A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

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DVSA logoUpdated: A further DVSA email clarifies the restart date.

DVSA has just sent out an email, which I suspect is intended to clarify things for those in this industry who find things more difficult to understand than most. I can’t see any other reason for it, since there’s nothing new in it.

In summary, it says:

The Government has announced new national restrictions will be in place in England from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December (inclusive) to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Driving lessons in England

The Government has announced that during these dates, driving lessons should not take place in England.

What this means for driving tests

Further to the announcement from the Government, all driving tests in England will be suspended from Thursday 5 November and restart on Wednesday 2 December Thursday 3 December.

Critical workers tests and lessons

Given the short period of time the new restrictions will be in place, we will not be offering a critical worker priority service. We will keep this under review.

Waiting rooms in England

During the national restrictions in England we will also be pausing our plans to open up other waiting rooms in England until after 2 December.

There’s more words in the email, and a bit more information, so read the full message in the link at the start of this article. But this is the crux of it here.

Now let’s see what social media manages to pick out of this one to argue with. My money will be on that last one.

Update (after less than 5 minutes): Well, well. I was wrong, and they haven’t got to the waiting rooms one yet. Instead, it is the first one – it seems that ‘the Government has announced… that lessons should not take place’ is apparently ‘unclear’ to these morons, meaning that they can give lessons after all!

Sometimes, I’m ashamed to be an instructor, lest pupils should think I am like these others.

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I rarely book theory tests for my pupils. However, one of my current lot had a practical test booked at the end of March and it was cancelled. We all know how the year panned out after that, and his theory certificate subsequently expired in June.

He doesn’t have internet access at home, and to cut a long story short as to why he hadn’t booked it himself, two weeks ago I booked his new theory test for him. The original date was 8 November – and you can probably see where this is heading.

Anyway, I got an email from Pearson VUE today, which says:

The Government has announced that England will be put under national restrictions from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Due to this, your theory test cannot go ahead.

You now need to reschedule your theory test at:

[link to booking]

When you sign in, you’ll see that there is a date and time for your test. This is not the actual date of your new test, this is just a placeholder, and you must change this to be able to take your theory test. You will need your driving licence number to do this.

Yours sincerely,
Chief Executive

When you click the link you have to log in with the candidate name, licence number, and date of birth,

As the email says, you will see a date given – it is not valid, so do not just leave it thinking you have a new date and time. You don’t. What you have to do is change the test centre, because that isn’t valid either. If you don’t, it will look like there are no available dates, but once you select the appropriate test centre available times and dates appear.

When I logged in, the dummy date given was 11 December and the test centre was identified as ‘NOTTINGHAM GBR’ with no actual address. The calendar widget showed no available test slots for the entire three month window. I selected the appropriate Nottingham test centre, and the address information was then given and available dates/times appeared on the calendar widget. The earliest was 23 December – there were available slots on only three days in December, then it was January.

Why is there no test centre mentioned on the rearranged date?

Groan! Something else to kick up a stink about. Look, the email tells you the date is a ‘placeholder’. If you log in and it says some time in December, it doesn’t mean you have a test in December – it states that clearly. What you have to do is select the appropriate test centre, then choose from whatever dates are available. And what dates are available will depend on who got there before you.

And you still need to be ready to go through all this again if the lockdown gets extended. If it does, it isn’t DVSA’s or Pearson VUE’s fault, anymore than having to cancel this time, or all the times before, have been. It is what it is.

No dates are available when I log in

Change the test centre. Then you should have dates to choose from.

The available dates are in January

Then book one and stop moaning. It is what it is, and complaining isn’t going to claw back lost time.

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DVSA LogoAs if it wasn’t already obvious – and it wasn’t to many ADIs out there – DVSA has issued a statement that theory tests are cancelled between 5 November and 2 December. They’ve clarified that with:

These measures mean all theory tests in England will be suspended from 5 November and restart on Wednesday 2 December.

An update on 13 November indicates that these dates are inclusive now, so tests restart on 3rd.

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DVSA logoAn email alert from DVSA explains that 9 test centres across England and Scotland will fully re-open from 30 October. Wales is not included since tests are currently suspended there.

Test centres involved are currently Alness, Darlington MPTC, Chesterfield, Garrets Green, Widnes, Cambridge Brookmount Court, Gillingham GVTS, Maidstone, and Swindon MPTC.

I’m certain this will not be acceptable to many ADIs. Frankly, even if they opened all of them from tomorrow, it still wouldn’t be acceptable to those people.

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA indicates they will be making an announcement next week about access to waiting rooms.

