A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

Note: This post is from JANUARY 2010. There are more up to date posts concerning the heavy snow and ice from December 2010 onwards. There are also posts from 2011 and 2012 – and any other year it’s cold and we get snow.

I’ve had a few hits from people asking why their driving lesson was cancelled due to snow (one of them today from Scotland). Not lessons with me, you understand, but lessons with their own instructor wherever they may be located.

Your instructor should have explained this to you, but when the roads are icy you WILL skid. Even a simple stop will result in a slight slip, and this is worse on slopes. In fact, on some slopes (and in some conditions) it will be impossible to stop no matter how slowly you drive. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the Ice Skating Fiesta post. This is a situation you can easily get into without even trying.

Now, someone who is a reasonably experienced driver will be able to handle a bit of ice – and this includes some learners who are well into their training. But for beginners, and especially those who are prone to jerky steering or harsh braking, driving in such conditions becomes potentially hazardous. And when conditions are particularly bad, the experienced and smart driver knows it is safer not to go out at all (and that Fiesta driver was obviously not especially smart).

Your instructor will make a decision based on his or her assessment of the conditions and the level of skill you have attained. It isn’t a slight on you or your driving ability: its just commonsense.

Believe me: no instructor wants to cancel lessons just for the sake of it.

I suppose I’d better also add that an instructor cancelling lessons because of a foot of snow is not the same as the pupil cancelling it because they went out last night or just don’t feel like a lesson today.

And remember that the test centre will cancel a test for a whole lot less reason than a driving instructor will cancel a lesson.

Common questions (and this is added for 2012’s first snowfall at the start of February, due to the large number of search terms on the topic):

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much snow there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes sense to do them so you can get valuable experience. But beginners shouldn’t do it, because it’s just too dangerous.

Also remember that what YOU see as being “advanced”, your instructor might not agree with. It’s his or her decision.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

Quite possibly. And with the amount we’ve had around here (2012), plus the low temperatures, almost certainly. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your appointment email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you MUST turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll lose your test fee.

Please try to understand this: if there is snow on the road, and/or if the roads are icy, then the chances of your driving test being cancelled are very high. It doesn’t matter how many Google searches you do to find the answer you like best, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s 1912, 2012, or any other date. It also doesn’t matter what other people say…

The only thing that matters is what the test centre says. PHONE THE LOCAL TEST CENTRE AND ASK THEM ON THE DAY OF YOUR TEST.

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While I was looking for something else, I came across this story from The Sun dating back to October this year.

This is a classic case of what I call a Weasel Boy – imagine him behind you in traffic: you see a black pratmobile, spotty little oik barely able to see over the steering wheel, ears sticking out so in silhouette he looks like a wingnut, trying to get past you in any way he can.

But Ajmal Khan contacted The Sun to boast that he’d passed his test first time purely from skills learnt during joyriding. He even boasted that the car he passed his test in was not insured. The Sun has reported him to The DSA.

Khan wasn’t happy with the article, and according to this other story in Luton Today he is going to sue. The Sun says it taped the interview and is confident it can deflect any claim. But better still, Khan claims in this further story in The Bedforshire News that his call to The Sun was a hoax.

Khan had better make his mind up which story he’s going with, as it seems he has three different ones across three newspapers. The bit I like is where it describes him as ‘a student’. One thing you can be sure of, if he IS a student then it will be at one of those fun local colleges that do joke courses, and not a proper Uni.

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I’m keeping this one updated into 2010… originally posted just before Christmas…  

Snowflake ImagesReading some of the forums, you always find a load of smart arses who – if you can believe a word they say – never cancel lessons because of snow.

They are idiots. Or liars. Or both.

Up this way we haven’t had much snow – just a dusting over the last two nights. The problem, though, has been the temperature. It’s been down to -5°C, and as I said a couple of posts ago, the Nottingham City and County Councils still appear to be in conference deciding which roads to grit (and now its weekend, they won’t finish deciding until next week).

Yesterday, I took a pupil out at 8am – he’s at the stage where he needs to know how to drive in less-than-perfect conditions. However, we had a problem with the windscreen washer water freezing in the pipes (and that is with plenty of antifreeze in – but obviously no enough: I added a bottle of methylated spirit last night).

This morning I had a 9am lesson. The extra dusting of snow was treacherous on just about all roads (most of which still hadn’t been gritted). Even at a crawl I was slipping (ABS kicking in), and on downward slopes there was considerable movement no matter how slow you went. At one point I went over a roundabout on a slope and felt sideways movement – yet no discernible speed was shown on the speedo! The pupil’s road was as bad. She is a relative beginner, so I decided that one shouldn’t go out.

I used the opportunity to take the car into a hand car wash – I chose the hand wash because all the drive-thru washers in this area are out of action due to being frozen solid. It took the guys 25 minutes to get the water through – all their pipes and jet-wash machines were frozen solid! When I drove out the water on my mirror was sheet ice, and any droplets were formed into icicles immediately.

Then at 3pm this afternoon, I parked outside another pupil’s house. It had been sunny all day, but it suddenly went very dark. Just as she came out it began to snow heavily. She has a problem with harsh braking and steering – taking her out in that weather would have been stupid, so we cancelled the lesson.

