A Driving Instructor's Blog


This is an interesting one in the Telegraph.

Safety Camera Van

Some people are clever, and some people just think they are. Dr Tennore Ramesh appears to be a member of the latter category.

He was picked up doing 41mph in a 30mph zone by one of those mobile speed traps in Sheffield. He denied the charge, and tried to use Google Earth distances to prove that he wasn’t breaking the limit.

I’m not quite sure what he was thinking, since in order to identify someone’s speed you need to be able to measure distances very accurately, and Google Earth images consist of stitched frames. So although they are fine for measuring distances of many miles, where a mile or so either way isn’t significant, when it comes to the definition needed to prove speed to this level… well, it’s clutching at straws right from the start.

At best, you could perhaps argue the toss on an average speed over a long distance – but a precise speed at a specific point? I don’t think so.

But an expert for the prosecution proved that Google Earth distances are inaccurate.

More telling, Ramesh already had 3 points on his licence for… you guessed it: speeding. And he had held his UK licence for less than two years, which means that if he got 6 points then he would be banned and forced to take his test again.

When the prosecution evidence became known, Ramesh had to change his not guilty plea to guilty on the morning of the trial. He therefore urged the court to ban him outright so that he didn’t get the extra 3 points in the belief it would save him from the need to retake his test.

Fortunately, we have another judge (that makes two by my reckoning) who still maintains links with reality. Naomi Redhouse refused to impose a ban on its own just because it would be to his advantage. She slapped him with 3 points and left the decision over his licence with the DVLA.

Ramesh was ordered to pay nearly £4,000 costs and was fined nearly £400. Plus – if the DVLA does the right thing – he’ll end up paying a few hundred more for lessons and tests.


An email alert from the DSA has just arrived and it says that later this month, new learning materials will be available for those taking the theory test from January 2012.

New Theory Test Materials for Study

This was originally announced in 2010 – it was mentioned in the December 2010 issue of Despatch, and first announced in late October 2010. A lot of people – including instructors – seem not to be aware of it even in late 2011.

In a nutshell, the DSA will no longer be publishing the question bank in an effort to stop people just learning the answers by rote. In a way, it is a throwback to when I did my test many years ago, where you learnt the Highway Code and applied it. Sadly, in just the same way that general secondary education has gone down the route of trying to make it easier for people to pass exams by making the test easier rather than improving the educational system (and then boasting about how good everyone is every Summer, after record A*** (or however many stars they use) grades), so the driving test went the same way over the last 30 years or so.

There are already bad noises coming from the usual agitators, but it is an excellent idea by the DSA.

These new learning materials – books, CDs, and DVDs – will contain example questions, but not the actual ones used on test.

EDIT: The most recent DSA news update says the change comes into force from 23 January 2012.


Salt Cellar

I’ve written before about how food is being screwed up by the morons who have decided salt is bad for you. Most recently, I had a kebab from Shak’s (in Clifton) and the meat had no flavour whatsoever because they’d taken the bloody salt out of it.

Salt makes food taste good. You can’t get a decent Chinese takeaway anymore, because the rice is cooked without any salt and the soy sauce they use is definitely not like it used to be. Even Indian food is beginning to suffer.

It’s got to the point where I make my own.

And now – according to a story I saw today in various media – Heinz has screwed up HP Sauce by almost halving its salt content. On the one hand, they are only “following government guidelines” – but then you think “hang on! You don’t have to follow guidelines, do you?”

The thing is, research suggests that salt isn’t so bad for you after all. Even as far back as 1998, the vendetta against salt was being questioned. Mind you, I was surprised to learn that the war on salt actually began in 1969 in America. This is a nice summary of recent research.

We’ve been using salt for thousands of years. The only people who are likely to suffer ill-effects from eating it are those who overdo it, and those already predisposed to hypertension who overdo it.

Oh, and if you eat preprocessed crap (OK, not my kebabs and Indians) it’s no wonder you’re overdoing the salt intake.


An article in WalletPop suggests that 1 in 20 drivers in the UK would be willing to take the rap on behalf of family and friends to prevent them from being banned.

