A Driving Instructor's Blog

DSA

1 2 3 34

Driving Test SuccessThis post from 2013, but an update is long overdue.

Unless they already have an app, I advise all my pupils that the only thing they need to buy to prepare for their Theory Test is Driving Test Success 4-in1, published by Focus Multimedia (DTS). It is available for both Android and iPhone, and costs £4.99 at the time of writing. Sure, they can buy a book if they want, or use any other service of their choice, but this is the one I recommend.

For many years, DTS was available as a DVD, and I used to bulk buy them from an ADI supply company and sell them on to my pupils at cost (which was much less than the retail price). However, the days of the DVD are behind us and phone apps are almost universal. I’m not sure if they still do a DVD version.

I’m sticking my neck out here, but you can only realistically get access to the entire official revision question bank by paying someone some money – especially if you want a polished and reliable interface. Free apps might contain only a sample of questions from the full bank, or they don’t include the correct up-to-date questions (someone might be using the old question bank). DTS contains every official DVSA practise question in a clean interface, and it also comes with 85 Hazard perception Test (HPT) clips, including the excellent CGI ones. You also get an electronic copy of the Highway Code, and a Road Signs app.

The Theory Test app also has a voiceover feature, and it will read the questions and possible answers out loud to you. Remember that you can choose this option on your actual Theory Test if you need it, so it is a useful feature.

But there is a free version

Yes, and it only contains a small sample of questions and no HPT. Try it, by all means. But don’t think that you will pass if you just run through it a few times. It’s only £4.99 for the full app and HPT clips, so stop pissing around and buy it. The Theory Test costs £23, so risking failing it needlessly is false economy.

This is a true story. Not that long ago I had a pupil who I’d advised to download DTS. He failed his Theory Test several times, and after each one I was asking him how he was doing when he used the app. He assured me he was getting 100% in every test. After the next fail – and I can’t remember how many he had taken up to that point – I remember asking what app he was using. He told me it was DTS, but I asked how much he had paid for it. He replied “nothing. It was free”. I could have killed him – he was getting 100% by being asked the same ten or so questions every time!

Does DTS do voiceover?

Yes. You enable it in the settings, make sure your phone’s media volume is turned on/up, and it will then read out each question and answer automatically as you do tests on it. You can ask it to repeat as necessary.

Share

Empty parking baysI originally wrote this article in 2011. There are updates here, and here. This main article has been updated again in July 2018 to reflect the new test, which came into force from December 2017.

The new test has done away with the Turn In The Road (aka “three-point turn”) and Reversing Into A Corner. These have been replaced with Forward Bay Parking and Stopping On The Right. The Reverse Bay Park and Parallel Park manoeuvres are still tested.

At the time of the original article, some test centres didn’t ask candidates to do a reverse bay park simply because they didn’t have a car park to do it in. It was no secret that in those areas a fair number of ADIs didn’t bother teaching it (virtually no one taught it in Nottingham before Colwick Test Centre opened – the first TC in Nottingham to have a car park big enough to do it).

Since December 2017, there are now two bay park manoeuvres – the original reverse one, and one which involves driving in forwards, then reversing out again. A reader informed me several months ago that the reverse park is always done at the TC, whereas the forward park can be done at various locations outside (supermarkets, council parks, etc.). I wasn’t aware of that, and had assumed that they could both be done anywhere.

Supermarket car park bays

Many drivers are terrified of any sort of parking and spend a large part of their driving lifetimes avoiding doing it. So it must be a bit of a bugger now that all the test manoeuvres are parking manoeuvres. It’s actually quite funny (and sad), sometimes, if I’m in Morrisons’ car park in the mornings. You can watch mainly older drivers, some of whom clearly have trouble walking, parking as far away as it is possible to be from the store entrance – even though there are spaces very close to it – solely because they want to stay away from other cars.

