A Driving Instructor's Blog

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COVID SOM imageJust saw this in the news. Driving lessons can recommence from 4 July 2020.

I’m now going to have to let most of my pupils go, since I cannot start immediately as I am still isolating to protect my elderly parents. And it’s too soon, anyway (we can’t socially distance, and far too many new cases of the virus are still occurring daily).

On the plus side, there will be no more idiotic social media posts about ‘when can we go back’ and ‘well, technically, we never had to stop’.

And the official DVSA email has now come through.

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I received an email alert from DVSA today (as should most other instructors have done). Basically – and except for key workers – all tests are off until further notice. The essential part is reproduced here:

Driving instruction and driving tests

Other than emergency training and tests for critical workers, driving instruction and driving tests have not yet been able to restart because the risk of transmission of the virus in vehicles is higher.

In his statement on 10 June, the Prime Minister reiterated that the government will remain cautious and measure the effect of the changes it makes. The Prime Minister explained this means moving slower than we’d have liked in some areas.

Driving instruction and tests will only restart when the government is confident that the assessment of risk warrants it, subject to the 5 tests and further detailed scientific advice.

In the meantime, I want to re-emphasise that you should continue to limit driving lessons to critical workers who are preparing for an emergency driving test.

Once again, I would like to thank those of you who have been able to offer driving lessons to critical workers during these unprecedented times.

We will, of course, share more information with you as soon as it’s available – including the dates that driving instruction and driving tests can restart.

Any change to this is wholly dependent on what COVID-19 does next, and what the government decides as a result. That is unlikely to occur before July at the earliest, and I have texted all my pupils this afternoon indicating that we are unlikely to be doing lessons before August at the earliest.

One of my pupils has already received a cancellation email – and it is a cancellation, not a rescheduled date. That ought to be telling you something.

I have highlighted in bold the part DVSA emphasises in its email. For anyone too stupid to understand it, it says you should only be giving lessons to key workers who are preparing for a driving test.

I am awaiting the usual clowns arguing ‘yes, but it says should, not MUST’ (a reference to the terminology used in the Highway Code, where the difference is between advice or Law). I’d point out to these idiots that even going against advice can often lead you towards the hard legal aspects. Quite easily. In this case, by working when you shouldn’t you’re probably making the delay for everybody else longer, as you help COVID-19 spread.

Just remember. Apart from the money-grabbing aspect, there is absolutely no point teaching people at the moment if they cannot book a test. Try as you might to sound philanthropical about it, you’re doing it for you, not them. And it shines through like a beacon. Even if you do go ahead and work – and it cracks me up to see all these people who’ve been saying we can, and they’re going to start again ‘on Monday’ every week without fail (but haven’t) – what will you do once your pupils reach test standard? It’s likely there’ll be no tests until September – maybe longer if the shit hits the fan again, which you working is likely to help happen – and that’s three months away. By then you’ll possibly have blown your chances with SEISS (Part 2) and run out of people to teach. And that’s even assuming you can run a full diary right now (with most pupils not being as clueless as you and staying safe), and having to sanitise the car with a gallon of sanitizer every hour.

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Sweet - Steve Priest on the leftAnother legend from my childhood gone. Sweet were one of the glam rock pioneers in the early 70s, and one of the bands I grew up with.

The 70s was easily the best for music.

Steve Priest – one of the founding members – was the one who wore make-up and big ear-rings. RIP, Steve.

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Image of virusIt has been announced that the SEISS will be paid again in August. This time, it will be 70% instead of 80% of the average income over the last three years. For me, that should be around £3,000.

As I have said before – and if you are eligible – it is far better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Note that the article says applications will ‘open in August’. Logically, this means we’re going to have to put up with almost three months of people asking when they can claim, and why it hasn’t been paid yet, just like last time – even though HMRC had made it crystal clear numerous times. Oh, and those who won’t have heard about it, and still won’t have even at the end of July, who will then start blaming HMRC. Come on, people. We have something called ‘the internet’ these days – they don’t use messenger pigeons anymore!

