Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

This article in the Independent makes interesting reading. It reports that the Government is planning a shake up of the driving regulations – the “biggest since 1935”, if you believe the hype.

There is talk of partly privatising the driving test itself, closing test centres, and increasing the age of self-certification from 70 to 75 years. The article states:

Ministers want to improve the driving test pass rate, which is languishing below 50 per cent. The document states that there is “anecdotal evidence” that ill-prepared learners are booking their test date after only a handful of lessons, possibly because of concerns over waiting times between booking and taking the practical examination.

This is complete bollocks. The pass rate has gone up every year since 2002, and 47% is hardly “languishing” below 50. And waiting times have only gone up over the last year, so God only knows where this “anecdotal evidence” has come from. Here are the historical pass rates:

2002/3

2003/4

2004/5

2005/6

2006/7

2007/8

2008/9

2009/10

2010/11

2011/12

2012/13

2013/14

2014/15

43.2

42.8

14.9

42.6

43.3

44.2

45.3

45.9

46.3

46.9

47.1

47.1

46.9

I couldn’t find any data from before 2002, and that figure from 2004/5 has to be an error, but here’s what the data look like (without 2004/5) when plotted on a graph:Historical Pass Rates since 2002

It’s bad enough that the Independent hacks didn’t research it properly, but I really do wish that those people cutting-and-pasting it on to forums would do their homework first. The situation is not as the Government (or the Independent) is reporting it, and that makes it invalid as the justification for change. The Government is merely pursuing an agenda – more on that in a moment.

The driving test pass rate has always “languished” below 100% for the simple reason that not everyone passes the test! The reason they don’t pass is because there is effectively a “pass mark” – dictated by the driver fault/serious fault boundary – which quite simply means that if they don’t drive well enough on the day then they will fail. It’s nature in action, and it results in a national pass rate of around 47% at the moment. You wouldn’t expect it to change much year on year unless someone was fiddling the results.

But that’s what the Government is proposing. One of the ways they will do it is already being trialled, and the actual changes being looked at include replacing most of the existing manoeuvres (which people can currently easily fail at) with ones that only a complete idiot could fail at. I mean, they are looking to replace the turn in the road and reverse round a corner manoeuvres with “pulling over on the right” and “reversing”!

To get an idea of what the Government is trying to do, you only have to look at the GCSE grading system. GCSEs are graded A to G and – like it or not – every one of those grades is officially considered to be a “pass”. It means that the “pass rate” for GCSEs has been above 97% since 1989, and every year you have people walking around with Es, Fs, and Gs pretending – having been led to believe – that they have a “pass”, when the reality is that no employer (or university) in the land is going to be demanding a handful of Gs in order to be considered for a position with them. The only grades that mean anything are the As, Bs, and Cs, and that brings the “pass rate” down to around 60%. Consider also that under the old O Level system, I believe that around 40% of candidates achieved an A-C grade (anything below that was NOT a pass), and you can see how the figures have been artificially elevated – don’t get me started on how GCSEs are far easier than ‘O’ Levels were.

But this is what they are proposing to do with the driving test. They want to make it so easy only a complete moron would ever fail it, and this will bring the “pass rate” up. What they blatantly fail to realise is that the higher pass rate will bear no relation to actual driving standards. In fact, it will mask a serious decline, as candidates will not be required to master more difficult skills and will only be asked to demonstrate much easier ones. Yet these people will be sent out on the roads with full driving licences.

There is mention in the Independent article of “the private sector [being] asked to help to fill any shortages of examiners and test centres.” I can’t get as worked up over this as some ADIs seem to be doing. It doesn’t specify who the “private sector” are, and it’s only the usual bunch of anti-DVSA instructors who are assuming that it means random people taken off the streets.

Another change that looks like it is going to happen anyway is that people will no longer have to declare themselves fit to drive when they reach 70. The age limit will be raised to 75. This is frightening.