Bays can be laid out in a rectangular pattern, diagonally (often called “herringbone”), and in regularly or haphazardly arranged linear blocks. I’m sure there are other types, but these are the most common ones.Bay layouts

Reverse Bay Parking

If you get this one, it will be either right at the start, or right at the end of your test in the TC car park. The examiner will not tell you which bay he wants you to reverse into, from which side to do it, or in which direction you should be pointing. He will just expect you to do whatever you normally do and  finish inside a bay. He doesn’t care what method you use, and within reason you do not need to be exactly in the centre of the bay or precisely straight. You can even be parked on one of the lines, and it still isn’t a fail.

So what counts as a fault? DT1 – the examiners’ SOP – says that faults are:

  • poor co-ordination of controls
  • ending up straddling two bays
  • unnecessary shunting forwards and backwards
  • turning the steering wheel the wrong way
  • stalling

Observation:

  • no blind spot checks
  • relying too much or entirely on the mirrors
  • ineffective observation
  • looking but not reacting to other vehicles or pedestrians
  • waiting too long for other users in the car park

Basically, faffing around and causing hold ups, and not looking for/reacting to people who you might be holding up or are likely to reverse into.

So how do you do it? There isn’t a “best way”, but there are several alternatives, all of which have their place at one time or another. Some pupils can handle one way better than the others.Bay parking from a fixed position (rectangular grid)

My preferred method for beginners is to start in a fixed position at right angles to the bay you want to park in, and about a car’s width away from the end of the bays (the orange car in the diagram). The fixed point in question is usually relative to the third line away from your target bay, though I did once show someone how to do it in an 18’ minibus and that involved the fourth line – it’s just a case of knowing where to start from.

Put full lock on and reverse until you are at 90º to your original position. Use your wing mirrors to determine when you’re parallel with the bay lines. Then straighten up and reverse into the bay.Bay parking from a fixed position (angled grid)

The method works just as well where the bays are in a herringbone pattern, although you have to angle the car as shown.

Success with this depends entirely on being able to start from exactly the same position relative to your target bay every time you do it. You need to find a reference point on your car, and line it up with the third (or whatever) line away from your target bay.

I prefer this method because a) it requires the smallest amount of space, b) anyone can do it, and c) you can put it into written words and follow it prescriptively.

An alternative way is to simply turn away from your target bay as you approach it – possibly even driving into another bay opposite if it is vacant – then reverse back in a straight line. This is fine if you have enough room, and if you don’t have to correct your position too much.

The most flexible method is simply to use your mirrors to aim into your target bay – possibly with a little forward/backward shuffling if space is tight. The problem with this method is that it is almost impossible to put into simple words because there are so many variables, and since many learners steer the wrong way when reversing, the complexity just makes things worse.

Whatever method you use, make sure you look around for pedestrians and other traffic before you start reversing, during any pause, and when there is something that needs an eye kept on it (i.e. people walking in your direction – at some stage you may have to wait for them to pass). My preferred method is broken down into three distinct stages, and pausing at the end of each one gives a window in which to look around. If you try to bay park in a single movement, be very careful not to miss your safety checks – you will fail if you miss them, especially if there is something you should be dealing with.

Forward Bay Parking

Driving forwards into a bay is as easy as reversing into one. You just steer in a different place. You also need to start further away from the ends of the bays so that as the car swings in it doesn’t cut too far into neighbouring bays. The examiner will be marking using the same criteria quoted from DT1 above. So don’t faff around, and keep a look out for anything that might need dealing with.

My preferred method involves lining up a specific point on the car with the nearest line of the bay you want to drive into at a right angle to it. Put full lock on and move forward until you are at 90º from your starting position. Straighten up and drive into the bay. However, this is only half of the manoeuvre, and you will now be asked to reverse out – which must be done safely and without excessively encroaching on the neighbouring bays.

Reverse out of the bay in a straight line until the ends of the bays are at roughly the same position as your reference point for driving in. Put full lock on in whichever direction you need to leave the car park, and carefully drive away.

Again, my method involves fixed stops, and these act as trigger points for looking all around – and especially behind you. Look before you move. At every stop. The forward bay park manoeuvre takes longer than the reverse, so more safety checks will be needed for that reason alone. You are also much more likely to be reversing towards or crossing the paths other vehicles or pedestrians because of your wider start position.

