A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

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Driving TestIn April, I reported that the driving test will change from 4 December 2017. I won’t go into the details again – you can read them in the earlier article – but DVSA has published the amended Show Me, Tell Me (SMTM) questions on the GOV.UK website that it plans to use from December (the questions which are currently in use are available here).

The only real difference to the SMTM questions is that, from December, some of them will be asked while the candidate is driving.

As an aside, I had someone on test recently, and the examiner asked him to show how he would clean the windscreen if it was dirty. My pupil duly operated the front washers, at which point the examiner added: “how about the back one?” Sneaky! He demonstrated it, but that’s one of the new questions.

Anyway, I have some misgivings about asking questions on the move, since they will require additional multitasking by the candidate. I’ve got more than a couple who have a job monotasking as it is. I think I mentioned this a while back, but one of my current lot has a ball stud in her upper lip, which she is wont to fiddle with while she’s driving (well, she doesn’t anymore, as a result of the story I’m about to relate). On one particular lesson, we were turning right at a mini-roundabout. Given that roundabouts are her main nemesis, and that she had applied almost full lock to turn right in this instance, you would think that, when the ball fell off her stud at the precise moment she needed to steer back into the target road, she would prioritise her steering and not, for example, a headlong dive into the foot well to try and catch the ball. I expected the first option. She chose the second. I think I screamed.

The one particular question that seems to be winding up a lot of instructors out there is the one about testing the horn. The current question, asked at the start of the test whilst stationary, is:

Show me how you would check that the horn is working

From December, it will be asked on the move, and will take the form:

When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you’d operate the horn?

This is getting a lot of ADIs into a tizzy, because they don’t understand the Highway Code or associated rules properly.

The Highway Code says:

Rule 112

The horn. Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

Law CUR reg 99

Let’s clarify what this means. This is the only part covered by the MUST NOT (i.e. there is an actual law):

You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

I’ve actually seen someone quote that section minus the two bullet point conditions, and proffer it as evidence that DVSA is wrong. They’re actually suggesting that it says “You MUST NOT use your horn except when another vehicle poses a danger”. Sometimes, I’m almost at a loss for words – then I remember the blog, and I’m not anymore. That is not what it says, and it is not what it means. And the rest of Rule 112 is completely advisory.

A private car park, your driveway, your garage, etc. are not “on the road”. The test centre car park is not “on the road”. If it was, how on earth could you ever legally test the damned thing to see if it was working?

Now, if you look up CUR reg 99, the prohibited time period of 11.30-07.00 specifically refers to being “in motion” and on a “restricted road” (i.e one which has anything other than NSL assigned to it). So you are not breaking any law if you sound the horn on your driveway, etc. during that time period (or if you’re on an NSL road). You’d be a complete arsehole if you did it needlessly, but you are not breaking this law or Rule 112. There is absolutely nothing in CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 which says you can’t test the horn while you are driving during the day, or if you’re on your driveway, in your garage, or in a private car park – at any time. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t do it if it going to confuse or annoy people, and although it is frowned upon to use the horn “aggressively”, even this does not go against CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 as far as any laws go.

What it boils down to is that examiners are not going to be doing anything wrong if they ask candidates to demonstrate the horn safely on their tests whilst driving along. The SMTM wording doesn’t state explicitly that the horn has to actually be sounded, either. It says “show me how” – and that could easily amount to a miming action, which most pupils seem to go for by default when asked, in my experience (even if they sound it, they do it as though it is going to bite them and it gets a brief “pap”). After 4 December, if someone tries to test it by giving it a 10-second burst, that would reflect very badly on their instructor in my opinion, as it already appears that some are preparing to make these changes as painful as possible to everyone concerned in order to register their protest.

All of mine are going to be taught as follows when we cover this:

If the examiner asks you to show him how you would test the horn, I want you to explain how you would do it and point to the bit of the steering wheel you would push. Ask him if he’d like you to actually do it. If he says yes, give it a quick toot if you think it’s safe to do it. DON’T do it on a bend, at a junction, or while there are pedestrians and other cars around.

And we will practice that during lessons, as we will the other on-the-move questions.