The article (reporting on an LV= car insurance survey) suggests that around 300,000 drivers have already done it in the last decade!

According to the research, two thirds of those who said they would pretend to have been driving at the time if it meant the other person keeping his or her licence, while more than half said they would do it to prevent a friend or relative losing his or her job.

It’s a rather short-sighted approach, though. What these people fail to appreciate is that by keeping someone on the road when they should be off it, someone else out their might lose a lot more.

Like their life!

The article also reports on a new video speed gun due to enter service. This would make taking the rap harder, as the images would be matched against the photos on peoples’ licences.


Another (yawn!) FOI request by the Daily Mail reveals that there are over 10,000 motorists in the UK who have more than 12 points on their licences, and yet have not been banned. Offences include drink-driving, speeding, and jumping red lights.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of my ex-pupils (she passed her test last year) needed to learn to drive. Her mother suffered from bipolar disorder, and there was evidence that the daughter had also got the same condition. Her father had stopped to help someone at an accident (he wasn’t involved) and he was breathalysed and found to be over the limit – not by a huge amount, but over. He was the manager of a post office and had to be able to drive to get to work.

When his case went to court they banned him. It was virtually automatic.

It appears from this FOI request that there is someone driving around in Bradford who currently has 32 points and is not banned.

It seems that 40% of drivers who reach 12 points seem to manage to hold on to their licences. The Mail cites a specific case:

Courts can impose sentences short of a ban where a disqualification would cause a defendant, or others who depend on them, ‘exceptional hardship’.

This defence has been used by celebrities. For example, in 2008 former England and Liverpool footballer John Barnes escaped a ban for driving without insurance in his £60,000 BMW X5 by claiming it would cause him ‘exceptional hardship’.

He already had nine points on his licence and a six-point penalty would have taken him over the 12-point limit. Barnes, who raked in millions during his 20-year career on the pitch and still earned £4,000 a week, told magistrates he was too hard up to employ a driver.

He said a driving ban would mean he would be unable to carry out his job as manager of the Jamaican national team because he could not be expected to rely on public transport to watch matches.

He wasn’t banned because he was John Barnes. Personally, I think that that in itself should have led to a prison sentence.

The law is an ass. Administered by assholes.


Are you ready to be confused? This article from The Telegraph (August 2011) is titled “How do accidents happen?”

It begins by reference to a nondescript accident like you may encounter on your daily travels – traffic queue, blue lights, paramedics, twisted wreckage, and so on – and then links this in with the question “what happened, and could it happen to me?”

It then continues…

Now, for the first time, a startling new report…

Just bear that sentence in mind until a little later while I deal with this article.

The “brand new report” is called “Licence to Skill”, and has apparently broken down what happens in the lead up to an accident and has categorised them by blame, age, sex, what they did wrong, and so on. It is based on police data from around 700,000 accidents between 2005 and 2009. It is written by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM).

Neil Greig, the IAM project manager, reckons it has been a “real eye-opener”. He claims that it has “[dispelled] some of the popular myths”. He goes on:

For instance, if you look at Government campaigns they seem to say that speed is the number one problem. But illegal speeding – when drivers exceed the posted limit – accounts for only 13.9 per cent of fatal accidents.[*] A bigger cause [15.9 per cent] is going too fast for the conditions – entering a bend too quickly, for instance – when you might well be under the actual speed limit.(**)

What? Which government campaigns is he referring to? I don’t remember anyone telling me that specifically exceeding the speed limit is the number one problem (*). They may well focus speeding per se when they make their TV ads, but they are not saying that it is only breaking the speed limit that is the problem. Ever since I was taught to driver I have known that inappropriate speed is the number one problem – and I’ve always accepted that speed limits are established to reduce the potential effects of that inappropriate speed.

It’s worth quoting a DETR (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions) spokesman from 1999 as part of a “Speed Kills” campaign back then:

The chances of a pedestrian being killed by a car driving at 35mph are twice as high than if the car is doing 30mph.

Some people out there – mainly members of certain groups who think they’re better drivers than everyone else – believe that they should be allowed to decide what is a safe speed, and that speed limits are a waste of time. Go figure that one out.

