A Driving Instructor's Blog

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I wrote recently about how BSM is dumping the Fiat 500 and returning to Vauxhall and Corsas as their tuition vehicles. Of course, the forums have been rife with speculation by the know-it-all BSM-haters.

These two snippets are from the BSM Instructor Academy. The earliest says:

NEW CAR DEAL WITH VAUXHALL

We are absolutely delighted to announce a huge new partnership with another iconic British motoring giant… We are rekindling our a previous 18-year relationship with Vauxhall as of next March, with our fleet of Fiat 500s and Grande Punto’s being replaced with 5 door Vauxhall Corsas from the award winning ecoFLEX range.

The fleet will be changed to Vauxhall by the end of 2011.

Dating right back to 2009 when we first acquired BSM. There was no car deal in place for BSM at that time. Vauxhall and Aviva had parted ways and we needed to get cars to our instructors – clearly a vulnerable position for a driving school to be in! We secured for our Instructors the Car of the Year, the Fiat 500. We worked with our instructors and learners through surveys and by monitoring communications closely to understand instructor’s feelings about the Fiat 500.

In May of this year, instructors sent us a clear message saying that 80% of them wanted to drive the Vauxhall Corsa – we can’t ignore that overwhelming strength of opinion. The Corsa is the instructors car of choice, so we’ve set about delivering to you the car you wanted. Here are some other essentials that you required and we’ve made sure that we deliver…

  • Full size spare tyres
  • Steel Wheels instead of Alloys
  • Larger dials on the dashboard so you can see the speed
  • Rear headrests
  • Upgraded power steering
  • Better fuel consumption
  • And all cars will have 5 doors
  • 5 star NCAP safety rating

We are market leaders and it’s important to us that our offer to Instructors is head and shoulders above our competition.

So we’re back to British, and we can’t pretend we’re not delighted to be backing British industry once more. We must say a huge thank you to Fiat for an enormously successful 18 month relationship, which came along at the right time.

Looking forward, this is fantastic news for us, for our learners, for our instructors and for our economy. The fact remains though that this would all mean nothing if we didn’t have the colleagues at BSM to help us maintain our reputation as the UK’s biggest and best driving school. And without that reputation we wouldn’t have this deal. So it’s down to our instructors and colleagues – to you! So thanks for the continued hard work, and here’s to and exciting year ahead.

And then a more recent one:

Switching to Vauxhall – Follow Up

The newspaper coverage of our move to Vauxhall has said that we ‘ditched’ Fiat because the cars were too small and been caused an issue with the DSA but this not true.

We have in fact spoken to DSA this morning, and they assure us that the information in the newspaper didn’t come from. Furthermore, they have offered us this quote if we want to go back to the papers.

“The Fiat 500 meets DSA’s Minimum Test Vehicle requirements. DSA has confirmed to us again today that the Fiat 500 remains suitable for driving lessons, check tests and driving tests, and that the agency was in no way involved in BSM’s decision”

To reiterate our reasons for the switch, we have listened to instructor feedback about the Fiat 500, and we have managed to come to an excellent arrangement with Vauxhall that not only makes good commercial sense and gives our instructors what they want, but which also factors in a number of instructor specific improvements:

  • Full size spare tyres
  • Steel Wheels instead of Alloys
  • Larger dials on the dashboard so you can see the speed
  • Rear headrests
  • Upgraded power steering
  • Better fuel consumption
  • And all cars will have 5 doors

Of course, this won’t stop the “experts” giving out misleading information, but at least the facts are there for anyone who cared about such trivia.

EDIT 28/6/2012: Remember that BSM is now run by The AA.

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EDIT 28/6/2012: Note that this story dates from 2010. BSM is now run by The AA, and is owned by The AA’s parent company. 

FIAT 500: Bye Bye?I saw this story in the press today. BSM is getting rid of its much-maligned fleet of Fiat 500s and switching back to Corsas. The change will take place in March 2011 – or rather, the change will start in March 2011: there is no indication how long it will take to replace all cars.

The original deal with Fiat was made last summer and was supposed to be for 4 years. One can only guess at how much the early cancellation will cost, and what effect it might ultimately have on BSM at a time when all schools are feeling the pinch and when a double-dip recession is feared by many. Fiat won’t take that lying down.

The story says:

Instructors had complained the three-door Fiat 500 was too small, so BSM decided to make the switch to five-door 1.2- and 1.4-litre Vauxhall Corsas ‘in recognition that instructors often use their cars not only as a tool for their trade, but also as their primary family vehicle’.