I think the problem with some ADIs out there is that they have been conditioned over many years of misunderstanding the rules to believe DVSA is breaking the law. Newer ADIs are naïve, eager to jump on the anti-DVSA bandwagon, and were probably trained by people who have these misunderstandings to start with, thus perpetuating the confusion. It would make life a whole lot simpler if they all just acknowledged their error and got on with the job instead of trying to defend the indefensible.

Remember the KISS principle. If it was absolutely forbidden to use the horn on the move, the rules would state this explicitly and unambiguously. They do not do so.

As I said earlier, I have misgivings about these SMTM changes just because I know that some of my pupils – past and present – would likely try to drive into a field as they shifted their entire focus from the road to the switch, dial, or button in question (some of them even try that when they see another vehicle, a dog or cat, a pigeon, or some other distraction for too long). I’m worried – perhaps needlessly – that some are potentially flaky enough to fall back to that when under pressure (and I’ve been proven wrong on many occasions, so it’s probably me). On the other hand, it provides a valuable teaching topic on lessons to make them able to do it properly.

Looking at it pragmatically, if someone can’t drive and operate the very controls they will need in the circumstances they will likely encounter when they pass their tests, they shouldn’t be on the roads. If they can’t do it safely on their tests after December, they won’t be. And that’s good.

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TearsI saw a discussion about this on a forum. It was to do with terminated tests and “what happens next?”

On more than one occasion since I became an instructor, a pupil has done something which they know has resulted in a fail. And on more than one occasion, the examiner has persuaded them to continue with their test – even though the pupil wanted to stop – and carefully routed them back to the test centre. Also on more than one occasion, they haven’t actually failed (or if they have, it was for something else, and not what they originally thought).

Quite recently, a pupil of mine who is an excellent driver – but who is as mad as a bag of cats a lot of the time due to personal issues – had a meltdown and suddenly couldn’t even make the car move (she’s apparently taken her test six times previously).The examiner calmed her down, got her moving, and they came back to the test centre after about 20-25 minutes. I knew something was up, because when I’m at the test centre reading stuff online, I also monitor where the car is using my tracker, and I wondered why they were heading back so soon.

As an aside, that same pupil has recently exercised her mad as a bag of cats side by not turning up to a lesson she had arranged and confirmed, and not responded to my texts, or provided me with one of her immense range of carefully catalogued and indexed excuses. I suppose there’s only so many times you can lose your phone, or have it mysteriously not receive texts, or fall down the stairs, or off a chair, or into a hedge, and still have people believe you. She is now an ex-pupil, even though she doesn’t know it yet.

But back to the main thread. I do not give a flying f*** what the examiner writes on the test sheet in these cases. I don’t care if they tick the wrong box, apply the “incorrect” amount of pressure to their pen strokes, forget to flick their wrists properly as they mark a fault, add up the faults incorrectly, and so on. Some other instructors do, though, even where they acknowledge that the pupil was correctly failed.

Although examiners who abandon tests are supposed to stop the car, inform the candidate, then leave the car and make their way back to the test centre, many of them are human beings. This is especially true in Nottingham, and they will try as hard as possible to take the test to its natural conclusion back in the test centre car park. And yes, sometimes this may even happen if the test is effectively not completed for some reason.

I like it that way, and don’t need any arseholes trying to interfere with it.

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This article was originally posted in September, 2010, but it becomes quite popular every year when Ramadan comes around. I had a pupil on test a while back who failed, and she mentioned that Ramadan had started as I drove her home. She insisted that she felt OK, but I couldn’t help wonder if it might have had some effect on her concentration otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up.Ramadan Mubarak

Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims. During it, participants abstain from eating and drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Technically, those fasting are not even supposed to drink water (there are exceptions for pregnant women or those with specific illnesses), and some participants take it more literally than others. At least one reader has had concerns that Ramadan has affected their driving, and in 2016 it was unusually long at 32 days. This year, it runs from 26 May to 24 June, so it is pretty much a whole month again.

Some years ago, I worked in Pakistan – in Karachi – for a short time and was there during Ramadan. Some people ate during the day, but very little, and some fasted properly – but in the main, whether they fasted or not, they just got on with things and worked normally. After sunset, though, the street vendors came out and it was scoff-out time (I have vivid memories of the sights and smells when I went to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s tomb one evening).

