Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

TickWell done to Michael, who passed first time today with just 3 driver faults. He was very nervous, even though he is a big guy, which just goes to show nerves can hit anyone. It’s just natural to be nervous, though, and he got through it with ease.

The important thing is that having a licence now opens up a lot of new avenues for his work prospects, and THAT is what makes this job really worthwhile. That, and having nice pupils to teach.

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This is  bit of bad news. I’m due to go and see Status Quo later this year, but that might not now happen as Rick Parfitt has been taken ill and Quo have been forced to cancel several European gigs due to go ahead in August. It must be quite serious, since the band is touring pretty much all year round most of the time, and they don’t cancel lightly.Status Quo

Rick has had heart bypass surgery in the past, and has also been treated for suspected (but ultimately benign) throat cancer (which I didn’t know about).

No word yet on what the problem is, but apparently we should find out this week. Hopefully, Rick – who is 65 – will be all right whether the tour continues or not. I mean, sod the tour – hope you get well soon, Rick!

Good news! It looks like Rick is OK and will be back on stage during the summer. Apparently it was a furred up valve from his previous bypass operations, which has been rectified by the use of a stent.

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Note: This article was originally written in September 2013. I’ve updated it after using the device for nearly six months now, and following interest from other people.

The iZettle website is here - you can sign up instantly and order your reader from there. Trust me – it’s the way for driving instructors who are still stuck in the 19th Century to bypass the 20th Century altogether and move straight to the 21st! If you can’t take card payments then you’re missing a trick, and it’s amazing that people who were umming and ahing about being able to take card payments last year are still at it! Just get one of the damned things and get on with your proper job!

iZettle Chip & Pin card readerMy iZettle finally arrived, and it’s a nice solid piece of kit. It sits easily in the palm of your hand, as the picture here shows, and yet it weighs in at about 120g and doesn’t feel like it is going to blow away in a draught or anything.

Cards with a chip (requiring a pin) go into a slot at the bottom, and there is a swipe slot at the top for non-chipped cards (which are becoming a rarity in the UK).

I set up my account with iZettle at the time I ordered the reader, so it was verified and ready to go when I opened the box. Likewise, I had downloaded the iZettle app for my smartphone and all that remained was to link the two together.

Pairing them is done by enabling Bluetooth on your phone (mine’s always on anyway), and holding the green tick button on the reader for a few seconds. You’re then prompted to enter the last three digits of the reader’s serial number, and that’s it. It connects immediately and announces that you’re ready to insert or swipe a card.

I used it for the first time a few hours later, taking a payment of £180 for a block booking from a pupil. Basically, the pupil put their card in the machine, I keyed in the amount on my smartphone and clicked “charge”, the pupil then entered her PIN, and within 15 seconds the transaction was complete. There was the opportunity to email her a receipt, but she didn’t want that. Absolutely painless, and no visit to the bank required. I love it!

Having used the iZettle for several days now (as of September 2013) I can truly say it is a godsend – ordinarily I’d have made at least one and possibly two trips to the bank for the combined amount of money I’ve taken over several days (or I’d walk around with cash and cheques in my pocket until I got time to go in). If I was going to pick a fault, it would be that I now haven’t got any cash in my pocket!

As of the end of April 2014, I’ve taken payments exceeding £10,000 since September last year. Obviously, this is turnover I’m talking about – not profit – but it has prevented me having to go to the bank much at all, and certainly I’ve not taken a single cheque since I got the iZettle (if people can write cheques, they will almost certainly have a debit card, and if they don’t then you won’t want to be taking cheques from them in the first place).

EVERYONE who once wrote cheques (and some who used to pay in cash) is now using this to pay me. Money goes straight into my account a couple of days after the pupils pay, like clockwork. Some pupils still prefer to pay in cash, of course – some even alternate between card and cash depending on the state of their bank balances – but it has worked out brilliantly. And being on 4G now has made reliability of the phone signal that much greater, at least in my area.

I can use Paypal to take payments, so why do I need this?

Look, no one is saying you can’t use Paypal. Sometimes, that is a perfectly sensible method. The problem is that you can’t easily get people to do it in the car – and if you do, it is long-winded and time-consuming. It isn’t possible if you can’t get a reliable internet connection. Even getting people to do it from home often involves chasing them up because they “forgot”.

There are a lot of things in life you don’t actually need to survive – you can use an abacus to work out your accounts, but a calculator or a computer is far better; you can stick with your old 26″ glass tube TV and still watch movies, but a 40″+ flat screen TV is better; you can make do with just the terrestrial channels, but if you have cable or satellite you get a lot more choice. 21st Century people will always choose the latter option in all these examples.