And what is this nonsense suggesting that speeding per se is irrelevant? I’d point out to Mr Greig that 13.9% and 15.9% are rather close. Indeed, in relation to his 700,000 accidents (just assume they were all deaths for a moment), 13.9% would be just over 97,000 deaths, and 15.9% would be just over 110,000.

They’re both bloody important!

But let’s go back to this claim that all this is brand new.

This Daily Mail story from 2008 says:

Only 3 per cent of car accidents are caused by speeding drivers, Government figures have revealed.

Yet there are nearly 7,000 speed cameras across the country which are unable to detect ‘careless or reckless’ drivers who cause three times as many accidents.

Critics say the Department for Transport figures demolish the main justification for cameras.

If I’d have seen that back in 2008 I would have reported on it as the Mail deliberately being anti-Labour (the then government) and nit-picking with only part of the information for its own purposes. It goes on to say:

Four of the five most frequently reported contributory factors in accidents involved driver or rider error or reaction.

It’s beginning to look a lot like the IAM report, isn’t it? And back in 2008, the AA commented on the government figures:

These figures show that human errors – and the human wish to find a shortcut – contribute to the vast majority of accidents. Some drivers make genuine mistakes and some deliberately take risks.

The RAC added:

…that there was no room for complacency, with drivers between 16 and 29 making up nearly 50 per cent of all driver fatalities.

Interestingly, the story from 2008 relates to accident data in 2007. It reports that there were “247,780 casualties” – just in 2007. So unless there has been a bloody huge fall in accidents in the last 5 years, those “700,000 accidents” that IAM has reported on must have been heavily censored, because on a pro rata basis you’d expect the report to be covering more like 1¼ million (twice as many) accidents.

And then, back in 2004, there was another press release, titled “At Last: The Truth About Road Accident Causation” put out by Safe Speed (and I am aware of the publication date, but can’t see what purpose it would serve as an April 1st hoax). They report that data from 13 police forces reveal accident cause breaks down thus:

  • Inattention 25.8%
  • Failure to judge other person’s path or speed 22.6%
  • Looked but did not see 19.7%
  • Behaviour: careless/thoughtless/reckless 18.4%
  • Failed to look 16.3%
  • Lack of judgement of own path 13.7%
  • Excessive speed 12.5%

Excessive speed is similar to the IAM figure, though it’s hard to draw comparisons with the other categories because IAM has invented its own.

Safe Speed makes this explicit distinction:

“Excessive speed” includes both “speed in excess of the speed limit” and “inappropriate speed for the conditions”. Data from Avon and Somerset – the only such data available in the UK – warns us that 70% of these “excessive speed accidents” take place entirely within the speed limit. We should therefore assume that in all probability only some 3.75% of our road accidents involve exceeding a speed limit.

Again, almost identical to the IAM findings and the ones reported four years later by the Daily Mail. Safe Speed further adds:

Paul Smith, Founder of the Safe Speed campaign, comments: “When the main causes of accidents involve drivers failing to properly observe or react to road hazards it should be obvious that the modern emphasis on speed limit enforcement by camera risks INCREASING these common accident types as precious and vital driver attention is diverted to the speedometer, speed limits and the risk of speed enforcement operations.”

Paul continues: “It is outrageous that we have had to wait many years to see this important road safety information. It turns out that certain Police forces have been supplying such data to the DfT since 1997, yet the DfT have failed to publish it and have failed to respond properly to requests to view the data. Our modern road safety policy is based on incomplete data and false assumptions. No wonder we have had the poorest road safety decade on record.”

There is a huge amount of spin being applied by people out there who don’t like speed cameras. I’m not sure how Mr Smith sees it as being so “obvious” that cameras are the cause of these accidents – I pointed out in a recent story about speed cameras how people wouldn’t have to worry about them if they didn’t break the limit in the first place. Mr Smith “obviously” hasn’t considered that.