At the other end of the spectrum, when I worked in the rat race over here, Ramadan and other such religious festivals were used by some (not all, I must add) simply to avoid work. I remember some of my shop floor staff trying it on, and although we knew that they were doing so (having a smoke outside when you’re supposed to be praying is a bit of a giveaway), the employment and discrimination laws in this country pretty much tie the employer’s hands.

I used to have the (bad) habit of getting up at 8am or earlier, drinking only a cup of tea, not eating anything until I finished work in the late evening, then pigging out on kebabs or curries. Occasionally, during the day, my blood sugar would get so low that I’d crave something to eat there and then – at which point I could easily put away four Mars Bars and drink a litre of Lucozade! Someone who is very slight would probably not be able to get through the day without being affected at least partially – and this must also apply to those fasting during Ramadan.

If you are teaching Muslim pupils it’s worth discussing the subject with them – and just be open about it: they don’t mind talking about their religion – it’s people who think they do who have the problems. I’ve had several pupils in the past who were suffering during fasting, and in several cases we postponed lessons until it was over.

Irrespective of the reason for fasting, not eating could affect both lessons and driving tests because concentration could be impaired by low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This would apply to anyone who hasn’t eaten properly (remember that it could also be due to an underlying health problem, like diabetes, so I’d advise anyone who is experiencing such symptoms to check with their GP). Not being able to concentrate on driving during lessons is a waste of the pupil’s money whether it’s due to a cold, hay fever… or fasting.

Advice I’d give to anyone fasting during Ramadan is to take lessons or tests in the morning, and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. And I suppose it makes sense that anyone who isn’t fasting eats and sleeps properly, otherwise their lessons (or tests) could also be affected. In extreme cases, just put the lessons on hold until Ramadan is over.

As for the question about whether they should be driving or not, I think you need to be realistic. I’d say that 99% of white, non-Muslim UK drivers drive when they’re not feeling 100%, and Ramadan hardly turns most participants into hospital cases. I can’t see any automatic reason why people who are fasting for Ramadan shouldn’t drive.

Can I take my test during Ramadan?

Of course you can. However, you should consider how fasting affects you and your concentration. It might be better to plan ahead and avoid booking a test during Ramadan altogether. Alternatively, try to book an early test at a time just after you have eaten – or rather, before you start to get hungry.

Fasting during Ramadan affects my driving to work

Honestly, someone found the blog on that search term! The answer is simple.

If you are having problems, either don’t drive or don’t fast. What other answer did you expect? Some Magic Pill that makes it all OK? If you don’t feel well, don’t drive. And that applies whether you’re ill, drunk, menstruating, or fasting.

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Seized school car (West Midlands Police)Here’s a demonstration of how you have to be careful when you choose an instructor. The BBC reports that a learner in Birmingham was on-course to pass her driving test (no faults had been recorded) when the police pulled the car over because it had no insurance and no MOT. It happened in Tile Cross on Saturday (6 May).

The instructor, a 46-year old woman, and the pupil were taken back to the test centre where the police questioned the instructor. They seized her Green Badge and reported her to DVSA.

Evidence of damage to rear bumperLooking at the photos, there is evidence that the car had been rear-ended at some point in its recent past.

I’m not going to speculate (I’m sure some people will do that on the forums), but I bet the pupil isn’t happy. Having a clean sheet up to the point the test was terminated is no guarantee of having the same next time around.

And as for the instructor, it’s a perfect display of how to throw a career away. In monetary terms alone it would have been cheaper to have MOTd and insured the car rather than pay the inevitable fine this is going to result in. Factor in lost Green Badge, lost income, and increased insurance premiums – and probably extra travel costs as a result of a likely ban – and the full cost is almost incalculable.

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Sat nav displayAn email alert has just come in from DVSA advising that the driving test will change from 4 December 2017. The changes are as follows:

  • Independent driving will now last for 20 minutes (instead of 10 minutes)
  • 4 out of every 5 tests will use a sat nav for the independent driving part
  • 1 out of every 5 tests will use traffic signs for the independent driving part (as often done now)
  • turn in the road and reversing around a corner will no longer be tested
  • 1 out of 3 possible manoeuvres will be tested – parallel park, bay park, or reversing in a straight line on the right-hand side of the road
  • one of the show me/tell me questions will be asked while you are driving

The bay park exercise could involve reversing in (as now) and driving out again, or driving in forwards, then reversing back out again. The straight reverse on the right will be for about two car lengths, then driving back out into the normal traffic flow.

