A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

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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”
  • 12/12/2017 – “have someone else do my driving test”

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 and grammar.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 a criminal act such as this as a viable way to get what they want.

Bribery of driving examiners has less than a 0.1% chance of succeeding. However, the risk of jail (or deportation if you’re not from the UK) if you try it is so high, it is pretty much guaranteed. It’s far easier – and cheaper – to learn to drive properly and to take and pass your driving test legitimately. 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 is a part of the political 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 those 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 – WHETHER IT IS IN THE EAST OR THE WEST – 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 [sic] 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.

Does bribing the driving examiner work?

Or, as was asked to find the blog, “does bribimg [sic] driving examiner work”?

See above.

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

If you get away with it, and if the person you choose is any good at driving, yes – but only in the sense that you won’t have to bother learning to drive properly. However, it will mean that you are still a crap driver and you may well end up killing someone. 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 did initially get away with it, at some point they will catch the person you paid, trace all those he worked for, discover you were one of them, 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.

Some idiot found the blog today on the search term “have someone else do my driving test”. Sorry, mate, but unless you get real you’ll be a loser until the day you die.

How could they catch me?

Look. This is the UK, and they take fraud very seriously. There is a special Fraud & Integrity department at DVSA which specifically looks for and investigates cases of bribery.

In any situation involving deception, you have the best chance of getting away with it if you are the only one involved, and the only one who is aware of it. By paying someone to take your test for you, or by trying to bribe an examiner, you are automatically increasing the number of people who know. You can control what’s inside your own head, but you can’t control others, and those other people – the test sitter or the examiner – are going to be involved with many like you also using their dishonest services. You can’t control any of those other people, and all it takes is for one of them to get caught, and the entire fraudulent network is immediately identifiable. Something as simple as someone being pulled over by the police for driving erratically could be enough to spark an investigation. The Fraud & Integrity group could even set up sting operations. Anyone an examiner has tested is known by name, and can be traced through their licence.

You would always be living in hope you don’t get found out. But eventually, you would be.

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Statistics - it doesn't have to be complicatedI first published this back in 2012 after someone had found the blog on precisely that search term!

Passing the driving test is a skills-based event, so probability doesn’t come into it – not in any way that could be manipulated or measured, anyway. But I had another one recently come to the blog via the term “the probability that a person passes their driving test is 75%”.

The problem here is that people get probability and statistics mixed up – and they don’t understand either.

Every test centre has a pass rate. These are all statistics – measurements of what has actually taken place – and any given test centre might have a pass rate anywhere from under 30% all the way up to 80% or more. Why is this?

Mallaig - north of nowhereTake Mallaig in Scotland, for example. It is a tiny fishing village in the middle of nowhere. It has something like 10km of roads in total, no dual carriageways, one roundabout, a total population of about 1,000, and is 140 miles away from the nearest motorway (it’s actually only a few miles north west from the place where Connor MacLeod was born in Highlander). In the business year 2017/18 a total of 21 tests were conducted at the test centre there, with a pass rate of 71%. In contrast, Nottingham has three test centres, and between them there were over 20,000 tests conducted during the same period, with a pass rate of about 45%. Nottingham has a population of over a quarter of a million, lots of dual carriageways and complex roundabout systems, a busy city centre, and protracted rush hours vying with overrunning roadworks and ever-changing road restrictions. Similarly, Bradford’s three test centres conducted around 15,000 tests, even though it has a slightly larger population than Nottingham and similar types of roads. However, one of its test centres had a pass rate of just 37% in the same period.

In 2012, Bradford – well, one of the test centres there – was highlighted as having the worst pass rate in the country at less than 30%. Bradford’s problem at that location is that there’s a high sub-population of non-UK nationals. As unpalatable as it might be to the politically correct mob, non-UK provisional licence holders have a tendency to want to go to test before they’re ready, and they will often do it in their own cars without ever having had any formal training in the UK. And they do it again, and again, and again, test after test, with no training in between tries. All large cities have this problem one way or another.

I’ve got just such a pupil right now. There is no way I would ever let him go to test using my car the way his driving is, and I have told him he needs more lessons before he tries again. But he won’t listen, and keeps going in his own car after taking a single hour with me each time. It’s hard to put this into words, but he hasn’t got a bloody clue how to do even the simplest of roundabouts, and when he encounters one with lanes marked on it the lines may as well not be there. In fact, in his head, they aren’t there. As soon as he realises it’s a roundabout he panics and – poof! – the lanes just vanish as far as he’s concerned. He is in his 30s and has driven for many years in one of those places where you are “able to drive” if you can put your head down and accelerate into heavy traffic and weave around hundreds of others all doing the same. It’s also one of those places where the men will never admit that they can’t do something, even when it is completely obvious to everyone – including them – that they can’t. He simply cannot get it into his head that he hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of passing his test until he sorts this out. But he’s got another one booked even now.

DVSA actually publishes pass rate data by ethnicity – something which surprises me, given the risks of misinterpreting the data to suit personal agendas – and if you look at the lowest rated Bradford test centre, the pass rate among those identifying as Asian or British Asian and Black or British Black is 34.5% whereas among those identifying as White it is 47%. You have the same skew in Nottingham under those same headings, and pretty much everywhere else. It’s a big difference, and although the data don’t go into finer detail, I would lay money that it is the non-British element within those groups which is pulling the figures down. Where the ratio of non-UK to UK is higher in any given community, the overall pass rate in the location covered by that test centre is so much lower.