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I’ll believe it when I see it, but DfT has announced a “task force” to look into the problem of “pointless road signs”.One example of erroneous signage

I’m sorry, but they’ve not got the complete story. It isn’t just pointless signs, but also ones which are blatantly wrong – erected by incompetent people employed in sinecures at local councils.

In Nottingham, a good place to start when putting things right would be with the “Portfolio Holder for Planning and Housing”. The sooner the clown who holds that position is put somewhere where she can do less damage, the better it would be for everyone.

I’ve already mentioned how she has been directly responsible for hundreds – if not thousands – of 20mph signs being erected in her quest for a blanket 20mph speed limit. But what she also failed to do was make sure the old 30mph signs were removed. The image above is one I took back in May this year, but there are numerous locations where there is the same problem. Most of them are still there. Furthermore, in changing 30mph limits to 20mph ones, the fact that there were already 20mph zones within those areas means that much of the signage is the wrong size.

I believe I am correct in saying that a large sign is legally required at the start of any given speed zone, and smaller repeater signs are used within that as reminders (unless it’s a 30mph zone, in which case the presence of street lighting is the “reminder”). In changing the 30mph signs to 20mph, whole areas now have larger 20mph signs INSIDE the new 20mph zones, which implies that the limit changes at that point. The inconsistent use of 20mph repeaters in the new zones means that motorists could easily be misled.

As an aside, I have been sent some raw data files which show the results of the public consultations on the 20mph speed limit. I won’t spoil it, but watch out for a separate article on that.

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Someone found the blog today on this search term:

lane is marked obe route only do i beed ro ibdicate

I didn’t realise that catching a cold could carry over into someone’s typing. Either that, or they were typing in the dark (I hope and pray they weren’t doing it while they were driving, though that’s an increasingly likely problem these days).

The translation is:

lane is marked one route only do I need to indicate?

What this person is asking is to do with road markings and left-only and right-only arrows. The short answer is no. If the lane only goes in one direction and is marked as such then there is technically no need to indicate.Lane direction arrows

It’s not quite as simple as that, though. You have to ask yourself if the direction the lane goes is clearly visible to everyone behind you – visitors who may not know what you know, for example. And does the volume of traffic make it hard for people to see the arrows on the road?

I suspect the question is related to someone’s driving test, quite possibly because they have already failed one, or because they’re starting to worry about one they have booked. The first thing I’d do is ask your driving instructor – he should know what to do at the junction in question. If you’re not taking lessons with an ADI then you could phone your local test centre and ask for advice. The examiners are usually only to glad to help and they usually know the area well. Unless you clear it up directly with them, the problem you have is knowing what the examiners expect, and this can vary from centre to centre and around the country. There is no absolute answer, unfortunately.

With my own pupils on lessons, if they don’t indicate in a situation where they really didn’t need to (but could have), I always try to get to the bottom of why – did they decide it wasn’t needed, or did they just forget?

Something I always point out, though, is:

  • if you signal when you really don’t need to, the worst that could happen is that you’ll get a driver (minor) fault
  • if you don’t signal when the examiner thinks you should have, you could get a serious fault

Note that I am referring to the exact query made at the start of this article, and nothing else. Your signals should not be misleading. But nor should your lack of signals be misleading, either. And this applies only to learners and normal drivers only – if you’re doing your Part 2 test, signalling when you don’t need to is a driving fault.

If a pupil tells me they decided not to signal (and if they’re correct), I am happy with that. But if they tell me they forgot, then I’d much rather they signalled without absolute need in future (as long as they aren’t misleading anyone) to develop their MSM skills. Instructors just need to face facts that in the real world you are not going to get all your learners (or normal drivers) to make instant and perfect decisions, and sometimes it pays to err on the side of caution with a technically unnecessary signal.