The sat nav will be supplied by the examiner and won’t involve route setting. Going the wrong way won’t result in a fail as long as it is done properly (as now with independent driving).

The show me/tell question asked while driving will be of the “show me how you’d clean the windscreen if it was dirty” kind (not “show me how you’d adjust your head restraint”).

Although the changes are watered down a little from what was being discussed last year, I am totally opposed to the removal of the turn in the road and corner reverse exercises. These should have remained on the list of possible manoeuvres to make sure instructors were teaching people properly. DVSA says that “you should still be taught them by your instructor”, but that is bollocks – within 18 months the majority of ADIs won’t go anywhere near them (many won’t right from the off), and pupils are going to start kicking up a stink when they know they’re not going to be tested and yet are still being taught them on lessons (especially the ones who have trouble with them, or who can’t afford lessons as it is).

DVSA has only provided the most basic information showing response to the consultation. There is no detailed breakdown of who voted what – God only knows why you would want to ask “the public” how it should be tested on something it can’t do very well in the first place – and some obvious weasel words which amount to “well, even though people said ‘yes’, we decided it would be ‘no’”, and vice versa. I know that some weak-minded ADIs who were involved in the trials were gushing about the changes from the moment they had their first meeting with DVSA, but I can’t believe that those with a mind of their own were happy with everything.

I don’t have an issue with the other changes.

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I updated this again. I’m still getting hits on the same search terms so I thought I’d give examples when I get them:

  • 13/10/2015 – “bribe driving examiner uk”
  • 14/03/2016 – “how to tell if your driving examner is corputed [sic]”
  • 26/03/2017 – “driving test how does bribe work woth instructors [sic]”
  • 26/03/2017 – “bribing driving examiner”
  • 28/03/2017 – “how much to bribe a driving examiner”

I wrote this article back in 2011, but I’m still getting people finding the blog on the search term “how do I bribe driving examiner” or something equally lacking in good English.Bribery - it means handing over money

Look. If you are so stupid that you don’t know how to do this, ask yourself if you really should be driving a car unsupervised. Because you really shouldn’t. But since you obviously are that stupid, it means handing over money in return for a favour – in this case, a test pass even if you are a crap driver.

The simple fact that you’ve typed the question into a search engine means it can be traced back to you, and for all you know the agencies could be looking for people just like you. So well done for flagging yourself up to them as a cheat and a liar.

It’s hard to fathom how weak-minded someone needs to be to consider criminal acts and to ignore the consequences of those acts as a viable way of getting what they want.

Bribery of driving examiners has less than a 0.1% chance of succeeding. However, the risk of jail or deportation for trying it is pretty much guaranteed. It’s far easier – and cheaper – to learn to drive properly and take your driving test. Just look at some of the idiots who have been prosecuted – two morons in this story, lots of them in this one, two more here.

One thing that’s becoming apparent is that the people most likely to consider paying someone else to do their test for them are usually from countries where fraud and corruption are written into the constitution. It’s also apparent that those most likely to take money from these idiots and then to try to impersonate them (even though they look nothing like them) come from the same communities!

Let’s try this in big red letters to see if it helps some of the stupid ones out there understand it better:

IT IS EASIER AND CHEAPER TO PASS YOUR TEST LEGITIMATELY THAN IT IS TO TRY AND BRIBE THE EXAMINER OR TO PAY SOMEONE TO IMPERSONATE YOU.

IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY YOU MAY WELL FIND THAT EVERY ASPECT OF GOVERNMENT IS CORRUPT, AND EVERYTHING CAN BE OBTAINED IF YOU PAY THE RIGHT MONEY TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE. IN THE UK IT IS THE EXACT OPPOSITE. THEREFORE YOU ARE TAKING A HUGE RISK.

