deal with it. That way, you can minimise – or even eliminate – any final loss incurred, and help to prevent childish and inaccurate advice being passed on to future generations of learners.

How does that saying go? If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

The comments began almost immediately back in 2015. One ADI questioned DVSA’s criterion for cancelling due to fog, citing “bad mist/moderate fog” as an example of a poor reason for tests being postponed. As I said, many ADIs believe that they are skilled meteorologists.

Many test candidates will never have driven in foggy conditions before. Furthermore, fog can be patchy and unpredictable – I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been driving on the motorway during the winter and early-evening or early-morning fog banks start appearing, and you can be driving in totally clear conditions one moment, only to be unable to see more than a few car lengths ahead a second or two later. There is no way I would expect DVSA to risk either their examiners or the candidates’ wellbeing if such a risk exists, and I trust them to make the decision. I also don’t go around looking for evidence to contradict them.

Another ADI referred to a situation where it was obvious that a test was going to be cancelled, and yet he was forced to pick a pupil up in dangerous conditions since DVSA would not confirm that the test was off until 20 minutes before it was due to go out. If what he has said is correct, then he definitely has a point. His test centre should have been rather more sensible. We’re a bit more fortunate up this way – before now I’ve spoken with the test centre manager or an examiner and they’ve actually asked me if I’d like them to make an immediate decision rather than delay that decision (when conditions were very bad about three years ago). Based on my limited meteorological knowledge (yes, I admit it!), they tend to cancel whole mornings if things are bad, or up until a certain time if they think things might improve, and that really helps me when it comes to picking up pupils. Maybe a word with the test centre in question would be a more fruitful area to investigate for that commenter instead of just bad-mouthing them.

Will my test be cancelled due to bad weather?

I’ve answered this just about every year since I started the blog. YES. YOUR TEST CAN GET CANCELLED IF THE WEATHER IS BAD. If it IS cancelled, you will get another one free of charge.

Typical examples of ‘bad weather’ include:

  • thick fog in any part of the test area
  • falling snow with poor prognosis
  • lying snow on roads
  • ice
  • extremely high winds
  • flooding

In theory, ANY type of ‘bad weather’ could cause a cancellation, but they usually don’t. I’ve never had one cancelled due to wind or flooding, but I have the others.

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This nanny state gets ever worse. You can’t buy anything these days that tastes any good because they’ve removed the bloody salt and sugar from it. I had a couple of hash browns from McDonalds this morning and they were devoid of flavour (they only have any if they’re crispy, and mine were bordering on soggy).Tomato Soup

When I came home I saw this article aggregated by MSN from the Huffington Post. Neither of them are to blame for anything – the real pain in the arse is a British food nanny TV show called ‘Tricks of the Restaurant Trade’. They’ve apparently made the ‘shocking’ discovery that when you add dressing to salad, the calories go up, and that hot tomato soup contains added salt and sugar.

They cited Greggs, whose Cream of Tomato Soup claims to contain 5.7g of sugar per 300g portion – but which, when measured, was found to contain over 25g. My guess here is that Greggs calculated how much sugar they had added to their recipe, and omitted the sugar already there from the tomatoes. Take 300g of canned tomatoes and you’d find over 13g of sugar naturally present, so add another 6g and you’re not far off what Greggs claimed (the TV crew also had a larger sample than 300g and declared the total sugars, and were too stupid to adjust the figures pro rata – probably to make Greggs look bad on purpose).

Greggs has said it will reformulate if necessary – but they should leave it alone. If they take out the added sugar it’ll just be like eating tomatoes, and you don’t need much help if you just want to do that.Mackerel

Then there was the startling case of the Big Mack Salad. This is a Mackerel salad, which was found to contain about 760 calories – and which sent everyone apoplectic. What they didn’t point out (and probably didn’t know because they hadn’t bothered to look it up) is that a typical single serving of Mackerel on its own – raw – would contain about 430 calories. Add a mere 30mls of Olive Oil and you’re up to 700 calories right away. Add a bit of sugar and you have your explanation without any need for a stupid Channel 4 shit stirring show. In light of this, comparing the salad’s calorie content to ‘an average fried breakfast’ as though the Big Mack is something heinous is so misleading it is plain wrong.

Unfortunately, this is what happens when you involve someone like Amanda Ursell – a ‘nutritionist’. You see, anyone can become a nutritionist – the name is not registered, nor is the ‘profession’ regulated – so the title is pretty much meaningless. However, it does attract a certain demographic, and if you’re lucky enough to be blonde, female, photogenic, and emanate from the Home Counties, then you’ll have a career in television ready to fall into your lap with very little effort on your part.

People like Ursell love to compare various foods with ‘spoons of sugar’ or ‘grams of salt’ as if there is some sort of problem, and yet the only ‘problem’ is their own vague understanding of the issue and their inability to understand science properly. They can’t get it into their thick skulls that food contains calories, and these calories often come from fats and sugars.

They even had a go at Wasabi’s Sushi boxes for having too many carbs, and likened it to ‘seven slices of bread’. More simple maths: a slice of bread has 80 calories, so seven slices is 560 calories. Cooked sushi rice is about 140 calories per 100g, so four sushi rolls would have a similar overall calorific value from carbs. It’s like, wow, rice has carbohydrates in it. In fact, it is what it is, and nothing more.