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Back in January signs went up on the Colwick Loop Road near the Victoria Retail Park. They were the standard “screw you” type much loved by Nottingham City/County Council, gleefully declaring that road works would commence on 19 January 2015 for 30 weeks Naturally, delays were “expected”.Road works sign - with added attitude

Well, for anyone who has been keeping count, 16 August marked the end of 30 weeks. As I write this they are nearly two weeks behind, and judging from the  temporary lights and rubble-strewn verges they still have several more weeks to go.

What was particularly irritating about these road works – other than the fact that they cut off yet another route into and out of the city – was the fact that the cones and speed restrictions went up at 8am on 19 January, and yet not a single piece of work took place on the Loop Road until the middle of April. So we had to endure 15 weeks of traffic jams and rush hour delays for absolutely no benefit.

On the subject of benefit, Council’s road works website still doesn’t identify the purpose of these works. All it says is:

Nottinghamshire County Council is carrying out essential works in this area. This is to ensure that we provide a safe and reliable road network to our road users.

This is complete bollocks. The only purpose of these works is to give access to a new Sainsbury’s superstore which is being built on the industrial estate. The works are not “essential” and they are of virtually no benefit to the motorist. In fact, the additional junction on the Loop Road, the extra traffic, and the fact that the railway bridge can still only accommodate one lane of traffic each way all ensure that the motorist is going to get hammered once everything is finished.

I first heard what they were up to from a pupil whose husband worked for the Council. It seems to be common knowledge now, even if the Council is still trying to pretend otherwise. I came across official confirmation that they’re building a Sainsbury’s when I was using Open Street Maps to plot a GPS trace using my GPS tracker recently – the site is clearly labelled, as shown here in the large circle.Sainsbury's new store is clearly shown here

As an aside, you have to wonder at the mentality of Sainsbury’s board of directors. The company is suffering falling sales, and after 10 years of continuous growth they have suffered six consecutive quarterly falls in sales. They reportedly cannot compete any further with the price cutting specialists (Aldi and Lidl in particular). Yet here they are building an expensive new store within 500 metres of an M&S Foodhall, a Morrisons superstore, and a Lidl (marked by the smaller circles). They even have the resources to employ a bunch of graduates, who I saw being given the Grand Tour of the site a few months ago (though precisely what business the civil work on the other side of the road was of theirs is anyone’s guess).

But I digress. Another new feature of this development is a roundabout inside the industrial estate on Private Road No. 3 (to the lower left of the Sainsbury circle). It’s worth a special mention, given that it is just a few hundred metres away from the Colwick Test Centre,The Colwick fuel tanks

Private Road No. 3 is a long, mainly straight, and fairly wide road which gives on to numerous industrial plots. These include BDF (Britain’s largest onshore drilling company), various recycling plants (household waste and building rubble), an aggregate supplier, several commercial vehicle repair companies, cement mixers/suppliers, two major fuel suppliers (it’s hard to miss those fuel tanks from the road), and numerous other companies operating supply and warehousing services. Oh, and the test centre, of course.

Apart from that last one, you don’t have to be a genius to realise what sort of traffic uses this road (I’ll give you a hint: 90% of it is long, heavy, and has more than six wheels) and Private Road No.3’s design – if not purposely made that way – has certainly attracted such businesses, Until Nottingham City and/or County Council stuck its oar in, that is.

BDF, Wastecycle, and all those other people who have operated large commercial vehicles out of the industrial estate for decades in order to ply their trades will no doubt be surprised to learn that they don’t need a straight road after all. Obviously, what they they really needed was a tight roundabout, about 10m across and offset from the line of the road, so that anyone using to continue along the road has to travel more than three-quarters of the way round its circumference, successively pointing at almost all points of the compass as they do. But hey! It’s Sainsbury’s, right? I guess that someone somewhere is going to be benefitting from all this, but it isn’t you or me as the motorist.Quick! Put it away before anyone sees!

I don’t think anyone would be so stupid as to make this back entrance to the Sainsbury’s site one of the ways into its customer car park (I assume it will be for deliveries only), but I do think there are plenty of stupid people out there who shop at Sainsbury’s and who “get lost” often enough to end up trying it. And if they’re stupid enough to get in there in the first place, they will easily be stupid enough to cause further problems when they encounter the lorries they are holding up as they try to turn around.