Driving test centre waiting rooms

It’s our priority to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect you, your pupils and our examiners, so for everyone’s safety we reduced access to our driving test centres.

We understand this is causing some of you issues particularly if your local test centre has no other local amenities.

Working with the Health and Safety Executive

As we set out on 21 October we’ve been working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and are reviewing individual centres to see how some waiting rooms could be made safely available.

Next week we will be issuing further information and guidance on what we will be doing.

I’m sure this will be wonderful news to some. I won’t be using them – not until there’s a vaccine. Far too many idiots who aren’t taking this seriously are likely to be in them.

In the last four weeks, every single one of my pupils either knows someone who has tested positive, or is someone who has tested positive. I don’t like those odds right now, and am leaving the roulette table for the time being.

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logsheetThis story has been doing the rounds since yesterday. You might remember that last year DVSA was looking into the introduction of graduated driver licences for the umpteenth time, and there was a large (and expensive) consultation over it. The subject comes up on a regular basis, usually once every 1-2 years.

I said back then that they were only ‘looking into it’ and it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Well, it seems that – also for the umpteenth time – it’s not going to happen at all, again. Well, not until some future repetition of the whole ‘study’, anyway.

‘Looking into it’ came around this time because statistics show that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident (often involving someone being significantly dead as a result) in their first 12 months of passing the test. And the statistics also show that it is most frequently young people showing off skills they don’t actually have who are involved. This was what the government wanted to address. Last year, anyway. And it put DVSA on the case.

Of course, a lot has happened since last year. For one thing, we now know that this government values livelihoods (which equates to votes) above lives. Anyway, keeping that ethic on a roll:

Roads minister Baroness Vere told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee that the Department for Transport was abandoning work on graduated driving licences (GDL), partly due to concerns about the potential impact of restrictions on employment opportunities.

That’s bad enough. All that time and money wasted just to end up making a decision they could have made last year, since it has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome or content of the consultation. The more worrying part as far as I’m concerned, however, is as follows:

She said that the DfT had asked the Driving Instructors Association to develop a new modular curriculum for learners to cover issues such as driving in adverse weather, at high speed, on rural roads, and how to handle distractions while driving. She also said the department was considering a logbook system to prove learners had undertaken all the necessary modules.

Brrrr. Flashbacks to the rat race will keep me awake tonight!

You see, I already cover all of those things on my lessons. The only thing often lacking is driving on snow, which isn’t exactly something you can dial up on demand in this country. More than 99% of my pupils get to drive in the dark – when I think about it, I’ve had far more trouble getting some of them to drive during the day if they’re learning between November-March and only do evening lessons. I’ve even worked as late as midnight on two occasions just to give two who’d learnt during summer the experience. The only harsh weather I won’t do lessons in at all is when it is snowing heavily and the advice is not to travel (basically, if I wouldn’t go out in it, my pupils aren’t). We wait until it stops, then the lying snow becomes a useful tool. They all go on the motorway, and they all get to drive on rural roads, including single-track ones. And whatever road we’re on, if it is safe to do so, they will drive near to the speed limit and learn to think well ahead.

So the prospect of having the DIA telling me to do it differently does not exactly fill me with buckets of enthusiasm.

The next worrying part is other instructors. To start with, not everyone has easy access to all the road types mentioned, and some instructors in rural locations might have to drive for literally hours to get anywhere near a motorway or dual carriageway, whereas others in cities will likely have the same problem finding rural routes. I also note that there are already numerous dissenting voices from those instructors who only work during daylight hours now complaining about the night-time driving bit. And even if whatever they do eventually come up with gets past the permanent dissenters, the issue of a ‘log book’ rears its ugly head.

The Pass Plus Scheme was a great idea. When someone passed their test, they did Pass Plus to gain experience of all road types and driving conditions. By completing it, insurance companies offered discounts to new drivers. But it was abused systematically by many ADIs throughout its lifetime. Rather than waste time and fuel on actually delivering the relevant modules (note that word used by the government yesterday), they would simply take payment and sign off the course as completed. The student got the certificate and the insurance discount, and the ADI got some money (up to £200) just for filling in a form. Consequently, insurance companies stopped offering the discounts, and that in turn killed Pass Plus – which wasn’t improving driving skills at all as a result of how it was being ‘delivered’. And history has a habit of repeating itself.