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I originally wrote this article as the result of the most ridiculous editorial written by a female journalist in one of the usual newspapers which prints crap like that. She was trying to justify why she couldn’t drive. She was only 30, for God’s sake!Fry observes bad driving

The news story was badly written and full of inaccuracies and untruths. In fact, it was typical “femail” fodder, if you get my drift. It didn’t stay available for more than a month or so, and the exact things it said are long since gone. I’ve summarised the important details of my response to that article in the bullet points below:

  • Just because your brother or sister passed when they were 17 has no bearing on how quickly you will learn, no matter what your current age.
  • It is a general truth that the older you get the harder it is to learn new things, but that is not carved in stone.
  • I’ve had many 40+ drivers who are far better learners than many 17-25 year olds.
  • Dreading your lessons will not make learning any easier.
  • It DOES NOT take 1½ hours training for every year of your life to learn to drive.
  • On average, those who pass have had 47 hours of professional instruction and 20 hours of private practice
  • My own pupils have taken anywhere between 14½ hours and 160 hours (both extremes were 17-19 year olds)
  • Two of my quickest learners were around 50 years of age.
  • The longest I know of took 100 hours with me, 100 hours with an automatic instructor, and seven attempts to pass her test (and that was still impressive). She was in her late 40s, but I can guarantee she’d have had the same issues if she’d have been 20.
  • As people get older they branch off mentally in all kinds of directions. Some are mentally 60 years old at 30, whereas others are 20 years old at 80! Although other factors might creep in with very old people, the latter attitude will make you learn quicker.
  • Some people are already branched off as they leave the womb! They will find driving difficult no matter what – and this is often why they put off learning until they’re older and desperately need a licence, and then start blaming it on age.
  • Your likelihood of passing your test is based on how well you can drive, not on historical statistics suggesting the pass rate is falling.
  • Historical pass rates are actually quite stable.
  • Just because a teenager can run faster and for longer, play football better than you, understand technology, etc., does not have any direct bearing on how quickly YOU can learn to drive.
  • Experience comes with age, and that gives older drivers a huge advantage – if they’d shut up about the other stuff.
  • Your nervous system and muscles do not shrivel and die the day after your 25th birthday.

Can I learn to drive when I’m 50?

Someone found the blog on that term. Yes, you can! Two of my best-ever pupils were 50+. However, not everyone is the same. I can get one 17-year old who picks up everything first time, and another who should (in my opinion) give up the idea of driving for the sake of humanity and get a bus pass instead! And it’s exactly the same for older learners. Age isn’t an automatic barrier. But it can be a bigger barrier if you let it become one by thinking old in the first place.

People can pass at any age. The real question is “should they?”. You can only find out by trying.

Can you be too old?

My personal opinion on this is yes, you can. But it’s not as simple as just your age, it’s also down to how you, your mind, and your body have handled it. I had one lady some years ago who was “around” 70 – she wouldn’t admit how old, but she’d hinted that it was 70+. She was disabled through arthritis and her lessons were being paid for through Motability. She was absolutely lovely – she was learning guitar, wrote poetry, and liked music (especially rock). She’d decided to learn to drive because her husband had died and she wanted to get around.

I don’t know how long it would have taken her, but the signs from the lessons she did were not good. I had to buy extra mirrors because her arthritis prevented her turning her head, and every lesson was like a beginner’s session – she forgot everything we’d covered before. Her Motability funding ran out until she’d passed her theory. She did phone me to say she’d be back once she’d passed, but I never heard from her again.

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I haven’t written much about Brexit recently – if I did, I’d be at my keyboard permanently. However, one particular story today has prompted me to start writing about it again.Derek Norman - serial vandal and criminal

The story concerns an aged halfwit called Derek Norman. This unholy specimen is 82 years old, and he is apparently a “staunch Brexiteer”. It seems that he is guilty of extensive acts of criminal damage around the country, since it is his self-appointed vocation in life to go around removing any road signs which have metric values on them. He proudly boasts to have removed 2,000 signs – that’s 2,000 examples of absolute, outright criminal behaviour.

Most people his age would content themselves with hiding behind the curtains ready to run out and claim ownership of a particular corner if a learner showed up there. But this man is special.

I wrote a while back – shortly after the Referendum – that it wouldn’t be long before some prat started trying to bring back Imperial measurements. I was proved right when Warwick Cairns formed some jackass movement for precisely that purpose. Senior Citizen Norman has taken things a step further by committing acts of vandalism to effect the changes himself. It is also worth pointing out that he’s a UKIP activist, which means that his thinking is far from normal. As a small digression, it speaks volumes about his likely opinion and attitude regarding other Brexit propaganda, such as towards people whose lineage isn’t confined to this sceptr’d isle. You don’t join UKIP with the Party line anymore than someone in the American Deep South joins the Ku Klux Clan in order to promote racial tolerance.

Norman said: “We have what we call spotters all over the country who tell us about the signs.

Accurately translated, what he means is there are plenty of like-minded twats all over the place who look up to him and egg him on to commit further criminal acts.

He should be locked up until such time as he can be handed over to the British Natural History Museum and stored in a back room with all the other fossils.

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Refer also to this article on whether or not to push the button when you use the handbrake. This article updated following a reader question on STOP junctions.

I saw a “debate” a while back on one of the forums about using the handbrake. It was started by an ADI whose pupil got a driver (“minor”) fault for not using it at a junction. Of course, as far as the ADI is concerned, it is the DVSA who is wrong. Heaven forbid that his pupil might actually have been at fault.Handbrake

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES, 2010/11 version) – which is effectively the syllabus that learners should be taught from – says:

You should normally apply the parking brake whenever the vehicle is stationary.

Apply the parking brake and put the gear lever into neutral when you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing behind other vehicles, unless the wait is likely to be very short.

Your foot could easily slip off the footbrake if, for example, your shoes are wet or if you’re bumped from behind. You could then be pushed into another vehicle or a pedestrian.

The use of the parking brake is even more important in vehicles fitted with automatic transmission. The parking brake will avoid

  • the possibility of ‘creep’
  • the vehicle surging forward if the accelerator is pressed accidentally while in D (Drive).

The important bit is in that second paragraph – “unless the wait is likely to be very short”. It couldn’t really be much clearer. Furthermore, you are going to be marked on the use of the car’s controls on your test, and if you don’t use the handbrake in a situation where really you should then you will pick up a driver fault at the very least. You might even pick up a serious or dangerous fault if, for example, you roll back towards someone or over a give way line towards traffic.

