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Mayan Prophecy

A nice story here for the pessimists out there. This story on Autoblog (and on the BBC) reports that the number of 17-25 year olds taking their tests fell by nearly 20% last year (overall tests were down by 13%).

The DSA said the reasons weren’t clear-cut.

Personally, I’m happy to go with the idea that we’re in a recession and people are having to hold back with their spending. I see an increasing number of people who can’t easily afford the lessons, but who are desperate to get a licence for work. It follows that there must be a lot more people out there who I don’t see at all who aren’t learning to drive at all!

All of this is in fulfilment of an ancient Mayan prophecy about the end of the world – a prophecy which kicks in every time something ADIs don’t like happens.

Having said all that, I’m happy that my diary has been overflowing up until late June or early July this year. It did go a bit quiet for a few weeks (students gone home, holiday season upon us) but it’s picking up again now. It does this at this time of year (most years).

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This one is frightening – the Mickey Mouse government we have is considering increasing the time between MoT testing from the current 12 months.

Unbelievably, the reason behind this is as follows:

There is growing public anger over soaring petrol prices and the overall cost of driving a car. This has forced Philip Hammond, the Transport Secretary, to look at ways in which these costs can be curtailed. He has now ordered the MOT system to be reviewed.

Can you believe it? And they have the cheek to suggest this, too:

This could save motorists a significant amount of money in the long run.

Well, that’s from the article, but anyone who thinks it is true is an idiot.

If you take a car in for its MoT, the test itself only costs around £30 (to £60 depending on where you go) – this means that if you keep the car for 20 years (yeah, right. And assuming the MoT price stays the same) from new, instead of paying out £510 (first 3 years don’t need an MoT) you’ll pay only half that if they increase the lifetime of the certificate to 2 years. A saving of £250 over 20 years is not “a significant amount of money”, even if 20 years is a “long run”. And they ARE NOT going to increase it to 2 years – it’ll be 6 months or something pointless.

But where the costs really start to mount up is when you have to have work carried out. So if your tyres are bald or your brakes are down to metal, having that fixed every year is expensive – as is all the other stuff that goes wrong. When I used to have to worry about MoTs it was impossible to get the car through without £400+ of work each year. On my old Citroen Xantia, a new clutch cost nearly £500.

So what these idiots are advocating is that people will be allowed to drive around for two years (or whatever period they go for) in a death trap, instead of just one before it fails its MoT and gets fixed.

If the car has a fault, it has A FAULT. It needs fixing. Increasing the MoT period is a mandate for people to drive dangerously defective cars.

Oh, yes. We all know that the MoT doesn’t protect you if you are stopped and found to be driving a defective vehicle – even 10 minutes after the MoT was issued. I’m sure the families of those who will likely die as a result of people NOT being stopped by the police (who are subject to cuts of their own) feel much better about that.

If the idiots in this coalition want to help financially, then cut the stupid fuel duty by 10p.

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Another frightening tale from the real world in the Daily Mail.

The report is a little flaky – the car is described variously as “this little car” (cutesy), a “Vauxhall Astro (sic)”, and a “Vauxhall Corsa” (got there eventually).

Let me paraphrase in plain English: an idiot driver came up an EXIT slip road to drive the wrong way up a dual carriageway, hit a lorry – causing it to jack knife across the road and turn over- and destroyed her own car.

If you look at the pictures, the damage is unbelievable. Of course, you won’t be able to see the chaos it caused on the roads while they cleared the wreckage – police had to close the road for 6 hours. Nor will the fact that the jackknifed lorry (or the idiot in the Corsa) fortunately didn’t kill anyone.

The imbecile driving the Corsa has been charged with dangerous driving. According to the Mail, the Crown Office has said:

The Procurator Fiscal at Aberdeen has received a report concerning a 20-year-old woman in relation to an incident on the A90 on 22 March 2011.

The matter remains under consideration.

I can’t wait to see how this one pans out. I can almost hear the mitigating circumstances now.

As an aside, about 6 years ago I was driving along the A50 (a dual carriageway which is 4 lanes wide in places) from Derby to Nottingham. I was doing 70 mph when around a bend came another car driving in the outside lane the wrong way. I did things in the proper order:

  1. Shit myself
  2. Moved to the inside lane to slow down and make an emergency 999 call to the police to let them know

The phone rang. And rang. And rang. And rang. Then rang some more. No one answered the 999/emergency call!

I just hung up and thought “sod it”.


As of 2015, I have been unable to find any reference to this accident other than the original report. All the indications are that the stupid bitch who caused this got off lightly.

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For the cerebrally out there, this is an old, old, OLD story from 2010. BSM is now owned by the AA.


Well, I watched the segment which dealt with the BSM complaints – and I should also point out that the hits to the stories on this blog concerning BSM have gone into orbit!