It’s the same with this. By all means, carry on taking cash and cheques, and making time-consuming trips to the bank. Try and coerce people into transferring money to you via Paypal or direct bank transfer. But the 21st Century ADI will be wanting to make life a lot simpler for himself and his clients by being able to take direct payments in the car.

For the record, over the last month (April) about 70% of my pupils have paid by card, 29% in cash, and 1% by direct bank transfer (because his new debit card PIN hadn’t arrived from the bank).

How much does it all cost?

You buy the card reader outright. It costs £59.00 at the time of writing. Then, there is a 2.75% charge levied on each transaction, so if you sell something for £1.00, you pay 2.75p. If you sell something for £100 you pay £2.75. And so on. The transaction fee is on a sliding scale, and if you take more than £2,000 I any month then the rate goes down – to as low as 1.5% if you take £15,000 or more. iZettle calls it the Smart Rate, and any savings are credited back to you periodically.

Every time you make a transaction, iZettle deducts the percentage fee and then credits the balance to your bank account. It takes about 24 hours for iZettle to process it, then about 1-2 days for it to appear in your account. However, on weekends, iZettle credits it on the Monday. Yes, it would be nice if there was no transaction fee, and the money went into your account immediately, but in the business world things usually don’t work like that.

What does it look like when you use it?

Well, you can see the reader, above. There is an app that you install on your phone, and through it – and your online account area, which you can also access via a PC – you can set up a product catalogue, or take ad hoc payments by just typing in the amount on your phone, and then letting the customer type their PIN into the reader. The system logs the location where payment was taken, and you can send a receipt via email (though you can get receipt printers if your business is in a fixed location). The system keeps a full log so you can monitor your sales, and you can download the data in spreadsheet-friendly formats. You can also issue refunds through the app. It’s all very easy to use.

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This email alert from the DVSA states that tests will cease to be conducted out of Clarendon Street as of 29 August 2014. However, Watnall will now re-commence conducting car tests as of 15 September 2014. The email says that tests will be available every day.

I didn’t do any tests out of Clarendon Street, but my understanding was that they only did them two days each week. I could be wrong, but that was certainly the original plan when the scheme was first trialled.

I think I’ll open betting on how long it takes for the Watnall residents to start complaining about all the learners who will undoubtedly be flocking back there! I’m sure there will be notices on the wall for ADIs to ignore asking them to avoid certain locations within a fortnight. Mind you, the only bad thing about Watnall for me is that there’s nowhere to get a decent coffee or something to eat. Oh, two things. The waiting room is uncomfortable, too!

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This article was originally published in February 2014, but I have seen a discussion on a forum on the subject, so I have updated it.

I get frequent hits on the blog from people looking for test route information. Test routes are no longer published for Nottingham, or anywhere else – they stopped publishing them in 2010!

If you’re an instructor, it isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go. To begin with, anywhere near the test centre is bound to be on most of the routes. If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time as you conduct your lessons, so you can add that location to your memory bank. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests – some of them will be able to give you some details, though many won’t. If they fail, find out where – the examiner will be more than happy to tell you – and if it crops up more than once, modify your lesson structure and deal with it going forward. Finally, if you’re desperate to know the exact routes you can sit in on tests and learn that way (if you know what you’re doing you can even log the routes for reference).A logged driving route example

Just conducting your lessons on test routes is rather foolish. Apart from the fact that you’re cheating your pupils by not teaching them to drive properly, examiners can change routes or mix and match from several routes any time they need to (i.e. because of wrong turns, road works, traffic jams, and so on). Pupils who try to memorise test routes are far more likely to fail because they’re prioritising the wrong things – worrying about forgetting the route instead of thinking about driving properly. Considering that there are dozens of official routes at any large test centre, it would require a considerable feat of memory to store all of them, and then to be able to recall all of them as needed.

Another consideration is that, based on my own experience, many pupils even have difficulty recognising a single street that they may have driven with me a hundred times before. Memorising 20 or more complete routes is nigh on impossible for them.

Having said that, it is important for an ADI to have some knowledge of the test routes so that special features can be covered. Every town or test centre has these – the tricky roundabout with the one-way street and No Entry sign, the unusually steep hill that can only be negotiated in second gear (and which may require a hill start if some jackass in a van doesn’t give way coming down it), the STOP junction immediately after an emerge on to a busy road with a bend, and so on. It doesn’t matter how good someone is at dealing with roundabouts, if they come face to face with ones like the Nottingham Knight or Nuthall roundabouts up my way, without prior practice there’s a high probability they’ll get it wrong, and you don’t want their very first practical experience of either of these to be on their driving test.

