A Driving Instructor's Blog

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Disc and Drum brakesThis often crops up with my pupils, especially when mum or dad is involved in their driving practice.

Back in the day, the standard way new drivers were taught to slow down was to change down through the gears sequentially, using the engine to slow the car down after each change, then completing the stop using the brakes. One of the main reasons it was done like this was because of ‘brake fade’ – a phenomenon whereby the brakes worked less effectively as they got hotter, which happened if prolonged (especially downhill) or harsh braking occurred.

In those days, most brakes were drum brakes. In these, the brake shoes are semi-enclosed and not easily cooled by air flow. Nowadays, most cars have disc brakes at the front, which have an open design and so are readily cooled by air passing over them. Furthermore, technology has improved significantly, and the materials used to make brakes and brake pads are much less prone to the problem of brake fade than their counterparts from the latter half of the last century were.

To do sequential changing properly requires good anticipation and forward planning. The whole point is that with each gear change down, the clutch needs to come up to allow the engine to slow the car down. And here lies the problem – mum and dad only know about 4-3-2-1, but don’t understand why, so little Johnny is taught to simply de-clutch about 200m away from the approaching traffic lights, and carefully move the gear lever from 4, to 3, to 2, then to 1st gear while coasting the whole distance.

It seems to have escaped a lot of people’s notice, but we are now well into the 21st century and, as such, Driving: The Essential Skills (TES), says:

As a general rule, use the brakes to reduce speed before changing down to the most suitable gear for the lower speed.

In the early stages of learning to drive, it may help you to become familiar with the gearbox if you change down through each of the gears in turn. Be guided by your instructor.

It also adds:

Missing out gears at the appropriate time will give you more time to concentrate on the road ahead and allow you to keep both hands on the steering wheel for longer.

Changing down

As a general rule, it’s preferable and safer to brake to the desired speed and then change down into the appropriate gear. It might be necessary to maintain a light pressure on the footbrake while changing down.

That’s quite clear. Current practice is to use the brakes to slow the car down, then change into whatever gear you need for the new speed (although sequential changing is still perfectly OK if it’s done properly). Since many modern cars have 5 or 6 gears, it is quite feasible to slow down in 6th from 70mph and just de-clutch near the end to a stop (actually, you might be pushing your luck a little if you do this from 6th, and may have to drop it down a gear or two part way through, but it will certainly do it from 4th or 5th). You will also note that TES says you can brake at the same time you’re changing gears – if you end up with an instructor who insists on teaching you how to be a police pursuit driver because he’s got a copy of Roadcraft, and who won’t let you brake at the same time you’re changing gears, find another one quickly!

Missing out gears is referred to as ‘selective’ or ‘block changing’. It is absolutely OK to do it – in fact, it is the preferred method, and it is certainly a lot easier to do than sequential changing (but I stress again, sequential changing is fine if it’s done right). You have far less to worry about, which is good for learner drivers.

Unless you are due to take part in the next British Grand Prix, or somehow get access to a time machine and decide to go and live in the 60s, forget about brake fade – you’re not going to experience it except in the most extreme of circumstances.


As an aside, I saw someone post on a forum some highly misleading information about brake fade, and everyone immediately believed him. Brake fade of the kind normal people experience does not cause irreversible damage to your brake pads. Brake fade is usually reversible, and is simply a result of them overheating – going away once they cool down.

I mean, if it was really as terminal as this guy suggested, every car on the roads in the 60s and 70s was pretty much unstoppable by the driver.


As another aside, I recently saw someone comment how they had given refresher lessons to an older driver and had “had to stop them changing sequentially”. This is totally unnecessary – sequential changing is perfectly acceptable if it is done properly, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to change someone’s driving style if that’s how they were originally taught.

A few years ago, I taught a woman in her late 40s who had ridden a motorbike her whole life, but who wanted to switch to a car now she was older. She’d taken lessons 30 years ago, and had apparently got to pretty much test standard. Best of all, it came back to her quickly (though she was nervous). She changed gears sequentially, and she did it beautifully – I didn’t make even the slightest attempt to stop her because she did it so well. She passed first time with a couple of driver faults – which were nothing to do with the gears.

Sequential gear changing is perfectly OK.

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TomTom Screen GrabThis article was first published in January 2018, then updated in November of the same year. However, I noticed someone asking on a forum recently what model of TomTom was used. He was given a lot of inaccurate and misleading information.

It was announced mid-2017 – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the DVSA introduced satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

After briefly considering buying one, I decided against it. I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. Even the latest ones are just too bulky to sit anywhere unobtrusively.

In the more recent past, if I’ve ever needed to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. In the weeks leading up to 4 December 2017, I tried using it with pupils. It works (if you know what you’re doing), but its choice of route can be creative to say the least. And it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Worse still is the inability to save pre-determined routes – and that’s essential for a driving instructor.

More recently still, I tried using the built-in satnav in my Focus on lessons. For me, it works. But the graphics are in Super Mario territory, and it also can be rather creative with its suggested routes. It can’t save pre-determined routes, and the erratic split-screen thing it does at unfathomable times is confusing to pupils. And I think the most recent map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus, because they don’t include road features installed within the last couple of years.

The more I thought about these issues as they pertain to pupils, the more I realised that the only realistic way forward was to use a TomTom in order that pupils wouldn’t be intimidated by a different looking map, different instructions, or different voices. I asked TomTom if there were any plans for an approved app that would run on Ford’s software. It seems that they did have an arrangement with Ford to develop such an app at one point, but that fell through for some reason.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android. It turns your phone into a fully-blown TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display (see the screen capture, above). TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons, so it is useless. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited world maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav all the time. A standalone one would cost ten times as much and be out of date within a year or so, as far as the base unit is concerned.

A massive additional benefit of using a TomTom (other than pupils hearing the same voice and instruction approach they’ll get on test) is that by logging into your TomTom account on your PC or laptop you can create entire routes using a drag-and-drop map and save them. They sync automatically to all your devices through your account, and so appear in your list of saved routes. This is how DVSA has created the routes it uses. The benefit of these pre-determined routes is that you can force a specific journey around specific roundabouts or road features, rather than have the satnav try and re-route you through a shorter route to a specific destination. Of course, you can also save favourite places – like test centres or retail parks – and just set one of those as a destination and let the pupil follow whatever route the satnav comes up with. It’s all extremely flexible.

The TomTom GO app speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link (if you set it up that way).

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

At the time I started teaching it for the test, some of those I expected to have problems took to it remarkably well. A year down the line, I don’t even think about that anymore. It’s just part of what I have to teach them.

How much training does it take?

Very little, actually. The vast majority of pupils find the satnav easier to follow.

When I first started teaching it, I was planning to do it a lot. However, I now find that I bring it in nearer to their test and don’t worry about it before then. As I say, most take to it like ducks to water, so there’s no point me behaving as though ducks can’t swim.

You don’t need a TomTom

True. However, like it or not, my job is to get pupils ready for their tests, and I do that by focusing on road layout in Nottingham and not those in, say, Birmingham or Glasgow. To that end, it also makes sense to use a TomTom instead of something cheaper or just what I happen to own at the time.

It doesn’t matter what satnav pupils use

Also true – for most of them. Like I say, most take to it easily – but a few don’t. I just like to remove that variable from the equation. A significant number, for example, already have problems with roundabouts in a lesson and driving test context, so why risk them freaking out on test with unfamiliar instructions from a satnav they haven’t used before?

An example of that is the screen position and layout of the advance warning a satnav gives.  If it is different on the one they are using on lessons compared to the TomTom one used on tests, they may get confused.

Like it or not, many of our pupils reach test standard by the skin of their teeth. Unlike instructors (if they were taking the test), pupils approach it from the bottom up because they are beginners. That’s why I prefer to keep directional instructions as close to those they will experience on test as possible.

You might see things differently, and that’s fine. I see it my way and teach accordingly.

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Rear of car with L plateI originally wrote this article in February 2010, but its popularity (and overt plagiarism without due credit on other instructors’ websites) keeps spiking and I now update it periodically. In mid-2017 there was a surge in people training to become ADIs, and as of April 2018 – if the emails I receive are anything to go by – this is still the case.

Back in 2010, we were at the tail end of the previous ADI recruitment drive, but also on the brink of a recession (though we didn’t realise it at the time). Lavish adverts were everywhere, enticing would-be instructors with the promise of huge earnings (LDC laughingly suggested that over £40k was possible) in return for “hours to suit yourself”. Was it really possible to earn £30,000 or more by working just a few hours a day, and not weekends? Are things any different in 2018?

Even in the good times, you were never going to earn anywhere near £30k teaching only daytime weekday slots, and that’s still true now. But as those first ripples of what became the recession were being felt, fuel prices started to rise, pupil numbers started to fall, and the glut of very inexperienced and very desperate instructors commenced a suicidal programme of undercutting to try and get work which simply wasn’t there anymore. Even for an established full-time instructor with a moderately full diary, a maximum realistic wage was in the region of £20,000-£25,000 – and by “full-time” I mean working evenings and weekends. Price-cutting ADIs with empty diaries had no chance of making anywhere near this. Even if they could get 30 hours, their cut-price lessons would pull their pre-tax profit down to around £15,000. With only 15 hours of work – the reason they had cut their prices in the first place – it would be closer to £7,000.

