A Driving Instructor's Blog

DSA

Back in December 2013 I reported that the upcoming merger between DSA and VOSA – which was supposed to save money due to streamlining – was planning to spend £35m by contracting someone “to help manage and organise the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency’s (VOSA) and Driving Standards Agency’s (DSA) legacy IT infrastructure after the two organisations merge in 2014”.

Well, if I’m reading this right, they are now looking for someone to support their IT after the merger. This appears to be a completely separate issue, and is set to cost a further £12m for at least two years.

Remember that this is not the DSA’s or VOSA’s fault. It is the government.

As I said previously, there is no way the DSA can perform at its current level by merging with VOSA (and ditto for VOSA). They are totally separate functions. This was made all the more apparent when I realised that VOSA uses Lotus Notes for its email system, whereas DSA uses Microsoft Exchange.

The company I used to work for switched from Microsoft to Lotus at one stage, and it was utter chaos. Lotus Notes is a pile of crap on so many fronts that its benefits are completely eclipsed. It appeals only to Microsoft-haters just on principle, and anyone switching from the logical Microsoft system is going to have a nightmare adapting to the illogical Lotus one if that’s the route they go down – and since VOSA is the dominant body in the merger, that route is quite likely.

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This came through at the weekend, but the story is now being covered in more detail in the media. It tells how Martin Olujosun, 22, went berserk after he failed his test in Gillingham.

Olujosun initially claimed to have acted in self defence (or “defense” if you’re a Daily Mail hack with a poor command of English). He attacked examiner, Darral Gregory, who sustained a splintered bone in his shoulder. Olujosun threatened to find out where Gregory lived and kill him.

Initially, after learning that he’d failed, Olujosun tried to punch his examiner in the face. A scuffle ensued, which resulted in Gregory sustaining the damaged shoulder. The initial story at the weekend also mentioned that Olujosun attempted to play the race card. His defence had clearly been reading The Big Book Of Stupid Language when offering mitigation:

He regrets it. If you held a gun to his head he can’t tell you why, he just lost it, he’d just lost his mother.

Well, obviously that makes it all right, then. Incredibly, Olujosun was not jailed, but received an 18-month suspended sentence – once again proving that UK Law is a complete ass.

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This story came in on the newsfeeds. An organisation called PoliceWitness is suggesting that driving test candidates record their tests – covertly if necessary – to:

…ensure that the test was carried out fairly and an unsuccessful outcome was the correct decision.

This bunch appears to have ideas well above its station. It is implying that tests are NOT carried out fairly, and that the examiners’ decisions are NOT correct. It is also worth noting that PoliceWitness sells dash-cams – though I’m sure this has absolutely nothing to do with it at all!

PoliceWitness appears to be an online version of the Neighbourhood Watch. On its FAQ page it says:

We are not the Police, we do not answer to the Police, we only answer to you. No politics, no bureaucracy, no red (blue) tape! We help ensure the things that are important to you are dealt with in a way that you want.

In fact, the advice might actually be illegal. Most test centres have a notice posted warning that recording of tests is not allowed. PoliceWitness is getting itself into a very muddy area, since unless an examiner gives permission such recording could be a breach of the Data Protection Act. Again, on its website, PoliceWitness says:

Can I legally film someone in a public place, even without their consent or knowledge?

Yes, most definitely. Think about the thousands of CCTV cameras in our town centres, a news crew capturing a feature, or indeed the paparazzi who chase and ‘snap’ celebrities. Anyone in a public place can be captured legitimately.

There are always exceptions, one being footage that maybe used for the purposes of committing terrorism, and another is focusing on an individual persistently, without their consent, which may constitute the criminal offence of harassment. The filming of children may also constitute a criminal offence.

Capturing video evidence from your car is perfectly legal, as is standing by the roadside and filming as the world goes by!

The inside of the car during a driving test is NOT a “public place”, so PoliceWitness is talking bollocks. Filming is even more of a problem when it has been specifically forbidden, and the warning given that if a recording device is discovered during a test then the test will be terminated.

The simple fact is that in 99.9% of all driving tests, the outcome is fair and correct. It matters little that candidates or instructors disagree.