I remember when I first became an ADI, and religiously downloading all the published routes at that time. The documents consisted of tables of directions which were cryptic unless you knew roads by name and/or number, and I made a single half-hearted attempt to plot a route before giving up. I simply didn’t have the time, and I realised it was pointless anyway. These days, I’d probably be able to interpret the route plans quite easily, but since those first few weeks I have never bothered. My pupils get to drive all over – sometimes on route roads, sometimes not.

If nothing else, hanging around test areas means you end up having to put up with dozens of other ADIs getting in your way. My own experience suggests these consist mainly of those with “special offers” plastered all over their cars, who appear to have little social awareness, and who will happily try to “steal” a corner while you’re in the middle of a reverse manoeuvre. They’ll park within a few metres of you when you’re about to do a turn in the road, and they’ll enter the car park you’re in preparing to bay park and get so close as to prevent you from doing it. Basically, idiots, and although I never let them get away with it, I also do my best to avoid them.

Apart from a handful of “special features” as I have mentioned near each test centre, if a pupil can drive then they will be able to pass wherever they take their test. Unfortunately, just hanging around test routes is often good for fuel economy, and many of the “cheapos” prioritise accordingly.

Where can I download test routes?

You can’t. Not unless some ADI has recorded them and is publishing them independently.

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

It’s up to you. My advice would be no, as it is a waste of money. In any case, the DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if some smart aleck has recorded them and is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is hardly behaving in a professional manner. By buying into their scheme, you’re also taking a few steps along the same downward path.

How do I know the routes I’ve bought are correct and up to date?

There’s the rub. You don’t – and they’re probably not. They might be totally imaginary. They may be just crude, made-up ones from someone who sees a way of offsetting his silly lesson prices by making a few bob on the side after having sat in on a couple of tests. They may be ones which the seller has diligently recorded by sitting in on many tests. Or they may be the original DVSA ones that they stopped publishing in 2010 and which are quite possibly out of date.

For example, since 2010-ish, Nottingham has had two small centres close down (Gedling and West Bridgford), and an MPTC open up (Colwick). Another centre (Chalfont Drive) moved (via Watnall) and finally settled in a new location (Beeston). Two satellite centres have opened (Clifton and Clarendon Street Trent University campuses), and the latest news is that Clarendon Street is closing as of late August 2014, and moving to Watnall again as of mid-September. We have tram works and road “improvements” coming out of Nottingham City Council’s backside. The original test routes for Nottingham, for one, are definitely not worth the paper they will inevitably be printed on, and I would imagine this applies in many other areas.

Even if the ones you bought are halfway close to being accurate, examiners are not forced to stick to them – especially given the variable nature of road works and rush hour traffic. If you pay for these routes, you’ll just be wasting your money if you want anything above and beyond what you could find out for yourself in a few days for nothing.

Do I need to know the test routes for my test?

No, not in great detail. The examiner will give you directions as necessary. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – then your instructor should know about them and will make sure you know how to handle them.

How many test routes are there?

It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them – and to be honest, even if you drove down your own street on your test the chances are that you might not notice! You will be nervous, and you will be concentrating. The last thing you want is to have to try and remember a detailed list of directions, then to start fretting if you think you might have forgotten something.

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I’ve noticed a few sources in the last few days rattling on about how the maximum speed limit for HGVs is to be increased. Sources (some of which are forums) seem to have some of the details wrapped around their necks.HGV crash

A previous consultation has recommended that the speed for HGVs on single-carriageways be increased from 40mph to 50mph. This will go before Parliament during the summer, as it will require changes to the Law. Personally, I am not convinced it is a good idea, and the best argument Baroness Kramer seems to be able to come up with is:

The current speed limit just does not work – it is broken by about three quarters of HGV drivers at any particular time when they are not constrained by other traffic or the road layout. It is implausible that it could readily be made to work without a disproportionate effort.

I wonder if she thinks they’ll stick to 50mph any better than they do 40mph? And I wonder if she has seriously considered – or is capable of understanding – the additional risks associated with drivers attempting to control a vehicle weighing up to nearly 40 tonnes on narrow, twisting roads, or the effects of an accident involving one which is therefore moving 25% or more faster than it would have been legally (or illegally) moving previously? I hardly think that criminal behaviour should be decriminalised just because it means you don’t have to police it.