It was certainly possible to earn £30,000 as long as you had the necessary work, charged sensible prices, and were prepared to do long hours – but I stress the word “possible” (LDC, who I mentioned above, were almost certainly referring to turnover with their £40k nonsense). However, this industry is fickle, and a fat period can easily be followed by a lean one. You can do 40 hours one week, but the next might see you struggling for 20. Over a single typical financial year you might manage £30k, but the next one – especially if it had a recession in it, with a 65% increase in the price of fuel (such as we experienced at that time, with petrol going from 80p to over 140p over a two-year period) – you’d have no chance. I was lucky (or whatever) and managed to weather the storm – but many instructors failed dramatically and gave up the job which had cost them so much to train for.

At the start of 2016, the outlook once again looked bright. There were plenty of pupils out there, and fuel – which peaked at around £1.40 per litre – fell below £1.00 for the first time since 2009. Everything looked rosy – until the Greek Tragedy that is Brexit came along and suspended the Sword of Damocles over it all. This is what I mean about the industry being fickle. I suppose “fickle” is the wrong word – “unpredictable” would also work. Suffice it to say, in early 2018 the industry is still buoyant, but the future is looking very uncertain.


About Being an ADI

How does an ADI’s wage compare with my old wage?

To answer this, you have to compare like for like figures. If your old salaried job had a salary of £25,000, that would have been before tax and National Insurance were deducted. You need an equivalent figure for being self-employed to make the comparison. British Currency

Driving instructors are self-employed, and everything they do is concerned with sales (i.e. taking money from customers in return for lessons) and expenses (i.e. spending money in order to keep providing those lessons). Their “wage” is totally dependent on these, and since both are variable it is necessary to make a few sensible assumptions if you want to predict future earnings. The worst thing you can do is overestimate your earnings and/or underestimate your expenses – if you do that, any profit forecast is little better than a random guess.

An ADI’s official wage is determined by adding up all their business overheads (e.g. costs for their car, fuel, insurance, advertising, office supplies, etc.) and subtracting that sum from their turnover (the total amount of money they took in payment from their pupils). In the simplest case, if an ADI delivers 30 hours of lessons per week for 52 weeks of the year, and charges £23 per hour for lessons, their turnover will be £35,880. Overheads will be different for everyone (different cars, different amounts of fuel, different fuel costs, etc.), but a typical overall figure might be around £11,000 over a full year. Subtract those overheads from the turnover and you’re left with £24,880 gross profit. That would be a wage figure, before tax and National Insurance, which can be used to compare with other jobs.

What are examples of overheads?

As an ADI you will need a car. If you haven’t got one already you will need to buy or lease one, and what you pay is (or contributes towards) an overhead for your business. Fuel to run the car is an overhead, as are repair and maintenance costs. Insurance is an overhead. Phone and internet costs associated with your business are overheads, as are printer ink, paper, envelopes, and various other stationery items if they relate directly to your business. A car wash is an overhead. And so on.

An overhead which can make all the difference between success and failure for an ADI is advertising. If you are on a franchise this is less of an issue, but if you are independent then you will need to pay for your own advertising so that people who wouldn’t otherwise know that you’re there can contact you if they want lessons.

How much does a car cost?

You can easily find out how much it costs to buy a car – new or used – by looking on the internet, the media, or on garage forecourts. The price you pay for your car affects your gross profit over the entire period of time you own it. For example, if you spend £10,000 on one, keep it for 5 years, then sell it for £2,000 at the end of that period, that £8,000 difference works out to about £30 a week over the 5-year period – in other words, the car is effectively costing you £30 a week over the whole five years. It doesn’t matter how you word it for the tax man or anyone else, you are spending £8,000 as an overhead over 5 years, and that is definitely costing you the equivalent of at least £30 a week. Fitting dual controls, and taxing and insuring it, are extras which might amount to another £10 a week. Repairs could be anything from £0 and up (a single, and quite feasible, major repair could add another £10-£20 a week in any given financial year).

Alternatively, you could lease a car from one of the various main dealers, specialised ADI lease companies, and driving school franchise providers. Prices start at around £60 a week and often include tax and insurance as part of the price. Dual controls are usually standard items, or can sometimes be negotiated into dealer prices if that’s the route you choose. Top prices can be £200 or more per week (but read the rest of this article before you decide that £200 is “too much”).

How much does it cost to run a car?

The number of miles you get per litre of fuel varies from car to car, on how the car is being driven, and on the type and size of engine. For petrol vehicles, a 30 hour week petrol bill might typically amount to £90-£120. For diesel, it is about two-thirds of that figure. I don’t know about the other fuel types.

Note that if you’re thinking of going electric as some sort of unique selling point to try and corner the market, consider that the initial cost of a typical electric vehicle is at least double that of an equivalent standard-fuelled car. Also remember that the range (i.e. how many miles you get from a full charge) is only around 100-150 miles at best, and that it takes 30 minutes to charge up to 80% of that range (overnight if you want a full charge). I know from having asked pupils whose parents have electric cars that the real range is somewhat less than the official figure. Consider how much a new battery would cost, and how the range might decrease as it ages.

I’d go electric in the blink of an eye if I could have 400+ miles on a charge, and didn’t need to sell my house to buy one. Some days, I can do close to 200 miles, and current “affordable” models can’t hack that.

How many miles would I drive in a year?

This is an important question if you’re looking to source a car on some sort of lease, since these usually have mileage caps associated with them. Speaking personally, I do between 40,000-50,000 miles a year. When you lease a car, make damned sure you go for an option which covers your likely mileage – and don’t forget to include personal miles. It’s what’s on the dashboard display when you take it back which counts – not just your lesson mileage.

A typical driving test in Nottingham can cover 10-15 miles, so you could logically argue that on average your lessons would cover a similar distance at the very least. On a 30-hour week, that’s 300+ miles (16,000+ annually) just for lesson time. Add, say, 5 miles travelling between every lesson, and you have up to another 8,000 miles annually. If you get busy, it goes up further. And if – like me – you take pupils outside test routes, it goes up even more.

Don’t get bogged down trying to twist numbers to produce the lowest forecast annual mileage you can think of. Do that and you’ll end up altering your lesson quality to meet your mileage limits. You’re less than 12 months away from going back to salaried employment if you do that. At least part of the reason I’m so busy is that I don’t hold back on the miles, and pupils like that. And being busy easily compensates financially for driving a few extra miles.

How many hours would I need to work?

Everyone’s circumstances are different. At the very least you’ve got to cover your overheads – if you don’t do that you’ll go out of business. Work-life balance

Next, you’ve got to earn enough to be able to cover your personal commitments (i.e. to earn a living wage). If every hour you work nets you £23 of turnover, and your weekly overheads bill is £210, you will need to work for 9 hours to cover that (incidentally, let’s call these “dead hours” if I have to refer to them again). Every additional hour you work thereafter becomes your wage, and on paper an average of 30 lesson hours per week will give you an annualised wage of around £25,000 (more if fuel prices are low). However, you will almost certainly not get this amount of work straight away and you should allow for that in your plans.

As an example, when I started teaching I knew exactly how many lessons I needed to do in order to run my business and pay my personal bills as they stood at that time. I was covering my business overheads within a week, and my personal commitments within 5 weeks and, apart from a couple of Christmas weeks since then, I’ve never dropped below 20 hours. Your personal circumstances will be different to mine, so you can only use this as guidance. On the other hand, I see people on various forums still struggling to make 10 hours even after a year.

I keep repeating this, but new ADIs consistently overlook the fact that unless you are averaging 30 hours over a full 12-month period, you are not going to earn £25,000 over that same period.  A 40 hour week here or there might feel great, but if the rest of them are only 10-20 you’re looking at a wage of well under £20,000. Before you decide to become an ADI you need to carefully decide how much money you need to pay your bills, assess the personal risk of not achieving that every week, then work backwards from there. Be cautious almost to the point of pessimism when you’re working out what you might earn – those starting training these days tend to be overflowing with enthusiasm from the moment they announce they’re going to become instructors, but they are completely oblivious to the harsh realities of running a driving school. Simply dreaming of earning £30k is light years away from actually achieving it.

Can I really work whatever hours I want?

If you mean “can I work just few hours and still earn a lot of money” then the answer is definitely no. And it’s a double-no if you think you’ll survive if you try working short hours right from the start. Those adverts are dangerously misleading when they suggest that this is possible, because it always comes back to the number of hours you work if you need a sensible income.

You could fit 30 hours of lessons into five days if you work evenings. My favourite days (and weeks) are when I have three 2-hour lessons each day (seven days a week in my case) – each starting at approximately 10am, 2pm, and 6pm – but that doesn’t happen often these days, with more pupils wanting one-hour lessons. However, if you don’t work evenings, the only way you’d ever manage to fit in 30 hours of lessons into a 5-day week is if you started very early, rushed between lessons, were happy to take your pupils into morning and evening rush hour, and nothing held you up. You’d have to pray hard that the traffic didn’t make you late for your appointments, and that no one cancelled and messed up your rota. Even with only half an hour between lessons, six hours would run from 8am until about 3pm (or 9am until 4pm). It amazes me when I see instructors saying they only leave 15 minutes between sessions – the only way that could work reliably is if all their pupils lived in adjacent houses on the same street! And either the lesson debriefs must be very impersonal and rushed, or the pupil isn’t actually driving for anything like the duration of the lesson.