It was a total non-event in the end. It was simply three complaints by three people about the service they’d received from BSM (with the distinct impression that certain details had been suppressed to keep the story as juicy as possible). Of course, those people had valid points on the surface of it all, but if BSM is teaching around 10,000 to 20,000 people at any single time (or 120,000 a year, as BSM claims) then three complaints is absolutely insignificant.

You can watch the segment by clicking the Watchdog image above, then by viewing the latest programme (11/11/2010, available for 7 days). The BSM bit starts at 27:53 into the show. [The video expired years ago.]

It begins by introducing BSM as the largest driving school in the country, nearly 100 years old, 120,000 pupils a year, higher-than-average pass rates, and so on. Then it does some contrived stuff about hill starts and parking. Finally, it starts on the complaints:

  • one guy paid £1,700 for 70 hours of lessons and absolutely wanted and needed to pass.

So, you immediately think that this is going to be about people not being trained properly. However, at no point is his training questioned. It turns out that the car’s tax was out of date when he turned up at the test centre and the test couldn’t go ahead. Cue: a didactic lecture from the presenter about the law regarding road tax, and indignation (“shock and disbelief”) from the candidate for the camera about how you don’t expect this.

At the end of that complaint the presenter makes the comment about BSM “at least sending a car to the test centre on the day” (i.e. everything got sorted out). This led on to the next complaint, where the candidate apparently had to turn up at the test centre on their own.

  • A young lad had a test booked (by his mum) and when he turned up there was no instructor or car.

The guy called his girlfriend, took the test in her car, and passed. BSM said that the instructor had texted to say he couldn’t make it and that another car would be there instead. The programme does not pursue this in any way whatsoever. Instead, it goes on about his mum, who apparently “had a hard time” getting her money back (she did get it back, albeit with an administration fee charged).

After a few wise words from his mum about BSM not caring and being arrogant, we are then informed that “many drivers don’t actually work for [BSM]” and that maybe this is why BSM “refuse to take responsibility”.

They suggest this may be why they have received other complaints – like the next one.

  • A woman had had three instructors.

She argued that this was a problem because “he needed to understand her, and she needed to understand him” and that there were “breaks in her learning”. Her husband sits alongside nodding sagely as she talks about styles of learning.

This then leads on to the claim BSM made on its website that someone passes “every 6 seconds” with them – something they have already admitted was a mistake and is not correct. That doesn’t prevent Watchdog from calling in a fully qualified mathematician and whiteboard to prove that this claim is impossible (I say again: BSM had already acknowledged that fact). In any case, the mathematics the “expert” used was flawed on a number of fronts – not least because BSM might be the biggest single school, but it only represents about 6% (at best) of the total number of ADIs out there. Pushing that to one side though, even if BSM represented 100% of all ADIs then the claim was shown to be impossible (one more time: BSM had already admitted that this claim was in error).

At the end of the segment, it appeared that the first guy took his test – with BSM – and he passed. BSM said that they do dispute some of the details of the other claims made. I’ll bet they do. What with Watchdog geeing people up for the cameras.

BSM certainly isn’t perfect, but no one else is either. It is not uncommon for ADIs (whether they are independent or franchised) to screw up. The car breaks down, they have an accident, a family member is ill or dies, they wrote something incorrectly into their diary… it happens to anyone and everyone at some stage.

Car tax out of date? It was a mistake, and one I’m sure BSM doesn’t do deliberately – or regularly.

Having pupils turn up to test separately is unforgiveable – unless that’s what the pupil wanted, or if the pupil booked the test against the instructor’s wishes. I had one once who wanted to turn up at the test centre because he couldn’t afford the extra hour before his test! And more than once I have had pupils book tests against my advice, and then find themselves looking for another instructor. I wonder what they’d say if Watchdog got on to them?

Pupils having more than one instructor? Well, the woman in the Watchdog showobviously considered herself an expert in the training field and wasn’t ashamed to say so. It is common to find serial instructor-hopping pupils who fail to see that the problem is with them, not the ADI. Occasionally, a pupil just won’t gel with you and they’ll go elsewhere – they often can’t handle not being perfect and look to blame their instructor for their own weaknesses. You wouldn’t believe some of the tales you hear from them about “my last instructor”, but very few identify themselves as the issue. The woman in that clip would probably find herself looking for instructor #4 if she was one of mine. She’d have driven me mad. I reserve the right not to have to put up with complete arseholes, and if I get a pupil who repeatedly thinks they know better than me, and if I can’t stop them doing it (and believe me, I can be blunt), then they’ll find themselves looking for another instructor!

I think the “6 second” claim was pathetic. BSM admitted it was wrong before the show aired, and Watchdog gloated “but it took us to point it out”.

None of the complaints were absolutely specific to BSM. They could (and do) potentially happen to any ADI. Mistakes, mistaken claims, lying pupils, know-it-alls… all of them.

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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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