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KFC QueueAn article in the local Nottingham Post (have an ad blocker – you’ve been warned) reveals that police had to be called as massive queues built up outside the only branch of KFC to open up in the region.

The combined IQ of those in the queue probably barely made it into three figures, but the really funny part is how KFC are going to handle it.

Even at the best of times, the likelihood of going to the drive-thru only to be told ‘we’re just waiting for chicken – it’ll be about 12 minutes’ is about 50:50, so how on earth they can manage queues of this size is anyone’s guess. Then there is the normal drive-thru procedure to consider.

KFC specialises in attracting the kind of people who drive BMWs and Audis who haven’t got a clue what they’re going to order once they reach the intercom. They’ll invariably have their brood in the car with them, and it’ll then turn into that scene from The Exorcist, with the driver’s head spinning repeatedly through 360° as he or she attempts to add whatever numerous items everyone wants to the order. And of course, it won’t be a normal order – there’ll be tweaks and special requests to customise it.

One they get to the pick-up window, you can be sure there’ll be no more chicken left for you. And God only knows how they’ll manage with the typical two Order Bays in the car park – they need a dozen even when it’s quiet.

It does make you wonder, though, how people can get their priorities so wrong. It’s the same as champing at the bit to go back to work as soon as you’re allowed – even though nothing has changed with the virus pandemic.

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HMRC COVID-19 Support ImageI had an email from HMRC this morning, which you can view here in website form.

If you go to GOV.UK and search for ‘Self-Employment Income Support Scheme’ you will find the tool that checks your eligibility, and assigns you a time from which you can place your claim. I strongly advise that you do it this way, just in case someone sends you a scam email – never click on links from emails to access your bank or business accounts anywhere.

Make sure you have the necessary information before you start your eligibility check. You need your Government Gateway number, your UTR, and your NI Number to complete it.

The good news for me is that I am eligible, and I can make a claim from next week (though there is the possibility that the claim system might not be available until later in the week, but we shall see). The email also says that the calculated money will be paid within six working days.

Update: Well, it didn’t take long, did it? The system is about as simple and straightforward as it could be, yet it still seems to have thrown many into a state of utter confusion.

The original email makes it clear that you need your Gateway Access number, your UTR, and your NI Number. If you don’t have those to hand, you will not be able to complete the check. If you do your own self-assessment you will have them (frankly, even if you don’t do your own SA, you really ought to have this information on file).

When you check your eligibility, it just says whether you are, or whether you aren’t, eligible. It doesn’t tell you how much you’ll be getting or give you any money there and then. Honestly, it doesn’t. It then asks you to enter your contact details. Just your email address and phone number – no inside leg measurements, bank details, or anything – just your email address and contact phone number. This is so you can be sent the claim link on the date and time it gives you on the screen.

Claim dates and times are different for everyone. I guess they’ve done it like this to stop everyone crashing the system as they all apply at the same time first thing Monday when it starts up. In other words, the claims are staggered whether you like it or not. Moan about it all you want – you’d certainly be moaning if the system crashed due to overload – but at least they are trying to avoid problems.

Let me stress again. You are not making a claim at this moment in time. You are just checking your eligibility, and providing two pieces of contact information so they can send you the claim link at your date and time next week.

Once you have done that, the screen message clearly indicates that there’s nothing more to do at this stage. The clue is in the absence of any further questions or requests for (sigh) bank details. They will want your bank information next week.

This system makes perfect sense to me. However, some people also appear put out by the fact that they aren’t just getting a wheelbarrow full of cash dumped on their doorstep, and they’ve actually got to do something to get it. Something so horrendously illogical as… filling in a claim form!


Reading social media, etc., and it amazes me the number of instructors who are confused over what they need to do – even though they apparently do their own self assessments each year!

If you do your own SA, you will have access to the Government Gateway. When you log in, the security system sends you a text message with a short-lived access code, which you then have to type in before getting to your account. It stands to reason you should not be sending screenshots of this access code to social media or any other source, but I can see people doing precisely that. The first time you log into the Gateway, it asks you to set this up.