There is no reason why you can’t just drive into a bay in one single movement, but like I said earlier, if you miss any safety checks – and especially if you don’t see something you should have – you will fail.

Are there any other ways to bay park?

The fixed position method for reverse bay parking has two major drawbacks in the real world, 1) you have to have at least two more lines lines beyond your target bay otherwise you can’t do it, and 2) the bays have to be a standard size. So if you want to get into an end bay or one that’s been over- or undersized by whoever painted it, you’ve got to choose another way.

The 90º method is certainly the easiest. It works in the real world, but you must have room or else you simply can’t do it. It is perfect for use on the test because it works reliably and is easy to teach to a point where the learner can do it by themselves. Note that the size of the bays is irrelevant when forward bay parking.

The mirrors method requires good reversing skills, which many learners simply don’t have – nor do they have the financial resources or desire to part with such resources in order to acquire such skills , particularly if it turns out they have a problem.

I show all these methods to my own pupils, but in almost all cases it is the 90º one that we go with. I explain that they will have plenty of time to practice the other ways once they’ve passed. Being brutally honest, taking two minutes to park in Asda once they’ve passed is only going to annoy a few drivers (and maybe give them a bit of a giggle), whereas taking two minutes over it on your test could lead to a fail. So it makes sense to focus on a method that works rather than one that they have got the next 40 years to perfect.

Which method should I use on my test?

It’s up to you. However, I always explain to my pupils that although I am teaching them to be good drivers for the rest of their lives, we mustn’t forget that I am also teaching them to pass their tests in the most cost-effective time frame for them (and no matter what they might claim, all ADIs are teaching their pupils to “pass the test” – it’s what they are paid to do!) This is not the same as only teaching the bare minimum to pass.

To that end, the 90º method is usually the best option for me and them, because it works every time as long as you get one simple reference position right, and it also works in real life.

I remember my own examiner telling me when I’d passed my driving test that it was only the start, and that I’d be learning for the rest of my life. She was right. And that is just as true now as it was then. If you can park reasonably well, you’re going to be fine – you don’t need a PhD in the subject.

Will the car park be empty when I have to do it?

Assume not. In the TC car park, it usually is substantially empty, but I’ve been there and seen tests having to do it when the park is full up with cars and vans, and it is far too common that some prat of a driving instructor (are you listening, SAM?) has yet again ignored the TC manager’s requests to stay out and gone there to practice (or pretend to need the toilet) as tests are coming back.

Supermarket and council car parks are unlikely to be empty, or to remain so while you’re in them. You may have to park next to another car, or even between two of them.

Can I open the door to check my alignment?

Yes. In all honesty, you shouldn’t need to – but, yes.

How does the examiner know I’m inside the bay?

Some will get out and walk around the car at the end of the manoeuvre (usually, if you’re not straight or are displaced to one side). Others will open their door and take a look – with practice, you can easily tell if the car is in and if it’s straight just by looking at the position of the  bay lines next to you, and examiners are good at this. Some will just lean forward and glance in the left wing mirror (that’s how I do it).

How does my instructor know I’m inside the bay?

Same as the above. If we’re not straight or not in a bay, I will often get the pupil to get out and walk round the car and see for themselves.

Will I fail if I’m on a line or not centralised?

No. Finishing on a line or very close to one  is not an automatic fail – the examiners’ DT1 document used to state that, and I am not aware that the criteria have changed. You should always aim to finish dead centre at the first attempt, of course, and you are allowed to correct yourself. But take this example.

A while back, one of my pupils hated the reverse bay park manoeuvre, even though as far as I was concerned she was very good at it. Of course, this was the manoeuvre she got on her test. It was at the end as she came back to the test centre, and I was watching from behind a hedge so she couldn’t see me.