YOU ARE PROBABLY DESPERATE TO DRIVE SO THAT YOU CAN GET A JOB. IF YOU GET CAUGHT TRYING TO CHEAT YOU’LL BE LUCKY IF YOU EVER WORK AGAIN IN THE UK.

EVEN IF YOU FOUND A CORRUPT EXAMINER (HIGHLY UNLIKELY IN THE UK), AND ASSUMING THAT YOU GOT AWAY WITH IT (EVEN LESS LIKELY), THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE YOU WILL END UP KILLING SOMEONE BECAUSE YOU STILL CAN’T DRIVE.

How can I tell if my examiner is corrupt?

Or, as it was asked to find the blog, “how to tell if your driving examner is corputed [sic]”.

Ask him. If you end up in handcuffs in the back of a police van, then he obviously wasn’t. Or you didn’t offer him enough.

It’s cheaper to learn to drive properly, you idiot.

Can I get done trying to bribe an examiner?

Or more accurately, “can I get done tryong [sic] to bribe a [sic] examiner”?

See above.

Is it easier if I get someone to take the test for me?

If you get away with it, yes. However, it will mean that you are still a crap driver and may well end up killing someone. However, paying someone to take the test for you is more expensive than learning properly. Your chances of  successfully gaining a licence this way in the UK are almost zero, and even if you initially get away with it, at some point they will catch the person you paid and take your false licence away. You will then be fined, perhaps imprisoned, or even deported if you are not a UK citizen.

If you’re still so stupid you want to try it, go ahead. And watch me laugh when you get caught.

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This article was originally published in February 2014. Updated in 2015, November 2016, and March 2017.A Clifton Test Route

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

If you’re an instructor, it isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go. To begin with, anywhere near the test centre is bound to be on most of the routes. If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time as you conduct your lessons, so you can add that location to your memory bank. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests – some of them will be able to give you some details, though many won’t. If they fail their test, find out where the mistakes occurred – the examiner will be more than happy to tell you – and if it crops up more than once, modify your lesson structure and deal with it going forward. Finally, if you’re desperate to know the exact routes you can sit in on tests and learn that way. If you know what you’re doing you can even log the routes for reference – the picture above shows one of the test routes for the now-closed Clifton Test Centre (the orange dot), which I recorded myself. Click on it for a larger image.

Conducting your lessons only on test routes is rather foolish. Apart from the fact that you’re cheating your pupils by not teaching them to drive properly, examiners can change routes or mix and match from several routes any time they need to. Pupils who try to memorise test routes are far more likely to fail because they’re prioritising the wrong things – worrying about forgetting the route instead of thinking about driving properly. Considering that there are dozens of official routes at any large test centre, it would require a considerable feat of memory to store all of them, and then to be able to recall just one as needed. Based on my own experience, many pupils have difficulty recognising a street we’ve been on a hundred times before, so memorising 20 or more complete routes is even less possible for them.

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

I remember when I first became an ADI, and religiously downloading all the routes provided by DVSA (then, DSA). The documents consisted of tables of directions which were cryptic unless you knew roads by name and/or number, which I didn’t at that time. I made a single half-hearted attempt to plot a route before giving up – there just wasn’t time – and I quickly realised that it was pointless anyway. These days, I’d probably be able to interpret those route plans quite easily, but these days my pupils get to drive all over – sometimes on test route roads, sometimes not.

Hanging around test areas like a bad smell also gets you a bad reputation. You get in the way of real tests, if nothing else. But you’ll also end up struggling with all the other morons trying to do the same as you.

Where can I download test routes?

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

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if some smart aleck is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is behaving in an unprofessional manner. If you buy into that then you’re not much better. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway.

A desire to obtain detailed test routes for use on lessons seems to be something newly-qualified ADIs attach high importance to. Trust me: don’t waste your money.

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 tracker and I know where every pupil goes on their test (and I can see where they are while I’m at the test centre, so I know when they are coming back). This is purely for my own information, and publishing my logged routes would be completely against DVSA’s original reason for stopping publication. If it wasn’t already apparent from the rest of this blog, I have absolutely no inclination or desire to go against DVSA.

I have provided an old Clifton test route in the image at the start of this article (Clifton is now closed). What is interesting from my logged routes is how they change over time. Sometimes, tests follow precisely the same route as previous ones, but other times new sub-sections of route are added. And knowing where a pupil went on their specific test is useful if they fail and you need to identify exactly what went wrong, and where.