On the matter of putting the car into neutral, I really only advise this if you know you’re going to be waiting for longer than usual, and that you’ll have time to put it in gear without getting into a flap. If you do it when you’re at the front at normal traffic lights, and they’re the ones where there is only enough time on green for a handful of cars to get through at the best of times, you will annoy other drivers if you only start trying to get it in gear and drive off once they’ve changed. This is likely to pan out even worse for learners and new drivers, who might struggle to find the right gear quickly, possibly choose the wrong one, and stall as they panic. I prefer my pupils to be ready to move off promptly.

With some temporary lights, or in very heavy and slow-moving traffic where you are a long way back in the queue, there may be a longer wait, so there is a good excuse to go to neutral and rest your legs. The same is true at level crossings, where you can calmly get ready as the train passes and the barriers begin to rise. The decision about whether to put the car into neutral or not is the driver’s. Just remember that it isn’t a fault keeping it in gear at traffic lights, nor is it a fault putting it into neutral – but  screwing up when you try to move off probably is. You simply do what is most appropriate – and what is easiest for you to deal with.

As for the handbrake, at junctions I advise my learners to be aware of the gradient. Not using the handbrake on downward-sloped junctions sometimes makes more sense than not using it on upward-sloped ones. If you stop on an upward slope, the car will immediately start to roll back as soon as you release the footbrake to go for the gas. If you’re good at it then it is possible to get going quickly and safely, but many learners panic and lift the clutch too fast, resulting in a stall. This is a prime example of a situation where a learner should be taught to use the handbrake, whereas an experienced driver probably wouldn’t need to.

At some stage, most learners ask something along the lines of how long they should be stopped for before using the handbrake. ADIs love to use the “when a pause becomes a wait” line, and then apply a number – for example, a pause is under 3 seconds, a wait is over. That’s rubbish. There is no way this can be answered in black or white terms – it depends on the situation.

Oh. And your foot can slip. I had a pupil pass her test recently who stalled during her manoeuvre because it had been raining and her foot slipped off the brake.

It would appear that the ADI who was criticising DVSA in the first place wasn’t actually present on the test or even at the debrief, so I don’t know how they can claim the examiner’s decision was wrong! DT1 – the DVSA’s internal SOP for examiners – makes several references to what constitutes “a fault”:

For the turn in the road:

The object is to see if the candidate can manoeuvre and control the vehicle in a restricted space where proper use of the clutch, accelerator and handbrake, combined with judgement of the position of the vehicle in relation to the kerb, is essential.

The bold text is mine. Use of the handbrake is as important as use of the clutch and footbrake.

For normal stops:

The candidate should be able to pull up parallel to, and within a reasonable distance of, the nearside kerb. The examiner should observe whether the candidate then applies the handbrake and puts the gear into neutral.

The bold text is mine. You have to use the handbrake when you do a normal stop at the side of the kerb.

In automatic vehicles:

The handbrake should be applied for temporary stops, e.g. waiting at a red traffic light, a junction, or in a traffic hold-up, if they are likely to be of a long duration.

Short stops may not require the application of the handbrake.

The handbrake may need to be applied to prevent `creep’.

Note that this is very specific in terms of where the handbrake should be used.

At the time of originally writing this article (April 2014), the DT1 was last updated in October 2013. Prior to that, there was a statement which said:

Full use of the parking brake should be used, to prevent the vehicle rolling backwards or forwards.

This is no longer anywhere to be found, and there is no specific mention of when to and when not to use the handbrake other than that the car should be in neutral with the handbrake on when the engine is started (which is actually confusing, as people will take it to mean that you should go into neutral if you stall).

Will I fail my test if I don’t use the handbrake?

You’re supposed to use the handbrake to help prevent the car from rolling and to make it safe in certain situations. That’s what it is there for.  Although you are unlikely to fail simply for not using it in a given situation, if you do end up rolling backwards or forwards your chances of failing increase significantly. A good example of when to use it is when you stop at a pedestrian crossing to let people cross – if you’re at the front of the queue, and especially if the pedestrians include children, just think what could happen if your foot slipped or someone bumped you from behind. In this situation – and certainly on your test – not using your handbrake is potentially dangerous and the examiner could mark it accordingly.

If you stop facing up a sharp incline, common sense says the handbrake will help you avoid rolling backwards when you move off again. However, if you choose not to use it and remain in control then it won’t be marked. Remember, though, that your right foot will be on the brake, and if you get the timing wrong and lift the clutch too far before you’ve switched your right foot to the gas pedal then you will stall – which means you’re not in control – and then you’ll have to try to stay in control all over again to avoid rolling back as you restart the engine and give it another shot. It would make much more sense just to use the handbrake for what it was designed for in the first place, and all of that would be avoided.

When should I use my handbrake?

Whenever it would help prevent the car from rolling backwards or forwards.

It can also help you avoid stalls. If you have the handbrake on, it means you can set the gas and find the bite ready to move off quickly. If you’re holding the car still using the footbrake, you’re likely to get your timing wrong and lift the clutch too much before you’ve set the gas properly – which increases the likelihood of stalling. You’ll get better at being able to do that with time, but certainly to begin with – and for many people this includes even the point at which they’re at test standard – using the handbrake will help to avoid stalling in many situations.

Do I apply the handbrake first, or put it in neutral first?

In most cases it doesn’t matter. Common sense says that the safest way is to stop the car with the foot brake, apply the handbrake, then put the car into neutral (you can take your foot off the foot brake then). But no one is going to penalise you for it if you put it in neutral first as long as you don’t roll or lurch.

Just remember that learners (and new drivers) are more likely to lift their feet when they stop, and if they get muddled with their foot timing then they may run into problems, which are made worse if the handbrake isn’t on and the car is still in gear. At least if the handbrake is on, the car won’t go anywhere.

Why should I use the handbrake at junctions?

Primarily, to prevent you from rolling backwards or forwards where this would be undesirable. In addition, sitting with the footbrake on means your brake lights are on, and in modern cars – especially at night – that dazzles people behind you, and is inconsiderate.

If you’re going to be waiting for any length of time beyond a pause, use the handbrake. That’s what it’s there for. Not using it when you ought to is as lazy as it is wrong.

What is the rationale for using the handbrake?