As for driving instructors like the one in the article claiming it would help them teach their pupils, that’s more bollocks. If you do your job properly you don’t need to see a video of the test – in any case, you can sit in the back if you’re that desperate to nit-pick what the examiner does. Pupils fail because they make mistakes, even when they can actually drive quite well. Live with it.


As of September 2014 there are rumours that the DVSA has reviewed its stance on cameras (though NOT to allow tests to be recorded). I haven’t seen anything official and will hold off commenting until I do.

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This story in the newsfeeds is the result of a Daily Mail freedom of information (FOI) request. For anyone who doesn’t know, an FOI request results in a bunch of numbers that Daily Mail editorial staff don’t understand, which are then published for a readership that understands them even less. That readership includes many other driving instructors, judging by the indignation I am hearing from various places.

The story starts by stating that a female instructor in West Yorkshire has a 15% pass rate over a three-year period. One of her pupils has failed 27 times. Sorry, a “staggering” 27 times, in Mail hack parlance.

The article then states that she is working in an area which has previously been shown to have the “worst learner drivers in the UK”. It adds that three other instructors from the area are among the top 12 worst in Britain. It mentions a male instructor in the region with a 23% pass rate, and two females who have each taught pupils who have failed 17 and 19 times respectively.

Continuing on it’s tangled path, it then adds that earlier this year Heckmondwike – in West Yorkshire – was shown to have five of the worst learners in the country (all female). One of these took the test 34 times, and two others took it 32 times. The remaining two took their tests 29 times. However, four other West Yorkshire residents were also among the top 20 worst learners. A male learner took 30 tests, while three women took 30, 31, and 32 tests respectively.

It isn’t clear what point the Daily Mail is trying to make, as it leaps from one set of figures to another. It even finishes the article by referring to a Hampshire instructor with a 17% pass rate, and a Mancunian one who has a pupil who has failed 18 times.

The DSA quite clearly states in the story:

The pass rate of a driving instructor is no reflection of their teaching standard.

‘Instructors may not have trained the candidate but only presented them for the test. Others focus on training candidates who have difficulty in learning to drive.

The Mail has skipped over this. As usual, most Mail-reading driving instructors have not even seen it through the red mist that descended after reading the headline.

Since I have been doing this job I have noticed that people from certain groups show a strong tendency to want to go for their driving tests when – certainly in my opinion – they haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of passing. Even when they cannot complete a single manoeuvre, or drive unaided, they still want to “have a try”. I’ve had my fingers burnt in the past and, to be completely honest, I have too much pride in my pass rate these days just to keep hiring out my car to people who think they might get lucky. If that results in them going elsewhere – and it usually does – then so be it.

The locale being referred to in the article has a high immigrant or non-UK national population. In my experience this is precisely the demographic which throws up these “wanna try” learners. A lot of them will keep going to tests in their own cars, but there is a significant fringe group who are prepared to book a handful of lessons with an instructor in order to take the test in the instructor’s car. It stands to reason that if people like me won’t take them on (or who let them go when it becomes apparent what they’re after), there will be others who snap them up. It is also quite likely that instructors from certain other demographics (i.e. the male/female one) will be less forceful when it comes to saying “no”. None of these are absolutes – they’re just general tendencies. My guess is that the FOI numbers here are heavily influenced by all of this: that you have several female instructors who are mopping up all of the “wanna try” learners. Financially, it must be very good for them. If the DSA is happy, knowing the factors involved, what’s the problem?

You often hear the “safe driving for life” mantra – from instructors and the DSA – but it is a very grey area. I remember one time agreeing to take a girl to test before her theory test expired, thinking that I could get her up to the required standard in the time we had. Unfortunately, she turned out to have a real issue with some aspects of driving (basically, her brain exploded like a pan of popcorn at the slightest provocation and she did bizarre things as a result). After she failed her test I apologised to the examiner, and he simply replied “she obviously wasn’t test ready”. In one way he was absolutely right, but in another he was completely wrong. But his comment haunts me to this day.

On the other hand, I had a pupil recently who was a very slow learner. If he were to be assessed as a child now, I’m sure he’d be classed as special needs, but he was in his 20s. When he went to test I was worried he might do something unpredictable on the one hand, but I knew he was capable of passing on the other –  because he could do everything; it was whether or not he could do it all at the same time which was in question. In some respects he was similar to the girl I mentioned above. Well, he did do it right, and he passed.