You can also record routes using dashcams. I recently showed a pupil where she had failed after the examiner explained it in the debrief, but she didn’t know what he was talking about. I placed it online for her to look at less than an hour later.

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

You don’t – and they’re probably not. They might even be totally imaginary, or simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes in order that the unprofessional person selling them has some justification for the price they charged you. They may just be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010 and which are almost certainly out of date. As I said above, routes change with time.

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

No. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – then your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them.

People fail tests because they can’t drive properly far more frequently than they do because they couldn’t recall a memorised route. However, not driving properly becomes much more likely when your brain is scrambling around thinking “now, what is it I have to do here?”

How many test routes are there?

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

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Originally published in 2012, previously updated in 2014. New update for 2017.


Melted chocolateI will never understand why driving instructors get themselves so wound up about mock tests. I mean, I know why they do, but I’ll never understand. The only test which matters is the actual driving test, and the outcome of any arbitrary pre-test conducted by the instructor (or one of his mates) is completely irrelevant as an indicator of how that real test will turn out. The best learner driver can make a silly mistake on the day of their test and fail, whereas the most nervous learner can put in a faultless performance against all the apparent odds. Mock driving tests are about as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to predicting how test-ready someone is!

I’ve mentioned before that some ADIs go to town with their little mock tests. They buy clipboards, hi-vis jackets, and wear a suit just so they can sit there pretending to be examiners. When I originally wrote this, some were already trying to use iPads (the DVSA had been carrying out trials with these at the time) to enhance their ‘mockability’ profile. Unfortunately, the problem with using tablets and computers is that when someone goes to test, for 40 minutes or so they’re not a learner but a candidate, and the examiner is not an instructor, and is not in charge of the vehicle in the same way an ADI is when he is teaching. For that reason, pissing about with gadgets during mock test performances (or at any other time) is right up there with using your mobile phone.

Comments often made on various forums suggest that some instructors spend the last few weeks before someone’s driving test just doing mock after mock after mock, gleefully reporting the “result” back to their “candidates”. At the time of the original article, some were even going public on forums when their pupil failed their real test, complaining that they had passed all their mocks and should have passed the test. It goes without saying that it was the examiners who were at fault in these instructors’ eyes.

The answer is quite simple. There is no way a mock test could ever be considered as “real”. The instructor isn’t a real examiner, even if he thinks he’s dressed like one, is armed with a colour copy of the DL25, and sits there all stern and serious (the last two Christmases, all of ours at one test centre have come out to tests in matching Reindeer sweaters). Even if he gets one of his mates to carry out the mock test, his mate is also not an examiner. The pupil knows this full well, and no matter how they score, they will more than likely still be shitting themselves on the day of their proper test. In fact, there’s every chance that the mock shenanigans will have made them even more nervous by gearing them up for an unpleasant experience, especially if they kept “failing”.Test Centre Sign

Mock tests seem to be of much more value to the instructor than to the pupil. ADIs start drooling over them even before they’ve got their green badges, and many seem to look forward to qualifying just so they can do the damned things. The chance to dress up and pretend to be important overrides all else.

A decent instructor will be highlighting what is and isn’t acceptable from very early in pupils’ training. If something is going well, there’s no need to say anything other than “well done”, etc. When problems arise, the change in approach is a “mock test” situation in itself. Instructors certainly should not be waiting until they start performing their “official mock tests” before relating driving skills to performance in the real test – by that stage they will be becoming habitual and will be much harder to rectify in the inevitably short time that remains,

I don’t routinely carry out mock tests for all the reasons I’ve given above. If a pupil or their parent asks me about them I explain how pointless I think they are, but that I’ll do one if they really want me to.