Something else that isn’t immediately apparent (you can’t see it on the map above, but it’s there) is that to the lower right of the Sainsbury’s circle there is a cycle route which goes down to the river. As you approach the roundabout, the most obvious route (if you’re a cyclist) is anticlockwise on the roundabout – it’s about 80% shorter than doing it legally. Consider also that the major users of this cycle route are both cyclists and fishermen and you can easily see that the short route will be taken more frequently than the longer one.

Consider also that the kind of people who work at some of the places on the industrial estate. It helps if you know that they drive Audis, BMWs, and Corsas. For these people, speed limits are less than advisory, and Private Road No.3 is their own personal drag strip. I mention this simply because I’ve seen them going “the short way” already on weekend afternoons.

So there you have it. Another Council cock-up as far as overblown road works is concerned. And goodbye to another two simple routes, as they’re turned into convoluted junctions with yet more traffic lights.

One final thought. Don’t expect the “temporary” 30mph limit to go back to 40mph – especially not near the new Sainsbury’s junction. Even if it does, don’t expect it to stay there for very long after the first few serious accidents caused by dolts “getting confused” as they try to take their shopping home.

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I’ve been using Windows 10 for almost a month now and I’m very impressed with it. I’ve not had a single crash, and every piece of software I have works on it.

Something I want to start making more use of is speech recognition and speech-to-text (for dictation purposes). I looked around for a decent headset (headphones + microphone), but I couldn’t find one I liked. To be honest, their appearance put me off more than anything, with the boom microphones just looking like flat strips of plastic. I was really after something like my Sennheiser HD 205 phones, but with a mike fitted. And then I thought: why not fit a separate mike to my Sennheisers?AntLion ModMic retrofit boom microphone

After some searching I came across the AntLion ModMic. I checked out the reviews and decided this was the way to go, and a little more searching revealed that it is distributed by several companies in the UK. I chose LimeXB because they had the lowest price).

Once I’d fitted it – and it fits well – I started testing it. The first thing I noticed was that the sound level from the mike was very low. Windows could pick it up, but it was advising that I either speak up (which could have resulted in my lungs being expelled from my body, since I was already shouting), or move the mouthpiece nearer my mouth (which at that point in my testing would probably have meant inside it).

I’ve been through all this before with Windows. It’s not an actual fault with either hardware or software. It’s a settings issue. And I discovered that Windows 10 has a setting I’ve never seen before which fixed the problem immediately. Here’s what to do.

Click Search and type “sound”, then press enter. This opens up the Hardware & Sound app. Alternatively, open the Control Panel and select the app from there, then click on Sound. This dialog box (or similar – you may see different devices listed) appears:Sound DialogClick the Recording tab and you see this (again, you might have different devices listed):Sound app - Recording tabDouble-click the Microphone device and this dialog appears:Microphone propertiesNow click the Levels tab and you will see this:Microphone properties - LevelsYou’ll probably find first of all that the Microphone level is set to less than 100% (mine had defaulted to 80%). Set this to maximum. The interesting one is that Microphone Boost slider – I’m sure I never saw that in Windows 7 or earlier versions, though I’ve not really bothered with using a mike much in the past. Set this to maximum, too. Then click OK to close all the dialog boxes.

You should now find that your microphone is ultra-sensitive. You may even have to adjust the boost to a lower setting as it might be too sensitive, but you can do that as needed.

I’m just getting to grips with Windows 10’s speech recognition. Even without any training (the computer needs to learn how you speak) I can open, close, and manipulate various apps. And dictation (which IS going to need some training) looks like it could be great fun.

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I nearly choked when I saw it. An email alert from Nottingham City Council says:

History made as new tram routes open

Nottingham’s new expanded tram network will open to the public on Tuesday 25th August 2015, it was announced today.