Non-British Asian/Black people taking tests tend to be older, have families to support, have low-paid jobs (carers or security, for example), are desperate to get a licence to improve their prospects, and are isolated from their larger family and have no financial backup beyond their wages. They also tend to have many years’ previous experience of driving – albeit badly – and believe they are capable of passing the test over here. Habits are deeply ingrained. Whites tend to be 17-24 year olds who are only learning to drive because its the next thing they need to do in their lives, who haven’t driven much before (if at all) and so don’t have habits to break, who probably won’t get a car for the next year or two anyway, and who can often sponge off mummy and daddy for the lesson fees. It’s not a clear cut division, but it is the tendency nonetheless. And that affects the statistics.

You can already see how complicated this is. A test centre’s pass rate is meaningless except for comparing that centre’s performance over time, and it has no clear bearing on the rates from other centres in other parts of the country because other factors are involved. For example, Bradford’s apparent “improvement” since 2012 is highly likely to have been a deliberate manipulation to make it look better following the bad press it received back then. As an illustration, Mallaig’s pass rate could go up to 90% or fall to 20%, but that would not affect Nottingham’s statistics unless the change were the result of something which affected everyone in the UK, and in a quantifiable manner. I mean, imagine DVSA adding a motorway element to the test. Mallaig’s nearest motorway is further away than London is from Nottingham, so they couldn’t possibly do it, but test centres like Nottingham Watnall and Chilwell – which are both right next to the M1 – would see it affect on their pass rates.

Car with L plateStatistics are a statement of what did happen. They are not probabilities – a prediction of what will happen.

If someone takes a driving test having never driven before, and never having had any lessons, they will fail – no matter what their test centre’s pass rate is. Statistically, the centre could have a 100% pass rate, but someone who can’t drive has a 0% probability of passing. It follows logically that even if someone has had lessons, unless they’ve had enough to make them good enough they will still fail. Only when they have had enough training to make it possible for them to pass a test does probability enter into the equation – but even then it is still not something you can assign a definite number to, because so much depends on nerves, road conditions, events on the day, and so on.

All you can say is that if a candidate can drive to an acceptable standard, and doesn’t do anything stupid on their test (for whatever reason), there is a high probability of them passing. That probability is much higher than the pass rate at the test centre they’re using, but definitely much less than 100%.

If they can’t drive to an acceptable standard, the probability of them passing is close to 0%.

DVSA is not looking for perfect drivers who don’t make any mistakes. The criterion they are using is that the test candidate should be safe enough to drive unsupervised so that they can then gain more and more experience over time.

What are the chances of passing a driving test?

If you can’t drive, they’re approximately zero – you have no chance whatsoever. If you’re a good driver, your chances are very high. It’s that simple.

So my chances are better if I take one or two lessons?

If you can’t drive well enough to pass the test during those lessons, your chances of passing a real one are still almost zero.

Take the parallel park exercise as an example. If you can’t do it during lessons, you’re not going to be able to do it on the test. The same goes for every other aspect of driving that might result in a serious fault on test if you don’t do it properly.

What are the chances of passing my driving test after failing the first time?

Your chances of passing have nothing to do with your previous attempts. If you can drive without your instructor intervening on lessons, you’ll probably pass your test. If you can’t, then you will probably fail it.

Too many people go for their test before they are ready – especially when they’re desperate for a UK drivers licence. Some think they’re ready, some want to be ready, and some just don’t want to (or can’t) spend any more money. Then they fail.

If you’re not ready you will fail. Even if your dream came true and you scraped a pass, you’d be dangerous on the roads.

Yes, but what are my chances of passing second time?

Exactly the same as they were the first time if you still can’t drive properly.

I can drive, so why did I fail?

Assuming that you really can drive, it might just have been a bit of bad luck on the day – some other road user doing something you didn’t expect, or that you’d never had to deal with before. It happens.

However, a lot of learners mistakenly believe that they are better than they are. Many take their tests based on how many hours of lessons they’ve had (in turn, based on how much they could afford). The risk of failing is much higher if you approach your test that way.

What is the best time of year to take your driving test?

There isn’t one, any more than there’s a “best time of day” to take it. If you can drive – and don’t make any serious mistakes – you will pass, whether it’s at Christmas or in summer, morning or afternoon.

What are the statistics that somebody will pass their driving test 2nd time?

That term has been used to find this article. If you can’t drive properly, your “chances” are exactly the same as they were the first time. Passing the test is about ability, not chance.

What are the chances of passing the driving test third time?

That term has been used to find this article. The simple answer is that your chances of passing your test are the same every time you take it if you assume that your ability remains constant. If you get better at driving, your chances increase, but they only become “good” once you can drive well.

The likelihood of passing your driving test is based on your ability, not probability. People who fail at their first attempt are usually better prepared for the second. However, some people are simply not prepared at all and are just gambling on scraping through every time.

If the probability of passing your test is 75%, what is the probability of passing in under four attempts?

Someone found the blog on that search term. I suspect it is a maths question rather than a driving one, but I will answer it as though it were the latter.

Passing your test is not based on probability. If you can’t drive, then you have no chance of passing, and the probability is effectively zero. As your driving ability improves, so does the probability that you will pass. However, it is impossible to put a number to driving ability such that the probability of passing can be calculated, and even if you could, you’d then have to factor in other equally unmeasurable numerical representations of any number of unpredictable events on the day of your test which could shift your chances of passing either up or down the scale.

Just for the record, and as I’ve just explained, the probability of passing your test is not 75% in the first place. And whatever the outcome of your first attempt, that has no measurable bearing on what happens on subsequent tests. It is quite possible to only just fail one test, then fail miserably on one or more of your following attempts.