Personally, I didn’t have a big issue with the Fiat – I thought it was quite cute – but I didn’t have to drive one, and I doubt I’d have been comfortable if I had. Most other instructors (especially those who who were independent, and whose business it wasn’t) did have an issue, though. But you can’t help wonder why BSM didn’t listen to its own instructors in the first place, because those instructors sure as hell weren’t saying anything different last summer when they first went crazy over the change! They hated the Fiats from Day One.

Of course, there were also problems (well, very strong rumours) with the DSA about having examiners sit in the back of such a small car, as well as safety concerns over 3 doors.

I wonder if this will see instructors who left return to BSM’s ranks?

The source of this story is What Car, and they make the valid comment that a lot of Fiat 500s are likely to appear on the secondhand market – possibly at bargain prices.

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This an OLD story from 2010.


Saw this story this morning. Hyundai will be supplying 600 i30 cars to Bill Plant (driving school) this Bill Plant Logo - removed due to a complaint by them in another articleyear – it supplied 400 i20 models last year.

On the forums, there has been a lot of speculation about Bill Plant and the school’s supposed financial difficulties. Of course, at any other time the forums are incandescent over Bill Plant’s “5 hours for £56” introductory offer. The wise ones appear incapable of understanding the word “introductory” – and the fact that subsequent lessons are something like £22 an hour afterwards (and that’s usually more than those same wise ones are charging for their own lessons, and which also include introductory offers).

The Bill Plant franchise is pretty good value, starting at £149 a week including the car and various other benefits. None of the wise ones on the forums, who hate all franchises with a vengeance, seems to have cottoned on to the driving instructor training service. Not yet, anyway.

Edit: I have removed the Bill Plant logo above. This is because they have taken exception to a much more recent story where the ASA found them being a little creative with their “facts” about how many instructors they had, and how big an area those covered. In fact, the ASA seriously dented Bill Plant’s own claims to be “national” by declaring that they’re not! I therefore thought it prudent to anticipate further tit-for-tat action on their part by removing their logo from here.

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Further to my recent post about the RAC’s call for larger lettering for older drivers, there is another story on a similar topic on the BBC website (I think it is just a different take on the same report).

This time, the claim is that older drivers are safer than young ones. The BBC article opens:

Elderly motorists should not be forced to retake the driving test as they are often safer than young drivers, a report by the RAC Foundation has found.

This has to rate as one of the most superficial and misleading statements of all time.

The RAC Foundation’s Stephen Glaister said:

Despite the myths, older drivers are no less safe than other age groups.

But then the article continues:

The foundation added that re-testing could break equality legislation.

This is the crux of it: political correctness and equality. Again.

I’m going to see if I can find it, but that report is actually quite a lot older than you’d think. I saw it sometime last year – or rather, the research paper with the raw data – and it is absolutely clear than reaction times get longer as people get older. So clear, indeed, that it is a simple fact.

Not every old person is going to be as bad as the worst one on the road, or as good as the best one in the age group. But the average (and the fact that the average is a fact) surely demands that lives are more important than ridiculous ideas of equality.

If someone can’t drive safely then they are not equal. If they can drive safely (enough) then they are. It’s as simple as that.

Equality is about allowing people to drive if they meet the base criteria. Not – as some seem to believe – that you should be allowed to drive no matter what.

If you  look at this link, for example (it’s American), the abstract says:

Older drivers have higher rates of crashes per mile driven compared with most other drivers, and these crashes result in greater morbidity and mortality. Various aspects of cognition, particularly visual attention, have been linked with crash risk among older individuals. The current study was designed to specify those cognitive variables associated with specific on-road driving behaviors in a sample of older, nonclinic-referred individuals.

Not quite what the RAC is saying, is it? Quite the opposite, in fact – and it’s only from 2002.

The British Medical Journal has another article (also 2002), and in its abstract it says:

Driver crash involvement rates per capita decreased with age, but fatal involvement rates per capita increased starting at age 70. The same pattern existed for involvement rates per licensed driver. For both all crashes and fatal crashes, involvement rates per mile driven increased appreciably at age 70.

What this is saying is that as people get older they get better and have fewer accidents, but at a certain point (age 70 is identified) fatal accidents increase. Looking at all accidents, at age 70 they also increased appreciably. So older drivers do have more fatal and non-fatal accidents.