I mean, the council round my way is cutting limits to 20mph all over the place. But hardly anyone does 20mph (I do – I have to), so shouldn’t these limits be increased, too?

Anyway, if all that wasn’t bad enough, they’re now consulting on whether to increase the HGV speed limit on dual-carriageways from 50mph to 60mph. I’m counting the minutes before some prat argues that its a good idea because “dual-carriageways are the same as motorways”. No, they’re not. Dual-carriageways have lots of stopping points – traffic lights, roundabouts, and so on – and motorways don’t.

I guess the outcome is foregone conclusion – these “consultations” are just a small hoop that has to be jumped through before this crap government does whatever the hell it wants and then tells us it’s best for us.

Increasing speed limits for HGVs won’t get them from A to B any quicker than before. What it will do is get them from one set of lights, one roundabout, or one queue of traffic to another faster, on the assumption that they’ll be able to stop when they get there. And as we all know, HGVs don’t like slowing down unless they have to (they rarely let people merge if it means easing off the gas).

I’ve got an idea for a new videogame nasty, where cyclists with attitude take on HGV drivers with extra momentum.

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TickWell done to Peter, who passed today with just four driver faults. A well-deserved result to a fellow Arsenal fan.

I usually marked his driver record using the “Spurs Index” – a number between 0 and 10 depending on what he did wrong, just to wind him up. The Index maxed out a few days ago when we were doing a bay park and he kept going too far and finishing just past straight. When I analysed it with him, he said “well, there is a reason but I didn’t really want to tell you because I know you’ll laugh”. I said: “Come on. You’re going to tell me now”.

It turned out he was trying to be better than perfect, which somehow meant going beyond straight to him. And he was right: I did laugh. But it meant that we got it sorted, even if it did gain a perfect “10” on the Spurs Index.

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I’ve used Mazuma Mobile several times now. They never fail to impress – and this time is no exception.Mazuma Mobile

I have upgraded my HTC One to the latest HTC One M8 model, and once I was running on the new phone I hopped on over to Mazuma and ordered a return pack last Wednesday night. It arrived Friday morning, and I packed up the phone and sent it by Special Delivery on Saturday morning.

Today (Monday), I got an email from Mazuma timed at 08.30 telling me they’d received it and it was going to be checked and processed. Another email timed at 17.40 told me the phone had been accepted and payment would be made shortly. A third email at 18.20 told me payment had been made and that it would appear in my account before midnight. It was actually in there as soon as I read the email (at about 21.30 when I got in)!

If you have a phone to sell, you’d be mad not to use Mazuma. They pay the full price every time (in my experience – and the HTC One is quite high-value), unlike some other companies who’ve come in for some stick over that, with their reneging on original offers over minor (and debatable) cosmetic issues. Mazuma doesn’t do that.

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No one can have failed to have seen the news concerning Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was apparently shot down over Ukraine last week.

Without jumping to any conclusions over if – or by whom – it was shot down, let’s just assume that it was for a moment. The first question I would ask is this: who could be so stupid as to do it in the first place, and then be so chicken shit scared to admit it after they’d done it? The second question is: why?

There are obviously a lot of complete pricks in this world, and at the moment they all seem to be congregating in Ukraine.

On top of that, if Vladimir Putin is in any way involved (as many are claiming), then the man needs some serious head surgery very soon to sort out his obvious problems with megalomania. Why – in the 21st Century – would anyone in the civilised world want to behave the way Putin is on the world stage? Such behaviour might be second nature to the troglodytes who are pushing radical and militant branches of Islam in their sorry little corners of the world, but Russia managed to dig itself out of that kind of cesspit once. Putin is just shoving it back down the hole again.

If he’s not careful, he might end up going the same way as Saddam, Gaddafi, and all the other retards that the world got tired of having mess up peoples lives for entire generations at a time.

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TickWell done to Rod, who passed on Tuesday with just 3 driver faults. Current plans are for both him and his brother to do Pass Plus when he gets back from his summer holiday – I’ll believe it when it happens, as everyone plans to do Pass Plus, but they seldom follow it through!

As I explained to him (in front of his dad) last week, he couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery. Rearranging lessons he hadn’t got booked, giving me the wrong time of his test (fortunately, too early instead of too late), and picking up habits off his mum (who appears to be related to Lewis Hamilton as far as advice on speed is concerned) in ten seconds flat whilst ignoring what I am teaching him for weeks at a time. All light-hearted, of course, as he has been a good pupil and we’ve successfully overcome his dyslexia.

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