Generally, most people do improve between tests, but so many other variables are involved that general improvement in the candidate’s ability might not show up as a reduction in driver faults. I’ve seen people fail with perhaps two faults – one of which is a serious – and then pass their next attempt with maybe 9 driver faults.

Does everyone have the same chance of passing their test?

Everyone has the same opportunity to pass – they’re all being tested to the same standard. However, everyone is different, with different abilities, and success in the test is governed by ability.

Since I’ve been doing this job I have encountered people who, quite frankly, should be prevented by Law from ever going near a car. Frighteningly, I know of at least three of them who have passed their tests – one of those has had numerous minor accidents related to emerging without looking properly, and another did so much damage to her car in the fortnight she owned it by keep reversing into her gate post (three times that I know of) that she has given up driving and got rid of the car.

Aren’t you at fault for teaching these people to drive?

Believe me, I think about that all the time. I wish that we were allowed to tell people that they should give up the idea of driving. I have my own way of dealing with it – but I know that they just go and find someone who will carry on teaching them, and they take test after test until they pass.

I had a guy a couple of years ago who failed five tests with me (he’d failed several before). He refused to do more than a single one hour lesson before each attempt because he’d already “spent enough”. He argued that he failed on something different every time, and so all he had to do was not make that same mistake again and he’d be all right. He wouldn’t accept my explanation that his “different” mistakes were due to the same underlying issue, which if dealt with would increase the likelihood of him passing. That was in January 2014, and it was the last I saw of him. Well, until November 2014, that is, when I saw him coming out of the test centre as I was going in with a huge grin on his face. While he was with me, he spent £230 on lessons and £310 on tests over three months – pro rata, he would have spent a further £500-£800 in tests by the time I saw him nine months later in November.

This is how these people are. You can’t tell them directly that they can’t drive. And even if you did, someone would still teach them.

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Updated 4 April 2014 in accordance with the latest DL25 format on sheets my pupils are currently receiving. Note that this is slightly different to the DL25 sheet on the GOV.UK website.

Minor update 30 July 2017 advising of impending changes to the test from 4 December 2017. Note that even as of July 2018 the linked document is still not updated to reflect the new test which came in in December 2017


A lot of people find this site using search terms like “driving test report explained” or “what are S and D on the test report”. I’ve explained everything below. This is taken from the sheet you get whether you pass or fail your test, which is officially known as the DL25. The explanation sheet you receive tells you what the examiner was looking for, and why he or she marked you as they did.

I always give out copies to – or at least run through certain sections with – my pupils.

1(a). Eyesight Test

At the start of the test the examiner asked you to read a vehicle registration number. If you do not meet the eyesight standard then your test will not go ahead. If you need glasses or contact lenses to make sure you can read the number you must wear them whenever you drive or ride.

If you can’t read the number plate of a car the driving examiner (DE) chooses outside the test centre then you can’t take the test, i.e. you “fail” immediately.

2. Controlled Stop

You may have been asked to show you were able to stop your vehicle in good time and under full control, as if in an emergency situation. Remember, when driving in wet or icy weather conditions, it will take you longer to stop safely.

One in every three tests gets a full-blown emergency stop, and you will need to be able to do it the way your instructor taught you. In addition, the DE will ask you to pull over and move off again several times during your test, and at least one of these may involve stopping behind another parked vehicle or obstruction, and then moving off again.

3, 4, 5 and 6 Reversing and turn in road exercises

Depending on the test you took, you may have been asked to complete one or more slow speed manoeuvring exercises. You needed to show you were able to keep control of your vehicle. This needed to be done whilst taking effective observations and acting correctly on what you saw.

This covers all of the manoeuvres, although you will only be asked to do one of them during a normal test. The manoeuvres are:

  • turn in the road (not tested since December 2017)
  • left corner reverse (not tested since December 2017)
  • right corner reverse ((not tested since December 2017)
  • stop/reverse/move away from the right (since December 2017)
  • forward bay park/reverse out (since December 2017)
  • reverse bay park
  • parallel park

It is/was very rare for someone taking the test in a car to be asked to do the right corner reverse (it is/was usually vans which get that one) – but  you could have been asked to do it (that came straight from my local test centre manager). Likewise, some test centres don’t have parking bays and therefore don’t usually ask candidates to reverse bay park, but that doesn’t mean they never will (forward bay park is done away from the test centre in a supermarket or council car park). Your instructor should have at least run through any questionable manoeuvres with you because you’ll need to know how to do them once you’re driving on your own.

For all the manoeuvres you must be in control of the car (e.g. no stalling, not too fast or too slow, and not too jumpy). You must also be safe (e.g. looking for other road users before and during movement, and dealing with them appropriately).

7. Vehicle Checks

It is important that the vehicle is in good working order before you start the engine. The examiner asked you some safety questions of a ‘show me / tell me’ nature. You needed to show a basic knowledge of the checks you should make on a regular basis. These include checks on oil and water levels and tyre pressure and tread depth.

This refers to the show-me-tell-me questions. Make sure you can answer them for the car you take your test in – for example, knowing how to check the oil using the dipstick is one thing, but being able to identify where it is another matter entirely.

Note that from 4 December 2017 one of the questions will be asked while you are actually driving. I’ll update this article nearer the time.

11 Precautions

These checks are simple but important. Before you started the engine, you needed to make sure that your seat was adjusted correctly to allow you to reach all your driving controls with ease. This is because an incorrect seat position can affect your ability to take observations and keep proper control of the vehicle.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a pupil who was asked to go through the cockpit drill on their test. However, I have heard stories of candidates being asked to do it, so make sure you know how to adjust your seat and mirrors properly.