Use it to help prevent the car rolling backwards or forwards when that would be dangerous or inconvenient. Use it at pedestrian crossings – especially if you are the first car in the queue – so that if someone went into the back of you and/or if one of your feet slipped the car would not surge forward.

My friend told me you don’t need to use the handbrake on flat roads

Your friend is wrong. You use the handbrake to secure the car when it needs securing. It can still roll – or be pushed into a roll – on flat roads. In any case, most roads have a camber (a curvature to help water drainage), which means they’re not flat at all.

Imagine sitting – on a flat road – at a zebra crossing with people walking in front of you, just using your footbrake. Then imagine what would happen if someone went into the back of you. Believe me, your first thought isn’t going to be to keep your foot on the brake. Worse still, it might slip on to the gas pedal. If you had the handbrake on then the car would stall.

Trust me: not using your handbrake is the sign of a lazy, arrogant, or dangerous driver.

What if my car has “hill start assist”?

“Hill start assist” (HSA) is feature on some new cars (it’s actually been available on automatics for some time), where if a gradient of more than a certain amount is detected, stopping with the footbrake then releasing it doesn’t result in a roll back. The brakes hold for short time until you find the bite.

Personally, I don’t like it. It doesn’t always kick in (it depends on the gradient as already mentioned), and I don’t agree with taking control – and therefore the requirement for skill – away from the driver (don’t even get me started on self-driving cars!) Learners should be taught how to drive properly, and not how to cut corners. In any case, what happens if I teach them how to drive using HSA, when the first car they buy doesn’t have it?

Most cars allow you to turn HSA off. If you have a car with HSA, use it by all means – but remember that it is merely a tool to help manage many drivers’ inability to find the bite properly. Also remember that it IS NOT intended to be a substitute for using the handbrake in situations where the car needs to be properly secured.

My friend told me that “hill start assist” prevents the car from moving if someone drives into the back of you, so you don’t need the handbrake

It makes me mad when I hear rubbish like this. That is NOT what HSA does – and even if that was, only an even bigger idiot would trust it over a mechanical feature like the handbrake.

HSA is intended to stop the car rolling back when on a gradient above a certain amount. It only works for a short period of time before the car DOES roll back, and I can assure you that it doesn’t kick in every time – you cannot trust it implicitly under any circumstances.

Should I use the handbrake at every set of traffic lights or every junction?

No. Use your common sense. If you’re likely to roll then use it – especially if you’re not confident holding the car on the bite for a few seconds on upward inclines. If you expect to be waiting just a short time then use the footbrake – but don’t try to be clever and argue that a 3 minute wait at temporary lights is “short”. It isn’t. By “short”, we’re talking in seconds, not minutes. And don’t forget the issue of brake dazzle at night.

I’ve found that this question often crops up when pupils who have not been taught to use the handbrake properly switch to a better instructor, who then begins to point out the error to them.

Should I use the handbrake at every pedestrian crossing?

Again, no. Use your own common sense. But above all, be absolutely certain that you are not endangering pedestrians crossing in front of you. If you are first in the queue and people are crossing in front of you then it makes a lot of sense to use it. If you’re further back and no one is moving up behind you, there is less need. If it’s night time, consider brake dazzle on the driver behind.

Should I always use the handbrake at STOP junctions?

The short answer is no. You do not need to use the handbrake at every STOP junction.

However, you MUST actually stop, and it is very common for drivers to think that they HAVE stopped when they haven’t. I often have my pupils argue that they DID stop when I know for a fact that they didn’t – they just creep very slowly, and that is NOT the same as stopping. Even when they do stop I am not always convinced that they did so on purpose, and that had the conditions been slightly different, they might have continued rolling (they sometimes admit to that when I Q&A them over it afterwards). Therefore, you might want to think about using the handbrake at STOP junctions to make sure you really have stopped.

I am not saying that you must/should use the handbrake at every STOP junction. But it might help you if you do. What I tend to do is explain the situation as I have here, then watch what happens on lessons. Most pupils are easily able to consciously bring the car to a full and proper stop. Some aren’t, though, and when I have one of those I just advise them to use the handbrake (yes, I teach these pupils to use the handbrake at STOP junctions).

The examiners have to fail you if you don’t stop at a STOP junction, and no amount of arguing about it will reverse their decision.

I failed my test for not using the handbrake at a STOP junction

I wasn’t there, but I would lay odds that you didn’t actually stop. You just think you did – that’s a very common error. Remember that stop means “STOP”. Slowing right down and creeping – no matter how slowly – is not the same as stopping, and you have to physically stop at STOP junctions. You automatically fail if you don’t.

Also remember that YOU have to stop at the STOP line. It doesn’t matter if you stopped behind the car in front of you who got their first – that is not the same as stopping at a STOP junction. These junctions are usually there when oncoming traffic is obscured by buildings, bends, or hills (or if you’re emerging on to a tram line) – in other words, it is potentially dangerous and you need to take special care. You can’t do that if you are a long way behind the line – you have to be right up to it, stop, then creep forward and look for the opportunity to go.

You are wrong to teach people to use the handbrake at STOP junctions

Actually, I’m just not so anally retentive that I insist on doing everything by the book – and especially so when it’s a book that doesn’t exist!

As I pointed out earlier, I often get pupils who KNOW they should stop and THINK that they have. They even argue the point. But I know full well that they haven’t. I make it absolutely clear that if they do that on the test, they will fail. And that – technically – if they do it in real life, they COULD get a ticket, COULD get a fine, COULD have an accident, and COULD even end up having to pass their test again depending on what points are already on their licences. All of my pupils know exactly what they SHOULD do, and using the handbrake is an ideal solution for those people whose car control/mental processes are not as perfect as the anal retentives would like to think they should be.

There is nothing wrong – nothing at all – with using the handbrake at a STOP junction. It just isn’t mandatory, and people generally don’t need to if they have above average control and awareness. But, like it or not, many people who are genuinely test ready are only at or below average in this respect.

When people simply don’t see the STOP sign, then that is a totally separate problem which can be dealt with.

