A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

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Pro Pod - map history viewOriginally published in 2014, but updated due to numerous recent enquiries.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people looking for test route information. Once upon a time, official test routes were published by DVSA (when it was still DSA) and available for download. They stopped publishing them in 2010, but that didn’t prevent people who had already downloaded them circulating them. In later years – even right now in 2021 – certain unscrupulous instructors and money-makers were even selling them at silly prices.

One major problem with test routes is that they change over time as DVSA adds new ones or removes others. They can even change on the day of the test for reasons such as roadworks or road closures. And unless they are being officially published you have no way of knowing if ones given to you are correct – or if someone has just cobbled together some old information into a crude list of road numbers and names and perhaps charged you a tenner for it. I can absolutely guarantee that many of those advertised on old-fashioned HTML websites are these original out-of-date lists. The other major problem is that deliberately trying to teach just test routes doesn’t get better pass results, but it does produce less able drivers.

You don’t really need to know the precise test routes used. All you need is a general awareness of key features where pupils might have problems.

It isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go on driving tests, even without using technology. They’re never going to travel more than about 20 minutes away from the test centre in any direction, so all the roads leading to the test centre are going to be involved (minus motorways in most cases). If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time during your lessons, so you now know they use that road or location. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests, and although this can produce more confusion than it does answers, you might be able to extract a bit of useful information. The examiner will often give you some details in the debrief, especially where faults were committed. And finally, you can sit in on tests (when there isn’t a pandemic) and actually watch where they go. You can quickly work out which specific areas to concentrate on by putting all of this together into your lesson plans.

The best way, though, is to use some sort of tracking device, which logs the precise route taken by the car. These days, most satnavs have a feature which allows you to do this. Personally, I don’t like that method because it tends to be tied in with the satnav software, be satnav-specific, and it can be a right pain trying to download it and manipulate it on standard mapping software. The other problem is that you’re unlikely to be able to leave it running while someone is out on test, because the examiner will be using theirs, and thinking back to my old satnav years ago, it didn’t always get a signal if it wasn’t stuck on the windscreen. I’m not saying they’re like that now, but they are designed to be used in that position – and not in the glove box. And the other weakness is that the satnav is the recorder, so you have to wait until the test is over and you can grab it before you know where it went.

Dashcams are another way. The better ones also record GPS data, though often – like satnavs – you can only manipulate this within the camera manufacturer’s specific software. And again, you only get to see it after the event.

A third option is to use one of any number of apps for smartphones. These log routes in a format that mapping software understands. I’ve tried them, and they do work – with a few limitations. Firstly, you would need to leave your phone in the car when it went out on a test, meaning you’d be phoneless for the duration. A spare phone would work, but obviously this feature uses data, so you’d need a separate phone account. And when I tried them, the free versions of apps tended to be restricted to sample rates of 20-30 seconds – and that could mean a route through a junction and roundabout system might show as a straight line across a field or lake. If you wanted a 5 second sampling rate, you had to subscribe.Pro Pod - Hybrid map and satellite history view

My solution was to use a dedicated tracker. I use a ProPod tracker from Trackershop. It’s a small device the size of a matchbox, which I keep in the car. The main feature for me, apart from logging accurate position and even postal locations, is that it broadcasts its location in real-time. This means that at the test centre, I can watch the car moving on a map overlay (either on my laptop or the Trackershop app on my phone). It also means that if a test were abandoned for some reason – and that hasn’t happened yet – I’d know exactly where to go to find my car and pupil.

The picture at the top of this article shows an old test route for Chilwell Test Centre (click on the image for a larger view). This is my tracker dashboard ‘history’ view, with a specific historical time period displayed (the duration of the test in question) on a map overlay. The picture just above (click it for a larger image) is the same route with the satellite view enabled. You can zoom in almost to the level where pedestrians would be visible.

The Trackershop cloud service keeps journey history permanently (as long as you have an active account), and you can download and edit data as necessary whenever you feel like it – you just need to to know the date and time of a past test, for example, then go and find that route in your dashboard. As I mentioned, you can view data in real time on whatever overlay you have chosen, and watch the pointer moving every 5 seconds while your pupil is out on test – I find this useful for knowing when they are due back.