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This cartoon appeared in today’s Daily Mail Online:

The Examiners' Strike

EDIT: Please note that this was posted in early 2010. Obviously, the unions (including PCS) are still intent on having their little strike, no matter what concessions are made.

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But it HAS been saved already – so read the other stories on this subject!

Let me stress that again for whoever it is keeps digging this one up: THIS IS AN OLD STORY. RED WAS BOUGHT OUT AND IS NOW TRADING PERFECTLY HAPPILY AGAIN. IT WENT BUST AND WAS SAVED OVER 18 MONTHS AGO!

Red Driving School Logo

The holding company (LVG – Lansdowne Venture Group) for Red Driving School has gone into administration. This follows weeks of rumours, following the abrupt cessation of Red’s prolific TV advertising.

Someone sent me a link to this document put out by the adminstrators (MCR) – it confirms the fact. There is now a BBC story covering the issue in a little more detail.

The administration is effective from 16 February 2010, although the company is still trading. Most people think of Red as a company which trains people to be driving instructors, but it also operates a national franchise driving school and publishes a magazine. Many ADIs also use its accountancy services under the FBTC banner. It also appears to have been active in software development.

The MCR document explains all this to potential buyers, and says that LVG is structured thus:

Business Overview

The Company’s principal activities are carried out under the RED Brand, under which the Company operates RED Instructor Training, RED Driving School and RED Fleet Training.

The Company also offers accountancy services to driving instructors under the FBTC brand and publishes ADI News, a monthly Driving Instructor industry magazine.

The Company is developing a new software technology called sPyDA, a diary management and bookings system for use within driving schools.

The financial information is interesting. They made a net profit of £1.6m in the 18 months to 31st March 2008, £2.1m in the 6 months to 5th October 2008, and £3.0m in the year to 4th October 2009. However, they made a loss of £2.2m in the 16 weeks to 24th January.

Initially, my personal view is that that looks very fishy ( edit 21/02/2010: but updated information I’ve seen since this post was written explains what has happened ). Where did all the money go, and why such a big loss in such a short time after so much profit?

The BBC quotes MCR – the company acting as administrators – as saying:

“We are confident a buyer will be secured as the most recent financial reports indicate the business has been quite a healthy and profitable operation.” said joint administrator Andrew Stoneman of MCR.

“It only entered administration due to a lack of funding and investment.”

Some idiots out there will be rubbing their hands at this news, but spare a thought for those in the middle of training.

EDIT 19/02/2010: Someone found this page by searching for “red gone bust can I stop my franchise fee”. I really do despair at the way some people think.

Nice try! But Red is still trading. If you stop your franchise payments you will be in breach of contract. If you want out, do it the way you would normally – contact Red, or the administrators, or seek legal advice.

Someone else found the page by searching for “red bankruptcy”. It’s worth pointing out that there is no bankruptcy – even saying they’ve “gone bust” is a bit of editorial licence. The holding company has gone into administration, Red is still trading, and a buyer is likely to be found. Bankruptcy is far more serious.

EDIT 21/02/2010 #1: And Red is already saved by private equity firm, Kelso Place .

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EDIT 28/6/2012: This is an old story. I understand that now BSM is run by The AA, franchise prices are similar to those of The AA Driving School. Lesson prices with PDIs are also not charged at full rate.

I get a lot of hits on this search term (i.e. “BSM franchise fees”). Take a look at this link to BSM’s website.

BSM LogoThe top BSM franchise (fixed fee) is was very expensive (in my opinion) – from what I last heard it is something it used to be between £330-380 a week! However, if the website is anywhere near accurate, BSM is virtually guaranteeing pupils, plus you get 3 fee-free weeks after a year, and an annual discount (not sure how much) on the weekly fee.

They also used to do a variable fee franchise, which is based on the number of hours you do. The more you work, the more you pay. I don’t have a clue what the figures are for this one.

Finally, they used to do an Associate Franchise – this is where you get the car but find your own work. It costs £160 a week, and includes free CPD (which I assume must also be included in those other franchise options).

Your best bet is to phone them on the number they give:  0845 851 9688 – better to get the correct information from the horses mouth, and not a pile of twisted hearsay from people who are guessing or who have axes to grind with BSM. It’s not like you are committing to joining them or anything.

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Well, well, well! The silly little idiot who claimed she had fallen asleep whilst having a tattoo – and ended up with 56 stars on her face instead of just three (is any face tattoo something anyone with a sound mind would consider?) has admitted she lied (see story here).