This proposed log book scheme would simply end up as ‘Pass-not-quite-Plus’, or ‘Pass Plus Lite’. It would be open to precisely the same kind of abuse, and I would lay odds that it would be abused pretty much from day one. It’s absolutely guaranteed to be. There are a lot of people out there who only work between school runs and don’t go anywhere near night-time driving even now, and they’re not likely to change. Furthermore, if the lockdown has shown anything, it’s that the number of militant ADIs who hate DVSA with a passion is substantial, and I’d wager a fair few of these would suddenly decide not to teach in the dark anymore just to be contrarian, or show ‘solidarity’ with those who ‘can’t’.

Passing responsibility to ADIs over something like this is a bad, bad idea. Not because we’re all idiots, but because far too many are. Mind you, on the plus side, since the DIA is effectively run by such types, the chances of them coming up with something that the government will agree on is as likely as Hell freezing over. All the same, whatever they do come up with – and, God forbid, if it were ever approved – will simply end up being change for change’s sake. I mean, if ADIs completing log books wasn’t a big enough risk by itself, the DIA will inevitably – and they will, if this goes ahead – recommend allowing mummy and daddy to sign off parts of the log book to overcome some of the issues created (night-time and all-weather driving, for example) as they try to ‘represent their members’. The government will never back that, because mummy and daddy are bigger liars than those ADIs who used to say people had done Pass Plus modules when they hadn’t when it involves their little darlings and the prospect of them taking fewer paid lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the syllabus as it stands. It’s written down clearly in ‘Driving: The Essential Skills’. The only problems are with how much of it gets taught by some instructors, and CCL was supposed to address that a few years ago. Once you start pissing about with what instructors are doing – again – you’ve moved just about as far as it is possible to go from the original issue of 20% of new drivers having serious accidents within their first year because of their attitude.

Only graduated licences stand any chance of dealing with that core problem.

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Virus imageIn normal times, when someone goes out on their driving test, it is quite possible for them to ‘fail’ before they even leave the test centre if they mess up on the bay park, for example (or try to take out the test centre gate on their way out). However, in the vast majority of cases the test still continues for the allotted time of around 40 minutes.

Occasionally, if someone has a meltdown, the examiner might decide to terminate the test early. In Nottingham, the examiners are all decent people, and what they usually do under such circumstances is guide the test back to the test centre and terminate it early there. Only in the more dramatic cases (or with one examiner at Watnall, who I haven’t seen for a while) do they do an abandonment, leaving the car wherever it is at the time. This can happen when the candidate is simply unable to continue or to drive safely. The last one of those I had was some years ago, where the the candidate had committed a simple mistake, which she realised, and which – in the examiner’s own words – was not a serious fault anyway, but she went on to have a full breakdown, was in fits of tears, and simply couldn’t continue.

In normal times, I have no issue whatsoever with whatever the examiner decides (even that one at Watnall). Some pupils, though, are furious to discover that even though they ‘failed’ early on, they were still given a full 40 minute test. ‘What’s the point?’ is their usual question, whereupon I explain that that’s the system, and they’ve paid for 40 minutes of test time and it makes sense to get the experience in full. Examiners are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

Right now, of course, we’re not in normal times. No normal tests were carried out between the end of March and August, and since they restarted there are obviously a lot of extra details we all have to be aware of, making them far from normal normal.

The majority of test candidates are young people, and the majority of young people are students. Unless you live under a rock, or in accommodation provided by QAnon, it won’t have escaped your attention that there has been a huge spike in the numbers of positive COVID-19 tests, and many of those are among students. Conversely, the majority of driving examiners are not young people, and many of them are in the demographic where the prognosis for a positive COVID-19 test is not good – for them, and quite possibly members of their immediate family.

As I have explained in recent articles, in the last month I have had to stop lessons for a student whose sister was sent into quarantine after members of staff at the school she worked at tested positive. I stopped lessons for another who was sent into quarantine after a staff member at his workplace tested positive (and I discovered today he also became positive last week). Another texted me last week to tell me he had been sent home from school to quarantine because his teacher had tested positive. And I have heard that an examiner has had to quarantine because someone took a driving test a couple of weeks ago and tested positive the following day (and that one raises a lot of unanswered questions about the candidate, their morals, and their intelligence). I also spoke with one of my student pupils who went home at the start of the lockdown and has recently come back, and he tells me his accommodation outside the university has numerous people who are positive and supposedly quarantining.

The COVID-19 infection path is complicated, and doesn’t follow the simple rules most people don’t understand even then. Technically, it would be possible just to come into contact with a single viral particle and get infected. However, the risk of infection increases in line with the number of viral particles you are exposed to, the frequency of exposure, and the length of time you are exposed to them. It’s a triple whammy. The more infected people there are, and the more time you spend around them, the greater the risk. It’s the same principle for most viruses and infectious agents, and COVID-19 is no different – other than there being no vaccine for it yet. This is why we have the various measures in place for trying to manage it, and it is no wonder that responsible people and organisations are following them, instead of trying to argue that they are wrong.