Pro Pod - KML file in Google EarthThe cloud data can be easily exported and downloaded. As well as GPS coordinates it logs times, speeds, and postal addresses for every data point. The picture above (click it for a larger image) shows the same test route displayed as a KML file rendered in Google Earth (note that I had to physically extract the GPS data to create this, but it isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing).

As I have already indicated, you should not be doing your lessons across such precise routes. But they do give you an idea of where tests go.

Where can I download test routes?

You can’t download them from DVSA. The sites that offer them are provided by people trying to earn money from something that is otherwise simple to do yourself. Given that test routes change over time, it is probably cheaper to record your own.

Why don’t you provide your test route data?

A point of principle. DVSA stopped publishing them because instructors were trying to teach only the test routes, and I know full well that that’s why people want the information now. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons and never have, but I want to know where the routes are so I can deal with any weird stuff.

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if someone is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is going against that. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway, and you would never know if they changed unless you kept on buying them every month or so.

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

You don’t, and they’re probably not. In fact, unless a local group of ADIs is giving you daily copies, they couldn’t possibly be reliable. In the worst case, they could be totally imaginary and simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes. Judging by some of the ancient-looking sites that list them, they’re quite likely to be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010. As I said above, routes change with time.

Is it possible to record test routes?

Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same (I use a Pro Pod tracker). If you use a phone app as a logger, you have to leave a phone in the car.

You can also record routes using dashcams. As well as using my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. On more than one occasion I have been able to show a pupil exactly where and why they failed, even though they had no idea what the examiner was talking about in the debrief.

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

Absolutely not. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow the satnav or road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them well before your test.

How many test routes are there?

It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. When they were still published by DVSA (while it was still DSA), one Nottingham test centre had 38 if I remember correctly. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them even if you knew them all. Being brutally honest, many learners on test might not recognise their own streets when out on test, so how can they be expected to ‘remember’ multiple routes?

Can I use my tablet to log routes?

Potentially, yes. If it has a GPS chip inside, it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the internet or a phone network to log GPS positional data, though it would if you wanted to use it as a satnav or monitor it in real-time. However, you’d need some software that could make use of the chip. It would also depend on your device’s specification as to how accurate the data were, but you’d still be able to get decent route maps – they just wouldn’t always be necessarily precisely lined up with the roads on maps you laid them on to. I understand they are accurate to around 6 metres or better.

From what I know of Apple iPads, only the more expensive ones with phone connectivity have GPS chips in them. The WiFi only ones don’t.

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Logic For DummiesA lot of instructors are complaining about the waiting time for driving tests. Several of my own, who had tests cancelled back in March 2020, subsequently had to retake their theory tests. Rearranged tests are coming in for June/July. But ones I had to rebook came in at July/August. Worse still – and as of the start of May – those booking them cold are looking at September/October.

But there is another likely upcoming issue that ADIs haven’t cottoned on to yet.

At the moment, all those booking their tests were pretty much test-ready last March (or certainly, at the end of September/October 2020). But what about the thousands of learners who haven’t been able to start their lessons until recently? Over the next few months, they will all become test-ready too. And there is a whole year of mainly 17-year olds involved in that.

I might end up being wrong, but logically we will end up with all those new learners wanting to be booking tests at roughly the same time. My guess (prediction) is that that is going to send the waiting time through the roof. And don’t forget that this is on top of all those who have failed their rearranged tests since. Heck, the pass rate will still be about 50:50 at best, so they’re going to have to book further re-tests.

I had one of those the other day. His rearranged test had been set for June, but he got a cancellation for this week and went in his own car. He failed, and is now looking at September – though he’s after another cancellation. The annoying thing is that a few weeks ago I had said that the cancellation checker he had signed up to was fine, but they tend to be short-notice and he might not want to get one for like ‘next week’, because we needed to polish a few things that had cropped up through driving extensively with his parents. But he ended up doing precisely that and getting a short-notice cancellation. And this is what happens. He won’t be the only one.