The access code expires after 15 minutes, after which time you’ll need to get a new one. However, you can ask the system to ‘remember for 7 days’ if you plan on logging in several times in the immediate future. This is even more reason not to go posting screenshots anywhere just because ‘you can’. It is security information, roughly equivalent to a password, and making it known to all and sundry removes one level of security from your most private financial information. If anyone gains access to that, they could pretend to be you virtually anywhere in the world.

I also see people triggering the whole issue all over again every single time they get a text message, with a deluge of inconsistent, repetitive replies every single time. HMRC will not send out any messages with links in them. You should always go to GOV.UK and access your account from there, or from within links within GOV.UK.

If you’ve gone through everything once and been given a time and date for your claim, you do not need to do it again. You do not need to do it two more times. Or three more times. Once you’ve done it the first time, nothing you can do will make next week come any quicker. Just wait.

Not every test message you receive is a scam. If you get one from HMRC and it doesn’t contain any links or mention sums of money, it is almost certainly legitimate. Log into the Gateway and you can check – if you don’t owe anything when you look at your account, then you don’t owe anything, period. So any text message saying otherwise can be ignored.

This is the same principle you should follow for any other text message telling you your ‘bill is overdue and you’ll get cut off if you don’t pay immediately’. I get them allegedly from EE and Virgin Media on a regular basis. The giveaway is usually the email address they come from, but all I do is log into my EE or Virgin accounts and check (helped by the fact that I pay by direct debit and I know I have funds to cover my payments). What I don’t do is click the link and then start posting all over social media to get a 50:50 opinion on whether it’s a scam or not. I note that social media replies are frequently 50:50 on being right if it is a scam, and 50:50 on being right if it isn’t. The net result is a complicated answer that is lucky if it’s even close to being right.

DO NOT click links in emails to access your bank, HMRC, or other accounts where your bank details are stored. If you do, contact your bank immediately and tell them what you’ve done.

Even if you realise it is a scam, don’t try and be a smart arse by clicking the link to try and outfox the scammers. You might be saying ‘yes’ to having software installed on your PC or phone. At the very least, you are saying ‘I am here’, and thus registering yourself as a target.

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Virus graphicWell, Donald Trump appears desperate to outdo himself with everything he says and does. You will no doubt have heard his latest medical endorsement of the possible use of bleach or detergent – injected or consumed – to get rid of COVID-19. He even iced the cake by referring to UV light – used internally as well as externally – as a possible ‘cure’ for the virus!

Whatever he meant – whatever he was thinking – it is what other people will think that matters. Stupid people, in particular.

There has already been a case of someone in Arizona dying because he took Trump’s previous endorsement of Chloroquine literally and dosed himself up on the stuff used to clean aquariums. His wife was apparently in a critical condition after doing the same. In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s latest rant, Reckitt Benckiser – the manufacturers of Lysol and Dettol – have had to issue warnings not to ingest or inject their products.

The problem is that stupid people don’t know that they’re stupid. In many cases, they actually think they’re smart. I suppose ‘stupid’ is perhaps a bit strong, but the alternative – that they are just average people – is potentially even more worrying, since it means that there’s a lot more of them around.

Sticking with the bleach thing for a moment, household products are not manufactured under conditions that make them anywhere near suitable for internal use. They are even further away from being suitable for intravenous use. An example would be calcium supplement tablets. The raw material in those is often calcium carbonate – but the quality of that material is nothing like the calcium carbonate that would be used in cement, which is another of its applications. The stuff in the tablets is purified in a lab to make it suitable for ingestion. The stuff used in cement pretty much comes straight out of a limestone quarry.

Household cleaners share a similar gulf in how ‘clean’ they are, with the additional problem being that you don’t use bleach – particularly chlorine-based bleaches – internally for anything. They are corrosive and toxic. Even gentler bleaches like the peroxides are used highly diluted and for external purposes (tooth whitening, for example).

But the problem seems to be that stupidity – or averageness – isn’t confined to Trump, the Americans, or any other nation, although there does seem to be a link between education and being prepared to do things that it might have been best not to.

