A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

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An email alert from DVSA states that all theory tests booked from 20 April are off until Friday 8 May.

Key worker tests will still be conducted. All those affected are being contacted.

I’m sure the rumours will start imminently, but 8 May is just a current future point. Depending on what happens over the next few weeks will govern whether or the lockdown is extended again, so further cancellations are still possible after that.

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ITV: Secrets of the Driving TestThis is a new series on ITV, where cameras were allowed ‘unprecedented access’ to the driving test and test centres, and each week (if it sticks to the same format), follows three candidates with a bit of background information about them, and footage of their performance during their tests. You can still watch it on ITV’s catch-up service.

Going from the first episode – and the ‘next time’ bit at the end (which I haven’t watched, yet) – it’s clear that their choice of which candidates to show is diversity-driven. And I mean ‘diversity’ in the broadest possible sense, with knobs on. I suppose just showing good drivers who pass easily would be boring, so you can maybe see why they did it this way. Obviously, there’s a lot of editing going on to get three tests condensed into a 30-minute slot, so it focuses on mistakes rather than the good bits, which fairly obviously makes it more watchable.

The narration is a bit annoying in my opinion, both in terms of the actual voiceover – it’s a bit grating – but also in what he is saying and how he says it (that grates, too). The funniest part, though, is seeing other instructors’ reactions to it. Not content with complaining about their own pupils’ results, now they can do it by proxy and whinge about other pupils’ results.

Nothing that was shown in the programme contradicts what I have experienced with my own test candidates. I always tell (or teach, or coach) mine that driving onto a footpath is bad and that they shouldn’t do it. And to assume a fail if they do. Because purposely driving onto a footpath and thinking it’s OK is not good by any stretch of the imagination.

Doing it for an instant, by accident – and who hasn’t clipped a kerb at some point (even when they’re super-perfect ADIs who hold court on social media)? – is in a grey area. Clip a kerb that’s half a meter high, and tear off the front of the car – fine. Fail, with knobs on. But brush a normal one (or clip a dropped kerb) at low speed? The examiner’s decision based on the rest of the drive.

In the 1st programme, one pupil had effectively passed minutes before returning to the test centre. Then he stalled repeatedly for trying to move off at a roundabout in 3rd gear. He’d just taken a wrong turn – which isn’t a fail in itself – but he knew he’d gone wrong and became stressed by it, resulting in the stalls. If he’d have realised after the 1st or 2nd stall he was in 3rd he’d probably have passed. As soon as the examiner had to tell him he was in the wrong gear – that’s ETA (V) on the test sheet – he’d failed. So close, but definitely a fail.

The second candidate had also passed minutes before the end. But then she sat waiting to turn right at a junction when it was clear that all the traffic ahead of her had stopped. I can’t recall from the programme if a filter light came on (I don’t think they showed that), but we have a similar junction in Nottingham, and more than one candidate has failed for sitting back. Definitely a fail.

It reminds me of a pupil I had about 12 years ago, As he drove back into the test centre, he had two driver faults on his sheet. The examiner asked him to drive forward into a bay (and back then it didn’t matter how you did it, or how many bays you used). So he braked late and hit the barrier. Only slightly, but he hit it. Fail. Driving into a bay is one thing, driving into a wall at the back of it is something else. Fair enough, the examiner could have passed him (and I’d have accepted that), but he didn’t (and I accepted that). Because it isn’t my call. It’s the examiner’s.

That’s what can happen.

When it comes to tests, I do my job, and I let the examiners do theirs.

Edit: Episode 2 – yep! ITV’s primary objective when conceiving this series was definitely ‘diversity’ among anyone appearing on screen.

The examiners are still definitely doing their jobs properly, though, and come across professionally. Mind you, the older woman from Cardiff’s test would more likely have been abandoned – or at least diverted back to the test centre early – around here. The candidates are clearly (mostly) hand-picked. Rich and Yolana were the only token candidates who were test ready, with Rich – as the older driver – making probably the most typical mistake people who can ‘already drive’ make when they go on test. The clips of his lessons showed him to be a decent driver overall. You could see Yolana was going to pass from the short clips of her lessons – she was good. Mind you, she’d have got a bollocking from me if she was mine after I’d watched the dashcam footage later, for choosing a bay next to a kerb to park in when the whole bloody row was free.