DVSA has put on extra tests and examiners, and that will obviously help a little. But they would need hundreds of tests and examiners to manage what is going to happen in a few months time.

Ironically, instructors desperate to fill their diaries to overflowing are making it potentially worse – for themselves, as well as everyone else. They are rushing pupils through for their own financial benefit. But many are moaning about pupils and parents asking if they can book the test after the first lesson, and refusing to do it. What happens when those pupils reach test standard and then have a five month wait ahead of them for the test you eventually allowed them to book?

I am trying to plan ahead. I’ve had four new pupils in the last three days. Those who have already passed the theory I have advised to book their tests (on the understanding we will move it if they’re not ready), since they are already looking at September/October, and realistically six months is a good period of time in which to get to test standard for the average learner with no experience. Those who haven’t taken the theory I have advised to get on it urgently so we can get the practical booked for the same reasons. I point out that if booking now is September/October, then if they add one month from now for the passing the theory, November/December is a likely date for the practical – with the worry that by then thousands of new learners from last year will also be test-ready.

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DVSA LogoThis is an old article which was updated several times over the years to maintain a link to an up to date DL25 – which was the name of the form used to record the result of a driving test. However, since November 2019, DVSA has switched to using an electronic version of the DL25 via iPads during the test. There is no longer a paper record created at the end of the test. And I have since discovered that as of April 2021 (and apologies if the link has been broken longer than that), DVSA no longer provides the DL25 for download. I guess it makes sense that they don’t, since it is now obsolete and would not reflect any changes to the test going forward.

What happens now is that the candidate is told whether they passed or failed, a debrief is given the same way it always has been (referring to the faults displayed on the iPad), and a copy of this same results list is emailed to the address given when the test was booked.

It’s a straightforward exercise getting the pupil to email or text you a copy if you really need it. Quite frankly, in most cases you don’t – you can refer to the pupil’s copy the next time you see them, and you’ll already be aware of what they failed for by listening to the debrief.

However, right now having a copy of the old DL25 is useful when conducting lessons – especially for new instructors. The test is still marked pretty much the same as it ever was (at the moment), it’s just reported differently. And the test report (explanations of what is expected) is useful to anyone learning to drive.

Here is a PDF file of the last DL25 form that I had. Note that some of the pages were for examiners’ internal use, and are not relevant to pupils.

The test report is explained in detail in this article.

Can instructors use an iPad when doing mock tests?

The short – and correct – answer is no, they cannot. There’s no point arguing about it: you can’t.

When a candidate is on their test, they are not classed as a learner driver. Therefore, the examiner is not the supervising driver. That is why the examiner is not breaking the Law by filling in an iPad form.

However, when they are on lessons, pupils are still learners, and that means the instructor is the supervising driver. It is illegal for whoever is in overall control of the car to use a handheld device while the car is moving (or if the engine is on, even if you’re stationary, if you’re going by the letter of the Law),

Personally, I have never understood the fascination many ADIs have with “mock tests”. The only test that matters is the real one – because it is conducted by someone who is specifically trained and authorised to administer them. Anything else is just play-acting. This is even more true when the test conductor insists on dressing up in hi-vis jackets and farting about with a clip board, when they’re either going to mark more harshly than an examiner would, or more leniently simply because they’re not examiners and can’t mark properly. While staging this performance, they are still the supervising driver.

Having seen many paperless tests in action (i.e. no big deal at all), I can assure you that filling in a DL25 by hand on your mock-test pantomime sessions  is not going to ruin the impression anyone has of you.

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COVID Lateral Flow Test StripAn email alert from DVSA is encouraging people to take lateral flow tests on a regular basis. I should stress that this is currently only targeted at Wales – and I have no idea why that is.

I have been ordering free test kits from the NHS, and run one twice a week. Each kit contains seven tests, and each test consists of a swab, a small pod of buffer solution, a sample tube, and a test strip/cartridge in a sealed pouch. You break the buffer pod and squeeze it into the sample tube. You open the test strip and lay it on a flat surface. Then you wipe the swab around your tonsils and up your nose. Dip the swab into the buffer for 15 seconds, squeeze it out as you remove it, and then clip the lid of the tube shut. It has a small hole in it, and you place two drops of the liquid on to the test strip. Wait 30 minutes, and your result is indicated in a window on the strip. You also get seven Ziploc disposal bags to bin everything neatly. Full instructions are provided, and there are online videos to show you how to do it.