If it still looks do-able to you when written down, believe me when I say that regimenting your lesson slots like that – especially if you’re new and desperate for work – is suicidal. The vast majority of pupils want lessons at times to suit them – and so they should, since they are paying you for a service. Beginners definitely don’t want to be driving around during rush hour, nor do they want you doing it for them as you wend your way somewhere that you think is quiet enough for them to get behind the wheel (no doubt you’ll be charging them, even though you are driving). Even if you did find a handful of pupils who could play your game, you won’t easily find others who can once the first lot are gone. Road works are a nightmare and can turn a 10 minute journey into a 40 minute one with ease (and that applies to travelling between lessons as well as the actual lesson itself). They have the habit of appearing with little obvious warning, and persisting for months or even years at a time (gas main replacement has been on a rolling plan for at least 5 years up this way). And God help you if there’s an accident and road closures, if there’s a water main burst (almost a weekly occurrence with Severn Trent), or if the level crossing barrier gets stuck (several times a year at Basford and Colwick in Nottingham). I guarantee that you will get one or two chances at best with most pupils, but if you insist on taking on the road works because of your restrictive rota and end up arriving late, and then dump them quickly to get to your next lesson at the end, they will go elsewhere, and they will not recommend you to anyone else if they do. I pick up quite a few who cite turning up late as a reason for switching away from their previous instructor.

Back in 2017, when I last updated this, I had one pupil who sometimes did 6.30pm with drop-off either at home or the University library, sometimes 9.15am with drop-off at school, sometimes 2.45pm with pick-up from school and drop-off either at home or school depending on what she was up to. She didn’t know weeks in advance, and I simply modified the lesson on the day. Another did regular 11am lessons mainly on Fridays with pick-up and drop-off at work. Another did 2.15pm from school on a Monday, 4pm from school on a Friday, or weekend daytime only if she wasn’t going anywhere and those other slots weren’t available. Another had a weird rolling shift pattern which meant he started later and later in the day each week, so his lessons moved accordingly. Another had a shift pattern where he worked for 7 days then got three days off, but the at-work period was shift-based and included nights – so we had to plan lessons around him getting some sleep either before or after his shifts. Another always did 5.15pm from work, unless it was a weekend lesson and he wasn’t traveling home to see his parents. Yet another was also shift-based (a week of “earlies” and a week of “lates”) and we had to fit his lessons in around that. Several could only do weekends – one, only Sunday mornings and another, only Saturday morning or Saturday evening. Nearly all the younger ones are restricted by exams at various points during the year, and that is worse come spring. Anyone who works for McDonalds is likely to be on zero hours, and will get screwed regularly by being called in at short notice. The majority of pupils are flexible, of course, but only to the extent that they will do any time when they’re free and I’ve got space in my diary. Weekends and evenings are most popular – but they are limited in number. My point is that you may as well plan on winning the lottery if you expect to be able to fit these kinds of people into a rigid schedule just to suit you. If I insisted on rigid lesson times with any of these I would lose most of them.

Then there are lesson durations. Although I push pupils towards 2 hour lessons (partly my preference, partly because they are better value for most pupils), many these days cannot do them for a variety of reasons. One is money, and if they can only afford 1 hour a week it is not for me to question that. What I do when we get nearer to their test is ask them to skip a week here and there and combine two 1 hour lessons into a single 2 hour one so we can travel further and take in road features we might not be able to get to in a single hour. Another valid reason why they sometimes can’t do 2 hours is down to their ability – some people just cannot concentrate for that long, and this seems to be a bigger problem now than it used to be (especially for those who find driving a difficult concept to grasp). Another valid reason for not doing 2 hour lessons is simply time – students just don’t have time for more than one hour with all their course work, and the lessons suffer if they try. This is more significant near exam time, when they want to keep driving but have a lot of work to submit. And some want 1½ hour lessons to try and work around one or more of those problems. Forcing them to do something I want, but that they don’t (or can’t), is not going to do me any favours.

The bottom line is that as long as you are prepared to turn money away you can work as few hours as you like.

How easy is it to get new pupils?

Pupils are your only source of income, so they are vital to your success. Unfortunately, every new ADI seems to be convinced that they will corner the entire pupil market and consistently be working 50-hour weeks inside a fortnight, even though no one in the history of the world has ever managed this feat before. Sales book

You can never guarantee how much work you will have – even in the good times – which is one of the main reasons why so many people went back to salaried employment after the last recruitment spike and recession. You may work 40 hours one week, but the next it could drop to 20 and stay there – for weeks or even months at a time. As I said earlier, I sometimes see newbies on the forums still struggling to get as many as 10 hours, even  after a year. You can’t survive long on that.

Right now, we’re still benefiting from the cull of the Register as a result of the recession, and work is certainly out there with fewer ADIs competing for it (if anything, there is more work than there are ADIs, certainly in Nottingham). But getting new pupils is never easy, and it’s even harder when you’re just starting out. For example, in my early days – and this was at a time when the market was buoyant – I spent £600 on a business card sized advert in Yellow Pages. This was the done thing in the days when YP was still the size of a breeze block, and yet I got exactly ZERO enquiries out of it, if you exclude the spam calls I was inundated with (and have been ever since), or the suspicious single enquiry that came in two days after I’d told YP I wasn’t renewing, and which would never have turned into a sale anyway. A while later, I tried placing a quarter page advert in one of those local free monthly magazines which claimed a “guaranteed circulation of over 10,000” at a cost of £300 over three months. Again, I didn’t get a single enquiry.

Now, some would suggest that I should have carried on spending £1,800 a year on advertising because people might not have seen my adverts the first time, and definitely wouldn’t see them if I stopped having them published. But this illustrates my point: advertising is a gamble, and the money you splash out on it is effectively risk capital. It might not deliver anything in return, and often it doesn’t. I decided that the return on my investment was unacceptable and didn’t pursue those particular avenues any further. If nothing else, it taught me what I already knew, and that was that learners were not going to be beating a path to my door just because I had become an ADI. I know you probably think that you’ll be different, but believe me, you won’t. So be careful. You are in competition with literally hundreds of other driving instructors in your area, most of whom are already well established, and you’re likely to be just one of dozens of other novice ADIs all vying for the same work.

Also be careful when existing instructors glibly tell you how to get pupils. In most cases they are established ADIs and they are a million miles away from being in the same position as someone who has just qualified. Even if what they say is true – and some will be anxious to “prove” to everyone (including themselves) that going independent was a good idea, even if they’re struggling – it is absolutely no guarantee that anyone else would also get work that easily. In fact, I can guarantee that most won’t.

So how DO I get new pupils?

There is no simple answer to this. Once you’re established, you will get some pupils referring their family and friends to you. Even so, don’t get the idea that these referrals will go on forever. A pupil might have a brother or sister, but once you’ve taught them, that channel will just dry up. Many pupils simply won’t have anyone to refer to you anyway. In some cases, the referral can happen 5 or more years later. Don’t count on every single pupil referring in the first place – the Facebook age means every learner will be recommending their instructor, so you’re still in a lottery game. The only thing you can do is aim to train existing pupils as effectively as possible (which translates as relatively quickly and without messing them around) and hope that swings the balance in your favour sometimes. You could even offer existing pupils a free lesson if they refer someone to you (I do this without telling them up front, so it isn’t directly a marketing tool, though they will remember later and so think kindly of you). The longer you’re in the game, the more referrals you’ll get.

Allow for the possibility that some referrals will appear to come straight from Hell. You may have taught an excellent pupil and got him or her through their test, but their cousin, for example, might turn out to be a right pain in the arse for all sorts of reasons (and believe me, it happens like that a lot).

If you’re starting out, though, it is harder. People have to know you’re there, and that means advertising somehow. It might be a postcard in a chip shop window, an ad in some printed media, or flyers pushed through letter boxes (to mention just a few possibilities). For this reason, I strongly suggest you begin on a franchise to build up a pupil base, otherwise your initial advertising bill might be huge and still generate nothing. Once you have some work, you will likely have some money to start advertising for yourself.

I mean, a chip shop postcard might fill your diary overnight. But the odds are that it won’t. However, a few small ads placed over a few years are likely to bring in at least some work, and you can then assess the return on investment and tailor things as necessary.

How do you deal with unreliable pupils?

Reasons for unreliability are numerous. Some people have ongoing health issues (everyone gets ill at one time or another anyway), some have genuine bereavements, some have genuine and very important job interviews that they weren’t aware of when they arranged the lesson, some have money issues, and so on. Of course, some just couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.

My philosophy is very simple. I can tell what mood someone is in two seconds after they open the car door, and I build up a detailed picture of the kinds of people they are from the first moment I meet them. So I tend to know if their claim to having just shaken off a bout of malaria or having undergone a full internal organ transplant is true or not.

If I think they’re lying to me when they make their excuses, I’ll give them my “riot act” speech and allow them a couple more chances. If they do it again after that I stop teaching them. I have only got rid of a small number out of the many hundreds I’ve taught.

My “riot act” speech includes how much it costs me to run my business, how much I lose when people cancel, and the question of how they would feel if they lost that amount of money out of their wage packet. It also includes a bit about being honest, and how I am far more tolerant with someone who simply can’t afford the lesson and tells me so than I am with someone who can’t afford it, but instead claims they were hit by a meteorite or had food poisoning for the sixth time in two months. This usually does the trick.

With the ones who are badly organised, I give them a paper diary and insist they bring it out with them every lesson. I often get their parents involved (it’s usually the younger ones who’re like this). Those with health issues will already have told me about it, and I just ask them to give me as much notice as possible if they are unwell. Sudden genuine illness can’t be helped, nor can sudden job interviews. If someone is sick, they can’t drive – and that includes me. If something personal comes up, that can’t be helped either – and that includes me, too.

The only time I claim for the lesson is if they are pissed, or are recovering from having been pissed (I stopped teaching one guy immediately ten years ago when I turned up for a lesson he’d booked in the mid-afternoon of a weekday – I met him coming up the garden path after I’d knocked at his door, and he was so drunk he didn’t know who I was). There are some pupils I won’t allow to book Saturday mornings because I know they go out Friday nights. If I know others are going anywhere where they might drink, I won’t let them book the next morning as a precaution. Many will already think of this themselves. And many – or their parents – will insist on paying anyway if they know they’re at fault.