12 Control

Throughout the test you needed to show you can use all the controls smoothly and at the correct time. This means less wear and tear on your vehicle and a smoother ride for your passengers.

This covers use of the clutch, brake, and gas pedals as well as the steering and other controls. Make sure you can use them properly.

13 Move off

You needed to show that you can move away on the level, on a slope and at an angle safely, under full control, taking effective observation. Move off only when it is safe to do so.

This covers moving off in control (e.g. without stalling) and safely (e.g. looking all around, including your blind spots, and signalling if necessary). Examiners tend to be quite relaxed about signalling when it isn’t strictly necessary, but they will pick up on not checking your mirrors and blind spots – so even if you signal correctly, if you don’t check properly you could be faulted for it. This is a common cause of failing the test.

14 Use of mirrors – rear observation

You should have used the mirrors safely and effectively acting correctly upon what you saw. Where mirrors are not enough, for example to cover ‘blind spots’, then you must take effective rear observation. You must always check this carefully before signalling, changing direction or changing speed. You needed to demonstrate you can use the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine effectively.

This relates to using the mirror-signal-manoeuvre (MSM) routine properly in all situations. It is another common reason for failing your test – particularly if you encroach on the lane next to you at multi-lane junctions and on roundabouts.

Check your mirrors (and blind spots, if relevant) before you change lanes or position (e.g. when passing parked cars or other obstructions). Make sure you look properly and don’t just go through a robotic routine – it is surprising how many times I see learners apparently look somewhere and yet fail to actually see the lorry or car coming straight towards us.

15 Signals

You should only use the signals shown in the Highway Code. On test you should have signalled clearly to let others know what you intend to do. This is particularly important if it would help other road users or pedestrians. You should have always signalled in good time and ensured that the signal had been switched off after the manoeuvre had been completed. You should not beckon to pedestrians to cross the road.

Forgetting to signal is a common fault – especially during the independent driving section of the test. Forgetting to cancel a signal is also common. Make sure you don’t signal too early or too late, and don’t signal to overtake every obstruction.

16 Clearance

You should have given parked vehicles and other obstructions enough space to pass safely. You needed to watch out for changing situations such as pedestrians walking out from between parked cars, doors opening and vehicles trying to move off. You should have been prepared to slow down or stop if needed.

Although it seems to vary depending on where you are, most DEs are very strict when it comes to passing parked vehicles. One common problem is when the candidate slows down for an obstruction on their side to let an oncoming vehicle through, and gets too close to the obstruction. As they steer out they often “shave” the obstruction (i.e. get close to it). Going too fast for the situation is also marked quite harshly.

Response to signs and signals

You needed to show that you can react correctly to all traffic signs, road markings, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. You should have obeyed signals given by police officers, traffic wardens, Highways Agency officers and school crossing patrols. You should watch out for signals given by other road users and carry on only when you are happy it is safe.

Be ready for traffic lights changing if they have been on one phase for a long time (going through an amber when there was time to stop is a common fault). Watch out for pedestrian crossings, and look for pedestrians standing near them – they will have pushed the button, so the lights could change at any moment. Look for school crossing patrols (be aware of the time of day), and don’t miss speed limit changes or other relevant signs. Read the road ahead by seeing what is happening and predicting what might happen next.

18 Use of speed

You should have made safe and reasonable progress along the road. You needed to keep in mind the road, traffic and weather conditions, road signs and speed limits. You needed to show confidence based on sound judgement. Remember, at all times you should have been able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear.

Don’t go too fast, and don’t go too slow. Don’t take chances. Plan ahead.

19. Following distance

You should have always kept a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front. You should be able to stop safely, well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave extra distance in wet or slippery conditions. Leave enough space when you are stopped in traffic queues.

A lot of people are caught out by getting too close to the car in front – either when driving or when stopping at lights.

20. Maintain progress

On test you needed to show that you can drive at a realistic speed appropriate to the road and traffic conditions. You needed to approach all hazards at a safe, controlled speed, without being over cautious or slowing or stopping other road users. You should always be ready to move away from junctions as soon as it is safe and correct to do so. Driving too slowly can frustrate other drivers which creates danger for yourself and others.

I once had a pupil who was a great driver, but who collapsed mentally whenever she took her test. One day, just as we were going off to a test, her mum came out to give her a pep talk: “Now don’t forget what we told you, Jane. Drive everywhere slowly”. I could have screamed. Less than 90 seconds after driving away she tried to merge with a busy 50mph dual carriageway (where most people do 60mph) at just under 30mph!

Don’t hold other people up, and don’t drive differently to the way you do on your lessons.

21. Junctions including roundabouts

The examiner would have looked for correct use of the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre MSM procedure. The examiner was also looking for correct positioning and approach speed at junctions and roundabouts. This is because these skills are essential for dealing with these hazards safely. Turning right across busy roads/dual carriageways is particularly dangerous. To drive safely and pass your test you must be confident that you can judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic safely. You also need to look out for other road users emerging and turning at junctions and be ready to alter your course or stop. Be extra watchful in poor light or bad weather conditions for the more vulnerable road user, such as cyclists and motorcyclists.

This is self-explanatory. Inappropriate speed is the learner driver’s worst enemy in many situations – if you can’t do the damned things at the best of times, why should attempting a junction at Mach 3 make it go any better? Think and plan ahead – and make sure you know how to handle situations in the first place before you take your test.

22. Judgement

Your examiner will have assessed your judgment skills throughout the test. You will have needed to show sound judgment when overtaking, meeting or crossing the path of other road users. You should have only done this when it was safe and legal. You should have made your intentions clear and been sure that you understood the intentions of other road users.