I’ve got a pupil at the moment who is in his late 40s, and who has years’ of experience driving in another country. He can genuinely drive, but getting him to understand the importance of blind spot checks, then getting him to actually check them, has been a nightmare. He failed his first test for it, and that was after around 25 hours of lessons. I’d got him to check properly on lessons, but he was only doing it as an artificial exercise and was not taking it seriously. So he fell back to driving like he has for the last 30-odd years in Africa.

ITV’s apparent desire to get mistakes on screen does show, though, that not taking proper training is not a good idea for the majority of people.

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First message on GOV.UK test bookingRegarding the three-month driving test suspension, be aware that the rearranged dates in June cannot be changed right now.

One of my pupils texted me tonight and said the time on the new date she’s been given isn’t convenient, but she couldn’t change it. I asked her for the booking reference so I could have a look and even on the first page the message above makes it clear you cannot do anything right now. If you do try to proceed further, you get this message.

GOV.UK main messageIt’s fairly clear. The entire DVSA is effectively closed as far as test bookings etc. go.

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An hourglassI’ve now officially cancelled all my pupils’ lessons (with the exception of a Pass Plus that concludes Tuesday, and I’m uneasy even about that. Update: I have cancelled it).

Not one of them had any issues whatsoever, and all of them fully understood the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in right now. I’ve told them they can phone me or text me at any time, because I’m always here (unless COVID-19 gets me first), and that I will contact them as soon as I know we’re OK to fire up again.

I fully understand the financial predicament many other instructors are in. But there comes a time when you have to realise which side of the seesaw has the heavier load. There’s no point trying to bounce down when there’s a two-tonne bag of sand the opposite end. And that’s where we are. This is serious shit beyond anything we have experienced before.

It strikes me that many instructors are only thinking of themselves – and (perhaps understandably) using their children as scapegoats. But COVID-19 is a problem that is so serious that people have got to start actively looking at alternative ways of dealing with not being able to pay the mortgage or the bills instead of trying to carry on working against the tide. Seriously, that’s going to be a lot easier than you imagine once you start dealing with it – and far easier than what is likely to happen if you don’t, keep working, and end up in hospital.

Remember (or understand) that COVID-19 isn’t just something you get, then get rid of. Evidence suggests that those who recover often have impaired lung function, and possibly impaired organ function. Basically, they’re disabled and susceptible to minor ailments later. Not everyone – it’s too soon to know for sure – but enough to ring the alarm bells. By trying to ‘feed your kids’ against odds, you could easily end up in a far worse position on that front once the problem passes.

I find it ironic that even though the government response stiffens by the day, the ‘I’m going to work no matter what’ brigade maintains a flat response.

It’s still a relatively free country, and people still have a relatively free choice (for now). But I’d like to think people would make the right choice before it is made for them.

Oh, and the title of this article just refers to my lessons. The blog’s going nowhere – especially seeing as I will have a lot of time on my hands.

Update 23/03/2020: I hear that both BSM and The AA have directed their instructors to stop lessons immediately. They will not be charging franchise fees for four weeks, and will review that later as needs be – and depending on what, if anything, the government comes up with.

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Virus imageHouston, we have a problem!

I only wrote this a couple of days ago, but I’m having to update it already. The problem I was referring to was that not many driving instructors understand statistics or come from scientific backgrounds. They are concerned about Coronavirus on the one hand, but trying hard to persuade themselves they’re not on the other because there are obvious financial implications if they cannot work.

I noticed that there is a Coronavirus infographic doing the rounds. It’s from China, and it reports that 80.9% of cases are mild, 13.8% are severe, and 4.7% are critical. It also points out that ‘the majority of people’ recover. The latter two percentages require hospitalisation and intensive care, respectively. The originator of this infographic on Facebook – not the original Chinese source, I believe – who goes under the Facebook name of Information Is Beautiful, concludes “the majority of… infections are mild”.

Let’s put this into a more real-world perspective. I’ll start with the bottom line: if the entire population of a care home were infected, the ‘mild’ and ‘severe’/‘critical’ number would flip, and the vast majority of those infected would be at great risk. The same would perhaps be true if, say, a special school with a high population of Down Syndrome pupils were infected, since those with Down’s frequently have breathing issues in the first place. In a hospital, where people may already be ill, it would likely wreak havoc.

Information may well be ‘Beautiful’, but Understanding Information In Context is a hundred times better. And since the original version of this article less than a week ago, the situation has changed dramatically – as anyone with any sense at all would have known would happen.