Test kits can be ordered on the GOV.UK website. I did it on the basis that I am working with young people who might be infected. You can order one kit pack per day, and they typically arrive next day (my last one was ordered Sunday and arrived Monday). You can also collect them at various pharmacies, or get tested at a testing site.

While others can carry on arguing about whether COVID is real or not, whether it’s legal to ask people to wear masks, and threatening to appeal to the Court of Human Rights over the mere suggestion you might not be allowed to go on piss up to Magaluf unless you’ve been vaccinated or can prove a negative test result, I will carry on taking it seriously and trying to stop anyone else catching it.

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DVSA LogoA DVSA alert clarifies once and for all that theory test certificates will not be extended for road safety reasons.

The government has further considered the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the validity period of theory test certificates.

After careful consideration and in response to a recent petition the government has decided not to extend theory test certificates for road safety reasons.

This is the government’s decision – not DVSA – so I’d advise a lot of people to think of that before venting on social media.

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA came through today. In it, they outline measures for handling the increased demand for tests.

I wrote recently that only specific key workers can still get tests. This email doesn’t make it clear in regards the time frames based on the key worker situation, but I am assuming that it means once we can all start working again. To that end, they are running a recruitment campaign for driving examiners.

So if the last 12 months has put you off being self-employed, that might be something to consider.

One key point in the email is that DVSA says:

How to reduce waiting times

We also need support from you, your pupils and our examiners to help us reduce driving test waiting times…

It is vital that your pupils are test-ready when rearranging their tests, as tests could be at short notice.

I know it will fall on a lot of deaf ears, but since most pupils – even those who were test ready – haven’t driven since March 2020, there’s just an incey-wincey chance that booking a test for them as soon as you can get one is going to backfire, because they won’t still be test ready.

I guess the upside to that (for some people) will be that if their little darlings fail, they can then blame DVSA about the length of time for the next test, the reason they failed, and so on.

Plus ça change…

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA advises that they are introducing a limited theory and practical test service for emergency workers. The key details:

This will be available to:

  • NHS health and social care workers
  • the emergency services
  • local councils

Who need to both:

  • drive as part of their job
  • respond to ‘threats to life’ as part of their job

Because of the current COVID restrictions, we are not able to offer a mobile emergency worker test service in Scotland.

Teaching someone with a confirmed test booking

You can teach mobile emergency workers who have a confirmed test booking even if current local or national restrictions do not allow driving and riding tests.

You must not teach anyone who only has a routine driving test booked – even if they are an NHS health and social care worker, emergency service worker or local council worker.

They seem to have already tried to address the loopholes that certain instructors will immediately have looked for based on the last year. I’m now waiting to see what other complaints they come up with.

Read the full email, as there are a few other things you will need to be aware of – in particular, being able to prove that the pupil has an emergency test booked if you are stopped.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated annually, so here’s the 2020 version. It’s the end of December, we had a few flakes of snow in a few places, the papers are full of photographs of people’s dogs in snow, and children sledging on a combination of mud and 1mm of sleet, and dire warnings about the coldest winter since 10,000 BC (the last Ice Age). Same as every year.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there might be a market for specialised snow lessons at premium prices. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

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

Every year, the incompetence and bureaucracy at local councils typically means that every time there is any bad weather, it’s like they’ve never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are. Having a ‘specialised snow Instructor, in the UK (especially in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing the Mediterranean: bloody stupid!

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Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

One bit of advice. Make sure you have the right mixture in your wash bottle, and a scraper for removing any frost or snow. A further bit of advice. Never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a metal-bladed ice scraper. Always plastic. Trust me, I’ve tested metal ones for you, and you are welcome. Don’t use metal.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

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

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. If your instructor cancels then you should not get charged. If you are, find another instructor quickly.