History will be made at 6am tomorrow, when the first trams on the new lines to Clifton and Chilwell commence passenger service.

Councillor Jane Urquhart, with lead responsibility for NET at Nottingham City Council, said: “This is a really great day for Nottingham. It marks the dawn of a new era when NET becomes a true network and, with trams running from every seven minutes, it is all set to provide easier access to key locations right across the city.

“The tram provides the backbone to the city’s integrated transport network, underpinning all the efforts to reduce congestion, improve the environment and make Nottingham an even better place to live, work or visit.”

It’s bollocks. I drove down Robin Hood Way with a pupil this afternoon, and at the Arkwright Street traffic lights – where the tram cuts across – the road is dug up. No one was working on it, and there is no way it will be gone by tonight. However, it isn’t actually on the tram lines, which explains why Nottingham City Council can make outlandish and blatantly false claims. But it is causing hold ups to traffic because only one car can pass at a time – and not even that if there is a bus at the bus stop which is almost opposite the junction. There are numerous locations where restrictions to everyone else are still in place.

I also drive down Beeston High Road this morning with another pupil. It was dead, and most of the shops were closed. Maybe when the tram starts running tomorrow we’ll see Jesus appearing with the Heavenly Host and everything will be all right again. More than likely, though, we won’t.

Let no one ever forget the incompetence that Nottingham’s tram system is built upon. Let no on ever forget that it is almost a year behind schedule. Let no one ever forget that it has cost them an arm and a leg in costs associated with traffic jams and additional fuel costs. And let no one ignore the fact that it will continue to do so for some months yet while they continue work which is not really complete after all.

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I just saw an advert for Colgate Max White toothpaste. It was filled with catwalk models with teeth so white you needed sunglasses.Colgate Max White - put your shades on

The fun part – if you don’t include how it was shot in pseudo-black & white to emphasise the whiteness – was in the small print at the end which says it contains 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. This is the maximum amount allowed in consumer products in the UK (well, the EU).

When a dentist uses it, he may use up to 35% concentration. So Colgate’s toothpaste is 350 times weaker than the stuff a dentist would use. And that’s before you take into account hydrogen peroxide’s instability, which means it will be weaker than ever by the time it gets anywhere near your teeth.

There is absolutely no way – no way whatsoever – that the models’ teeth became that white simply by brushing with Colgate. However, being models, there is close to a 100% probability that at some point they have paid around £1,000 or more to have their teeth whitened professionally – either by bleaching, or by the application of some sort of coating (veneer) which hides the stains. Judging by how goofy they always seem to look, my money is on the veneer option – where a thin porcelain shield is glued on to the tooth to hide what’s behind it (often needing some tooth grinding so the goofiness isn’t too apparent).

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I was shopping in Asda tonight. I paid for my items at the self-checkout by debit card, and also requested £30 cash back. I loaded my bags into my trolley, but I forgot to pick up my cash from the tray.

Let’s just say that there was a bloke behind me who didn’t call me back, and who hasn’t handed the money to anyone at the store.

Let’s also just say that I’d recognise him if I saw him again, and he’d better have a really good excuse if I do – though thieving scum like him don’t usually have to worry about excuses.

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For some years now, driving in Nottingham has been a nightmare. Apart from the tram (three years and counting), we’ve had gas main replacements (still on-going), and electricity cable replacements – both running concurrently (and in the same places) as the tram works).Nottingham - City of Road Works

We’ve also had sundry extended closures and diversions for Severn Trent to play The Little Dutch Boy as it tries to stem the myriad leaks in its pipework, and for builders to install service pipes and cabling to the numerous areas of greenbelt the Council has granted planning permission to build on.

On top of all this, the Council was recently awarded a grant from the EU for supposed “improvements” to the ring road, and a further grant to do something similar in the so-called “cultural zone” around Sneinton and St Ann’s. There was a condition attached that the money had to be spent by a certain time, so the Council commenced everything almost immediately. One area currently acting as a major bottleneck is the Crown Island.