She reversed back and was cleanly inside the bay, but for some reason she decided she needed to fix it. She drove forward, then reversed back into almost the exact same position. She tried again, and once more ended up in the same position. Then she had another try and this time ended up diagonally across the other side and with her rear nearside wheel half way inside the neighbouring bay. I saw the wipers settle and knew that she’d turned off the ignition, so I walked over thinking “damn, she’s failed”. As I approached the car, the passenger window was open and the examiner said “just a minute DOAADI, we haven’t finished yet”. I walked on and stood somewhere behind. The examiner said something to my pupil, who then tried adjusting it one more time. She finished not quite straight, but just inside. And she passed.

So never assume anything.

Do they do the bay park manoeuvre at Watnall?

Both forward and reverse bay parking can be conducted on tests at all the Nottingham test centres.

Share

Note that the way the Part 3 is conducted and scored is going to change. At the moment, the official date for the change has been given only as “late October”, but I am writing this update in mid-October and nothing has been confirmed yet. DVSA has already said that Parliamentary approval is needed before the change can be introduced, and the way that often goes it might not be this October they were thinking of!

Update 1 November 2017: An email alert from DVSA advises that they STILL haven’t got Parliamentary approval and everything is still up in the air.

The new Part 3 marking sheet can be downloaded here.

The section below is the original article from January 2014, with the old PSTs linked to as a PDF file.


The blog gets a lot of hits from people looking for the PST (ADI 26) marking sheets used on the Part 3 ADI test. In fact, this file has been downloaded many hundreds of times, yet I think less than PDF Downloadhalf a dozen people have bothered to say thank you – even though I know that it is very difficult to get hold of these from anywhere else.

You can download them by clicking the PDF image on the left. The file contains all ten PSTs, and they’re full-sized, so you can print them out if you want to.

The PSTs are also given in the Driving Instructor’s Handbook, although much smaller. But you can see what’s on them at least – which is really all that matters.

Just one last word on the “thank you” thing. If you have anything like the same approach when you start teaching real pupils you may find you don’t stay in business very long.

Share

This story was published in June 2013. I’ve updated it because of some recent activity involving the registration number MAF1E.


I only reported this a few days ago, but The Sun is in on the act now. Surprisingly, The Sun story is actually more accurate than all the others. The Sun article carries this graphic, which is quite useful.

The Sun - Road Hogs Graphic

Although it focuses on middle-lane hogs in the text (like everyone else does), the graphic makes it clear that the following examples of careless driving would also be included in the new legislation:

  • bad lane discipline (which includes middle-lane hogging)
  • tailgating
  • not giving way at junctions
  • wheel-spins and handbrake turns
  • wrong lane on roundabout
  • inappropriate speed
  • overtaking and queue-jumping
  • ignoring “lane closed” signs

Also, and in spite of what some of the other stories reported or implied, the changes do not specifically apply to motorways. They will apply to all roads.

The term “careless driving” encompasses “driving without due care and attention”. The definition is quite wide, but in a nutshell you’d be guilty of driving without due care and attention if the care and skills you demonstrated in an incident were less than that which could have been expected of a reasonable, prudent, and competent driver.

The media stories give the impression that someone somewhere has specifically decided to crack down on tailgating and lane-hogging (these feature in just about every media survey of peoples’ pet hates). In fact, what they have actually decided is that getting too close to the vehicle in front and poor lane discipline – both of which you could still be prosecuted for even now – will become manageable by FPNs. That’s where the police can slap you with a fine and 3 points by the roadside. Poor lane discipline in particular covers more than just middle-lane hogging.

And it isn’t just those two things that will be included, either. People who drive dangerously through inattention, or just because they’re bad drivers, are MAF1E (no space) - big, black 4x4also potentially walking a tightrope. Personally, I’ve lost count of the number of people who habitually get into the wrong lane at roundabouts and then – deliberately or otherwise – try to move across while they’re on it. Or those who cannot stay in position and cut across you (that’s an almost guaranteed test fail, and Mafie (reg. no. MAF1E, or MAF 1E) in her big-ass 4×4 on the Ring Road on Sunday should bear this in mind in future – not to mention what constitutes an illegal number plate).

Pulling out of junctions without looking properly is also on the hit list, as is showing off and driving too slowly.