If the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea. That’s when they’re likely to be cancelled.

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

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

Yes. If he or she doesn’t (or just doesn’t turn up without telling you), find another. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask.

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018). I’m telling you in the most absolute terms possible that this is utter nonsense. I have never heard of insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather, and especially not driving instructor insurance. If anyone tells you this, find another instructor quickly.

Do [driving school name] cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Cancelling lessons due to bad weather is down to the instructor and not the driving school they represent. So it doesn’t matter which school you are with. But yes, lessons can be cancelled for bad weather.

Any decent instructor might cancel lessons due to too much snow – either falling, or on the ground – making driving dangerous. They might also cancel due to thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain/flooding. The decision lies solely with the instructor. If you disagree with their decision, find another one.

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

There is no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you, but if he or she does it goes against all the principles of Common Decency. You should not be charged for bad weather cancellations initiated by your instructor. If you are, find another instructor as soon as possible.

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel, but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson, it’s a little more tricky. You being nervous is not the same as it being genuinely too dangerous. I had someone once who would try to cancel for light rain, bright sun, mist, and wind when she didn’t feel like driving. You’ll need to sort this out yourself, but as in all other cases, if you’re not happy just find a different instructor – being aware that if the problem is you, the issues won’t go away.

I want to do the lesson, but my instructor said no

You need to be realistic about the conditions. Just because your test is coming up, for example, and you don’t want to have to move it doesn’t alter the fact that the weather might just be too dangerous to drive in on the day of the lesson. When I cancel lessons in snow it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. On the other hand, if the police are advising against travel, or if the roads are at a standstill, I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

As an example, one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. His house was on a slope, and it was clearly becoming difficult to drive without slipping. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson. The snow lasted for about as long as his lesson would have, but was gone by the afternoon. Cancelling was the right decision.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If you’re charged extra for normal driving lessons in snow, find another instructor immediately.

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing, like the red car in the picture above.

You should never drive in snow

That’s total rubbish. Unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’, doing lessons on snow or ice is extremely useful for when you pass. Partially melted snow is ideal for doing ‘snow lessons’ if you have the right instructor. The one thing you do need is to make sure you are suitably equipped in case you get caught out. A scraper, de-icer, the right liquid in your wash bottle – and perhaps a pair of snow socks.

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Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes – as long as I feel it is safe to do so, and unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’. I do not do lessons in snow because I am desperate for the money – I will happily cancel if I believe it is too dangerous. And sometimes it is.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

Several years ago we had two winters where it snowed properly for the first time in around 26 years. I had not experienced it as an instructor before, and I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks I realised I was being over-cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I recognised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching aid. Not with the beginners or nervous ones, but the more advanced ones definitely.

Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.

I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

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

At one time, tests wouldn’t go out if there was any snow at all in Nottingham. In February 2018 during the visitation by ‘The Beast from the East’ (aka the ‘Kitten in Britain’), I had an early morning test go out with substantial snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway). You can never be certain, but be prepared.

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

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

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

No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back. And you shouldn’t be charged for your lesson or car hire that day.Snow on road scene 4

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test could easily be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, or 2018, etc.)

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1818, 1918, 2018, or any other date. If there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy then your test may well be cancelled. It doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets will likely be covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you will skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could easily lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions. You are a new driver and you probably haven’t driven on snow before. DVSA cannot take the risk, and you have to accept it.

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED AT THAT TEST CENTRE BEFORE YOU SET OFF – YOU WON’T FIND THE ANSWER GOOGLING FOR IT. DECISIONS ARE MADE MINUTE-TO-MINUTE AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT BY CALLING THEM.

In the past, I have had 8.10am tests booked in the middle of winter and sometimes I know for a fact that when I pick the pupil up at 6.30am the conditions are so bad the test is going to be cancelled. But until the examiners get in just before 8am there is no way of checking. That’s why I advise against my pupils booking early tests in winter – cancellations are far more likely when it is cold and icy, and it is more likely to be cold and icy (and foggy) first thing in the morning before the sun has come up properly.