Learning to drive just isn’t as simple as going from zero-to-hero for everyone. Some people will have problems with driving all their lives – and there is a lot of them out there. Until someone somewhere says they shouldn’t be driving, people like me will have to continue to take them to test after training them as best we can. For me, that’s not the same thing as just taking people to test who haven’t been trained at all.

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Motorway accidents are a daily occurrence, and this one appears to be just one more such incident (no one was hurt, but there were delays while the cars were removed). However, the Lancashire Telegraph is highly irresponsible to use the headline “Heavy rain causes M65 crash”.

As several of the commenters at the bottom of that article have correctly said, weather doesn’t cause accidents – people do.

And a point about using fog lights in heavy rain, which one of the commenters is getting a lot of stick for. Driving: The Essential Skills (the official DSA driving handbook) says in the Driving On Motorways section:

Wet weather

Visibility can be made worse because at higher speeds vehicles, especially large ones, throw up more spray. So

  • use your headlights to help other drivers see you. Don’t use rear fog lights unless visibility is less than 100 metres (328 feet)

It IS correct to use fog lights if heavy spray is causing poor visibility. It doesn’t just have to be “when it’s foggy” (something I stress to my pupils when we’re going through the show-me-tell-me questions). It’s conceivable that dust or smoke could also lead to conditions where fog lights would be useful. I remember one summer a few years ago when combine harvesters in fields in Suffolk were causing whiteout conditions due to the dryness and wind. Fog lights may also have been of use in the M5 pile up a few years ago due to the smoke blowing across the road, but certainly if smoke was causing poor visibility in other situations.

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I’m sure the pond life out there will have a field day over this one, but a learner driver was on her test near Lewisham when a lorry and a van were involved in a collision. The lorry tipped over and pushed her BSM car into a kerb.

The [DSA] added: “While the driving test can be a little daunting, most pass without incident and certainly expert driving tuition helps avoid any incidents of your own making. This was just an unfortunate freak incident and thankfully there was no harm done.”

She’ll get a free re-sit. She was completely blameless – as was BSM.

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Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) is the official DSA guide to driving. Under the heading “Separation Distance”, it says the following:

The two-second rule

In good dry conditions an alert driver, who is driving a vehicle with first class tyres and brakes, needs to be at least two seconds behind the vehicle in front.

In bad conditions, double the safety gap to at least four seconds or even more.

The Highway Code (HC) says the following:

126

Stopping Distances. Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should

  • leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. The safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance (see Typical Stopping Distances diagram, shown below)
  • allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic and in tunnels where visibility is reduced. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and increased still further on icy roads

You will note the use of the words “at least” and “or even more”. Neither publication (nor the DSA) is advising people to drive at precisely two seconds behind the driver in front all of the time.

On lessons, it is common for pupils to get too close to the vehicle in front at some stage of their training. It is also common for them – when asked how big a gap they should leave – to answer “two car lengths”. They do not mean that: it is just an answer with the number “two” in it, and if they actually thought about it (which some do) they would realise that two car lengths is a ridiculously short distance. The bottom line is that they have some vague recollection of the two-second rule, but not enough to recall it correctly.

As an aside, they also often give a nonsense answer when you ask them how far ahead they should be able to see before using their fog lights. Answers of “two metres” or “ten metres” are common (at which point I usually comment that I wouldn’t even walk outside, let alone drive, if visibility was that bad). They also commonly give nonsense answers to the tyre tread depth show-me-tell-me question based on a vague memory of having read it while studying for their Theory Test.

The simple fact is that the Theory Test is complementary to their lessons. It is the ADI’s job to help them apply the theory to the practicalities of being out on the road.

Instructors should be careful about making up their own rules about separation distances, especially if they don’t understand the topic as well as they think they do. Trying to leave too large a gap could easily lead to a candidate driving too slowly, and apart from the obvious problems this can cause in terms of the outcome of the test, it is guaranteed to encourage other drivers to overtake in frustration. TES and HC say you should leave “at least” two seconds in good weather. This does not automatically mean that ten or twenty seconds would be OK in free moving traffic (unless it is icy), because people would overtake and drop into the gap, and the learner would then have to slow down even more to open up the artificially large gap again. A “two-second rule” sized gap discourages all but the biggest arseholes (i.e. Audi drivers) from cutting in because the driver applying it is driving sensibly.