Edit: Worth pointing out that I saw Mafie up to her old tricks again a few days ago (July 2013). She was on Bobbers Mill Road trying to do a U-turn across four lanes of traffic using a junction on the opposite side of the road to where she was. Absolutely no consideration for anyone except herself. She could easily have driven a few hundred metres and turned around safely – and much more quickly. This woman is incapable of driving safely – let alone of safely driving a huge 4×4.

Edit: Someone has recently (October 2015) been searching for “number plates” and “maf1e”. I did a quick check on Google to see what “maf1e” brings up and that registration number appears to be quite mobile. Someone posted a photo of a BMW X6 on a website which is similar to my Hall of Shame, with a badly parked BMW X6 in Southampton. Here it is.The 4x4 MAF1E

To be honest, I can’t remember what model the 4×4 was in Nottingham, but it could have been an X6.

Then it gets even more curious. Apparently, there is a Rolls Royce Wraith with the registration number MAF 1E. Here’s that, dated 2012.MAF1E - Rolls Royce version

I’d love to know how this works. You see, as far as I know you can only use a given number plate – like MAF1E – on one specific vehicle. You can transfer it, of course, but not immediately (it takes between 4 days and six weeks, and involves changes to paperwork).

At the moment, assuming that the MAF1E I’ve seen screwing up (twice in 2013) is not the same MAF1E seen in Southampton (in 2011), the Rolls Royce (2012) and the Nottingham MAF1E appear to be driving around with the same plate – at the same time.

It’s possible that the 2011 4×4 sold its plates to the Rolls Royce in 2012, then he subsequently sold them again in 2013. In fact, as I write this, MAF1E is available to buy for about £5,400. Maybe the rich and stupid really do move these things around every few months.

Share

Originally written in 2010, but updated due to the number of hits it is receiving.


I get a lot of hits from people using the search term “how to find driving test cancellation slots”. The test wait has been as low as a couple of weeks up this way. At the moment it is at least 10 weeks, and from what I can gather it is almost double that in some places around the country.Queueing for service

I’m not sure exactly how DVSA allocates its available slots, but it seems that they have standard ones which are always available until someone books them. However, they also release additional blocks of test slots periodically, and these suddenly appear in the timeline even when all the original ones at the same times have been taken. It is possible that these are initially reserved for some reason, but then get released when it is clear they aren’t needed (it might also have something to do with manipulating the official waiting times – you can’t say the waiting time is 10 weeks if they always release extra blocks which are only 5 weeks away).

Test slots which require examiner overtime also appear in the timeline at short notice, and I assume that this happens because they don’t know too far in advance who is available to work overtime. Having worked in the rat race and experienced this sort of thing, it is also very likely that they have to get permission for overtime, and this is only granted on a short term basis.

And then there are other people like you. They’ve booked a test, but then find that they can’t make it for some reason, or perhaps they aren’t ready. So they cancel it, and straight away it appears in the timeline for someone else to book.

In summary, tests slots come and go for all sorts of reasons. But the closer they are, the quicker they get taken – and that’s the thing you need to understand if you’re going to find a cancellation (though by “cancellation” I mean any slot which becomes available some time after the initial ones have all been taken).

You simply have to be in the right place at the right time!

The “right place” is logged into the DVSA’s booking system. The “right time” is more difficult to pin down, so you need to log in and check regularly. The oftener the better.

Should I use a test cancellation booking service?

Short answer: no. They can’t do anything more than you could do for yourself – but they charge you extra for it without making that as clear as they should. But let’s be honest: most of them are trying as hard as they possibly can to hide that fact from you without actually breaking any specific Law. They’re as close to being scammers as you can get.

Share

This is an old story from November 2012 which I’ve updated. As of September 2014, tests are conducted at Colwick, Beeston (near the train station), Clifton (on the Trent University campus), and Watnall (the old LGV testing station).

Note that Chalfont Drive stopped doing tests in 2012. Clarendon Street (the Trent University campus in the city centre) ceased conducting tests in late August 2014 a few weeks prior to Watnall commencing operations.


This article is now summarised from the original sequence of will-it-won’t it relocations in 2012 and 2013.