Why is it a STOP junction? I can see it’s clear

They don’t install STOP junctions just for the sake of it. There aren’t that many compared with normal junctions at the best of times, so there must be a reason. Usually, visibility is restricted at a STOP junction. Around my way, the half dozen or so that I can think of off the top of my head include:

  • there is a hill on the road you’re joining where you can’t see what’s coming up it
  • there is a rise on the road you’re joining and you can’t see what’s coming over it, and the speed limit is 40mph (which equals 60+ for Audis)
  • there is a bend on the road you’re joining so you can’t see what’s coming unless you stop and then creep out slowly
  • the road you are joining is NSL and has bends on it
  • there are buildings right up to the edge of the road and you can’t see until you creep out slightly
  • you’re crossing or joining a tram line
  • the junction has had a lot of accidents in the past
  • and various combinations of all the above

Don’t kid yourself that YOU can see it’s clear. Just stop for the piddling two or three seconds it will take to make sure it’s safe and don’t be a smart aleck. Every boy (or girl) racer in the country thinks they know best – until they become one of the statistics they have been sneering at.

I failed my test for not using the handbrake at a normal junction

Again, I wasn’t there, but something else must have happened to attract the serious fault. Most likely, you rolled backwards or forwards when you shouldn’t have, or perhaps something was happening behind you (a pedestrian walking, for example) whom you could have rolled into.

If you genuinely didn’t roll and nothing else was happening to warrant using the handbrake then you have been treated unfairly. Proving that would be extremely difficult though.

Should I always use the handbrake at roundabouts?

Someone found the blog with the question “if you have to give away [sic] at a roundabout why is it very important to use the handbrake?” The answer is the same as above: use it if you need to, or if you are likely to be waiting for any length of time. You do NOT need to put it on every time. Personally, I hardly ever use the handbrake at roundabouts – but I do sometimes.

When does the handbrake begin to bite?

In a new or recently serviced car the handbrake will probably move about three ratchet clicks before it is fully engaged. So the obvious answer is that it starts to bite as soon as you begin to pull it. However, the cable will stretch over time, and the brakes will wear down, which is why some cars require four, five, or sometimes more clicks to engage the handbrake. In this case, it is fair to say that until the slack has been taken up the brake will not bite as quickly.

I suspect this question was asked because someone is worried about not taking the handbrake fully off. Basically, avoid driving around with the handbrake on even by a single notch.

Why does my car move when the handbrake is on?

The handbrake isn’t designed to hold the car still if you’re trying to drive it forward! The brakes will slip quite easily, and you’ll be able to drive off in most cases, albeit with a little difficulty. If you can hear the brakes creaking (i.e. slipping) when you have the handbrake on if you’re stopped on a hill then it isn’t on enough. If you hear the same noise when you find the bite, then the brake either isn’t on enough or you’re finding too much bite (possibly both).

In many modern cars, you should apply the footbrake firmly and then apply the handbrake. This gives a stronger braking action – it appears that the handbrake clamps the brakes where the foot brake put them to.

If you still have problems then get the handbrake checked out at a garage. It may have a fault.

Is there any danger in moving a short distance with the handbrake on?

Obviously, trying to drive off with the handbrake applied is wrong. It results in greater wear and tear on the brakes, and increases the chances of stalling. The car will not accelerate as quickly as you might need it to – when emerging from a junction or on to roundabouts, for example – and if you tried to change gear then the car would slow down more and the risk of stalling would increase again. Leaving the handbrake on can easily be a serious fault on your test.

Is leaving your handbrake on a serious fault on test?

Assume yes. Even if you were to get lucky and get away with it, it is still a pretty serious problem. In most cases you will get a serious fault.

Is it wrong to use the handbrake and footbrake at the same time?

The footbrake is used to slow down or stop. The handbrake is the anchor that holds the car still when you are already stopped. Using the footbrake while you’re stationary and the handbrake is applied is just pointless, so in that sense yes, it is wrong. However, it isn’t a serious problem in this respect.

Remember, though, that your brake lights come on when you use the footbrake, but they don’t with the handbrake. Brake lights therefore send a message to other road users. If you have the footbrake on unnecessarily then you are sending the wrong message. Also remember that modern brake lights can be very bright, and especially at night that can dazzle other road users.

Conversely, using the handbrake to stop the car means no brake lights come on, and people following you might not realise you are braking. Applying the handbrake while you are still moving – even if you are using the footbrake to slow down – is dangerous because it can lock the wheels and cause you to skid. Doing it is likely to attract a serious fault on test.

I put my handbrake on but my car still rolls back/forward

You either haven’t applied it tightly enough or there is something wrong with it.

I’ve found that girls tend to have the biggest problem applying the handbrake. One trick is to make sure you have applied the footbrake firmly before applying the handbrake – that way the handbrake clamps the brakes a little more tightly. Also, don’t push the button in – let the ratchet click. That way the handbrake can settle maybe one or two clicks higher than it does when the button is pressed. Check you car’s handbook, because you’ll find some/many manufacturers these days advise not pushing the button when applying the handbrake, and using the footbrake the way I described above.

The only drawback is that once the handbrake is on tightly enough, people with weak arms sometimes can’t get it off again! I remember recently advising a female who had problems like this in my car – which doesn’t have a fault at all – to try a few exercises using dumb bells at the gym, which she attended regularly. It is vital that the handbrake can be applied and removed effectively.

If that fails, get someone else to have a try and if it appears that the car is at fault, get it looked at as soon as possible. It is dangerous if the handbrake isn’t working properly.

How do I stop the car rolling in traffic if my handbrake isn’t working?

I can’t believe that someone found the blog with that search term! Your car ought not to be on the road if the handbrake is broken, and you probably shouldn’t if you have to ask questions like this! Get it fixed.

Do your brake lights some on with the handbrake?

No. That’s one good reason why you should stop the car using the foot brake – so people behind know what’s happening.

If you’re stopped, brake light dazzle isn’t going to cause an accident, is it?