So, in a nutshell, the IAM report isn’t “new” – in that it doesn’t report anything that hasn’t been reported before. At best, more recent data back up exactly what has always been the case. It also can’t hide an underlying dislike of speed cameras, and a belief that they are there to make money – it’s almost as if speed cameras being classed as evil was an initial premise, even before the report was written. You can see it coming through in the rhetoric.

It stands to reason that the faster people drive, the more likely it becomes that they will not be able to respond appropriately to a sudden hazard in front of them. This will be true at any speed.

Common sense would dictate that good drivers would moderate their speeds according to traffic conditions. The accident statistics clearly suggest that this doesn’t happen – and these reports are merely identifying the outcome of that.

However, since drivers are incapable of applying common sense in enough numbers for people not to keep being killed and seriously injured, it is necessary for speed limits to be applied to reduce the carnage – and ever-lower ones at that (campaigns to reduce it to 20mph in current 30mph zones, for example). But drivers are not even smart enough to obey these speed limits, exceeding which will result in fines and points on their licences.

So why should so many tears be shed over them being caught?

The current data show that speed AND speeding are serious problems.


A reader has sent me this link to an article on WalletPopUK. It claims that speed cameras have been “revealed as dangerous money-spinners”.

Traffic Cam Scam

Personally, I don’t have an issue with speed cameras, nor does the mere presence of one make me want to drive into the back (or front) of another car, mow down several dozen pedestrians, or otherwise behave in a dangerous and illogical manner.

The way I look at it is that if you don’t break the speed limit in the first place, you don’t need to keep a lookout for speed cameras, and therefore the chances of a two-page spread about you in The Sun is unlikely.

WalletPopUK sees it differently. Figures released by the DfT (Department for Transport) allegedly prove that every other motorist on the road becomes a homicidal maniac – through no fault of their own, of course – whenever they come within a 50 mile radius of a speed camera.

The [DfT] called on councils to publish full data of revenue and accidents for cameras in their area. A huge number refused. We cannot of course read anything into this…

they say – obviously reading plenty into it, as they follow up with:

…or it may be too embarrassing – who knows?

It cites the installation of a camera in Oxfordshire where there had not been a single accident in five years, but after its installation there were five. It argues that this is not “coincidence”.

It cites another in Cambridgeshire, where there had been five minor accidents in five years prior to installation, but seven (two serious) last year – and 1,027 people caught speeding.

So, just two examples. We will just have to assume that the road layouts hadn’t changed, or speed limits reduced, or that increasing road use, deteriorating driving standards, and the mere passage of time were not involved. Because WalletPopUK doesn’t consider those things as relevant. And naturally, being interested in the actual nature of the collisions and the speeds involved is just being silly.

The problem, motorists have always argued, is that it’s safer for drivers to consistently slightly exceed the speed limit, than for them to exceed the speed limit most of the time and then brake heavily for the cameras.

Right. So being hit by someone doing 35mph in a 30mph zone is going to do you less damage than someone braking for the camera? I mean, come on! What planet are people on?

WalletPopUK appears to be a MoneyExpert wannabe. It puts saving money above all else, and of course those nasty speed cameras cost people a lot of money… if they break the speed limit in front of one.

Channel 4 News is somewhat more sensible about the story. And unlike WalletPopUK, which appears to want to convey it’s own spin rather than allow people to judge properly for themselves, Channel 4 also links to the DfT data . The Channel 4 story also notes:

Activists cautioned against using the figures that have been published so far to draw firm conclusions about how well speed cameras work.

The numbers show that casualty rates at some accident black spots have got worse since speed cameras were installed there, although the low numbers of incidents and short time scales involved may make it difficult to draw robust statistical conclusions.

Some camera partnerships have reported overall reductions in accidents and injuries after cameras were installed.

So WalletPopUK just took the bad bits out and reported on those. Prematurely, as well.

Anyone who thinks forcing people to drive slower doesn’t reduce KSIs (Killed or Seriously Injured incidents) is nuts. If cameras – and it is only some of them – really do increase the accident rate, then the problem is surely not with the camera but with the prat driving the car which skids out of control as it slams on the brakes so as not to get caught?

My opinion, of course.


The Daily Mail must have been running short of news judging by this article.