I have elderly parents, both of whom have COPD. If they were to catch Coronavirus, they would probably die. I have a pupil who has a baby son with Down’s. If he caught it, it would be a serious issue for him and his son. I have another pupil whose partner is pregnant (I quite possibly have several in that position without being aware). If they caught it, there would be an increased risk for them as a family.

People are still trying to liken COVID-19 to seasonal flu as a comparison. Coronavirus/COVID-19 is not flu, you idiots. Trust me, it isn’t. Flu can be prevented if you have an annual vaccination (and they picked the correct strains for it), whereas Coronavirus cannot. Coronavirus appears to be more easily transmitted than flu. But most significantly, the annual mortality rate from flu is about 0.1% of the population, whereas with Coronavirus it is anywhere between over 1% and 6.5% (the latter is the figure in Italy). In the UK, which arguably has the most precise count of infections than anywhere else, we currently have a death rate of about 4.5% based on the number of known infections (it was 1.8% when I first wrote this, and the number of deaths has gone from 10 to 177 in that time). It is far more deadly than flu – and there is no current protection.

As much as 70% of the population could be infected by Easter or during Spring – that would be around 40 million people. The death rate, assuming it stays relatively uniform, would mean that as many as 700,000 could die in the UK alone. And if the infection peaks again next year, this would put the current pandemic right up there with the Bubonic Plague in Mediaeval times when considered across Eurasia as a whole.

This. Is. Not. Flu.

Flu makes you feel lousy, but it only leads to serious complications in some people with underlying health issues, usually (though not exclusively) connected to pneumonia. Coronavirus can send the immune system into overdrive, and the body starts attacking its own cells, leading to multiple organ failure. People with diabetes and heart conditions are vulnerable, as well as those with lung problems (since pneumonia is also an issue). Basically, anyone with a weak immune system in the first place.

I had begun discussing with pupils the possibility of cancellations, and the precautions they should take. I am now stopping lessons completely after one Pass Plus course, which starts tomorrow and finishes Tuesday.

I had a near miss on Thursday. I texted a pupil to remind him of his lesson late Wednesday, and his mum texted back that they had ‘forgotten’ to tell me but they were self-isolating because she had a fever. Shit. I gave him a lesson the week before. Fortunately, having checked again, she just has normal flu and I’m safe. But imagine if it had been Coronavirus.

This pandemic is what you could call ‘serious shit’, and attitudes like ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ and ‘it’s just flu’ are a sure fire way of helping it be so – especially if money is the motivator for feeling that way. This isn’t just about you – it’s about a lot of other people’s lives out there. Literally, their lives.

Any vaccine is at least 12-18 months away from being available, since likely candidates are only now going into trials. The current infection is expected to peak within the next month (though no one can be certain), but it is also expected to peak even higher next winter (also, no one can be sure).

But as I have already said, those with underlying health issues are likely to die from it whenever they get it.

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An email when I got in tonight from DVSA. Here’s the full text:

Theory tests cancelled for 4 weeks

Due to the unfolding COVID-19 situation, from Friday 20 March 2020, all theory tests have been postponed until Monday 20 April 2020.

What DVSA is doing

We are emailing anyone with a test booked during this time to let them know their test has been cancelled and that they will be automatically refunded.

Your pupils should not rebook or rearrange their test at this time. Please do not call our customer service centre as they will not be able to help.

We will be monitoring the emerging situation and we will let you know if we need to cancel any more tests.

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This just came through. Driving tests are cancelled across the country for the next two days (19/20 March). Test centres are closing down. They will review the situation after that.

I’m not affected this week, but I have already warned my pupils with tests in the next month to be prepared for them not going ahead. I don’t see how they can do them with the situation developing the way it is.

It isn’t looking good.

Update 19/03/2020, 1.00pm: I have been speaking with many of my pupils who have tests in the next two weeks. I have explained to them that in my opinion there is a strong likelihood that tests are going to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. I pointed out that DVSA only sent out this communication at 9.40pm last night, and it means that ‘after that’ will fall over the weekend – so any further communication is unlikely (based on experience so far) until early next week.

One pupil decided we had better move his test back. I had booked it, and the earliest dates available are mid-June. From what I have heard elsewhere, DVSA is not allowing booking until then, so reading between the lines that is how long the test centres might be closed for. It’s three months.

I’m not saying that will happen. But at the moment it is a distinct possibility.

Update 19/03/2020 5.45pm: All tests have been cancelled in Northern Ireland for three months. Note that this is for Northern Ireland, which is a different agency to DVSA in the rest of the UK.

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