Category - Driving Tests

A Couple Of Recent Passes

Rear-ended by an idiotSometimes you couldn’t make it up.

About a month ago I was rear-ended by some idiot at a pedestrian crossing. As a result, my car went in for repair and I had a replacement/courtesy car supplied – which was totally different to my normal car. It took me a few days to properly figure out how it worked (absolutely everything was controlled from a touchscreen system). It scared some of my pupils shitless.

I had one pupil whose test was approaching. She was away with the fairies as far as lane discipline was concerned – she simply had little or no awareness of them when she was driving. But we’d already postponed her test once as a result by over six months, and to be fair I had managed to improve her a lot. But I still wasn’t 100% happy.

But she didn’t like the substitute car. She texted me and told me she was going in her own car as a result. I fist-pumped and shouted ‘yesss’ when I got that text. We did a few more lessons and I made sure she had everything she needed to give it her best shot. And she only went and bloody well passed! Quite a high number of driver faults, it has to be said, but at least my badge wasn’t involved.

Then, I took on another pupil. He’d been taught by his parents and his driving was outstanding – seriously good. The only significant issue was the manoeuvres, none of which he had been taught, and his theory test (which he hadn’t done). So I got him to book his theory, and started covering manoeuvres with him. We did four lessons, during which he passed his theory first time, and then I got him to book his practical – which was in November.

I got a text a couple of weeks ago and he’d got a cancellation date. But it coincided with another test I had booked (ironically, I turned up for that one today and then discovered DVSA had cancelled it and moved it to August), and it was at a test centre outside of Nottingham, which I didn’t cover. So we agreed he would go in his own car with his mum. My only concern was we hadn’t polished the manoeuvres, but I pointed out that apart from that he had a bloody good chance of passing.

And he passed with a clean sheet! Zero faults. In a place he’d never driven before.

His parents are singing my praises and have already referred someone to me as a result. I’m happy with that, of course, but I am quick to point out it was his parents who actually taught him (and the whole family is really nice) – I just polished a few rough bits, aided immeasurably by the fact he was an outstanding driver. And he’s going to do Pass Plus with me.

So, apart from not getting official DVSA credit for the passes (especially the clean sheet), I’ve avoided the higher faults of one against my name, and got what is likely to result in a lot more work from the other.

Being an ADI is fun. And complicated.

Driving Test Routes – Anywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can I download test routes?

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

Why don’t you provide your test route data?

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

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

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

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

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

Is it possible to record test routes?

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

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

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I would strongly recommend the ProPod range of trackers from TrackerShop, but others are available. Due to a very poor experience some years ago I would strongly advise against any tracker by Rewire Security (they sold me the device on lifetime subscription, then cut that service off and made it repeated subscription – they cannot be trusted, and I will never forget it). 

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

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

How many test routes are there?

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

Can I use my tablet to log routes?

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

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

Ramadan And Driving

Ramadan MubarakI originally wrote this back in 2010, but it gets a new raft of hits each year, usually around the start of Ramadan – which began at the weekend.

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 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 spanned 17 May to 15 June. In 2019, it runs from 5 May until 4 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. Indeed, in 2019, I have a pupil who is very nervous and jumpy in the car, and we were both worried Ramadan might affect her. So we have agreed to do her lessons later in the evening (that was my idea), and although I will admit I thought sunset was a little earlier than it really is when I suggested it, we’re doing lessons at 9.30pm once a week so she can keep driving.

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 or late evening (if your instructor will do it), and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. It also 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.

Storm Eunice: Cancelled Tests

DVSA LogoDVSA has just sent out an email alert advising that all driving and riding tests at certain test centres are cancelled due to Storm Eunice.

It’s a long list, mainly involving test centres in the south of the UK. Centres involved currently are Ashford Kent, Ashford Middlesex, Aylesbury, Banbury, Barking, Barnet, Barnstaple, Basildon, Basingstoke, Belvedere, Bishops Stortford, Bletchley, Bodmin, Borehamwood, Brentwood, Bristol (Kingswood) MPTC, Bristol Avonmouth, Bromley, Burgess Hill, Bury St Edmunds, Cambourne DTC & LGV, Cambridge, Cambridge (Hardwick), Canterbury, Cardington (Bedford), Chelmsford (Hanbury Road) GVTS, Chertsey, Chichester, Chingford, Clacton-on-Sea, Colchester, Crawley, Croydon, Culham LGV, Eastbourne, Enfield LGV, Enfield MPTC, Erith, Farnborough, Folkestone, Gillingham GVTS, Gillingham MPTC, Goodmayes, Greenford, Greenham LGV, Guildford, Hastings, Hendon, Herne Bay, High Wycombe, Hither Green, Hornchurch, Ipswich, Isle of Scilly, Isleworth, Lancing, Launceston, Lee On The Solent, Leighton Buzzard Car/LGV, Letchworth, Loughton, Lowestoft, Luton, Maidstone, Mainstream (Kent), Mill Hill, Mitcham, Morden, National Driving Centre (NDC), Newbury (Hambridge GVTS), Newport(Isle Of Wight), Norwich MPTC, Oxford (Cowley), Penzance, Pinner, Poole GVTS, Portsmouth, Reading, Redhill, Rookley LGV, Salisbury, Sevenoaks, Sidcup, Slough, Southall, Southampton (Forest Hills), Southampton (Maybush), Southampton LGV, Southend, St Albans, Stevenage, Swindon LGV, Swindon, Thurrock, Tilbury, Tolworth, Tottenham, Trainfor (Kent), Tunbridge Wells, Uxbridge, Wanstead, Watford, West Wickham, Weston-Super-Mare, Winchester DTC, Wood Green, Yeading.

New tests dates will be booked automatically if you are affected.

DVSA: Trialling Reverse Park In External Car Parks

dvsaThis is interesting. DVSA has announced that it will be trialling carrying out the reverse bay park exercise in non-DVSA car parks during February and March 2022.

The trials will be conducted in Stafford, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Barnsley, Wakefield, Chester, Northwich, Upton, Wallasey, St Helens, Wolverhampton, Gillingham, Bishopbriggs, Gateshead, Durham, and Abergavenny.

I’m all for it – especially if it stops those twats who think they’re good ADIs, and yet who see the test centre car park as some magical place that their little darlings must practice in at all costs. Even when tests are coming and going, and when they have expressly been asked not to.

The first time any of my pupils get to bay park in the test centre car park is on the day of their test. Once when we turn up, and perhaps a second go if they get that manoeuvre once their test commences. The rest of the time I use business and retail parks, or supermarket car parks.

The sooner DVSA implements this fully, the better. But I bet you some instructors will be opposed to it.

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