I wrote about the same story back in July. That was based on an article in This is Plymouth (a local online newspaper), which in turn was spawned by some newly-released DSA figures about test centre pass rates. I have put those pass rates on this site.

The Mail merrily plagiarises the Plymouth story, prattling on about how Mallaig is the “best place” to take your test because the pass rate is so high. Of course, it then has to mention Wanstead and Bradford for being the worst.

The Mail adds its own spin, by quoting a Wanstead driving instructor, who claims:

The road layout can be quite tricky.

Drivers can be aggressive, they go for gaps that aren’t there, overtake and generally take no prisoners.

But there is another issue that people aren’t considering. These places with low pass rates also tend to have a higher proportion of candidates who take their tests before they are ready. They want to spend as little as possible, or are convinced that their driving is already top-notch and they’ll pass with ease first time.

The driving test isn’t really that hard, and frighteningly many do pass – even though they aren’t necessarily good drivers. Worse still, these same low-pass areas are also ones where people are more likely to drive uninsured, or are deprived in a way that other forms of crime are more common. With that as a baseline, is it any wonder that “drivers can be aggressive”?

So the ADI’s quote above becomes self-fulfilling. You put crap on the roads, it drives badly and makes it difficult for everyone else.


Further to that last story about the correct definition of insurance fronting, I was reading this article from Zurich Insurance.

The corroborating evidence at the bottom of the story makes especially interesting reading.

Topline statistics:

  • 9 per cent of parents and grandparents who have helped a child or grandchild buy a car surveyed have it insured in their own name
  • 13 per cent have done so in the past
  • 59 per cent of people surveyed who have helped their child or grandchild buy a car do not realise fronting is against the law
  • 39 per cent believe fronting is legal
  • 68 per cent of parents and grandparents surveyed who have fronted have done so to help their child reduce insurance premiums
  • 19 per cent believe the car should be insured in their name as they are the registered as the owner
  • 46 per cent of those who have helped their child or grandchild buy a car think that the person on the insurance policy could be fined, while 24 per cent realise that it would be the driver who would be fined
  • 30 per cent believe that it is the policyholder who could stand to receive penalty points, while just 22 per cent realise it would be their driver.

Penalties for fronting:

  • A policy may be cancelled
  • A claim may be refused
  • Driver may be given a fine
  • Driver may receive penalty points
  • Driver may have to re-sit their driving test

It’s quite shocking, isn’t it? And yet it is these same people who would ignorantly and aggressively defend their actions right up until the time they realise they don’t have anywhere else to go, and feign “shock and surprise” at what was probably clear to them all along.

Also, on the forum I mentioned in the previous article, someone has identified several cases where people who were fronting had policies voided by their insurers. However, the Ombudsman decided in their favour on appeal.

As you can imagine, this is likely to be seen as evidence that fronting isn’t wrong by those who openly advocate it, or who try to convince themselves that they aren’t really doing it by repeatedly denying it. However, there are two aspects of the Ombudsman’s findings that need to be remembered:

  • the three test cases date from 2001-2005
  • the findings relate solely to having not had the issue of fronting made clear at the time the policy was taken out

So reading between the lines, in the three cases the insured person kicked up a stink and managed to persuade the Ombudsman that they didn’t know about fronting and that it wasn’t explained to them when they took the policy out. You can believe as much or as little of that as you want – but the Ombudsman obviously did. The bottom line is that they got off on technicalities – they were still deliberately trying to get lower insurance premiums.

So, with the most recent test case being 6 years ago, and with fronting being an increasingly serious problem during the last two years, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that anyone found to be fronting now would be far less likely to convince anyone that they “didn’t know”. Furthermore, with companies like Tesco now having the guts to include specific wording describing what they would consider to be fronting, people would have even less chance of convincing anyone that they “didn’t know”.

Tesco Says:

We understand that it can sometimes be unclear who the main driver of a car is so we have provided clarification below to explain situations in which we would treat the young driver as the ‘main driver’.

  • If a young driver regularly uses a car to drive to or from work / place of education then they should be the registered main driver.
  • If a young driver uses the car on a daily basis, then they should be the registered main driver.
  • If the car is maintained by the young driver, then they should be the main driver.