The DVSA had to vacate the Chalfont Drive location as the lease had run out (the entire site, which housed many government offices, is now deserted). They seemed to have left it a little late to start looking for a new location, and for a short time tests moved to Watnall and the DVLA local offices (which have now also closed).

DVSA announced that a new centre would open on the Beeston Business Park in the Rylands before the contract had been finalised. As a result, the whole deal almost fell through when the area was inundated with idiot ADIs conducting their lessons in the Rylands (in actual fact, no test routes cover the Rylands, and there is a notice up in the test centre waiting room informing instructors of this fact as a result of complaints by residents).

Anyway, to cut a long and very confusing story short, the Beeston Test Centre began operating in June 2013. And after the closure of the Clarendon Street trial, tests have once again started being conducted out of Watnall.

Share

This article was originally published in December 2013, and the changes are now in effect. Please look at the update at the bottom of the article for information on how to pay by direct debit.


From 1 October 2014, tax discs will no longer be issued or be required to be displayed on vehicles. Also from that date, it will be possible to pay your road Tax Disc to be abolished from 2014tax annually, every six months, or monthly by direct debit.

There is more information available here. It’s also been covered in much of today’s media. The changes do not negatively impact motorists in any way – the surcharge for paying six-monthly or monthly, for example, will actually be half of what it currently is when you pay six-monthly.

The tax disc first appeared in 1921. According to the article, over 99% of motorists pay their road tax on time.

The only question I would have is what happens if someone’s monthly direct debit is refused? Are they then untaxed? Since enforcement is by ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Readers/Recognition) systems there could be a rise in the numbers of those being stopped for having no tax – yet they might not be aware that they aren’t taxed.

NOTE: As a reader has pointed out, the term “road tax” is technically a misnomer, and the correct term is “vehicle tax” or “vehicle excise duty”. However, I should point out myself that the term “road tax” is almost universal, even to the point of being in the OED. You can read more about the debate surrounding the term on Wikipedia.


A lot of people are finding the blog on search terms associated with “how do I pay by direct debit?” The short answer is that I don’t know – not in detail, anyway. My own tax is paid automatically by my lease agent, so I don’t have to sort it out myself.

However, my understanding is that if you go to a Post Office to renew your tax, you can sign up for direct debit there any time after 5 October 2014. From 1 November 2014 you will also have that option if you renew online. You will be able to pay annually, biannually (every six months), or monthly. More information is given on the GOV.UK website here.

There is currently a beta version of the online renewal system. You can try it out here.

Share

It was announced last summer that the DSA would merge with VOSA to create a single body. As of Wednesday, 2 April 2014, this change took effect and the combined body is now known as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).

There’s no information yet about when – and if – there will be a specific logo for the new body. The number of hits I’ve been getting on the blog asking suggests that this is important to a lot of ADIs for reasons which are unclear. Far more important is the financial impact – good, bad, or remaining the same – on those who use it.

For anyone who needs to contact what used to be VOSA or DSA, just use the same numbers and addresses you always did until new ones are announced. Outwardly, there is no real change at the moment.

Share

The driving test turned 80 years old yesterday. It came in as part of the Road Traffic Act of 1934.

Back then, there were almost 7,500 deaths each year on the roads. The figure is around 1,750 today. The only major changes since 1934 have been the mandatory use of speedometers and safety glass (1937) and compulsory seatbelts (1983). In 1990 it became Law that supervising drivers must be 21 or older and have held a full licence for three years, and this apparently resulted in a major fall in accidents. A written theory test was introduced in 1996, and the Hazard Perception Test in 2002.

One comment in this news source intrigued me:

…the fatality figure last year stood at 1,754, and although there is still some way to go before we see an end to deaths on our roads, the figure proves that legislation works.

So it appears that someone somewhere is expecting – in all seriousness – that road casualties will eventually reach 0%. People really do talk nonsense sometimes. I’ve got more chance of winning the Lottery every week from now until the day I die than that has of happening. It’s a totally unrealistic target. Someone needs to look up the meaning of the word “accident”.

Share
1 2 3 34