Driving at night and having to put up with dazzle can lead to tiredness or loss of concentration or awareness. Having bright lights shone unnecessarily in your face in uncomfortable at best, but can potentially lead to more dangerous situations. Anyone who says that brake lights don’t dazzle is wrong. They DO dazzle – especially on modern cars with high-intensity bulbs and LEDs.

Anyone teaching pupils to avoid using the handbrake – and thus, not to think of those around them – really shouldn’t be instructing. Brake light dazzle IS a significant issue, and pupils need to be made aware of it. Holding the car on the footbrake for too long, and especially at night, IS a sign of a bad or inconsiderate driver, quite possibly one taught by a bad or incompetent ADI.

Why shouldn’t I use the ratchet when I apply the handbrake?

You should look in your car’s manual – in most cases, in modern vehicles, the advice IS to use the ratchet. Applying the handbrake with the button pressed is an old-fashioned approach. I’ve written more about it here.

I hate it when I pick up pupils who have been told to use the handbrake every time they stop.

Well, good for you. However, you ought to allow for the fact that most new drivers find it difficult to assess when to do something that requires judgement or common sense, and often fall into the habit of either always doing it, or always not doing it as a result. They have often developed that habit themselves as a “just in case” strategy (they do it with signalling to pull over or move off, amongst other things). In every likelihood, they haven’t been told to “do it every time” at all. Mine sometimes try to do it, in spite of me never having taught them to.

TES makes it clear that you should use the handbrake where it would help you prevent the car from rolling. Using it unnecessarily doesn’t attract a driver fault unless it leads to holding others up or taking too long over something. However, not using it when you should can easily be identified as a fault in its own right.

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Someone found the blog on that search term today. There’s no single, definitive answer – it depends on both the ADI and the pupil.

When I take on a new pupil who has never driven before, in some cases I will take them out on a main road on the first lesson, even if it’s just for a few moments. Quite often, they’re good enough for us to be able to go to a few different places to look at different things. I’ve had a fair number who have taken to driving so quickly that we’ve even been able to take fairly long trips along dual carriageways and country lanes on that first lesson. Of course, I only do it if I think they can handle it.

At the other end of the scale, I’ve only ever had one pupil who didn’t drive home at the end of the first lesson (in fact, I had to drive her to and from a quiet area for at least the first six). All the others only get driven by me once – at the start of that first lesson. I don’t believe in ‘nursery routes’ – I hate the term, though for some ADIs collecting nursery routes is almost as important as collecting acronyms and clever sayings. What I consider to be a suitable teaching location might well be a ‘main road’ to other ADIs.

Many of my pupils will have a go with at least one of the manoeuvres on the first lesson – and it isn’t always the turn in the road. If someone expresses concern about being able to reverse park – usually because of what they’ve heard from friends – then we’ll probably have a go at a parallel or bay park, where they get to see how easy it is (I remember one girl who was smug because she could do it and her mum and dad couldn’t, and her mum actually asked me to show HER how to do it). On quite a few occasions I’ve had someone who has virtually perfected ALL of the manoeuvres on that very first lesson.

If I do one of these types of lesson, I make a point of explaining that they have now experienced everything the test and routine driving is likely to throw at them, and what we have to do now is polish it up so they can do it without my help, and be able to deal with unusual situations. Whenever we’re out on ‘main roads’ I will not let them drive slowly if there’s no need – we aren’t going to hold people up by driving at half the speed limit.

They absolutely love the fact that they have done so much in such a short time, which is probably why teaching this way gets me a lot of referrals when pupils relate what they’re doing to their friends. If I am to believe even a fraction of what I am told by these referrals, some of them have not driven to or from their house even after six or more lessons, and yet they are clearly able to do so. Others have never travelled more than a half a mile from their house on ANY lesson, no matter how well they can drive. It’s a bit of an eye-opener for them when they see one particular route of mine – which involves a 25 mile circuit of Nottinghamshire, taking in single track roads and the A46 (as close to a motorway as you can get without actually being on one).

Of course, not all learners can do this – but I still push them, rather than hold them back. I have NEVER lost a pupil because I am teaching them ‘too much’ (and my first-time pass rate is still very high among those I have taught from scratch). However, I have taken on a lot through referrals who claim that they didn’t think they were getting anywhere. The answer lies in there somewhere…

Pupils can be nervous about going on ‘main roads’, but except in some extreme cases that is no reason for them not to. However, I also believe that some ADIs are actually frightened themselves, which is why they potter about on the industrial estates and empty car parks for so long (I’ve NEVER done an entire lesson in a car park – the only time I use one is to do a steering exercise or the bay park manoeuvre). It is also why, when those other ADIs eventually DO venture on to a busy road, they allow their pupils to drive at 20mph or less everywhere – even on NSL stretches.

So, when SHOULD I take my pupil on the main road?

It’s up to you. If they can handle it – and if YOU can handle it –  you shouldn’t hold off. A pupil who is capable of reaching test standard in maybe 20-30 hours shouldn’t end up having to take 30-40 hours just because you’re afraid to take them on to busy roads, and if you keep doing it to them, it will come back and bite you on the backside sooner or later.

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I get email alerts from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and over the years I’ve seen some funny rulings.

Until recently, ASA was a battlefield for BT, Virgin, and all the other broadband companies to keep trying to discredit each other over claims made in adverts. Every week without fail, BT would have a complaint about Virgin, then Virgin would have a complaint about Talk Talk, then BT would complain about Virgin again, who would then complain about BT. However, this has pretty much stopped now, and although no one ever admitted to it, I’d lay odds that it was a conscious decision on someone’s part to stop the practice once and for all.

ASA frequently reverses some of its previous decisions based on appeals from those it has ruled against (or those who won’t let go, if the decision was not to uphold a complaint). ASA is not government funded, is non-statutory, and it is self-regulating.

Every ruling against someone concludes with the phrase: “The advertisement must not appear again in its current form. We told [company] not to [make whatever claims it has been accused of]”.

Some of its rulings are extremely petty. Most complaints seem to be equally as petty, and it is obvious that they are raised by professional complainers in the majority of cases. What irks me is that some of the companies ruled against may well have spent a lot of money on the ad campaigns in question, and all that money is effectively wasted thanks to an organisation whose CEO, Guy Parker, is on a salary of £120,000 a year.