Each pupil is worth an average of £850 to me. If I were to adopt a zero-tolerance approach I’d lose a lot of those pupils, so I do everything I can to fix the problem. It’s only the ones I can’t fix who I let go. I treat last-minute cancellations as holidays, not as lost income.

You have to accept, lesson cancellations will happen. But you also have to realise that £850 income is far more important than a few cancellations spaced over a few months. For me, with a 48-hour written cancellation policy (which I rarely uphold), alarm bells start ringing when cancellations reach about 10% of the likely income from a pupil. That happens very infrequently – and these days I can usually fill vacated lesson slots even with less than 24 hours notice.

How easy is the job?

You’ll spend most – if not all – of your time sitting on your backside, so in that sense it is very easy. However, sitting down all day means that unless you get some exercise outside of the job, you will put on weight. Since you might be getting home around 8.30pm, having left the house at 9am, a trip to the gym or a 30 minute jog might not seem quite so appealing then as it does right now while you’re brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of earning £30,000.Watch your figure

If you already suffer from back problems, go back and read that part about sitting down all day again. If you don’t suffer from back problems, be prepared to develop some.

You need to be on your guard at all times, watching both your pupils and other road users. It’s not that uncommon for a learner to be driving along the straightest of roads, only to suddenly decide that – for reasons you may never be able to get to the bottom of – they ought to take an immediate 90° turn into a dark field, instead of continuing smoothly along the straight and fully illuminated “A” road that everyone else is on. I once asked a pupil why he had attempted such a dramatic manoeuvre (directly towards a pavement, in this case) on a straight 60mph road, and he answered “I honestly don’t know”.

Almost every experienced instructor will have had the pupil who, when you’ve asked them to “turn right” at a roundabout, has tried exactly that – to go round it counter-clockwise – oblivious to the rush hour traffic going round it the proper way. Or the one who decides that “follow the road ahead” means go where the car is pointing at the instant their brain finally processes the instruction. Or the one who only hears you say “right” when you say “look to the right”, and instantaneously yanks the wheel in that direction after concluding that you’ve just asked them to turn right (this is even more likely if you also make any sort of hand gesture indicating a particular direction). Or the one, usually from a country where driving standards are poor and there is no such thing as “give way”, who executes an emergency stop every time another vehicle moves even vaguely towards them. Or the pupil who suddenly decides they shouldn’t have entered a roundabout or junction after all, and slams on the brakes in the middle of moving traffic (some also do this where pigeons or squirrels are involved). Or the one who, while driving along at a steady 50mph, decides to change gear needlessly – and then either finds 1st by mistake, or pulls on the handbrake lever. Or the one who, when moving out into (or driving in) busy traffic, accidentally hits the brake instead of the accelerator. And so it goes on. Some of it just happens. Other times, there’s an underlying medical issue such as dyspraxia involved (sometimes diagnosed, sometimes not – and sometimes if it is diagnosed, they haven’t told you about it).

Then there are pedestrians and – sigh – cyclists, who will think nothing of moving directly into your path, and who appear to have zero knowledge of the Highway Code, and zero regard for it even if they do, providing ample triggers for jumpy pupils to stamp on the brakes or fling the wheel towards parked cars.

Having to concentrate on all this leads to tiredness, usually at the end of a busy day when it’s also dark, thus adding to the overall risk. It all comes down to how well you can handle such problems, but the bottom line is that the job is both physically and mentally challenging if you’re not used to it.

Is the job stressful?

The first time you encounter any of the above behaviours you will shit yourself – I know I did. But I got used to it, and these days I’m ready for it (though pupils never completely lose the ability to spring surprises on you). As I’ve said elsewhere, this blog is one of my ways of relieving the stress.Stress ball

The only part of the job I still find genuinely alarming is when a pupil kicks off over something unexpectedly.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s a real downer. Believe me, there are some very strange people out there – perhaps due to undiagnosed issues again – and when you inevitably end up teaching one of them you have to be careful how you handle things. Young people these days simply aren’t used to having their faults picked up on, much less discussed, and a few of them can overreact to the most innocuous comment or action (often translated to “you’re shouting at me”). It is their defence mechanism, and no matter how you approach the situation some will just blow their lids. And it doesn’t have to be a visible blown lid, either – it can appear as an unpleasant undercurrent to the lessons. When it happens, it is virtually impossible to smooth it out short-term, and you may even find that things are never the same between the two of you again. I’m pretty certain that, no matter what façade of pleasantness is put in place for the remaining lessons, some will still hold it against you once they pass their tests, because at the back of their minds their defence mechanism is still telling them they were right.

Some years ago, I had a pupil fail her test. She’d stopped on a slip road to join a one-way system in the city centre, but had over-steered slightly and couldn’t see oncoming traffic properly from her left side. Her solution to this was to put her head down, accelerate into the traffic, and hope for the best. Not surprisingly, the examiner used the dual controls. When I asked her about it afterwards, she said that the examiner’s head (his “big juff”, in her words) and central pillar were in the way and she couldn’t see, and had no choice but to go! I pointed out that she had positioned herself incorrectly, and in any case she could have asked the examiner to move his head, or perhaps even have leaned forward more – but blindly driving into moving traffic was definitely not an acceptable solution. She argued vehemently, and to this day – I speak to her occasionally since she passed her second test – she still resolutely maintains that there was nothing else she could have done and the examiner shouldn’t have failed her. It’s this sort of defensive inverted logic you will sometimes find yourself dealing with.Dilbert - Which?

To make matters worse, the examples I’ve given above refer to relatively normal people! God help you if you get a real lunatic. Fortunately, I’ve only ever had three of those in my entire career as an ADI, but they frighten the hell out of me. The worst one of them all has to be the woman who had told me she thought she was being stalked. When the police investigated the “suspect” it turned out to be a false alarm. I don’t think her accusation was overtly malicious – she’d just got the wrong end of the stick – but with hindsight, she apparently had issues in this area and was able to get the wrong end of this sort of stick with alarming ease. I didn’t realise that at the time and took what she told me at face value. However, a few weeks later she dumped me for “a female instructor”. When I phoned to ask what was wrong she told me that I “made her feel uncomfortable”. To say I was mortified is an understatement – this has always been a bit of a phobia on my part – and my skin crawls even now when I think of what accusations she could have levelled against me. God only knows what she told her new instructor.

And then there’s your pass rate. No matter what some instructors might claim, it DOES matter, and having to manage people with “issues” (not uncommon); those who perhaps can’t afford the lessons (very common); those who are slow learners but see themselves otherwise, and have booked their tests already just “to have a go” because they might get lucky, even though they haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of passing (also very common), and who openly resent you suggesting that they should cancel it or move it back (sometimes accusing you of trying to extract money from them)… well, you’re going to end up stressed however you deal with it.

Some of the road using public is so stupid that you seriously have to wonder how they passed their tests in the first place, let alone how they keep hold of their licences. To them, L plates mean that the Highway Code is suspended, and they will exercise their God-given right to pull out or overtake dangerously at every opportunity. They will tailgate you (sometimes on purpose, sometimes just because they’re genuinely crap drivers); sit behind you at traffic lights ready to sound the horn the instant the lights change whether your pupil moves off promptly or not (older female drivers are worst for this); force their way past on narrow roads, even driving on the pavement to do it (van drivers – especially couriers and postal drivers – are the worst); openly start texting at traffic lights, even delaying moving off to finish the tweet they were engaged in (especially young females); and speed limits are obviously something only learners have to stick to.

Elderly homeowners in middle class areas apparently spend the better part of their retirement hiding behind their curtains, ready to race out (it’s amazing how fast old people can move when they want to) and aggressively claim ownership of a road or corner the moment a learner car stops there. Some will park dangerously close to corners so that learners can’t reverse around them (red Fiesta, end house, Normanby Drive in Bramcote, take note). They will drive up and stop centimetres away from your bumper to stop you reversing (that even happened once on a pupil’s test – the examiner’s verdict of “stupid cow” was very apt).  On the rougher estates – the ones where they’re all related, have one big eyebrow or scrunched up hair which pulls their eyes into slits, and funny numbers of chromosomes – be prepared for things to be thrown at the car. A few years ago someone chucked a bag of something at my windscreen in Broxtowe as I drove past a bus stop and whatever it was smeared like hell and would not come off (it may have been Superglue dispersed in some solvent – these retards actually research these things). Once, in Clifton, one of the local troglodytes prostrated himself on the road in front of the car (we were actually reversing – they’re not too smart in Clifton). Once, in Lenton, someone threw something with all his might at the windscreen as we drove past. I actually saw him jump in the air to get a good swing, though fortunately he hit the door pillar with whatever it was he threw and not the glass (he was lucky I didn’t catch him after I chased him, but it was obvious what he was trying to do). Once, a Forest match had finished and an ugly fat guy (which doesn’t narrow it down much when it comes to Forest supporters) thought it would be clever to throw a full portion of chips with curry sauce over the car as we drove past. And I had three punctures in the three weeks after one Christmas as a result of the suspiciously high number of screws and nails which sporadically appear on corners used by learners (there’s no way they are all there accidentally).

