A Driving Instructor's Blog

Driving Tests

One of my pupils gave me a laugh the other day. She’s a good driver (passed her test a while ago, but not with me), and she’s doing a Pass Plus course with me at the moment.

What A Detour

What A Detour

One of the routes I use when doing Pass Plus is down the M1 to Leicester Forest East Services (J21), then back up to J23, through Loughborough, then back to Nottingham via the A60 and some unclassified rural roads. When we were in Loughborough, she asked “Are we anywhere near Derby? “. Then a little later when we were in Keyworth, she asked “Are we near Colwick? “

OK. I suppose it depends how you define the word near. Loughborough is near Derby (20 miles) – as long as you work on the basis that the moon is a long way away, and compare other distances with that. And Keyworth definitely is quite near Colwick (10 miles) – certainly when compared with the Loughborough/Derby thing.

But while we were talking about that she told me what had happened when she and her boyfriend had set out to go to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre from Nottingham.

You can see from the map on the left that Meadowhall (the red dot) is north of Nottingham. About 41 miles north, to be a little more precise.

Apparently, after some time they found themselves at Watford Gap Services (the blue dot). Watford Gap is 51 miles south of Nottingham.

I told her that that was definitely going on my List Of Things To Tell Pupils in future. Like I said, she’s a good driver – but simple navigation (or lack thereof) is a real problem for many new drivers.

But it does probably highlight why the DSA plan to introduce an independent driving section to the test from October 2010 is a very good idea – only opposed by fossils who are just anti-DSA, no matter what.

I’ve already mentioned one of my current learners, who insisted she couldn’t drive and look at the signs as well. Although we fixed that, if we hadn’t have done then she would have gone out on her own after passing still with the same inability to navigate in the most basic of ways.



And it’s the same with a lot of others. I was explaining to one today (not that far off test standard) that when he sees a road sign it has to speak to him in words. We were joining a dual carriageway from a slip road, and the merging sign was clearly there warning of the merge – but he didn’t respond to it, even though he saw it.

And it was the same a few miles later when we came to a roundabout. I asked him to turn right, 3rd exit (and stressed the road name so he could follow the signs and road markings). Apart from the big roundabout sign there were lane signs telling you which lane to use – but again, he just didn’t respond.

In fact, I often find that those doing Pass Plus don’t actually know what many road signs mean. Once they pass their Theory Test many of them just seem to forget the Highway Code completely.

It would certainly explain the standard of driving you see on the roads each day.


The Theory Test for learners learning to drive a car costs £31.00, and the Practical Test £62.00 (or £75.00 for a weekend or evening slot, where available). The current prices are always shown on the Direct.gov website.

You can book online directly through the DSA’s website, or by telephoning them on 0300 200 1122 .

It stands to reason that these prices are the lowest possible, since anyone booking through the DSA will have to pay exactly the current price in order to book a test!

So beware any online service which says it will do this for you. At the very least you will have to pay more – unnecessarily. In the worst case, you may not get anything at all except lost money and a compromised credit card. If they are charging less than the DSA prices then you have only got yourself to blame if things go belly up.

There is a warning being circulated at the moment about two online service urls – www.booktheorytestonline.co.uk and www.bookpracticaltestonline.co.uk. It is suggested that you do not use these, even if you are still daft enough to want to get someone else to do it for you.

EDIT 5/4/2010: Can I just emphasise that you do not need to use a booking service to book either your theory or practical tests. It is the easiest thing in the world to do via the DSA’s own website or by telephone.

I have noticed a number of booking services in the Google ads which appear on the right hand side of this blog (I cannot prevent individual company ads from appearing). I don’t know if they are legitimate or not, but one thing is certain: if you pay more than the DSA’s price to book your test – and all you want to do IS book your test – then you are definitely being ripped off.

It is insane not to just book directly with the DSA. I wish someone could explain to me what the attraction is for using one of these services – assuming people do it knowingly. What are you trying to avoid?

But if it is just these sites misleading people into booking using a 3rd party premium service, then it IS a scam. So be warned!