And I had one booked at 6pm this evening. She is a beginner, and although the snow has stopped, it is lying on the ground and will freeze as the temperature falls (-2°C is forecast tonight). Again, at this stage she’ll gain nothing by driving in such hazardous conditions.

So today has been a total washout – I’ve lost £140. But it would have been irresponsible to put that above safety.

NOTE: This was originally posted on Sunday, 20/12/2009 – I lost the last three posts when I upgraded the database, so added them again today.

EDIT 5/1/2010 #1: I’ve been getting hits on “what happens next when a test is cancelled”.

Well, up until the end of that day your test will show as “taken”, but when the examiners finish for the day (which could be very early if they all go home because of a full day of cancellations) they will log your test as cancelled and you will automatically get a new date through the post. You should also be able to look online and see your new test date either later that day or the following day. If it still shows as “taken” call them up straight away – sometimes they forget.

Usually, you (or your parents) will go ballistic when you find out how far in the future your test is! You might be lucky and get a fairly early rearrangement, but it often goes in at the earliest normal bookable slot. Just phone up and moan, or keep looking for cancellations on the DSA’s web site.

If you do go for a cancellation, be very careful. I have had people whose tests were cancelled just before Christmas find early cancellation dates for this week. Now look out the window or listen to the weather forecast and see if they made a wise decision by doing that…!

Don’t forget: the weather isn’t the DSA’s fault. They are perfectly entitled to cancel for safety reasons if there is ice (or fog, or high winds, or heavy rain) around even if you or your parents have looked in your garden and decided there isn’t! And your Test Centre cannot do anything much about your test booking – you must call the normal booking line, not the Test Centre. At best they will do what would be much easier for you to do and phone the main booking line.

EDIT 5/1/2010 #2: I spoke with the Colwick Test Centre today and all tests were cancelled both yesterday and today (Monday and Tuesday). Bear in mind that we had a smattering of snow last night followed by -5°C and it was treacherous on most roads first thing, and side roads throughout the day.

It is 6pm now and it has snowed (it still is a little) – not much, but it has covered the bare ground again. I don’t know if we will have much more, but lows of -3°C are forecast once it blows over. Anyone with a test at Colwick tomorrow really ought to phone first and expect it to be off. The morning ones in particular.

I was up there this afternoon with a pupil who has a test next week and at 2.30pm instructors were turning up for afternoon tests! A phone call would have saved a lot of wasted time.

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What’s all this about, then? I’m getting hits on the search term “aa cockpit drill “.

Assuming it isn’t something to do with flying, and people who can’t use search engines properly, just bear in mind the following.

  • the cockpit drill is not usually assessed as part of the driving test (though it could be)
  • it’s got bugger all to do with the “AA” or anyone else’s name
  • the AA doesn’t have its own version
  • nor should anyone else – and if they do, it isn’t “official”
  • all the cockpit drill does is push you towards driving safely and under control
  • it doesn’t really matter what order you do it in as long as the final result means you are sitting comfortably and can see easily all around you

Commonsense, however, suggests that the cockpit drill is most effectively completed as follows:

doors >> leg reach >> arm reach >> mirrors >> seatbelt >> head restraint

  • shut the doors properly
  • for leg reach, you want to be able to push the clutch all the way down to the floor without stretching
  • for arm reach, you want to be able to hold the 10 to 2 position with a slight bend at the elbows so your arms don’t get tired – a good way to gauge this is to reach out over the steering wheel (whilst sitting normally) and your wrists should rest on top of the steering wheel
  • for the mirrors, you do not want to see half the car – nor do you want to be unable to see the car at all
  • don’t forget the head restraint with the seatbelt (two safety devices together)

I say “commonsense” simply because there’s no point adjusting your seat after your mirrors, because your head position will change. And you’ll need to fiddle with the leg and arm reach together to get the best position, because moving your back forward after your legs are positioned might move your legs a bit so you’ll have to re-adjust. But as long as people get there in the end, it doesn’t matter. A half-decent ADI should be able to run through this for the first time in a few minutes – then they can get on with teaching people to drive. It just needs a recap for the first few lessons until the pupil automatically gets themselves ready each time.

I should also point out that holding the wheel at the 10 to 2 position isn’t mandatory and you won’t fail because of not doing it as long as your steering is in control.

It isn’t rocket science.

What is the official cockpit drill?

There’s no such thing. Just make sure everything is adjusted properly and your seatbelt is on and you’re there.

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In the Midlands we didn’t have a huge fall of snow, but on Monday evening it was as bad as it got. An additional problem has been the freezing temperatures overnight causing slush to freeze solid.

I’ve had a test booked every morning this week – and I have another tomorrow. The three so far have all been cancelled and the test centre has already told me tomorrow’s will be as well because of the low temperatures (that’s good of them because they say if I cancel now they’ll put me on the ‘bad weather’ list so the pupil doesn’t have to pay and I don’t have to waste my time turning up when it isn’t going ahead).

On the one hand it is costing me a bloody fortune. Four tests (2 hour bookings) and 4 hours of beginner lessons means nearly £300 lost income!

But on the other hand those pupils nearing test standard have benefited greatly from being able to drive on snow and see how easy it is to skid if you drive or brake even a little too quickly.

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