Finally, there are other instructors. You’ll pull up on a half-mile long deserted street on a deserted industrial estate some time late on a Sunday afternoon to do a turn in the road, only to have some idiot ADI appear moments later and stop within three or four car lengths of you to do the same thing. A couple of years ago a woman in an Elliott’s Driving School car actually stopped directly opposite on an otherwise clear road, preventing us from doing anything except drive off, and creating a needless bottleneck with which to annoy other road users. Another time, I was in a small deserted car park (8 bays one side, 6 on the other) on an industrial estate in Colwick one Sunday evening practising bay parking, only to have a retard ADI drive in and position himself to do one, thus blocking us in. Admittedly, he didn’t stay after I got out and explained a few things, but he would have done if I hadn’t. And don’t even get me started on those instructors who insist on driving into the test centre car park to practice bay parking while tests are coming and going, or the ones who form a queue to use whatever road feature you’re using – sometimes even moving in when you’re part way through (they, too, go away after I explain a few things to them).

So stress is there in bucket loads, and you can’t avoid most of it. It comes looking for you. It’s how you handle it inside that matters – as I said earlier, I have my blog and I can vent my spleen here!

Can you do too many lessons?

People choose to become ADIs for the money. The best ones also do it because it’s something they actually want to do to, but money is always the bottom line. It’s only a job, after all. So it is natural to want to be busy.Work overload

The problem is that if you are too busy, the quality of your lessons will suffer. If nothing else you will be tired and stressed, and if your pupils have crap lessons when they’re tired, what makes you think you’re any different? Your learners will pick up on poor quality lessons immediately, even if you don’t, so it’s vital that you know your own limits (I know mine). Being too busy can easily affect your ability to retain pupils, which negatively impacts your reputation and recruitment of more work, thus increasing your stress even further.

Unfortunately, many new ADIs will already have calculated their future dream earnings based on the assumption that they’ll be working 50 hours a week right from the start, and nothing seems to change that view until the harsh realities set in. The truth is that if they could get anywhere near that amount of work it would – if it didn’t kill them first – negatively impact their performance and health, and set in motion a downward spiral for their future earnings. Instructors who are genuinely able to work very long hours and maintain the quality of their work are in the minority in the first place, and are invariably those with more experience. Even fewer can do it week in, week out (I deliberately build in slack weeks here and there so I can have a rest). Newly-qualified ADIs do not fit into either group.

So, yes. You can do too many lessons.

Is it legal to work long hours?

ADIs’ hours are not restricted in the same way as (for example) an HGV driver’s are, so yes, it’s legal for them to work long hours. However, the conditions attached to the green badge mean that an instructor mustn’t provide dangerous tuition or engage in illegal or unprofessional activities. If you are tired or stressed there is a very real danger that you might miss dangerous situations or even fall asleep – and that would have very serious legal implications. At best, you’d lose pupils and not get new work coming in. At worst, you could lose your licence to teach or even end up in jail.

What amounts to “long hours” is different for everyone. Some may struggle to do any more than 20-25 hours, whereas others might easily cope with 40. In my case, it was doing 40-hour weeks with one peaking at over 50 that made me decide to build in slack ones.

Can I make more profit if I reduce my overheads?

Of course you can. The real question is which overheads, and by how much? Driving instruction is a mature business, and any trick or USP which is likely to increase work has already been tried, evaluated, and built into the costing model. As a result, what you charge, spend, and earn as profit falls into a fairly narrow pre-defined range. You can’t just go out and charge £40 an hour when everyone else is doing it for £23 and expect to stay in business. If fuel costs the rest of the country £1.20 per litre then that’s approximately what you’re going to have to pay for it; and if a typical instructor drives 10-20 miles per lesson, someone who tries halving that without a bloody good reason will find themselves back stacking shelves at Tesco in no time at all. All you can do is find the best balance between enough work and minimising your expenses within this mature framework. This is the basis of a simple, successful business.

Can I cut my fuel consumption to reduce my overheads?

Up to a point, yes. Fuel is the largest overhead that you actually have much control over. However, a lot of ADIs haven’t got a clue how their business works, and inevitably get it into their one-dimensional minds that they would make shed loads more money if they used shed loads less fuel. They do not understand that a successful ADI has to deliver a specific syllabus with a practical test at the end of it, and is therefore committed to covering at least some road miles in order to achieve that. As I pointed out earlier, a typical driving test covers about 10 miles, and if instructors aren’t covering a similar distance on most of their lessons then something’s wrong.Fuel costs

In other words, you can’t just cut your fuel consumption to nothing by parking up by the side of the road talking. You’re guaranteed to lose pupils that way and not get any more. Some instructors still try it, though. Even one of the lesser national schools offers a “free” lesson, financed by the ADI, and which almost invariably involves sitting parked for a full hour. I pick up loads of pupils who have switched instructors for precisely this reason, and they’re not all telling lies when they report that they spent too much time talking, and too little driving. Instructors who engage in this behaviour seem incapable of understanding that every lost pupil loses them an average of about £700-£800 of income and eliminates any chance of new work coming from referrals by that pupil The park-and-prattle method might save an instructor £1,500 a year in fuel overheads at best, but two lost pupils cancels it out and sets in motion a downward spiral for the future of their business.

Wise management of your resources can certainly minimise your fuel costs, but you can only go so far – and it isn’t very far if you were providing a half-decent service to start with – before your business begins to suffer. The best way of reducing fuel costs is to get a more economical car (I reduced my fuel overhead by almost half some years ago when I switched from petrol to diesel). If you already have such a car – and if you are already covering less than about 10-20 miles per hour of lessons on average – you need to accept that you probably can’t reduce your fuel overhead much further. I acknowledge that in some areas – very large cities – you might get away with less mileage than this, but the principle is the same. You have to face the fact that you need fuel to deliver decent lessons.

Can I get a cheap car to reduce my overheads?

It makes me laugh when I hear instructors claiming that their car “costs [them] nothing”. Unless they won it in a raffle, and had no maintenance costs resulting from age and day-today-use such as punctures, broken windscreens, new wiper blades, etc., then their car costs them money just like everyone else. Nissan Cube

In the real world a car has to be purchased or leased by the vast majority of instructors. Once you have it, it has to be replaced periodically and have regular services that 99.9% of instructors couldn’t possibly do themselves. It needs oil top-ups and replacement parts that wear out or get damaged. And that’s before you even consider serious breakdowns and repair costs – which happen to everyone sooner or later. If it’s off the road you lose money from not being able to do lessons, or spend more money arranging for a replacement if it isn’t part of a lease agreement (and if it is, the hassle will still result in at least some lost work). Even if you paid £10,000 for your car five years ago and mentally wrote off the whole ten grand back then, the reality is that that your total profit throughout the entire period of ownership is reduced due to the capital you invested. Irrespective of what you tell everyone (including the tax man), and perhaps even believe, it isn’t costing you “nothing” – it’s costing about £30-£40 a week over 5 years, plus any of those additional costs I’ve just mentioned.

One viable way of acquiring a “cheap” car is to choose one of those rectangular things produced in a faraway place you’ve never heard of, with a name you can’t pronounce without looking it up on Google (I’ve used a picture of the ugliest car on the planet, the Nissan Cube, for which pronunciation only becomes an issue when you try to describe it). Dealers are often desperate to shift these things and therefore offer very tempting deals. Each to their own, of course, but you should consider the fact that there is zero probability that anyone under 45 would ever consider buying one when they pass their test, and although some pupils are attracted to “cute” or oddball cars (and even they draw the line somewhere), many aren’t. Obviously, not all cheaper cars are ugly, but you need to consider if, as a new ADI desperate for the best possible start, such a car would be a good choice. What about in a recession, when pupil numbers begin to fall? There are quite a few of these cars favoured by other ADIs that I can hardly squeeze into, or which I find extremely uncomfortable, and if I was learning to drive I most certainly would not go to an instructor who had one.

My advice is not to just get the cheapest car you can find without considering how its looks might affect your business first.

Can I use an older car?

I’ve noticed that more and more trainee and newly-qualified ADIs are opting for significantly older used cars – often, the car they already owned before they decided to become instructors.Old Corsa or new?

You can still operate a driving school in one of these, but no matter what those who own them might claim the age and appearance of the vehicle you drive has a significant effect on the work you attract. The majority of pupils like new (or new-ish) cars and there’s no escaping the fact that a ten-year old Corsa looks exactly like what it is: a ten-year old Corsa! You have to ask how much additional work you’d attract if you had a newer car instead of a banger – work that could mean the difference between success and failure for a new instructor.

Incidentally, I have noticed on forums and social networking sites that a significant number of instructors – often newbies – have purchased second hand vehicles and are having problems down the line. Now there’s a surprise. Some are even off the road, and so not earning at all. This is something else you have to take into account if you’re trying to cut corners and start out fully independent.

What can I charge for lessons?

You can charge whatever you want. The $64,000 question, though, is a) if you charge a high price, will people pay it? And b) if you charge a low price, will you make a profit?

The average lesson price in the UK is around £23-£26 per hour. I hear that in some areas they can charge £30-£35 an hour, but if I tried that here in Nottingham I guarantee my diary would empty overnight. So I effectively have an upper price I can (or dare) charge.Money to burn

Back in 2010, the tactic of price-cutting took off as desperate instructors sought to attract work which wasn’t there at the expense of other instructors doing exactly the same thing. Although the upper limit to your available price range is governed by what people are prepared to pay, the lower limit isn’t, and in theory if you drop your price to a lower figure than everyone else you will get all the work you want. If only it were that simple, though.

As I pointed out earlier, this is a mature industry and profit margins are not great. If just one ADI dropped his prices by £1 then he might well enjoy an increase in enquiries – if he could get the message across through advertising, which would cost money, of course. But when dozens of instructors are doing it, every lower price becomes the new baseline, and the price-cutting ADI will simply find himself in exactly the same situation as before – little work – but with a lower income. His only option is to cut prices still further, and the low margin situation means that he is now into an uncontrollable downward spiral to oblivion. To succeed, you’ve got to keep the highest profit margin you can get away with for your area.