As an aside, some time ago I had a pupil whose father and sister used to invite themselves on to lessons. He had apparently had a lot of lessons already, and they were forever going on about the him taking his test (which they kept booking against my direct advice), and repeatedly demanded mock tests. The truth was that the young lad was special needs and was extremely slow picking things up. He’d only had a handful of lessons from me. He genuinely believed that if something in the mirror was moving further away from the car, it was actually getting nearer to it in reality,  and this prevented him from being able to carry out any reversing manoeuvre. I could not let him drive unaided without continuously having to intervene to prevent serious issues arising. On one occasion, he sailed into a busy junction where five roads intersect, then – right in the middle, after a red light on the periphery of his vision caught his attention – slammed on the brakes and attempted to come to a stop. In order to make a point, I gave in and attempted to “mock test” him – I think I had my hands on the steering wheel more than he did. Even after this, his father still wanted him to “have a go” at the test. I refused point blank and didn’t hear from them again.

I make it clear to all my pupils that I cannot possibly simulate a real test because I’m not an examiner. I absolutely cannot reproduce the circumstances that lead to the nerves they will experience on the day of the real test because those circumstances are an inherent part of the day of the real test. And I emphasise that if they can drive on lessons without me getting involved, they don’t need a mock test.

It’s not uncommon for me to stop a pupil from emerging at a junction as they attempt to pull out in front of oncoming traffic. It’s part of the job. Every so often, though, one of them will subsequently ask “but apart from that, was it all right?” They are incapable of understanding that purely because of “that”, the entire manoeuvre or procedure was non-existent, and the danger they had put themselves in was of infinitely greater importance than whether they were steering properly (even their MSM on approach is completely sunk if the final assessment resulting from it was so poor). The same mentality carries over to the subject of mock tests, and they use them to try and itemise things which they shouldn’t do on the real test. The worst ones for it are those who can’t afford lessons, or who want to pass quickly, and they end up with an ever-expanding list of things they shouldn’t do. Getting them to understand that if they could drive properly they wouldn’t have to be worrying about remembering what not to do is nigh on impossible (similar to how there are people who think that hiring impersonators and trying to bribe examiners are cheaper solutions compared with learning properly).

On the rare occasions I do mock tests, they’re usually the decider in an ongoing discussion about whether to move the test date, where the pupil is reluctant. I don’t think I have ever done one which lasts the same length of time as the real test – the necessary data is obtained much more quickly.

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Learner car recoveryI saw this story a few days ago about a man in Norfolk who failed his driving test “in just 5 seconds”.

It reminded me of something that happened to one of my pupils about 7 years ago. He drove back into the test centre and I made my way through the waiting room to go and listen to the debrief. With hindsight, I think I heard a loud clang as I did so, but it didn’t register at the time. When I reached the car the passenger door was open and the examiner had his head in his hands and was saying:

I can’t believe you did that. I just can’t believe it.

I asked what had happened, and the examiner told me he’d asked my pupil to pull forwards into a parking bay, but he didn’t stop in time and had driven into the crash barrier surrounding the car park. I went to the front of the car and saw that there was no damage – just a very slight scuff. When I got back to the passenger side the examiner was still repeating that he couldn’t believe it. I looked at the fault sheet and said:

Do my eyes deceive me, or did he only have two faults?

The examiner replied:

That’s the whole point! It was almost a perfect drive.

Then he said he couldn’t believe it a couple more times, and added:

I’ve got to fail you because there could have been someone standing there. You can obviously drive and we’ll see you again soon.

My pupil was a very good driver, but in spite of that it took him another five attempts to pass in the end, as he picked up a different single serious fault on the four more he failed. I used to rib him about how he’d managed to fail that first one literally less than one second from the end. And I use the example to emphasise to all my other pupils that they mustn’t switch off as they head back to the test centre (which is a common issue with learners).

I should add that I have no issue whatsoever with the examiner’s decision nor with his explanation. He was 100% right. Examiners have no way of knowing how someone drives the rest of the time, which is why candidates need to be squeaky clean on their tests when it comes to safety matters. If they aren’t, the examiners have to (or should) err on the side of caution.

As for the pupil, we are still in regular contact – though I have ignored him this last weekend. He is a Chelsea supporter whose smugness is currently off the scale. And I’m not.

As for the guy in King’s Lynn in that original article, it’s a similar situation. Yes, he had a brain fart – but what if he’d had a similar fart while driving alone just as a group of school kids started to walk across a road? The examiner had to fail him, no matter how good the rest of the drive was. If he hadn’t, there’d really be no point in having a driving test system in the first place.