EDIT: Please use the blog search function to look for more recent posts on independent driving. This one was posted months ahead of the launch.

From 4th October 2010 a new stage will be included in the driving test, where the candidate is expected to drive to a specific destination as directed by the examiner. The new stage will only last about 10 minutes, so we’re not talking about finding your way from Lands End to John O’Groats or anything. It will be quite simple and over with quickly.

Independent Driving - Example 1

According to the DSA, the directions could be given in a number of ways (and the following is paraphrased from an official document).

In one case, the examiner might ask the candidate to drive to a specific place using traffic signs.  Or, the examiner could give a series of verbal instructions to get to a specific location.  Or it could be using a combination of both the above methods.  The purpose of this exercise is to allow the candidate to demonstrate to the examiner how they will drive when they are out on their own – which is exactly what they will have to do when they have passed their test and no one is there to prompt them.

The DSA is currently putting together appropriate test routes for this part of the driving test. I can imagine that this isn’t as easy as it sounds, because they aren’t going to produce routes akin to Hampton Court Maze or choose ones where there are missing road traffic signs.

Independent Driving - Example 2

When it comes to this part of the driving test the examiner will have diagrams like simplified route maps to support the verbal instructions they give to candidates. These diagrams will be similar to the two shown here – though the DSA points out the final design isn’t yet agreed.

Much is being made of this change by the usual crowd of agitators.

It is actually very simple, although to listen to some people you’d think it was advanced calculus or something. The examiner will merely ask the candidate to drive from the current location (let’s say the road outside the Colwick Test Centre in Nottingham) to (let’s say) West Bridgford, using the road signs (and before anyone says anything, I don’t know if West Bridgford is signposted from that location without looking – but it doesn’t matter: it’s just an example). It’s a journey of about 3½ miles, and one which is covered by existing test routes. It involves two roundabouts and some traffic lights, and most candidates will have done the route plenty of times during their lessons anyway. The examiner may show a simplified road map like the ones here of the route, and the candidate can refer to it as many times as they like (safely, of course).

Personally, I think this is a great idea. I also believe that if someone cannot complete what is essentially an extremely simple exercise then they have no right to be on the road, as they are a danger to themselves and everyone else. I believe this applies to anyone who drives on the roads. And that means anyone.

Direction At Junctions

I should point out that I have always taught my pupils to drive properly, not just to pass the test. I was out on such a lesson this afternoon, and I took my pupil (who is close to test standard) on a long drive using roads she’s not been on before.

I asked her to navigate using road signs – first of all to Mansfield via one route, then back to Nottingham via another. She immediately interrupted me and said that she couldn’t possibly look at the signs and drive at the same time!

After we got round that little situation, it did become clear that some signs just didn’t make sense to her at all – the ones on junctions being a particular problem.

She understands them now, but if all she had ever done is drive round and round near the test centre we would never have picked up the problem. And when she passed her test, she’d go straight out on her own without knowing how to drive on anything other than memorised routes. She is no different to most of my other pupils.

Anyone who is worried about this change shouldn’t be. I’ve seen websites (and blogs) where ADIs are advising people to do their tests quickly to avoid the change – this is appalling and alarmist behaviour, and rushing people to test who may not be ready also raises questions about the professionalism of these people.

The bottom line is that you will have to drive like this once you’ve passed your test, so learn how to do it properly now! You couldn’t drive a car at all before you started taking lessons, so a little bit of navigating won’t hurt you. In any case, if your mates arrange to meet you somewhere you’d probably have no trouble finding it on your bike – it’s not much different in a car.

But one last thing to remember: it is a driving test, and you can fail it. If you can’t navigate using the simple method proposed then there is a good chance you will fail the test.

EDIT 1/1/2012: There is an updated article here – you don’t need actual DSA diagrams to teach independent driving to pupils!


I had a test at 9.17am this morning, and it is cancelled. The examiner at Colwick said that the morning tests are likely to go to the wall, and this afternoon is looking highly unlikely as well.

He said it is looking good for tomorrow, though – but check first, because -2°C is forecast tonight.