Again, speed comes into this for many learners. If you see a car coming towards you and there is a narrow gap that only one of you can get through, do not try and plough through – even if you technically have right of way (i.e. the obstruction is on the other side of the road). The Golden Rule as far as I’m concerned is don’t trust anyone else out there (and especially not if you’re in a car with L plates on it). Check your mirrors, slow down, and watch the other driver carefully… and remember that for most people who mess this up, it isn’t that they have deliberately decided to take the other car on – it’s just that they haven’t thought anything at all!

23. Positioning

You should have positioned your car in a safe position; normally this would be keeping well to the left of the road. You needed to keep clear of parked vehicles and be positioned correctly for the direction that you intend to take. You needed to look for and be guided by road signs and markings. Other road users may judge your intentions by where you are positioned so be aware of where you are at all times.

Don’t weave all over the road, and stay in lane (unless you are deliberately changing lanes for some reason). And watch the kerb, especially on bends (and when looking at the speedometer, and when checking mirrors, and when changing gear, and… you get the idea). Don’t get distracted by looking at or dealing with one thing for too long.

24. Pedestrian crossings

You should have been able to identify the different types of pedestrian crossing and take the correct action. You needed to monitor your speed and time your approach to crossings so that you can stop safely if you need to do so. You should have paid
particular attention where crossings were partly hidden by queuing or parked vehicles. You should also show consideration for elderly or infirm pedestrians who are trying to cross the road.

Self-explanatory. Look and plan well ahead and watch for pedestrians pushing buttons.

25 Position / normal stops

You should have chosen a safe, legal and convenient place to stop, close to the edge of the road, where you will not block the road and create a hazard. You should know how and where to stop without causing inconvenience or danger to other road users.

Self-explanatory. Don’t stop in driveways, opposite junctions, too far from the kerb, and so on. The examiner will ask you to pull over and drive off again several times, and they will be looking for mirror checks, signals, and your choice of location.

26. Awareness and planning

You must be aware of other road users at all times. Your examiner is looking to see that you plan ahead to judge what other road users are going to do. This will allow you to predict how their actions will affect you and react in good time. You needed to anticipate road and traffic conditions, and act in good time, rather than reacting to them at the last moment. You should have taken particular care to consider the actions of the more vulnerable groups of road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, other motorcyclists and horse riders.

Look and plan ahead and always assume the worst. Cyclists in particular are likely to change position or direction without warning.

27. Ancillary controls

You needed to show that you can operate all of your vehicle’s controls safely and effectively. The examiner was looking to see that whilst on the move you kept proper control of your vehicle whilst using secondary controls. These include demisters, heating controls, indicators and windscreen wipers.

If it rains, make sure you know how to use the wipers and washers. If it’s cold, make sure you know how to demist the windows inside. If it gets dark, make sure you know how (and when) to turn on the lights.

Eco Safe Driving

You should drive in an ‘eco friendly manner’, considering your impact on the environment. Plan well ahead and choose appropriate gears, avoid heavy braking and over revving of the engine, particularly when stopped or moving off. If you have to stop for a long period such as at road works or railway crossings, consider stopping the engine to reduce pollution and save fuel. The examiner will assess this on your test; however this assessment will not affect the overall result of the test. If there are areas that need improvement you will receive appropriate feedback at the end of the test.

As it says, you can’t fail for this (not yet, anyway), but driving in an eco-friendly way will save you money in the long run.

So how does the examiner mark you? If you look at the driving test report itself, you can see columns with “S” and “D” over them – that’s for “serious” and “dangerous” faults, and you are not allowed to get any of those (you’ll notice that the eyesight check only has a box under “S” – if you can’t read the number plate the DE points out to you then the test doesn’t go ahead and you effectively fail there and then).

You can get up to 15 driver faults (often called “minors”) and still pass – but you need to understand that there is no way any DE is going to let someone get all 15 in a single category. So if you stall the car once when moving off, you might get a single driver fault. Do it two or three times when you move off and you are sailing close to the wind. Do it more times than that and it will more than likely become a “serious”. However, it is quite possible to stall just once – in the wrong place at the wrong time – and end up with a “serious” or “dangerous” fault for it. Likewise, you could stall several times, each time in a different situation, and get away with much more.

What is the difference between a driver fault, a “serious” fault, and a “dangerous” fault? There’s no definitive answer, but an example would be moving away safely: if you don’t check over your right shoulder and no one is there (and you only do it once), that might be a driver fault. If you don’t do it and someone is coming (or if you do it repeatedly), that would be “serious”. And if you don’t do it but whoever is coming is close enough for you to cause a problem, that would be “dangerous”.

It is amazing how many people go to test without knowing the basics, and yet are fully clued up on how many faults they can “get away” with! Don’t rush going to test. Failing is not nice. Passing first time is – and it gives you great street cred!

What do the “S” and “D/C” boxes mean at the top of the form?

I believe that the “S” box is ticked if the car used for the test is a driving school car (as opposed to a private vehicle), and the “D/C” box is ticked if the car has dual controls fitted.

What does “DF” mean?

It stands for “driver fault”. A driver fault is what most people refer to as a “minor” fault. You can get up to 15 driver faults, but no “serious” (S) or “dangerous” (D) faults.

What do “R” and “C” mean under Reverse Parking?

“R” means you did it on a road somewhere (i.e. it was a parallel park), and “C” means it was done in a car park (i.e. you reversed into a bay).

Where is “dry steering” marked?