But the 18-year-old has finally confessed she did not fall asleep, that she wanted all the stars and was ‘fully aware’ of what Toumaniantz was doing.

Miss Vlaminck [Vlaeminck] told a Dutch TV crew: ‘I asked for 56 stars and initially adored them.

‘But when my father saw them, he was furious.

‘So I said I fell asleep and that the tattoist had made a mistake.’

The tattooist – every time I see his photo I imagine I’m having a nightmare – is now off the hook. He originally offered to pay half of what it would cost to have them removed (I bet he was pooping himself over what could happen if he were successfully sued):

But despite insisting Vlaminck had asked for 56 stars, he still initially agreed to pay for half of the treatment to remove the tattoos.

He said: ‘Kimberley is unhappy and it is not my wish to have an unsatisfied client.

‘I don’t regret it. To tell you the truth, this has given me some publicity.’

Toumanaintz is now said to have withdrawn his offer and said from now on he will get written consent from clients before he begins tattooing.

As for Vlaminck… well, I suppose some people are always going to be at the back of the queue when it comes to using their brains. She just started very early in life, and will carry the stigma (and remains of those stars) for a long time to come.

EDIT 26/3/2012: I get regular hits on this story – more recently, asking what became of Kimberley Vlaminck. According to this story [link no longer correct] she was to have laser surgery – paid for by herself, not someone she’d accused – to remove them last year.

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You have to laugh! Heard this story on the radio on my way to my first lesson today.

Let’s just do a quick reality check:

  • getting a tattoo is stupid
  • getting a face tattoo is stupider

OK, the first one is just my personal opinion, but Kimberley Vlaminck from Belgium ignored these two simple rules and went to get some stars tattooed on her face. She reckons she only wanted three stars, but fell asleep during the procedure and ended up with 56 of them!

If you look at the picture, does the phrase “saw the result and had second thoughts” spring to mind, or what?

I think this part really gives an insight into what happened:

The trouble all started when she went home and her father and boyfriend threw a fit. They are saying things now like I doped her or hypnotised her. What rubbish. She asked for 56 stars and that’s what she got.

Kimberley Vlaminck - Face TattoosYes, I think “second thoughts” was definitely involved here.

When I was at Uni, there was this bloke – an early Goth-type rocker. He had long black hair, and right in the middle of his forehead – just above his hairline – he’d had a patch about the size of an egg shaved, and in it was a tattoo of a pentagram or something similar.

I mean, can you imagine what he must look like now. His hair will recede above the previous position and he’ll become an old guy with an ugly, stupid faded blue smudge on his head. I doubt he’ll be doing much more than hanging around outside the door of the pub with a pint in his hand at 11.30 in the morning – after all, he’s hardly likely to be a City high-flyer, is he?

Tattoos make a statement: specifically, they state “look at me – I’m a prat.”

It’s not as if they stay clear for very long. I lose count of the number of women I see with tattoos on shoulders, around their upper arms, on their legs which – as the women expand with age – go misshapen and start to fade. With blokes, you just expect this stupidity from some of them… but you’d think women would have more sense.

Oh, and back to Ms Vlaminck. My understanding is that tattoos are painful to get done. They are also drawn carefully by artists, so they take a long time to do. And Ms Vlaminck says she slept through it all? Of course she did…

EDIT 26/3/2012: I get regular hits on this story – more recently, asking what became of Kimberley Vlaminck. According to this story [link no longer correct] she was to have laser surgery – paid for by herself, not someone she’d accused – to remove them last year.

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Someone sent me this story in an email today:

TRUE STORY:

Outside Bristol Zoo there is a car park for 150 cars and 8 coaches.

There also used to be a very pleasant parking attendant at the Bristol Zoo with a ticket machine charging cars £1 and coaches £5.

This parking attendant worked there for all of 25 years, then one day just didn’t turn up for work…

“Ho hum”, said Bristol Zoo Management, “better phone up the City Council and get them to send a new parking attendant.”

“Err no”, said the Council, “that car park is your responsibility…”

“Err no”, said Bristol Zoo Management, “the attendant was employed by the City Council, wasn’t he…?”

“Err NO!”

Sitting in his villa in Spain is a bloke who had been taking daily the car park fees amounting to an estimated £400 per day at Bristol Zoo for the last 25 years.

YES, I’ve done the sums = £3,650,000

Like most of these things, I’m not convinced it is true – but can you imagine getting away with something like this if it was?

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