As I have repeatedly said, the situation we are in is far from normal. Rightly or wrongly, the decision was made to try and resume some level of normality following the lockdown. That eventually led to the resumption of driving tests – along with a raft of changes to how they are carried out. These include:

  • masks must be worn
  • test centre waiting rooms are closed – largely because they’re being used by examiners who are socially distancing in their workplaces as best they can (and even if they’re not, having ADIs in there would raise major distancing and sanitization issues)
  • tests are ‘terminated’ as soon as a serious/dangerous fault is committed, and the candidate is directed back to the test centre
  • instructors cannot accompany tests
  • instructors cannot listen in on the debrief

The reality – in Nottingham, anyway – is that there is absolutely no issue using the toilets in the test centre if you ask (I should say, ‘ask nicely’, but then I am always polite with examiners). As long as you are wearing a mask and don’t try to climb on the examiner’s shoulder by hanging through the door, there would appear to be no real issues with listening to the debrief from a safe distance, Even if you don’t, the examiner will likely have a quick chat outside. The only downer to all this is that if it pissing down with rain, you’ll get wet while the test is out unless you’ve taken steps to deal with it (and I have).

This is how it is in these very un-normal times. People tend to forget that it’s only been like this with driving tests for a couple of months, and with a vaccine likely on the way, it probably won’t be like it for that many more. I mean, Christ! Assuming there is a vaccine by Christmas, it means that we’ve had to struggle for barely a year with the whole pandemic (notwithstanding the false dawn in the middle, which has caused the resurgence we have today). And as much as I hate bringing the past into things, people had to put up with much, much worse restrictions and conditions during – and for a decade after – the Second World War. Standing in the rain for 40 minutes is hardly on the same scale.

But people are different today, and THIS is why we have problems. To start with, there is a large number of ADIs who are apparently card-carrying QAnon members and anti-vaxxers. From what I have seen, those who usually spend the better part of their time criticising DVSA over every single matter are the ones most likely to be among these. The word ‘contrarian’ springs to mind. Consequently, they know best about masks. I mean, within 5 minutes of the rule being sent out, the message boards were immediately filled by contrarian ‘what if…’ questions, and it would appear that 90% of instructors only teach people who have asthma, and have asthma themselves – even though a genuine asthmatic would not have that much of a problem with a mask in the first place.

The reason I know that is that shortly after I started lessons again, one of my pupils had an emergency  test booked. She has health conditions and is asthmatic, so I phoned her and explained the rules that had been sent out. I explained that unless a specific exemption had been mentioned at the time of booking, there was – from what I had heard from other instructors – the possibility that her examiner might refuse to go out. She resolved the issue for me immediately by saying ‘oh, I’ll just wear a mask then’. She did, and she passed. She also needed to use the loo as we arrived, and an examiner came to the door as she approached and let her in without question. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there really are people out there who genuinely cannot wear mask, but it’s nowhere near as many as some would like it to be, and asthma is not an automatic barrier unless it is accompanied by a dose of attitude.

Then there’s the waiting room issue. Yes, I would like to sit in the warm. But I can see with my own eyes that the examiners are using the waiting area (at Colwick, anyway) as an office space to help them socially distance inside. So, at the moment – in these un-normal times – there is no waiting room. It isn’t like I’ve not experienced a test centre with no waiting room before. There wasn’t one when when the Chilwell centre was first relocated, and there wasn’t one when there was a centre in Clifton. And none of them in Nottingham are actually located that close to a café or other place with refreshments (unless you include a pub in Watnall, which I have never seen any instructor enter). Of course, once this waiting room thing was publicised, we quickly discovered that most driving instructors apparently suffer from any or all of arthritis, rheumatism, dodgy bladders, and a variety of other ailments for which one of the specific triggers is apparently not being able to sit in the test centre waiting room.

Now we come to test terminations. Naturally, as well as being experts on every other subject (even though they never agree on the answer to simple driving-specific issues), it turns out ADIs see themselves as compensation lawyers, too. They’re actually trying to bolster each other up into starting petitions because it’s ‘grossly unfair’, and some sort of money-making scam by DVSA. They blame the backlog of tests on DVSA, readily apportioning blame when one of their pupils can’t get a test until next year.