Mind you, they forecast heavy snow – yet it spent most of yesterday and last night raining, sleeting, and thawing. But this has made a lot of roads more dangerous than ever (water on ice is not a good mix).

Having said that, as soon as you move out of the city it appears that the sleet was snow and it has settled again. About 0.5cm in Bunny. It is snowing in Wilford now (8.00am).

Call the Test Centre on 0115 961 1593 – remember they can only tell you if a test is on or not. They’e not there to get into a big debate over why the test is cancelled.


EDIT 29/11/2010: The DSA is cancelling driving tests due to bad weather, as it hits late in 2010. This post originally referred to late 2009/early 2010, but it is as relevant now as it was then.

Tests get cancelled. You need to phone up on the morning or turn up and expect the worst. They will not usually cancel until the actual day of the test – unless the weather is very bad (not in Nottingham, anyway). At one point last winter they did cancel days ahead.

I was trying to keep this post updated, but people are not finding it even though they are searching for information about cancelled tests.

I spoke with the Colwick Test Centre yesterday and all tests were cancelled both Monday and Tuesday. Bear in mind that we had a smattering of snow Monday night followed by -5°C and it was treacherous on most roads first thing, and nearly all side roads throughout the day.

We had a significant dumping of snow last night (Tuesday). Anyone with a test at Colwick really ought to phone first and expect it to be off. The morning ones in particular. I know that all the morning ones have been cancelled already – I have one scheduled for 2.30pm but I am not optimistic. Yep, just got a text from my pupil – the Test Centre has called him to cancel his test, so Wednesday tests are also totally cancelled.

I was up there yesterday 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.

My advice is watch the weather forecast and check with the Test Centre before turning up. You MUST call the Test Centre (or at least turn up) because if you don’t they may assume you just didn’t show – and that is NOT the same as them cancelling it due to snow. THE TEST CENTRE PHONE NUMBER IS ON THE LETTER OR EMAIL OF CONFIRMATION YOU GOT WHEN YOU BOOKED YOUR TEST.

EDIT 7/1/2010 #1: Incidentally, you need to make your own minds up about the weather forecast. I’d embedded the BBC one in this post, but it is the biggest pile of misleading crap imaginable. On minute it says one thing, the next it is totally different – and at the exact same time the BBC weather forecast on the TV says something totally different again! According to the TV we are going to get snow today – the BBC website embed doesn’t say that, and although yesterday it said we would get some tomorrow and at the weekend, it now says nothing of the sort.

In fact, the BBC weather forecast is not a forecast at all. It’s more an historical record of what DID happen (the Beeb burns its fingers every time it tries to forecast: remember Michael Fish and the Hurricane? And the Barbecue Summer last year? And the Mild Winter we’re currently in the middle of?)

EDIT 7/1/2010 #2: And a test at 3.30pm cancelled today. No tests conducted at all since Christmas from what the Test Centre staff tell me.

EDIT 8/1/2010 #1: Just saw the search term “will driving tests be cancelled on monday” in my stats. The Test Centre only makes a decision on the day – and if you have an afternoon test it won’t make a decision until around midday. They get enough flak from people for cancelled tests as it is, so you can imagine what would happen if they cancelled Monday today (Friday) and it suddenly warmed up over the weekend!

However, you need to use a little commonsense. If it stays like it is, your test will more than likely be cancelled. Yesterday, I had a test booked for 3.30pm, but I had arranged with another pupil that it would most likely be cancelled and they could have a lesson at that time if it was. So I kept the slot filled instead of losing it altogether – and the pupil who had the lesson also benefited.

EDIT 8/1/2010 #2: Further to my comment about the BBC’s horrendous weather forecasting skills, above, and the fact that their last update to their three-day forecast said today in Nottingham would be clear, bright sun – I just drove through a blizzard in Bunny.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

JC TFR Mousse
JC TFR Caustic
ADI Handbook
JC Snowfoam
ADI Skills
JC Tyre Shine
Fast Glass
Sugar Soap
Maxicrop Iron
MiracleGro Azalea
Doff Azalea Bulk
Doff Azalea Bulk