Let’s summarise the problem we have. There’s a virus. It spreads easily. It kills a lot more people than seasonal flu does, even though it isn’t flu. There is no vaccine at the moment. No one alive can remember anything like what we have right now. In order to protect as many people as possible, the government ordered the lockdown we are all currently dealing with. No one person’s life is any more valuable than anyone else’s – no matter what their health or age.

Read that last paragraph carefully. It contains no opinion – just facts.

Now ask yourself this. What has changed in any of that during the last month? Absolutely nothing has.

And yet there is an article today indicating that, with the next pulse of warmer weather getting underway, people are breaking the lockdown rules in greater numbers than at any time since the lockdown began.

In my own industry, I continue to see people who are putting money and themselves above all else. They desperately want to return to work, and will try any argument to convince themselves they should be allowed to. There are still people saying that it’s ‘no worse than flu’. There are still people whose argument is ‘I need money, so we should be allowed back to work’. There are instructors desperately searching for key workers to teach, even though they have children and are in daily contact with vulnerable people. There are instructors desperate to return to work by the time ‘the kids go back to school’ (or conversely, want the lockdown lifted just to suit whatever the schools decide to do so that they can work without having to worry about childminding). There are older people arguing ‘I don’t want to be imprisoned for the rest of my life’, as if that is a reason for the lockdown to be lifted. There are people still desperately trying to believe that wearing a mask and gloves means you’ll be safe sitting in a car with six or more different pupils every day, and who would gladly go back to normal if that’s all they had to do. Some would work tomorrow – with no protection whatsoever – if they were ‘allowed to’. Others repeatedly quote ‘Sweden’, as if that somehow means we ought to pretend nothing has happened.

I could go on, and on, and on with more examples.

These are the ‘average’ members of society I was referring to. They simply do not have a clue.

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I received an email today from DVSA. This one has no web link, and since it is addressed and worded to me personally (as in, all ADIs ought to have received similar), I won’t reproduce the entire thing here.

It refers to the suspension of driving tests (except for key workers) – which we all know about along with advice on how to deal with any key workers we might be teaching, and suitable sanitisation procedures.

There’s a bit about how they are working with the political wing of this industry (‘the associations’) to keep people informed.

There’s reference to the forthcoming grant for the majority of instructors – if anyone didn’t know, those eligible will be contacted by mid-May(ish) and payments will be made early June(ish).

Then, a couple of interesting bits, which I will reproduce. Firstly:

If your ADI registration expires by the end of June

If your ADI registration is due to expire by the end of June 2020, you can choose not to renew it right now.

You then have up to 12 months to re-register without having to take the qualifying tests again. However, you will not be able to charge money (or monies worth) for instruction while your registration has lapsed.

To my mind, this suggests that no one is realistically expecting life to get back to normal anytime soon.

Secondly – and even more telling:

If you renewed your ADI registration in March

If you renewed your ADI registration in March 2020 and have stopped working, you can apply for a refund of your registration fee.

Email padi@dvsa.gov.uk with your name, ADI registration number, date of birth and postcode to apply.

You’ll then need to cut up your ADI certificate (badge). You will not be able to charge for instruction after you do this, but you can re-register as an ADI up to the end of March 2021 and start work again without retaking the qualifying test.

So, anyone who got their latest badge in March can apply to get a full refund. I honestly don’t think they’d be doing that if they were realistically expecting tests – and, therefore, lessons – to be starting up in the foreseeable future. No figures or dates are given, but if anyone was expecting the lockdown for driving instructors to last less than 4-6 months, would DVSA be offering refunds? I would doubt it.

All I can go on is what I see, and what I understand. Frankly, there is no realistic end in sight to not being able to give driving lessons just based on the passing of time, or people ‘getting fed up with it’.

All of this is still developing by the day. It’s as serious now as it was when the lockdown first came into force, but there is a growing number of people who, even if they belatedly realised the seriousness before, are falsely trying to play it down now. I’m seeing an increasing number for whom ‘I’ve got to get back to work’ is becoming a mantra.