It isn’t. Dry steering isn’t marked anywhere because it isn’t a fault. As long as you’re in control you can steer pretty much any way you want.

What does ETA mean?

It means “examiner took action” and it can be marked under V (“verbal”, meaning the examiner said something like “STOP”) or P (“physical”, meaning the examiner used the dual controls or grabbed the steering wheel). You can assume that this is always a serious fault.

When marked – for example, if the examiner used the dual controls – many learners argue that they were “going to stop, but the examiner got there first”. My explanation to them is always that if the examiner had to do it, then they were too late and so they don’t have a valid argument. The examiner is not going to wait and see if you cause a pile-up before deciding you were at fault. He will let the situation go so far, then he will step in whether you like it or not.

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StopwatchJust a word of warning to anyone taking their test between 16 July and October 2018. There’s a good chance you’ll have someone sitting in the back when you do your test.

DVSA is carrying out a timing study on how long it takes the examiner to set up the sat nav and conduct the manoeuvre you’ll be asked to do, so the extra person will be there to record those things. They will not be assessing you in any way, so there’s nothing to worry about.

They have the legal right to do this, and you can’t refuse. Well, you could try, but chances are if you do you’ll not be taking your test that day and will lose your money, and then you’ll spend forever vainly trying to claim it back. Since you’d be challenging a clear legal situation in which DVSA is in the right, you’d almost certainly fail, and even if you won you still wouldn’t have taken your test the first time. It’s not worth the hassle. Just get over it.

It’s not uncommon for an assessor or even a rookie examiner being shown the ropes to come out on tests, and many people will have experienced that. It’s no big deal. When it happens to one of mine, if I was planning on sitting in then I just don’t – four people in the car might be pushing the candidate’s nerves a bit too far, and in any case there’s not enough room in my car unless I shift my training stuff box off the back seat, where it is securely fixed.

The study is being carried out at about a third of all test centres around the country.

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This article was originally published in February 2014. Updated in 2015, November 2016, March 2017, and June 2018.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. If you really want them, record them yourself.

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 – if you use a phone app, you have to leave your phone in the car, which raises various problems if it is paired with your in-car audio system, plus you can’t use it at the test centre if you’re not sitting in  – and I know where every pupil goes on their test. I can see where they are while I’m at the test centre in real time, 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). This one is overlaid on a satellite image from Google Earth, but you can overlay the .kml data on maps or whatever. Sometimes, it can be surprising how many times you do the same roundabout in a single day – or even on the same lesson if a pupil is struggling with it and you need to keep trying it.

Raw tracker data from a typical dayWhat 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 (I suspect this happens when existing routes get clogged with instructors). 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. As well as my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. A couple of years ago, I showed a pupil where she’d failed after the examiner explained it in the debrief. She didn’t know what he was talking about (if she had, she wouldn’t have done what she did), but I placed the video online privately for her to look at less than an hour later, and then she understood.

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 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 even 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 the satnav or 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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Pills in a blister packI recently saw a forum post from someone who has failed their driving test five times, and who says that the whole test business is too stressful and that they’re ready to give up. The poster says that they fret over the test for weeks beforehand, and that the repeated failures are affecting them deeply.

Many years ago – and I’d not been an instructor for very long – one of my then pupils (let’s call her Clare), who had previously failed two tests, told me she’d been to her doctor and he’d prescribed beta-blockers. I knew what they were normally used for and asked her if she was OK. She told me they weren’t for her heart, and that her doctor had prescribed them to help her with her driving nerves.

Being a naïve new instructor, I’d simply assumed that everyone would be like me, and that “getting butterflies” was par for the course. For most people it is par for the course, but over the years I’ve discovered that a fair number of pupils get it so bad that they are physically sick on test day – literally vomiting – and that is not normal. I’ve had others who start shaking when we arrive at the test centre (or who just break down) and can’t go through with it. And I’ve had a couple who, after committing a non-serious fault (the examiner told me that) while out on their test, suffer a break down and can’t continue. This is not “butterflies”, and anyone who dismisses it merely as “test day nerves” is talking out of their backside.

The effect on Clare was dramatic. She was already a good driver, but she improved even more as a result of a growing confidence. Previously – and I hadn’t cottoned on – she’d been a bag of nerves on her tests, but after she started taking the tablets she passed on her next attempt. From then on, if I ever suspected someone was suffering from crippling nerves, I would advise them to speak to their GP. If beta-blockers were prescribed to them, there was a marked effect every time – with some bordering on the miraculous. I can only remember one person out of many dozens for whom they seemingly did nothing.

Although beta-blockers are intended to treat heart conditions associated with angina and heart attacks, doctors often prescribe them “off-label” (i.e. not for their licensed purpose) for anxiety. The one they usually prescribe is propanolol. When I read up on the subject it turned out that actors and musicians commonly use them to ward off the effects of stage fright or the jitters when playing instruments. They’re banned in athletics because they give archers and marksmen an unfair advantage (steadier hands than without them) in competition.

Beta-blockers are a prescription-only medicine, and should only be taken if specifically prescribed to you by your doctor for this specific purpose. You must not get them from someone else, as there might be a medical reason you can’t have them, and the dosage might be different. One pupil wasn’t allowed them when she was in the early stages of pregnancy, for example, and was prescribed a lower dose while she was breastfeeding. Another had problems with his blood pressure and wasn’t given them. Another was already taking medication for anxiety and the doctor switched her to beta-blockers instead (which also helped as she was less tired with them), but another was already on anxiety medication and wasn’t given them because her existing medication was stronger. Only your GP knows your medical history and is able to make the call on whether you can have them or not.