Between 2010 and 2014 you would see cars advertising lessons for as little as £15 an hour. You don’t work for that price unless you’re desperate, so it isn’t hard to guess what they were up to. They aren’t around anymore – and neither will you be this time next year if you try it.

One final note on this. I currently see a lot of instructors boasting how they’ve put their prices up to the top end and are still apparently turning work away. If that’s true, good luck to them. However, thanks to Brexit there is a storm coming. So if you are charging a higher price, make bloody sure you’re putting the extra away for the inevitable rainy day, and don’t just spend it now. Higher prices are likely to become unsustainable if we enter another recession, so the fall will be from a much greater height for some people.


Working as an ADI

Should I start with a franchise?

My advice on this is simple. Yes, you should. And be very careful when people advise you to go independent, particularly if that advice is to do it straight after you qualify.

The vast majority of new ADIs haven’t got a chance in hell of filling their diaries quickly enough to start earning a living without major advertising which, as I have already mentioned, might not work. Franchises – especially the larger ones – are geared up to do this, and although there are never any guarantees, there is a bloody good chance that a franchise will be a hundred times better than you would be at getting work, particularly if you choose a national school or a good local one.

In my opinion, anyone who goes independent right from the start is crazy. Why spend all that money training for the green badge, only to go and gamble on having to give it all up? You need the best start you can get, not an ego trip in a sign-written car with your own name plastered all over it.

Should I start out independent?

If you ask this on the forums you’ll be swamped with “go indie” advice from everyone. The problem is that those offering the advice are established ADIs who haven’t a clue what your financial needs are. Many of them don’t have mortgages or are semi-retired from high-paying jobs and have substantial pension backup, and they do the job for pocket money. And in quite a few cases, when they started out, they did it with a franchise – and yet they readily trot out this misguided advice about the only way being the indie way.

If you need to establish yourself and get work quickly, doing it as an independent instructor is likely to be more difficult than it would be under a franchise brand. I’m sure that there are some independents who genuinely hit the ground running when they made their choice, but there are a lot more ex-ADIs who didn’t.

Something I don’t think I will ever fathom is how you’ll get someone who is trying to qualify on a shoestring because they either can’t afford it or are as tight as a duck’s arse, and who then decide that the only way immediately after qualifying is independent – solely on the grounds that you don’t pay a franchise fee. I suppose the saving grace there is that there’s a good chance they won’t be earning much, either, so that cancels out the extra money they’d be paying to a franchiser.

Is it cheaper being independent compared to working on a franchise?

There’s no doubt that if you had a guaranteed 30 hours (or any other amount) of work per week already in your diary, you’d be better off as an independent instructor. This is quite simply because you’d have lower overheads. However, the difference is not as great as some people would have you believe.

An franchised instructor might be paying £200 a week for his car, but if he is independent he does not have £200 more profit. The independent still has to finance a car which, as I have already pointed out, is likely to cost at least £40 – and probably closer to £60-£80 ON AVERAGE. Add around £10 for insurance, then whatever he has to pay for advertising, and he will be paying over £100 a week to get what is covered by the franchise. Yes, it’s still cheaper, but it all comes down to the one thing you simply cannot get across to the typical newly-qualified ADI: YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE WORK, OTHERWISE NO AMOUNT OF LOWER OVERHEADS WILL PREVENT YOU GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. And the franchise is more likely to be able to provide that work.

If you need to be earning sensible money to pay for your personal life (i.e. earn a living wage), going independent immediately after you qualify is a huge risk.

Can a franchise guarantee that you have work?

The answer to this isn’t anywhere near as clear cut as you might think. As I said earlier, this industry is fickle, and you cannot be certain of being busy all the time no matter how well-established you are. This is especially true when the economy is struggling, or if the ADI Register is overloaded. However, at the time of writing, there are pupils by the truck load in most areas, and many instructors left the Register during the last recession after having failed in the business. So if a franchise or local school is “guaranteeing” work it will almost certainly be because they have enough enquiries to justify making such a claim at this time. You have to consider a few things, though:

  • they’re probably not guaranteeing a completely full diary
  • the Register is likely to fill up again over the next few years
  • another recession would change the game considerably
  • what you consider to be “enough work” might be more than the franchise can provide
  • no one can guarantee work forever
  • Brexit

I’ve not seen this guarantee being made by the larger national schools, and it seems to be mostly the smaller local ones who do it. Don’t dismiss them out of hand – they might provide you with work you couldn’t get on your own while you establish yourself.

Which franchise do you recommend?

I don’t recommend anyone. You have to make your own choices because there will be risk involved whatever way you proceed. Be wary of anyone who advises you to stay away from large schools or franchises per se. Many have a grudge or are simply repeating what they hear from others.

A good example is RED Driving School. During the last recruitment spike, RED was a favourite hate target of established ADIs because they were one of the main blanket advertisers for instructor training who were pushing the “earn £30,000” mantra. I’m not saying that RED were perfect, but the ads attracted a lot of highly unsuitable people who subsequently either failed the tests or – in quite a few cases – decided they didn’t want to become instructors after all and wanted to get their money back. This RED actually went bankrupt in 2009 and was bought out by a venture capital company. The current RED is not the same company anymore. Unfortunately, most ADIs aren’t aware of this – or conveniently forget it – and they still persist with attitudes based on the old company’s reputation.

One thing I do know is that RED as a normal driving school (and it still does instructor training) has the highest lesson rates around of any of the franchises (£25 an hour and up in Nottingham). If you got a full diary out of them you’d be earning over £3,000 a year more than those independents telling you not to go near them. There are a few RED cars around this way, and they always seem busy.

Should I choose a local or a national franchise?

It’s up to you. Many newly-qualified ADIs baulk at signing to “big names” (I think they’re frightened of them), and choose local schools instead. Many years ago, I knew of someone who chose a franchise simply on the grounds that he could remove their artwork from his car (leased through them) when he wasn’t working (read into that what you will).  It doesn’t matter what the school name is though. All that matters is they provide you with pupils – and in my opinion, the national schools might be better at it because they can invest more in advertising.

Something else to consider is lesson price. A local franchise (and some of the lesser nationals) might be “guaranteeing work” because they’re advertising low lesson rates or silly deals to attract pupils. Referring once more to the maturity of this industry, you cannot afford to drop your prices much below the local average before your profits are wiped out. Consider that a 30-hour week of lessons at £23 per hour will give you a wage of around £25,000. A similar week of £20 per hour lessons pulls that wage down to around £20,000 – meaning that you need another 5 hours of work per week just to maintain £25k. That requirement would put even an experienced ADI close to work overload.

Franchises are too expensive!

As I’ve already explained, independent ADIs usually imply that that they pay £200 less per week than an instructor whose franchise costs that. It’s rubbish. The difference is less than £100 – much less, in most cases.

Consider this. Would you prefer to be independent paying (let’s say) £60 a week for your car and £60 for fuel, and doing maybe 15 hours of lessons? Or would you prefer a franchise at £200 a week plus £120 for fuel, with 30 hours of work? In the first example your annual wage would equate to about £12,000 (without advertising costs), whereas the second it’d be around £20,000 (and I have assumed the same premium lesson price in both examples, which you might not be able to charge as a new independent instructor).

It’s a bit of a no-brainer if you look at the actual numbers instead of just listening to nonsense from people who don’t like (and don’t understand) franchises. Independent is only cheaper IF YOU HAVE THE WORK!

But you have to work a lot of hours for nothing to pay the franchise!

You have to work “for nothing” to pay your overheads no matter how you do it. I’ve explained several times that, no matter what you might otherwise think, as an independent you have to pay a definite amount for your car, plus fuel, insurance, advertising, etc. before you earn any profit. Yes, your overall overhead figure on a franchise is greater than the independent equivalent figure, but only by a maximum of 2-3 hours worth of work.

It amazes me that so-called “experienced” ADIs can still go around telling newly-qualified instructors that being independent means they’ll be better off by the whole amount of a franchise fee. They won’t. And in pretty much every single case, franchised ADIs with plenty of work through the franchise will be much better off than independent ones struggling to find pupils on their own.

Only franchised ADIs work weekends – because they have to

That’s rubbish. All ADIs have to work several hours a week to pay off their overheads, as I have already explained. In most cases franchised instructors work weekends because they can. I made that point earlier – a franchiser may get work for you, whereas on your own you’re struggling.

I work weekends a) because I can, and b) because by doing so I can earn between £250 and £400 more than I would do if I didn’t.

Franchised instructors have to work half the week to pay off their franchise

This is misleading nonsense. A typical franchisee working 30 hours would have to do maybe 12-14 hours of lessons to cover all their overheads. It sounds terrible if you purposely imply that an independent can pocket all the money for himself. The fact is that an independent ADI also working 30 hours would have to do around 8-10 hours (assuming no advertising costs and charging a premium lesson price) to cover their own overheads. It’s a only a difference of around 4 hours in the first place, but – and as I’ve already made clear – the newly-qualified independent may not be able to charge a premium lesson price. That would take his “dead” hours to maybe 9-12 hours, and if he advertised at £25 a week, that would add at least another hour.

Not quite as one-sided as people have been telling you, is it?

Franchises are no good if you want to work part-time

You can get a headboard-only franchise for £30-£40, which would be covered by just two hours of work per week. Everything else you’d have to pay for anyway – part-time or full-time.