Because of my background, I know full well the only way out of this is a vaccine. The good news is that Oxford University’s candidate – which they have already said they’re 80% certain will work, and hope to have ready as at least a million doses ‘by the Autumn’ if it does – begins human trials tomorrow. Imperial College has one that will begin its human trials in June. Labs in Germany, China, and USA are also ready to commence (or already have) human trials.

I’m following this news above all else. Because only it will get us out of this in any way which doesn’t lead to even more COVID-19 fatalities.

Update: If you’re on Facebook, ignore any f**kwits telling you either you can’t get a refund, or – possibly worse – that you shouldn’t. In the unlikely event that we can  officially work at any point in the next three months, ask yourself seriously if you really want to.

If you get infected, you will pass it to all the people you meet, and all the people you live with. The virus isn’t going to go from full throttle to engine off overnight on June 12th or any other date some prat has heard one of their pupils has had a test moved to.

If you’re a brand new ADI, you got this far without having to take people on lessons, so why risk never getting the chance in future?

You can get a refund.

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Virus imageI want to clarify what many people have read in the media over the last few days, but appear to have misunderstood. Here’s one media reference to the subject.

It concerns a promising candidate for a vaccine for COVID-19 being developed at Oxford that is just entering human trials. The confusion amongst people who have seen it appears to stem from what one of the scientists working on it has said:

“Vaccinologist at Oxford, Professor Sarah Gilbert, has said she is 80 per cent sure the vaccine will be a success.”

She is saying that she is 80% certain the vaccine she’s working on will work. Nothing more. In other articles, she is quoted as saying that if everything runs smoothly – and absolutely nothing goes wrong – the vaccine could be ready by the Autumn.

To clarify, she is 80% certain they have a candidate that will work, and the earliest they would be able to say ‘yes, it does’ is in the Autumn.

She is not saying everyone will be able to have the jab in the Autumn and go back to normal. Nor is she saying the vaccine will only be 80% effective (something else I keep seeing people posting).

Once they have a vaccine that works, it has got to be manufactured on a large scale and distributed. Then, tens of millions of people have got to get the jab. That is going to take time (and if what we’ve seen with PPE and medical equipment is anything to go by) it is likely to run into shortages of ampoules, vials, bungs, over-caps, or pre-filled syringes – the containers it is probably going to be put into.

In normal times, it can take anything up to 60 years to develop a vaccine (and yes, historically, that is how long some have taken to develop). Typically, it takes at least 3-10 years to get one, but that is when there is no major hurry and the very detailed clinical trials are carried out, analysed, and documented as is required by the various Health Agencies in different countries.

Even in this extraordinary situation we find ourselves in, a vaccine that became approved for use today might still take as long as 12-18 months to distribute and deploy. Hopefully, a target of 6 months might be met, but meeting targets isn’t something which has been demonstrated to any significant degree during this pandemic when you look at how many tests for COVID-19 the UK has managed to achieve.

Remember that if the UK government did manage to provide 100,000 vaccinations per day (based on its target of 100,000 tests), it would take 500 days to cover the entire population. And that is around 18 months. Yet we are nowhere near meeting that testing target.

The same issue arises with the manufacture of the vaccine. My guess is it will likely be deployed in pre-filled syringes (but I could be wrong, as they are probably the slowest and most likely to run into shortages way of delivering it). But an ampoule filling machine – those are the glass bottles you snap the top off to use – can fill at up to several hundred ampoules per minute. There aren’t that many of them installed in the UK in the first place, and of the ones that are, most run much more slowly. Even if we assume 1,000 machines running at 200 ampoules per minute, 24 hours a day, it would take 10 days to produce enough vaccine for the whole country. In reality, the UK has a fraction of that number of machines available, a fraction of the number of companies who can handle vaccines at all, running at a combined fraction of that filling speed, and only capable of running for a fraction of the maximum available time. Producing the vaccine would take months, and I haven’t even mentioned the manufacturing process for the bulk (which is unknown, as yet).

It is definitely very good news about the vaccine at this stage. But there is still a long way to go.


Update 17/4/2020: The latest to this – two days after I wrote it – is that the scientists involved in the Oxford trial are so confident it will work that they plan to manufacture 1 million doses while the trials are still ongoing and hope to be ready by September.

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