Beta-blockers are not “zonk-out” pills. No one knows the precise mechanism by which they can be used to treat anxiety, but one way of looking at it is to consider what someone is like when they get anxious or nervous. Terms like “jangling nerves” sum it up. When I’m explaining it to pupils, I use the example of static hiss on a radio – as the hiss gets louder and louder (representing “nerves”) the music in the background (what they need to be concentrating on) becomes less and less distinguishable, even though it is still there. Eventually, it can be completely drowned out, and that’s what happens to pupils’ concentration if the nerves are hissing or jangling too loudly.

Beta-blockers reduce or even eliminate that background hiss.

Concentration and awareness of what is happening all around is vital when driving. Nerves act like a distraction, negatively impacting concentration and so reducing awareness. In the early stages of learning a certain level of anxiety and nerves is completely normal, and that’s why beginners often make mistakes. It’s later on – in cases where the jangling nerves don’t go away – that people can become discouraged.

One method I use to find out what’s happening with established pupils is to do some scaling to find out what they’re feeling. When I’m scaling pupils, I’ll set up the scale with something like this as we’re sitting parked up in a quiet location:

Imagine you have an inner pressure dial that goes from 0 to 100. Imagine now that you’re sitting at home, feet up, watching TV with a can of beer or a cup of tea. That’s ‘0’ on the dial. Then imagine you have an important job interview tomorrow, and you’ve got to do a presentation to a room full of people you don’t know. You’ve not been well, so you haven’t prepared for it properly, and getting the job depends on how well the presentation goes. That’s ‘100’ on the dial. Now, on that same scale of 0 to 100, what is the dial reading right now?

Most pupils will say something like ‘10’ or ‘20’. A fair number will say maybe ‘30’ or ‘40’. But every now and then, someone will come out with ‘70’ or more – and when that pupil has had maybe 20 or 30 lessons… well, that’s when my beta-blocker stories get an airing.

One of the best stories concerns the pupil who was initially breastfeeding. She’d been taking lessons for a long time before she came to me and wasn’t getting anywhere. She turned out to be one of those people who isn’t a natural driver, and she was going to find things difficult no matter who she was learning with, and no matter how many lessons she’d had previously. It didn’t matter what we covered on a lesson, or how much progress appeared to have been made, because by the next lesson she’d be doing things exactly the way she always did. Every stop was likely to throw me through the windscreen if I wasn’t ready for it, and she was like a cat on hot bricks with every action or movement. Driving in a straight line was fine as long as we didn’t have to stop – if we did, you could see the wheels in her head start to go round, the possibilities start to multiply, and chances were she’d try and turn left or right instead for no reason whatsoever. She was like a guitar string that had been tightened to breaking point when she was in the driver’s seat, and some days were especially bad. I saw her walking down the street a couple of times, and she was always in a massive hurry and looking flustered.

I’d already talked to her about beta-blockers, and when she’d gone to see the doctor – not her regular GP, who was away – she’d been told she couldn’t have them because she was breastfeeding, so we soldiered on for a month or two more. But then she went back to her GP – this time, her regular one – and asked again about using beta-blockers. He told her she could have them, but at a reduced dose.

The effect was astounding. All of a sudden, she was actually learning things, and they were sticking between lessons. If you represent the process of learning to drive on a 0-100 scale, she was at about 10-20% and getting no higher. Beta-blockers suddenly allowed this to climb to 40-50% over a couple of months. Then, disaster! She fell pregnant again and had to stop taking them.

The remarkable thing was that her driving stabilised where it had got to – it didn’t fall back – and we were in a much better position to move forward. Unfortunately, she then had a few family crises all in quick succession and had to put her lessons on hold.

The way I describe it, she was initially enclosed in a shell created by her “nerves”, and nothing new could get through – it was just deflected. Then, with the beta-blockers, the shell was cracked open and information was able to get through so that learning took place. When she stopped the medication, the shell closed up again, but what had previously got through stayed there.

Many of the others have marvelled at “how calm” they feel when they start taking them. One of my current pupils has gone from being stuck on a low plateau since she started last year to being likely taking her test in the summer – and it was definitely down to the beta-blockers.

You see, some pupils don’t like the idea of “relying” on medicine. But as the first example shows, you don’t have to. The medicine appears to allow confidence to develop, and that brings the overall “nerves” down so that the medicine isn’t needed permanently.

So, in a nutshell, if you really are having a problem with anxiety or “nerves” when you’re driving, a trip to your GP might be worth considering.

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This article was originally posted in September, 2010, but it becomes quite popular every year when Ramadan comes around. It’s spiked again in 2018, possibly due – in part – to insensitive comments by a Danish politician with an agenda.

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. In 2017, it ran from 26 May to 24 June. And in 2018 it runs from 17 May to 15 June. It’s pretty much a full month anyway.

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. It’s just common sense.

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Doing the theory testI must admit that wasn’t aware this was being looked into, but from today the Theory Test is changing slightly to make it “more accessible”.

Apparently, words like “increased” and “decreased” are considered to be “long and complicated”, so they have been replaced with “bigger” and “smaller” instead. I’ll take their word for it that this solution has addressed an actual problem, and look forward to future changes where “bigger” and “smaller” are replaced with “↑” and “↓” on the grounds that written words are too complicated.

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StairsLast December (2017), the driving test was changed to include use of a satnav, and two of the harder manoeuvres were replaced with two that my cat could do. From June 2018, learners will – at long last – be allowed to take lessons on motorways (with an instructor, and not with mum, dad, or best mate Kyle/Kylie).