A ruling in this week’s bulletin against Heinz is a prime example. Heinz has a series of adverts centred around tapping on empty baked beans cans. Now, if ASA had banned it on the strength of how annoying it is, I’d have had some sympathy (anyone remember the Heinz Tomato Soup ads?) But their decision to ban this one is on health & safety grounds!

Heinz is a multinational company with annual revenue of more than $10 billion, and over 30,000 employees worldwide. Any advertising campaign it launches is likely to cost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. Heinz Baked Beans are a staple food, and Heinz sells more than 1.5 million cans per day in the UK alone. Nearly one billion people eat Heinz Baked Beans at least once per year. Two million people eat them each day (not necessarily the same people).

The ASA’s ruling came about as a result of just nine complaints.

That’s right. Nine arseholes whose brains have turned to jelly as result of whatever happens when you have children complained that the ad promotes dangerous practices which might cause little darlings to cut themselves. Where have these idiots been living?

I was brought up on cans which looked like this when you opened them. They were sharper than razor blades, especially if you used one of those lever-type openers which had a longish blade and effectively sawed through the metal. And we used to play games like Tin Lurkey with these things – but I’m still around.Old-style opened tin  can

In fact, I’m not aware of anyone having had their lives changed or snuffed out as a result of the most horrendously sharp edges on the cans I used to know, so I find it even less likely now that most cans are ring-pull types with no sharp edges of note.

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On the surface of it, this story from Cosmopolitan (no, I don’t read it – this was an MSN aggregate feed) had me all “ooh! I must try that”. But then I did a quick, mental reality check.Potatoes

In the real world, potatoes usually have ‘eyes’ and other bits you don’t want. If they are anything other than straight out of the ground, they develop various dark patches which extend several millimetres deep into the flesh. Store-bought ones may have gashes which go deeper still. And however hard you try to stop them, they WILL start to sprout – especially in warmer weather. Some will have odd, natural, and very deep creases – almost as if two potatoes have fused together, but retained their individual identities.

I gave up peeling potatoes using a knife many years ago. My favoured way of peeling spuds is to use a peeler like this one (this is the OXO Good Grips Peeler, but I have used others over the years).OXO Good Grips Potato Peeler

It also peels carrots, swedes, and pretty much anything else with a skin. The best part is that if you have an ‘eye’ or other blemish, you just give it a few more scrapes and take it down until the unwanted feature has been pared away. You can peel enough potatoes for four people in just a few minutes, and you NEVER cut yourself (unless you’re stupid).

The potatoes – well, I should say ‘potato’, since there is only one featured – used in the demonstration video are absolutely perfect. Nothing like those you’d want to peel at home.

This ‘new’ method involves cutting a slit in the skin, then placing the potato in boiling water. It effectively cooks the flesh next to the skin, which therefore goes soft, and the skin then appears to come off just like sliding off a glove. I might give it a try next time I get a chance, but in all honesty I think my peeler is probably much less bother.

Incidentally, if you buy potatoes in bulk like I do – whole sacks of Maris Pipers – they stay fresh MUCH longer if you transfer them to a proper Hessian (Burlap in America) potato sack. Store the sack in a cool dark place.

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This article was originally published in early 2012, and was based on an even earlier earlier article in which I talked about the most common phrases I seem to use when I’m conducting lessons. That earlier article was somewhat  tongue-in-cheek, but my stats tell me that – from time to time – buzzword bingo becomes an important topic for many ADIs out there. We seem to be in one such phase again at the moment.Acronym IQ chart

One of the biggest problems faced by many instructors is their educational background – and getting it confused with what is actually required to teach people to drive. I remember when I was doing my Part 3 training, with many lessons of a 2 to 1 nature, hearing ex-miners and labourers trying to talk like Prince Charles when they were delivering their briefings. They obviously didn’t understand what they were saying – they just thought it needed to sound ‘posh’. It would literally be a case of the blind leading the blind if they tried to teach real pupils.

In spite of all that, people with such backgrounds often become ADIs.

A driving instructor’s job is to teach people to drive to a standard which is good enough to get them through their driving test, and start them off on a lifelong learning curve as they start driving on their own, gaining experience along the way. Nowhere is it written that the training has to be delivered according to Debrett’s.

In a similar vein, if you listened to the Coaching and Lifestyle hawkers out there, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you can’t be an ADI unless you utilise homeopathy, aromatherapy, and psychotherapy in your lessons. It’s all a lot of bollocks, of course, and these people are just scammers after your money (or in some cases, idiots who actually believe the nonsense they peddle). She wasn’t around long, but there was an ADI advertising on the internet about seven years ago who genuinely provided aromatherapy as part of her pink-themed lessons!

Just Say What You Mean

The key to effective communication is to say what you mean and not to worry too much about how you say it. For example, don’t keep using the word “observations” if it is alien to you – and especially don’t use it if it is alien to your pupil. Just say “look all round”, or something that fits in with the local lingo (or a lingo the pupil understands). Use the occasional fancy word by all means, but make sure you define it first. A lot of pupils have a nasty habit of not telling you when they don’t understand something, and that means your message never gets across – even though you might plough ahead thinking it has.

Communication has to lead to understanding, and when it doesn’t the implications can be frightening. Take the Show Me/Tell Me question about testing your brakes. Just imagine what might happen if a pupil passes their test without understanding what “spongy or slack” actually means. It’s far better that they use more familiar words like sloppy, soft, loose, floppy, and so on – the examiner isn’t going to mark them down for it.

Proper communication isn’t just about reading a lesson plan out loud using a flowery dialect you or your pupils are unfamiliar with. Your perceived eloquence has to be as well received as it is delivered.

And Understand What You Say

For God’s sake, don’t say something if you don’t understand it! Keep it simple enough for your pupil – and yourself.