Independent ADIs can charge more

It sounds good when you say it. However, in most cases indies charge about £1 less per hour – certainly compared with the larger schools – for their standard hours. If they don’t, they might claim they charge top prices, but one look at their price lists shows an ever-more bizarre array of block-booking discounts – I’ve seen schools currently advertising £25 per hour lessons, with block booking discounts equivalent to £17 per hour. Crazy.

The only offer I make is that anyone block booking ten lessons gets one extra hour free (that free hour is the last one to be taken and has no monetary value – i.e. any refunds would be based on ten hours and not eleven). It means I can scale the offer as I increase my prices periodically.

The bottom line is that any special offer is lost revenue, and big discounts need to have huge paybacks, otherwise you’re just throwing money down the drain.

Independent ADIs earn more

No, they don’t. Every ADI is self-employed, so every one of them is different, with different circumstances. They work in different areas, with different pupil pools, and people who are only prepared to pay so much – which varies depending where you are.

If every ADI in the country was guaranteed 30 hours of work per week, and could charge exactly the same amount per hour, then an independent ADI would definitely be earning more by the difference between how much they paid out in overheads compared with someone on a franchise. But that’s a fantasy scenario.

As I have pointed out elsewhere in this article, you can absolutely not be guaranteed 30 hours of work, nor can you charge the same amount as everyone else in other parts of the country (it is recognised independents charge an average of £1 less per hour than the franchises, and I have shown that some charge almost £5 less). Even in your own area, it may be necessary to cut prices to attract work away from the bigger names. And it may not work. This is the reality, and it applies to 99% of all ADIs.

Some independents will be earning more than some franchised instructors. Some franchised instructors will be earning more than some independents (on a franchise before the 2009 recession, I once grossed earnings – not turnover – of more than £30,000 in a single year). All you can be sure of is that it depends on lots of things, and that that fantasy scenario above is a million miles away from reality.

Why are ADIs self employed?

They don’t have to be, and in the past some people have tried to employ salaried ADIs (Mercedes, for example). I can’t remember who it is, but there is (or was recently) apparently still at least one place that does it. The problem lies with how much money people are prepared to pay for lessons, and the overheads involved, which means that the most cost-effective way for pupils and ADIs is to be self employed.

Think about it. Being in business means making money on top of what you have to pay to stay in business. A self employed ADI has to pay several thousand pounds a year to keep a car on the road, attract pupils, and have enough work to make a profit once all that is paid for. If someone comes along trying to turn that into a salaried business, they have to pay the ADI a wage which is at least similar to what he would earn self employed, and make extra money to pay themselves a wage on top of paying for cars and other overheads, such as office staff. To do that, lesson prices would have to increase, or the ADI’s wage would have to fall (or a combination of the two).

If the business operator had a lot of ADIs then lesson prices and wage cuts could be kept to a minimum – but it would still be more expensive all round because of the extra overheads that had been introduced. For all practical purposes, it would be a franchise system in another name – but one which had much higher admin costs. Somewhere along the line, someone has to pay for the extra admin – and you can be sure it won’t be the business owner.

Mercedes failed at it, which was obviously always going to happen. They targeted wealthy learners, and although they stayed in the business for a couple of years, they inevitably gave up. There is undoubtedly a market for wealthy people learning in high-spec cars that self employed ADIs can exploit, but it isn’t big enough for a proper business to operate from the back of it, and especially not on a national scale.

The bottom line is that ADIs are self employed because it keeps costs at their lowest levels for all those concerned (instructor and pupil). Having a franchise system is about as far as you can go, with the extra costs involved, before someone somewhere starts having to pay too much and the system collapses.

Should I start part time after I qualify?

In theory, starting off part time makes a lot of sense, since it gives you the opportunity to gradually build up work until you can switch to it full time. It’s a nice theory and if you became an instructor because you’re retired, at a loose end now the kids have left home, or just want some pocket money to spend, it probably holds up quite well. For those doing it as a main source of income, though, they have to get enough work to quickly start paying their bills.

For someone in that latter position, the trouble starts with the first enquiries. What will you do if the pupil can only do lessons at times when you can’t? Turning pupils away when you’re trying to build a career is suicidal. Even if they can fit into your free time, what if working late into the evening (or early in the morning) makes you tired for your other job? How will you take pupil enquiries when you’re on the other job? Is your boss understanding enough to let you do it? Have you told him what you’re up to? The truth is that holding down two jobs throws up all manner of logistical problems that don’t exist on paper. It’s only when you start doing it you find out what it pain it can be, and how often one job (or you) has to suffer to accommodate the other.

Start out part time by all means – but make sure you fully consider the feasibility of this before you go ahead.

Which advice should I listen to?

Use your own common sense as much as you can. You know approximately how much lessons are, and you can easily find out how much a car will cost, and how much you will have to pay for insurance, so for God’s sake stop keep asking other people how much you will earn! They don’t know – but most of them will have a fine old time telling you nonetheless, usually with some very dodgy calculations confusing turnover with profit.

If you’re going to go looking for online advice, be wary of sites with information dating from more than 3-4 years ago (and especially if it is from 2008-2011). Those will usually have been written by bitter people sticking the boot in on the big advertisers of the time – most notably RED Driving School, which was active up until that point (before it went bust and was resurrected as a completely different company) – and suffering from the effects of the recession.

Your main concern is to get work – and no one can tell you if you’ll succeed or not. It is the risk you take if you decide to enter this industry. For that reason, you need to choose the route that is most likely to provide that work.


Training to Become an ADI

How do I become an ADI?

There is a guide on the GOV.UK website which will help. You need to be over 21 and to have held a full car driving licence for at least three years. There are certain situations which could prevent you becoming an instructor – in a nutshell, unless you have a totally clean driving licence and absolutely no criminal convictions or pending court cases you may be refused entry on to the Register. If you have any sex- or violence-related offences on your record, you may as well forget it. As far as the middle ground goes, the acceptance criteria have been dumbed down since I qualified, so who knows?

Firstly, you will need to have a criminal records check (now the DBS – Data Barring Service) carried out. At the original time of writing this costs £6 – but my advice is not to bother if you clearly will not be accepted on to the Register, or unless you’re prepared to lose the £6 if you end up being refused (some people still apply even if they have horrendous criminal records or stupid numbers of points on their driving licences, then complain when they are rejected). When you have your CRC you can apply to join the Register, and once you’re on it you can start your training (though I can’t see why you couldn’t start training before – you just wouldn’t be able to take any of the exams, and if you were refused then it would be money wasted).

What Is Involved?

You will need to pass three exams:

  • Part 1: The theory and hazard perception test
  • Part 2: The test of your driving ability
  • Part 3: The test of your instructional abilities.

The national pass rate for Part 2 in 2014/15 was 54.4%, and for Part 3 in 2013/14 it was 32.3%. The Part 1 pass rate is about 50%. These data come from different official documents, hence the different years, but they still provide suitable guidance.

Let’s do a bit of maths using these numbers. If 100 people joined the Register as PDIs, according to the statistics only 50 would pass Part 1 and move on to Part 2. Of that 50, only 27 would pass and move on to Part 3. Finally, of those 27 only 9 people would pass Part 3 and qualify as ADIs. That’s an overall success rate of less than 10%.

I must stress that the maths isn’t quite as simple as this, since you can take Part 1 an unlimited number of times (you’re bound to pass eventually), and the other two parts up to three times each within a two-year period (and you’re not bound to pass those). The point is that becoming an ADI is not a foregone conclusion (nor is it cheap), and failing the tests is more likely than passing them – even if the overall probability of passing is not quite as low as 10%.

Why are ADI pass rates so low?

I certainly wonder that, especially about Part 1. Someone who is even partly suited to the job should get 100% every time, so a 50% failure rate strongly suggests that a lot candidates are massively out of their depth. Parts 2 and 3 are much harder, but it is inevitable that some unsuitable candidates will get further along the training path and even qualify as ADIs.

Do only good instructors pass the tests?

Unfortunately, no. Remember that the main reason for many to (try) to become instructors is the money. Actually wanting to teach people to drive often comes way down the list. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of newbies struggle then give up because they simply can’t handle the job – yet they could have anticipated all the problems if they’d have been able to see beyond the £££ signs right at the beginning. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you can never be particularly good at it (don’t kid yourself: you can’t), and your pupils will pick up on that immediately. And that kills your chances of success.

A complaint I often hear when I take on new pupils is that their last instructor would take a block booking payment from them (over £200 in banknotes), and then repeatedly cancel lessons, be “double booked”, or be “unavailable” (ignoring texts and phone calls). The instructors who do this are not intending to defraud – not on purpose, anyway. The reason they do it is because they’re struggling for work, have offered some sort of deal which has snared the pupil, and the block-booking cash goes straight into their bank account to fill some holes. As far as the instructor is concerned, all future bookings made by that pupil are now non-paying, and when the pupil tries to book subsequent lessons the ADI would much rather fill the slot with someone who was handing over cash on the day, and not someone who was – in their mind – doing a free lesson.

I am acutely aware of the effect block bookings have on my own cash flow, and how it feels to have no “current income” from lessons, so I can easily imagine how those with less scruples might handle it. It might sound cynical, but what I’ve described above is exactly why (and how) it happens. And it’s ironic that those who do it might actually be “good” as far as teaching is concerned – but being so “bad” at business completely wipes that out.

The issue seems to arise mainly with independent ADIs (sorry, but it does), followed by local franchises (sorry again). I’ve recently taken on a new pupil whose mother has explained that they have lost money to a local school when an instructor “retired” still owing lessons, yet the school says it’s not their problem since the ADI is no longer with them. The larger franchises appear to take such behaviour quite seriously and this deters instructors from engaging in it (though it does happen occasionally, from my experience). The behaviour is purely a function of the ADI(s) involved, and not the franchise (though these people sometimes don’t help themselves with their attitudes when it happens).