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a new pupil if they knew about the changes, and they came out with something about “graduated licences”. I pointed out that graduated licences (GLs) have been talked about for almost as long as learners being allowed on motorways has (30 years at least), and although they are a good idea, their introduction is not going to happen in the near future.

I picked up this month’s copy of Intelligent Instructor and saw that Northern Ireland is to introduce such a scheme, and DfT is going to monitor the success of this with a view to introducing a scheme for the rest of the UK. It is worth pointing out that the scheme in NI is set for launch “in 2019/20”. Allowing for a suitable monitoring period, followed by consultation, then the likely changes in the Law, any similar scheme in the UK is unlikely to be seen before 2025. And even that is if there’s a highly favourable following wind (i.e. the same government and no other unrelated problems rearing their heads).

For a start off, IAM is involved, and it is already opposed to night-time curfews – which would be one of the most obvious things to include in any GL system). Then there is some nonsense about post-test training involving parents, when the parents are some of the worst offenders out there. And Theresa May’s hold on power is tenuous at best, so she’s unlikely to risk bringing in anything that loses votes.

The learners-on-motorways saga picked up steam almost ten years ago, but it’s taken until now – with several government changes and other delays along the way – to come to anything. Now, we have Brexit hanging over us like a skip load of manure ready to fall.

Don’t hold your breath.

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TomTom Screen GrabIt was announced last year – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the driving test began using satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

I toyed briefly with the idea of buying one, but I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. These days, if I ever need to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. So I decided to give that a go in the weeks leading up to 4 December. Google was OK, but its choice of route can be somewhat creative, and it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Plus, since it isn’t a full-blown navigation tool as such, storing routes is fiddly at best.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android – this turns your phone into a  virtually complete TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display. TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav for up to ten years for the same price as a standalone that would be out-of-date within a year.

As I pointed out in my article about the first month of the new test, the satnav can exacerbate any underlying issues learners might have with roundabouts and large junctions. Here’s why I think that is.

The voice instruction from the satnav for the route shown in the image above would be:

Go around the roundabout, third exit, Hucknall Road

(Edit: I am reliably informed that the DVSA satnavs now give an exit number and a direction – I’ll be damned if I can make my TomTom GO app do that, though.)

Without the satnav, the instruction might be:

At the roundabout, turn right, third exit

The phrase “turn right” is the critical part. With a satnav you have to create that instruction yourself by referring to the on-screen map and/or road signs. I’d never thought about it before, but looking back, pupils were simply not using road signs to any great extent because they never had to. Even with the original independent driving section, following signs to “somewhere” specific is much simpler than having to use the signs to work out where that “somewhere” is. And any problems are multiplied by the fact that every twist and turn of the satnav route involves a new “somewhere”. It’s a new pressure for the pupil to handle.

Any instructor will be aware that learners often struggle with roundabouts – sometimes, right up to their tests. One of the most common reasons for messing up on them is lane discipline. The examiner will usually mark it under “observation/use of mirrors”, but the real problem is that the learner has simply straight-lined. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t check their mirrors if they weren’t aware they’d switched lanes in the first place. Often, they can do the roundabout perfectly on lessons, but every now and then you’ll get one who botches it on test because of test pressure.

Someone whose ability to deal with roundabouts is this close to the edge in the first place is going to be under significant additional pressure if they have to follow a satnav route around them, and especially so if they have to deal with ones they’re not familiar with. This is still true, even if the satnav gives identical instructions to what a human would (see edited comment above).

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

Some of those I have expected to have problems have taken to it remarkably well. The biggest problem so far is with those pupils who only listen to the instructions and try to follow them blindly. However, they’re not test-ready, so it is a work in progress.

How should you use the satnav?

Look at the picture above. The main window shows the immediate route you are following. In the case of the roundabout shown here, that would appear in the main window about 300 yards before you reach it. The first satnav voice instruction occurs at that point, so you’d lose maybe another 100 yards while that is being given. That wouldn’t give you much time to get ready to deal with it unless you were really confident of where you were going.

The information bars at the top and bottom are the really important features. The bottom one tells you what road you’re on, and the top one tells you what you’re going to be asked to do next, how far away that is (it can be anything up to several miles), and the new road’s name and number. In this case, the satnav top bar will inform you that the next thing you’re going to have to deal with is a roundabout, and that it is a right turn. I think this one was about half a mile away initially. The distance counts down until the voice instruction is given, usually at about 300 yards (it can be 500 yards or 200 yards depending on the speed of the road). The road number is usually what will be painted on the road surface in the lane you need on large roundabouts, and it will also appear on the various road signs. The satnav repeats the instructions several times as you get closer.

You have to use that top bar to be able to plan ahead, especially if you’re not confident. You have to give yourself time.

So, why do people have a problem with that?

I have observed that some people can do every roundabout I ask them to do perfectly when I am giving verbal instructions, but the instant they try to follow a satnav route with those same roundabouts, there are problems. These problems occur to greater or lesser extents depending on the pupil, the roundabout, their confidence at complex junctions in the first place, and what is happening around them at the time. Having to do things independently, with more formal instructions from the satnav, is simply shining a light on underlying issues.

Doesn’t this mean that maybe not all those who passed their tests previously are fully competent with roundabouts?

Unfortunately, yes. Even with the best will in the world, instructors and DVSA have been producing candidates/new drivers who – in some cases – have to do roundabouts in what you might call a “robotic” way. And we’re only talking about certain roundabouts, even then. This would easily tie in with what we see on the roads, where a large proportion of the general, full driving licence-holding public doesn’t seem to have a clue on roundabouts.

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