With new pupils, and especially (though not exclusively) those who have driven in other countries, I often say “UK rules, UK rules” at some point, as they turn into a junction and aim for the right-hand side of the road. With some, it is a deliberate act, but very new drivers it is just a steering issue.

I saw another ADI end up on a pavement and nearly through a hedge earlier this week as his pupil over steered into a junction and then didn’t straighten up (probably with a bit of gas thrown in for good measure, followed by blind panic, which usually happens). I think we’ve all been there at least once in our careers. Indeed, it was such occurrences that led me to realise that the dual controls are a useful tool for teaching beginners, and not something to avoid using at all costs.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated for 2017.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum last year someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow 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.
  • When it DOES snow a little it is usually gone inside a week or two.
  • 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 fell 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.

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy (Nottingham is certainly no exception here) means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

Will I be ditching my normal pupils and specialising in snow driving? Will I be buying a Ski-doo and offering lessons on that? I don’t think so.

You see, having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Which makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den, I suppose.

Those of us who remain here on Planet Earth will carry on doing things the way they do now: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

Here are some typical search terms people use to find the blog.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much snow 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 sense to do them so you can 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. Your instructor will decide. You won’t get charged for it – if you do, find another instructor quickly. Remember that if the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea.

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.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

He or she should do. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask. Why make life so complicated when a simple text will sort it all out? If he just doesn’t turn up, get another instructor as soon as possible.

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Realistically, they should only cancel if there is too much snow on the ground, making driving dangerous. There is the remote possibility that thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain might also provide a valid reason for cancelling – but in the UK, extreme occurrences of these are rare.

The decision to cancel a lesson due to bad weather lies solely with the instructor – not with BSM or any other school – so if yours is doing it when there is obviously no valid reason, you might want to look for another trainer.

Note that although DVSA will cancel driving tests due to fog there is absolutely no reason why your lessons can’t go ahead in it as long as it isn’t extreme.

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

Well, there’s no proper law which says your instructor can’t charge you. However, if he or she does (or tries to), find another one quickly because the Law Of Common Decency says that they should NOT charge you. Not in a million years!

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel – but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson – then it is a little more tricky. It all depends on whether the conditions really are too bad, and whether or not your ADI is making the right decision based on the right reasons. Unfortunately, this is between you and your instructor – but as I said above, if you aren’t happy then find another one.

If you want to do the lesson, but your instructor refuses, again – if you’re not happy with that (and you must be realistic about the conditions) – find another one. When I cancel lessons it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. All the others can handle it as long as conditions aren’t too bad. As a general rule, if the advice is not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, or if the roads are gridlocked, then 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. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson (we actually moved it back a few days) because I had no idea how long the conditions would last. With hindsight, it was the right decision because the snow continued for about an hour.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If someone is trying to charge you extra for such lessons, find another instructor quickly. Any half-decent ADI will use snow as a chance to teach something many learners never get to experience, not as an excuse to screw more money out of them.

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

A tricky one. Although I can’t vouch for other instructors, if I decide it is too dangerous to take one of my pupils out, then it is dangerous enough for any argument over it to be completely moot. I will always do lessons if I can (especially after my first frozen winter in 2009, where I was perhaps a little over-cautious to begin with) so the issue has never really come up.

If you really do disagree with your instructor, you could phone around and ask a few more ADIs if they have been conducting lessons. If they have, and if you’re still convinced, change instructors.

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 (see the picture above – that orange car is being driven by someone with a full licence, and there isn’t much snow at all, yet they have skidded off the road).

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.

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the roads. Most recently, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was very frosty and the side roads were icy. I also had one cancelled due to fog.

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 – which is one reason some unscrupulous ADIs might try and charge you for the hire of the car on the day as if the test had gone ahead.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 is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it – it’s on the cover note that no one bothers to read which goes with the confirmation email.

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

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1815, 1915, 2015, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And 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?

Use your common sense. Driving in snow is dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets are 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.

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

Incidentally, I keep seeing search terms like “cancelled driving test 23rd” from people located 300 miles away in my stats. The internet doesn’t work like that!

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED NEAR YOU – YOU WON’T FIND IT ON THE WEB.

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