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DVSA logoSocial media has been in meltdown all day because of the usual idiots and their ‘can we work or can’t we work’ nonsense. The answer was obvious to anyone smarter than a chimp, but DVSA has now confirmed it in an email for those who weren’t.

Driving lessons

The Government has confirmed that driving lessons must not take place in areas in Tier 4 from 20 December until the restrictions are lifted.

Driving tests

The Government has also confirmed that all car driving tests will be suspended in areas in Tier 4 from 20 December until the restrictions are lifted. This includes ADI part 2 and 3 tests and standards checks.

There’s more detail, so click the link.

My only concern is that this should also apply to Tier 3 right now. I mean, let’s face facts here. We have the new variant spreading like wildfire, people who will ignore the restrictions in place over Christmas… we’re going to Tier 4 whether we like it or not.

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It isn't rocket scienceMy article, Should I Become A Driving Instructor, is very popular. If you’re thinking of moving into this industry as a result of losing your job during the last 9 months, you might want to read it. Yes, it’s a long article, and if you don’t have the attention span to get through it then maybe you ought to reconsider this career path. But it contains information about the realities of the job.

One thing that crops up time and time again on social media (it used to be certain web forums, but time affects all things) is the issue of how much it costs to become an instructor, and therefore raises the second issue of avoiding franchise companies at all costs. Let’s take a look at things properly.

When you’re an ADI you will often get new learners whose first question is ‘how many hours will it take me to learn?’ Roughly translated, they mean ‘how much will it cost me?’ It’s the one question that has no absolute answer, and which immediately puts you in an awkward situation. Do you tell them the truth based on official figures, or do you tell them what they want to hear and show yourself up if they don’t achieve what you told them later?

When I first meet them, I try to rationalise the concept of ‘average’, and point out that DVSA statistics say that the average new driver takes around 45 hours of lessons with an instructor along with 20 or more hours of private practice with a family member or friend. I then point out that I have had people do it from scratch in as little as 14 hours (with lots of private practice), and others take as long as 160 hours (with and without private practice). The vast majority take between 25-50 hours (with or without private practice). Some initially lead you to believe they’ll never learn, and yet do it in less than 40 hours, and others who you’d bet money on passing keep screwing up and end up taking 80. So the average comes out somewhere in the middle, with some individuals being at either end of the whole range.

The problem is that many will listen to all this, and only hear ‘blah-blah-blah-14-hours-blah-blah’. They’re not uncommon – I had one a couple of years ago who’d never driven except for going out once or twice with his mum, and triumphantly announced after his tenth one-hour lesson: ‘that’s it, I’m ready for my test’ (he wasn’t). And I’ve lost count of those who have budgeted based on a fixed amount of money that they want to spend, and then go white when you explain the realities. Basically, for a new learner, learning to drive could take anywhere from 14 hours (in my experience) to almost 200 hours, with the average being somewhere around 30-40. And you can’t pick which one you like best and just do that. All things considered, it means that if their lessons cost £27 an hour, they are likely to end up paying out nearer £1,000 plus the cost of their test(s). It’s just how it is.

When it comes to training to be a driving instructor, far too many people only hear ‘blah-blah-blah-earn-£30,000-blah-blah-hours-to-suit-yourself-blah-blah’. But the same variables are involved. After all, a trainee instructor is identical to a learner driver in many respects – they have to pass a test. Three tests in the case of instructors.

First of all, you have to get through the theory (Part 1 of ADI training). Every time I do it using an app, I score 99%-100% (and I kick myself if it’s the 99% one) against the 85% pass mark. But the real pass rate for Part 1 the last time I looked is only around 50%, which is worth thinking about. You don’t need to pay anyone to train you for it. Next comes the ADI driving test (Part 2). It’s harder than a normal learner test in that you’re allowed fewer faults, need to complete more manoeuvres, drive for longer and further, and are generally expected to be of a higher standard than a new driver. Finally, there is how well you can teach others (the Part 3 test), which is probably the hardest of all because it will involve new material for most people.