The sooner other insurance companies pull their fingers out and do something similar, the sooner the problem is likely to be brought under control.

For anyone who thinks fronting is OK, just think what it means to you when the very group of people who you really want to have valid insurance (due to the number of accidents it has) is the same group actively engaged in fronting.

You are basically driving alongside high-risk drivers who are effectively uninsured.


A forum (frequented by learners) has yet another thread on the go, with people giving illegal, dangerous, and misleading advice about getting “cheap insurance”. It makes you wonder how – with so many A* grades being handed out like confetti, and all the University places being massively oversubscribed – people can be so stupid or naïve.

Let’s just look again at what “fronting” is.

I originally mentioned it last summer in this article. A BBC news story suggested that 41% of parents deliberately lie on their insurance forms to get cheaper cover for their kids. The implication is that somewhat more of them don’t even realise they are in the wrong when they try to get premiums down.

I wrote another article this year, based on further statistics concerning the problem. This time, 25% of young drivers had lied, and 70% of those claimed they didn’t realise they were doing it. The source material says that “over half of the 17-21 year old respondents” had admitted to “fronting”.

“Fronting” doesn’t have an absolutely rigid definition. The best one I have seen is this:

Fronting, is simply where a parent/more experienced driver/(anyone likely to get a lower premium when named as policyholder than the named driver would get) [puts themselves down as the main driver].

So for example,

You insure a car as the policyholder, therefore the main user, but your son is the named driver – if he uses the vehicle more than occasionally, he could be classed as the main user, which would create a huge premium compared to the one offered.

I like this one because it covers the grey areas. Particularly that phrase I have highlighted.

There is a misconception that if Mr X (the daddy) insures the car in his name, and drives it for 51% of the time, and his son drives it the other 49%, then there isn’t a problem. Unfortunately, there probably is, meaning that the policy could easily be void if a claim had to be made.

I have spoken with one insurance company, who say that if someone is found to be fronting then they will not pay out in the event of a claim. They say that if the policyholder uses the car 90% of the time, and the named driver 10%, then there isn’t a problem – but if it’s the other way round then there is.

When I asked them about what happens when car use is around 50:50 between the policyholder and the named driver they were a little less certain. They admit that there are grey areas, and that there are various factors that have to be taken into account, but if a driver is using the car that much then they really ought to have their own insurance. They made it clear that they can find out using various investigative techniques.

Tesco is much clearer on the topic. On its website, it says this:

We understand that it can sometimes be unclear who the main driver of a car is so we have provided clarification below to explain situations in which we would treat the young driver as the ‘main driver’.

  • If a young driver regularly uses a car to drive to or from work / place of education then they should be the registered main driver.
  • If a young driver uses the car on a daily basis, then they should be the registered main driver.
  • If the car is maintained by the young driver, then they should be the main driver.

That one is crystal clear. It isn’t just about who uses the car the most. It’s also about who uses the car regularly, and especially if they use it for getting to work or their place of education.

That means anyone taking a car to University had better be bloody careful if they’ve got mum or dad down as the main driver. If Tesco sees it like this, even the company I mentioned above who were less specific could see it that way if a claim were made and they didn’t like what they saw.

On the forum I mentioned, one clown is arguing that “they can’t prove anything”. Well, if mummy and daddy live in Kent, and little Johnny is at Uni in Leeds, it’s going to be pretty damned obvious that little Johnny is more than just a named driver in the event of any claim up in Leeds. So the insurance company won’t really have much to do by way of proof, will it?

In actual fact, Tesco is the only insurer I can find whose definition is so clear. Recent statistics have been widely covered in media reports, but although these reports talk of the shock and horror parents feel when given “an accurate definition of fronting”, the actual definition isn’t actually given anywhere. All these reporters do is trot out the bit about “main driver” and “named driver” – they simply don’t cover the grey areas.

Remember that if the problem is as acute as is being claimed, more and more insurers are going to seek to apply more rigid interpretations as more and more people get themselves put down as “named drivers” to save money, even though they are major users of the insured vehicle.