Let me stress that the work on Crown Island is absolutely and completely a part of the Council’s “ring road improvements” scheme. The roundabout is currently cut from four lanes to two, so you can imagine the queues that form even when it is relatively quiet.

So it comes as a surprise to learn today that an event at Wollaton Park – some half-assed attempt to break the world record for the number of people dressed as “superheroes” all in one place – led to traffic jams. The Council’s official response (5.20pm) via the BBC was:

Nottingham City Council has apologised to people caught up in traffic around Wollaton Park earlier as thousands descended on its Superhero Picnic.

Councillor Dave Trimble said the support “far exceeded our expectations”.

“Given the high numbers of people who have attended this free event today, we have offered advice about possible alternative routes home. We are aware that motorists were caught up earlier in queues and we’re sorry if their journeys were affected,” he said.

I’m sorry to use this sort of language, but there is only one word that comes to mind here: wanker. He and the other halfwits at the City Council have created a major, long-term traffic bottleneck at the Crown Island to add to all the other bottlenecks they have on the go at the moment. What  they then did was to arrange a pathetic, childish event at Wollaton Park – less than a mile away from the roundabout in question – which they failed to organise or police properly. As a result, it was chaos. An earlier BBC report (around 4.40pm) says:

Congestion is building around Wollaton Park again, with slow traffic on A6514 Middleton Boulevard at the Crown Island and on the A52 in both directions between the QMC and Priory Islands.

Earlier there was a Superhero Picnic event at the park which caused traffic to come to a standstill nearby.

They should not be arranging such events while such major road works are in place. Even worse, this one was the equivalent of one of those house parties you hear about where some prat announces it on Facebook, and a load of gate crashers turn up. An even earlier BBC report (2pm) states:

Some families heading to Wollaton Park’s Superhero Picnic say they have been forced to turn back because of traffic chaos in the area…

[A woman attending said] “We set off from Arnold at about 10:30 and got to the Wollaton pub at 11:35, ten minutes later we turned around because the traffic wasn’t moving.

“Both children were crying because they were so fed up… we saw others walking away from the picnic too,” she said.

Motorists were going crazy (1pm):Tweets from motorists in the area

On top of that, buses were seriously delayed due to the gridlock. At 12.30pm congestion extended along the A52, A609, and Bramcote Lane.

But the beauty of all this is that – in the same news feed – the BBC reports that:

Managers and owners of businesses near Nottingham’s Crown Island say they’ve lost tens of thousands of pounds each because ongoing roadworks have caused access problems.

Landlord, Sarah Tutin from the Crown Hotel pub, said: “We’re a small business and we’re just being wiped out. We are at rock bottom now.”

So the Council incompetently decided to arrange an event involving 10,000 visitors to Wollaton Park, just off the island.

And here’s the punch line:

Nottingham City Council said the works are by the utility companies and their on-site engineers are in regular contact with the businesses to address any concerns.

Remember that word I used earlier? This just proves it. They are also liars – the Crown Island mess is THEIR mess, THEY created it. It is THEIR project. It is part of the ring road “improvements”. They’re also cowards – they can’t blame the utility companies, who would have to get permission from the Council anyway to carry out work of this magnitude.

For what it’s worth, I got stuck in it at Dunkirk at about 4.30pm as I was driving to a lesson.

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And another past hero(ine) of mine is consigned to history’s graveyard. Yvonne Craig, who played the original Batgirl in the 1960s series, has died of breast cancer at the age of 78.Yvonne Craig - the original Batgirl

She appeared in the third season of that series (1966) in an attempt to manage falling viewer ratings. She also appeared in the third series of Star Trek (1969) as the green woman (who I think also appears on the closing credits of that show).

She appeared with Elvis Presley in two of his films in the early 60s.

She also had roles in episodes of other shows I remember such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Land of the Giants, and The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

2015 has seen the demise of a lot of these well-remembered icons.

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