You can take Part 1 as many times as you like (you could take it once every few weeks for the rest of your life if you wanted), but once you pass it you then have two years in which to complete the Part 2 and 3 tests. You are only allowed a maximum of three tries at each of these within that two-year window, and if you fail one of them more than that – or if you don’t pass Part 3 within the two-year window – you go straight to jail, do not pass ‘GO’, and have to start the entire process again once the two years are up. It is quite possible for this to happen, and it is even more possible that you will take at least one of the tests more than once.

When a learner driver fails their driving test they almost always need further remedial lessons before their next try. The same applies to someone trying to become a driving instructor, compounded by the fact that they will likely have invested more money and even planned their future around succeeding than a learner driver will have.

So how many hours are involved? In the article, Should I Become A Driving Instructor, I detail the exam costs and likely training costs. Let’s cover them again here. You can think of Part 1 as 0 hours if you do it yourself. For Part2, around 10 hours of lessons is average for a decent driver. For Part 3, let’s just say 40 hours for now. And the hourly rate for those lessons is likely to be in the range £30-£40 (let’s stick with £30 for the purposes of this discussion).

The Part 1 test costs £81 at the time of writing. Parts 2 and 3 cost £111 each. That’s a total of £303 just for doing each of the tests once.

The cost of training for Part 2 would come £300. For Part 3 it would amount to £1,200. So assuming you passed all the tests first time, and only did the average number of training hours mentioned above, your total outlay if you were paying by the hour would be £1,800. And if you did pass, you’d need to spend another £300 on your green badge before you could teach.

If you failed Part 2 the first time, you’d need to pay another £111 for a test, and any additional training – let’s say 4 hours, so £120. If you then passed Part 3 on your first attempt, you’d now have spent over £2,000. It would be your choice, but not doing any additional training would be unwise if there were issues to resolve. But as with what I said above, some people only hear ‘blah-blah-blah-pass-first-time-blah-blah’.

Now, although we said 40 hours for Part 3 training, some people might find this part a struggle and would need maybe 50 hours – sometimes even more. That additional 10 hours would add another £300 on to the overall cost, plus any additional tests if they had failed the first. Now they’d have spent over £2,300 – more if we include tests. And even if someone took only the average number of hours, but three attempts at each of Parts 2 and 3, their total outlay would be £2,250.

And just like any learner, you cannot pick in advance how much it ends up costing. Because what eventually happens is what it is. All you can say is that if you pay £30 an hour, and if you take the bare minimum amount of training, and if you pass each test first time, you will be paying at least £1,800. This is the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) approach that social media will tell you is the cheapest way.

Now let’s look at some packages available – the pay-up-front approach. I’m not going to mention any by name because I am not recommending any one of them above the rest.

One is currently advertising a Black Friday discount of £888 for a full course, including 52 hours of in-car training. The normal price is £1,000. Others come in at anywhere from £1,000-£2,000, and include up to 80 hours of training. At least one offers a money-back guarantee (there are conditions attached), and another offers a full refund of the course cost if you qualify and go into a franchise with them (conditions also attached, such as minimum term of contract). All of them offer inclusive remedial training (conditions attached, of course, such as there comes a time when enough is enough). But the important detail is the remedial training if you need more than the average number of hours – it’s inclusive up to a point, whereas on PAYG you just pay more for it no matter what.

During the lockdown I’ve had a lot of people asking me about training to become ADIs. One told me that a PAYG trainer had insisted on a minimum of 30 hours for Part 2 and 50 hours for Part 3 – that would amount to £2,700 even if you passed everything first time, and if the hourly rate was only £30 (it wasn’t specified). I would imagine that this isn’t a unique situation, either.

In all these examples – PAYG or package – the instructors are ORDIT-registered trainers. A trainer doesn’t automatically become bad simply because he is working for a company, or even if the company is one you’ve been conditioned to dislike because of what you’ve read on social media. You will be getting a similar standard of training however you do it and – as the example I just gave perhaps shows – any slightly bad apples might not necessarily be in the barrel you assumed they’d be in.

How you choose to train is up to you. But don’t be misled into thinking one way is either better or cheaper than another simply because of what you read in social media.

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