Give Me An A

Some ADIs collect acronyms and sayings as if their lives depended on it. Periodically, one of the forums will light up after someone decides to harvest some new ones and asks for contributions. It’s usually a new ADI who does it, but it is clear that many people absolutely live for the damned things. Unfortunately, most haven’t stopped to consider the effect this has on their pupils. Many learners have enough trouble remembering to put the clutch down when they stop without having to decipher SCALP or whatever brilliant acronym their instructor has pulled from their tickler file for the occasion.

Rigid systems are not the best way to produce safe drivers – all they do is produce people who can follow a rigid pattern under set circumstances. However, if circumstances change they often have no Plan B, and that kind of of driver is probably the most dangerous type on our roads. Acronyms might allow someone to remember what something is – but they do absolutely nothing for understanding.

Personally, I explain MSM-PSL-LADA to my pupils at some point simply because it (the MSM part) is in the Highway Code several times. But not at the beginning of their lessons – only when they’re already doing it later on. The only other times any acronym or silly saying gets discussed is when one of them brings it up, having heard it from a previous instructor or one of their friends. My favourite is the tyres-and-tarmac one – which invariably results in at least a 5m gap between us and the car in front (which is far too much), and which inevitably leads to one or two fewer vehicles getting through that annoyingly brisk set of lights during the evening rush hour!

If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words…

…then don’t assume people will want a song and dance, too! I am aware of at least one ADI who considers his singing ability – which isn’t shared by those who have heard it – is worthy of using on driving lessons.

I am an introvert, and if someone performs in front of me – and especially if they try to involve me, or if they are not as good as they think they are – then I usually want to curl up and die. I am intelligent enough to know that at least half of my pupils would be equally uncomfortable having this forced on them. In other words, know how far you can go – don’t go as far as you can, because you (think you) can.

Take The Next Turn…

It’s easy to overlook the importance of clear and unambiguous directions to pupils during lessons (and on their tests). Not doing so is a mistake that all of us will have made at one time or another.

Years ago, not long after I qualified, I was doing a roundabouts session with a pupil. As we sat at traffic lights just before this one particular multi-lane roundabout I was emphasising that she should stay in lane and follow it around to the second exit. She queried it, and I naively said “just follow that car in front”. She did, and we negotiated the roundabout perfectly (yes, I know what could have happened). Half a mile further on, she unexpectedly turned off into a side road. When I asked why she’d done it, she replied “you said to follow that car”. Rule #1: make sure you cancel an instruction when it is no longer valid – even if you think a later instruction has superseded it. And don’t ask them to follow other cars – they’ll do that often enough without any encouragement.

Much more recently, I had a pupil with an irritating habit of asking where we were going before we got anywhere near a junction. On this particular day I’d asked him to stop it because it was causing confusion. Anyway, we were driving back to his school and, as we got near it, we sailed past the normal turn-off (he’d been routinely driving this route unaided on lessons). I thought he may be taking an alternative route and didn’t say anything, but a little further on – when I realised how far out of our way we were heading – something dawned on me and I asked: “did you deliberately go straight ahead back there because I told you not to keep trying to guess where we’re going?” He replied: “yes”. I wasn’t pleased. Rule #2: pupils can be stupid and childish – don’t make it easier for them to do it.

Some learners are so highly strung that they’re like firecrackers next to an open fire. The slightest spark – even just saying something – can be enough to make them go off with a bang. A few years ago I had a guy who had social and personal issues. On one lesson we were accelerating on a 40mph road and I said calmly: “now put it into 3rd gear”. I’m not exaggerating, but his hand spread out like a huge trawling net and he went first for the handbrake, then the radio, brushed the gear stick, and then attempted to pull something non-existent under the dashboard just to the left of the steering column. Rule #3: pupils can be very unpredictable – be ready for anything.

Allowing for these types of behaviour, the ADI has to be really careful not to make matters worse. Even the best pupils can begin to act on a direction before you’ve finished giving it. Therefore, directions such as “turn right at the end of the road” could quite literally lead you up someone’s garden path (or into a canal). A much better structure is “at the end of the road turn right”. That way, there’s nothing they can act on until you get it all out. For this reason, it makes sense to sit in on a few tests and listen to the way the examiner gives instructions. Also, look up the terminology in the examiners’ SOP (DT1).

Hear, Hear

Most pupils can hear their mobile phone in their handbag when it receives a text message over the sound of the engine, wind, rain, and a full-on rock concert. Indeed, most can hear it vibrate even when it’s switched to silent. But if you say something like: “at the roundabout, we’re going straight ahead 2nd exit. Follow the A52 markings towards Nottingham. Stay in the left hand lane”, what they actually hear is more like: “blahblahblah blahblahblahblah blah blahblahblah blahblahblah blah LEFT blahblah blahblahblah”. Be prepared for the possibility of a James Bond style left turn on two wheels. This gets better over time for most of them, but it is a genuine issue that the ADI needs to be aware of.

On a related note, most pupils – especially the girls – can see a squirrel in a tree three quarters of a mile away and are more than happy to execute an emergency stop to avoid any possibility of harming it. They’re not quite as good when it comes to seeing pedestrians on a crossing just in front of them.

Cut To The Chase

To summarise, you don’t need a whole encyclopaedia of clever sayings and phrases. In all honesty, if that’s what you consider makes someone a good instructor then you’re not going to be around for very long. A good instructor cuts through the crap and gets his or her message across clearly and concisely – and so gets on with the important business of teaching people to drive.

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On 8 November 2016, a massive sinkhole 30m across and 15m deep opened in the middle of Fukuoka, Japan, just after 5am. This is what it looked like.Fukuoka Sinkhole

By the morning of 10 November – also in 2016, just in case Severn Trent or National Grid staff are reading this – this is what they had done.Fukuoka Sinkhole Repaired

To be fair, the area didn’t actually reopen until November 15 because of safety checks. Even so, they fixed it in 2 days, and it re-opened exactly one week after the sinkhole first appeared.

You have to consider the magnitude of this situation in order to realise what a bunch of lazy and incompetent prats certain British companies appear to be when they take weeks or months to complete even the smallest of jobs.

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