For f***’s sake, people. It is what it is. We’re in the middle of a pandemic which has killed 50,000 people in the UK in little more than six months, with every sign it has come back for a bigger go. It spreads by close contact, and examiners are in one of the worst positions imaginable for it to do that. We only have our own pupils to deal with. They have to deal with all of us, and all of our pupils. And as I’ve already pointed out, a fair few of us are, unfortunately, militant deniers, anti-maskers, and anti-vaxxers – and that’s on top of being inveterate DVSA-haters. Examiners are therefore far more at risk from these nutcases than I am. I just stay away from them, but examiners can’t.

My justification for starting lessons again in late August/early September was based on the low number of infections being reported at the time. The risk of coming into contact with an infected person was low. My justification for stopping lessons again now is that the number of infections has gone through the roof, and every one of my pupils either knows someone or is someone who is infected. The risk of me becoming infected is virtually guaranteed if I continue.

And none of that makes me want to start f***ing whingeing about wearing a mask, not being able to use the waiting room, or having a test return early if someone screws up. Because as I said.

It.Is. What. It. Is. Right. Now.

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DVSA LogoAt the start of 2020, DVSA announced they were planning to make some changes to the theory test. Any planned schedule for that went right out of the window when COVID-19 came along. However, with things firing on two or three cylinders again, an email today gives a date for when the changes come into effect.

From 28 September 2020, candidates taking their theory tests will – instead of the current written scenario with questions – be shown a video clip and asked questions. For all practical purposes, a video of a scenario replaces the current written description of the scenario.

You still get asked the same number of questions and you still need to get the same number right in order to pass (note my comments elsewhere on the blog that if you are one point off the pass mark, you haven’t ‘failed by one’ – you’ve failed by eight). And you still have to do the Hazard Perception part of the test.

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Virus graphicWell, I had my first post-lockdown test today, and she passed with six driver faults. Well done to her!

Reading some of the horror stories on social media, I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving at the test centre. Half of me wouldn’t have been surprised to see armed guards at the gates and outside the waiting room going from some of the (probably embellished) accounts of other people’s tests.

Arriving in the car park five minutes (as clearly requested on the DVSA emails) before we were due, it was clear that alternate bays were coned-off to facilitate distancing. So we reverse-parked into one of them. Or rather I did from the passenger seat, since the pupil’s nerves meant she’d picked one with a cone in it, and with five minutes to play with there wasn’t time to piss about. She also wanted the loo.

On approaching the waiting room for the toilet, an examiner came to the door and opened it manually so she could go into the foyer, and no questions asked. The examiners are using the usual waiting room as an office so they can distance properly, and it is off limits to instructors.

One odd thing was that the pupil had to sign some sort of paper to say they were covered by insurance. Never experienced that before – and the paper was left in the car at the end of the test! The examiner wiped a few surfaces down before he got in, which is DVSA policy according to emails and the sign on the waiting room windows. I have no problem with that whatsoever, since examiners have no idea of who and what is turning up to test. In my case, I use a fogging machine to sanitise my car daily, and all my pupils that I’m currently teaching know my own isolating requirements (two have cancelled in the last week, one because she was unwell, but is OK now and it was just a sickness bug, and another is out of circulation for two weeks because his sister works at a school which has just had two positive COVID-19 tests, and although she has tested negative she still has to isolate). I noted that the test involved a satnav.

I’ve bought a waterproof cape in anticipation of being outside when it is wet at some point. Today was a beautifully warm and sunny day, so it wasn’t needed. I noticed that five out of six other instructors were sat together in two groups. I went outside the test centre compound and found somewhere quiet next to the river. My car has a tracker in it, and I can see its movement in real time, so I know exactly where it is at any time – useful for knowing when to make my way to the car park or (in rare cases) where the examiner has left it if there is a walk-back.

As my pupil returned to the car park, I made no attempt to go and listen to the debrief as I normally would, and kept my distance (as requested by DVSA in its emails). I noted that no windows were fully open – just the front ones a few centimetres. The examiner opened the car door wide as he did the debrief, but I stayed back. She gave me the thumbs up as I stood 6 metres away and shouted that she’d passed. I had to get a little closer at one point because she and the examiner wanted my opinion over taking her licence away, or leaving it with her to apply for her full licence herself. I explained that there could well be a delay in getting her new licence in the current climate, so unless she needed her provisional for ID purposes it made sense to surrender it and get things moving quickly (in any case, I pointed out she had her passport as ID if necessary). The debrief took as long as it usually does – no rush of any kind.

I gave her a sanitising wipe to wipe down contact points on her side before we switched seats for me to drive her home, while she made calls and sent texts to friends and family.

Absolutely no problems whatsoever. If it’s like this in future, the only issue is going to be the rain. DVSA doing their job, me doing mine.

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