A confident and well-trained driver should be able to maintain a safe distance using the two-second rule without resorting to complicated additional rules. I stress again that when we say “two-second rule” it encompasses the principles of “at least” or “even more” mentioned in TES and the HC.

Measuring the gap is easy. As the car in front passes a sign, a lamp post, or some other feature, just say in a normal voice “only a fool breaks the two-second rule”. If you get to the sign or whatever before you finish saying it then you’re too close. And with a little driving experience under your belt you will know automatically if you’re too close without having to keep doing it.

Why is it measured in seconds and not car lengths?

Referring to overall stopping distances for a moment, if you have to brake suddenly the stopping distance varies depending on how fast you were travelling. At 20mph you can stop in about 12 metres, whereas at 70mph it will take 96 metres – or eight times further. In other words, it is a different number of car lengths for every single speed. Learners have enough trouble learning stopping distances as it is.

Leaving a gap of at least two seconds applies at any speed. It is much easier to apply than individual numbers of car lengths.

Why two seconds?

It’s only a rough rule. At 1mph, a car will be travelling 0.447 metres per second. Therefore, at 20mph it will cover about 18m in two seconds. At 30mph it’ll travel 27m, at 40mph nearly 36m, at 50mph about 45m, at 60mph about 54m, and at 70mph it’s about 62m.

These distances are not the same as stopping distances, and they aren’t supposed to be. Stopping distances are about stopping dead. The two-second rule is really aimed at giving the driver time to react to vehicles in front slowing down. It’s two separate – but related – things.

Does it have to be exactly two seconds?

No. Less than two seconds is dangerous and is almost guaranteed to get you a fail if you do it on your test. If you are closer than two seconds away from the car in front then you are what people refer to as a “tailgater”. But within reason, more than two seconds is fine.

Is it always two seconds?

No. TES and the HC both refer to doubling the gap in wet weather – so it becomes four seconds. Likewise, they mention that in icy weather it can take ten times the normal distance to stop (which seems vague, but skidding on ice is vague. Believe me).

There’s nothing wrong with a gap of, say, three seconds in good conditions. Four seconds is perhaps beginning to raise the question of adequate progress if traffic is flowing freely. Any more than that in free-moving traffic and other problems – such as people overtaking – becomes an issue. Just use common sense.

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I found this in the newsfeeds. I’ve already reported on the upcoming merger between VOSA and DSA into a single body, and how it is supposed to save money by streamlining the functions carried out by both bodies.

Well, this latest story suggest that a contract is going out to tender for someone “to help manage and organise the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency’s (VOSA) and Driving Standards Agency’s (DSA) legacy IT infrastructure after the two organisations merge in 2014”.

It will cost £35 million.

It never ceases to amaze me how this government can say and do two completely contradictory things. The merged body is going to be more bureaucratic than the two separate entities ever were. Heaven knows what will happen to the service levels.

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Back in June I mentioned that the DSA and VOSA would be merging in 2014. This latest news release from the DSA says that the new single agency will be called the “Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency”. I am assuming it will be known as the DVSA, though this abbreviation is not used in the release.

Obviously, there is more involved than just a name change (that petty accusation is in the sole domain of the web forum agitator).

All documents bearing the DSA logo will remain valid until further notice, and ADIs will not need to change their badges until the normal renewal times. Instructors will still be known as “DSA approved ADIs” until further notice. Again, I assume we will become “DVSA approved ADIs” at some stage. No DVSA logo is yet given.

It’s worth pointing out – to the agitators in particular – that this change is a government thing. It isn’t something the DSA can be blamed for.

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Over the last year, the ASA has ruled against several scam sites. As I pointed out in that last article a few weeks ago, it is hard to separate them from each other as they all have similar names and employ similar scamming and lying tactics to force people to pay for rip-off services they don’t need.

This weeks ASA rulings have yet again pulled Book Your Theory Test Online Ltd up over deliberately misleading claims. I am assuming it is the same outfit of robbers from the last upheld claim – the word “online” is the only difference, as it is missing from this company title.

When will legislation be introduced to remove these scum permanently?

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