So, is it easy to qualify?

It depends how you look at it. If you’re cut out to be an instructor, then training and passing the tests might well prove to be very easy indeed (of course, it might not). Likewise, if hell ought to freeze over before you even try to become an ADI, you’re likely to struggle with the training and tests (and, of course, you might not).

Another way of looking at it is the pass rates, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this article. Your chance of failing is higher than your chance of passing. Don’t be misled by the recommendation of certain high-profile instructor trainers who claim to guarantee getting you through. If you’re not cut out for it you should not even try (and quite frankly, these trainers shouldn’t be trying to make you do so, though they are in it for the money like everyone else, so you can’t really accuse them of any wrongdoing).

How much does it cost to become a Driving Instructor?

It will vary from person to person. There are two main ways to go about the training.

If you do it by yourself (referred to as “pay-as-you-go”, or PAYG), Part 1 is something you can do in your spare time, and apart from the cost of the exam (£81 at the time of writing) and suitable training materials (say, around £30) it won’t cost much. Part 2 will almost certainly need professional tuition, which typically costs £30 or more per hour, and ten hours would cost around £300 plus the exam (£111). Finally, Part 3 is likely to require at least 40 hours of professional tuition (£1,200) plus the exam (£111). All that adds up to about £1,800 – though realistically, most people will require more training than what I’ve mentioned here, and will most likely need more than one attempt at one or more of the exams. A worst case scenario might see you paying closer to £3,000 on training – perhaps even more – and this PAYG approach is supposedly the cheaper way of doing it.

Alternatively, you can pay for a complete training package from a training company. This was how I did it many moons ago, and I have no real complaints other than for the fact that smaller training companies (as most were at the time) appear to have average lifespans similar to Mayflies (i.e. they often go out of business, like my original one did near the end of my training, and like dozens of others have since). These days, full packages typically cost around £2,500-£3,500. And don’t forget that however you train, if you qualify you’ll have to apply for your Green Badge, which currently costs £300.

Can you do it without paying any money except for the exams?

Unfortunately, yes, though it is a high risk path, since you’re even more likely to fail. However, some desperate (or tight) people – very few, I might add – manage it.

Doing it this way says a lot about someone’s motivation and reasons for wanting to be an ADI. After all, if they are so short of money they can’t afford the training, becoming an instructor is hardly a proven way of fixing a cash flow issue. And if money isn’t really an issue, trying to do it on a shoestring doesn’t say much for their reasons for wanting to become instructors.

Should I train with a franchise or independently?

The choice is yours. There is absolutely no reason why a large driving school offering a training package should be any better or worse than an independent individual or small company doing the same, or one charging pay-as-you-go.

There most definitely are some cowboys around, and they can be solo trainers as much as the training schools. The worst culprits seem to be outfits you’ve never heard of before, or solo trainers who have seen what they think is a way to make money by charging more to train ADIs than they could when they were teaching learners. An outfit offering ADI training whose cars you never see on the road should be given a wide berth (in my opinion) – if they haven’t got a lot of cars then they won’t be making much money, and they’re likely to disappear as soon as they came (or be reluctant to give you what you paid for in favour of taking on someone else with cash in their hand).

Large schools like RED, BSM, and The AA are not cowboy outfits – be very careful listening to people who tell you otherwise, since their “advice” tends to be tainted by their own experiences, which are usually a little biased. Becoming an ADI isn’t easy, and many people struggle with the exams. The last person they will ever blame is themselves – just for not being good enough – so they target their trainers instead. Since training packages tend to based around a set number of hours, struggling PDIs often find they need many more hours than originally intended by that package operator.

Do you get trained in how to be self-employed?

It depends on who you train with, and whether or not they include this as part of the package. I don’t know what it is like now, but based on my knowledge and understanding of the past, some do, but most don’t. And the ones who do cover it quickly – it’s not “training” as such, just the transfer of basic information.

Do I need to use an ORDIT-registered trainer?

No, not at the time of writing. You don’t actually have to use any trainer at all. I think that the only condition is that whoever trains you must be an ADI if they are taking payment from you.

ORDIT stands for Official Register of Driving Instructor Training. It is fair to say that if your trainer is ORDIT-registered, then there is an increased likelihood that the training he or she delivers is of a high standard. However, it is absolutely no guarantee. Just as poor-quality ADIs can pass their tests and remain on the register of driving instructors, the same is true of instructor trainers on ORDIT.

DVSA hopes to make ORDIT registration compulsory in the future.

I’m not against ORDIT – it’s just that when I read the official DVSA guidelines I get flashbacks to my time in the rat race. You’d be forgiven for thinking that an ORDIT-registered trainer needs a building the size of a football field to store all the documentation he has to produce to get on – and stay on – the register in the first place. And since ORDIT cannot guarantee quality… well, it’s a bit of a case of the tail wagging the dog.

How did YOU do it?

After I lost my job, and decided that I was never going to work for anyone again, I started looking into teaching – something I’d been attracted to since I left school. As a chemist, science teachers were in very short supply, and it seemed like a possible way forward. However, it would have involved working “for” someone, and quite frankly I don’t think I could have handled modern day kids. Furthermore, it became apparent that teaching involves more bureaucracy than my previous job ever did, and since it was that bureaucracy that cost me my job to start with… I thought “no way”.

Then, I saw an advert in my local newspaper for becoming a driving instructor. I have always enjoyed driving, and the idea of being able to teach it was very appealing. I had an interview, signed up, and went from there. The company I trained with used to get a lot of bad press, but I only ever had one problem with them – when they went bust (as many do)! I finished off my training privately using the instructors who had been put out of work by the bankruptcy, and qualified about two years after I’d started.

I was fortunate. While I was training I was working as a consultant. For a short time, I was also a director of a company I set up with someone I used to work with through my old company to investigate a particular aspect of the work we were doing. When that finished, I did a stint in technical support for Dixons/PC World until I passed Part 3. This meant I could keep the wolves from the door.

So, I used a pay-up-front training package to become an ADI.

Training Packages are a rip-off

No they’re not. Some can be, but that’s true of many things. You have to remember that becoming an ADI is quite difficult, and as we’ve already seen, many trainees are really vastly out of their depth. The fact that they are struggling to learn is not automatically the fault of the trainer, and in such cases the trainee is likely to require (or want) much more training than they had originally hoped for. You are paying for the chance to become an instructor – it is a long, long way from being an automatic process of qualification, and failure is more likely than success.

Packages tend to be based on fixed numbers of training hours spaced out over a period of time, whereas the typical PDI (i.e trainee instructor) is likely to have it in their head that they want to qualify in a much shorter period than is being offered. Furthermore, just as people who fail their driving tests are more likely to blame the examiner or their instructor than themselves, so a PDI who isn’t getting what they want will usually blame their trainer or the school he is working for. And since they’ve usually invested their savings on the course, they are very vocal about it.

The quality of the tuition you receive is directly down to the instructor providing it – not the company he is working for. You can get good and bad instructors – or ones you just don’t work well with – whether they are delivering a full package through a school, or PAYG training on an independent basis. The school they are associated with is completely irrelevant under normal circumstances.

Complete training packages don’t work

Yes they do. Any problems are much more likely to be down to the candidate’s weaknesses than they are the trainer’s.

When I was training, my lessons were a mixture of one to one and two to one sessions. A one to one session might last between 2 and 4 hours, and a two to one would last 4 hours – two with me in the hot seat, and two with me watching someone else in it. Interaction between all parties was encouraged, so the times when you were watching were still part of the lesson. However, I remember at the time being struck by how unsuited some people obviously were – and it definitely wasn’t because the trainers were doing a bad job. They’d cancel lessons or just not turn up, and then start whining about how poor the company was when it couldn’t fit them in for another week or two.

Should I train with a local trainer on a PAYG basis?

There’s no inherent reason why you shouldn’t – it is as viable an option as the pay-up-front route I mentioned above. It isn’t something I have direct experience of myself, though I do know that you should be wary of those telling you it is cheaper than a full package. There’s a very good chance that it won’t be – it’s only cheaper if you qualify in the shortest amount of time and pass all your exams first try. Many don’t, and then the PAYG costs start to ramp up, whereas the pay-up-front package was probably all-inclusive.

How do I know if I would be suitable?

Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the idea of the training with potentially tricky exams to pass, and a periodic check test/standards check (which is effectively an “exam” you have to pass regularly in order to remain as an ADI), don’t like driving, or if you are nervous working face-to-face with people (to give just a few examples), there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy being an ADI – and that’s well over half way towards failing in the business once you get going. Don’t let the dream of earning big bucks cloud your judgement, because if you aren’t suitable – and yet still qualify – you’ll be lucky to earn £3,000 a year, let alone £30,000. All that money spent on training will be wasted.

One fairly common issue is that people fail Part 3 and then try to blame their trainer. I recently saw someone who was apparently on their 2nd attempt on their second pass through the qualifying process blaming their failure on their previous THREE trainers.  To me, this sounds a bit like following a recipe from a cook book – where everyone else who tries it gets it right – and arguing that the book must be wrong because every time you do it it goes tits up.

Some people – the vast majority of the population, in fact – are not cut out to be instructors. You should face the fact that you might be one of them.

Is now a good time to become an ADI?

In 2018? Yes. We’ve recently emerged from a recession and the Register has been thinned out due to people going out of business as a result of that. As I said earlier, there are more pupils than there are instructors who can take them on. But make sure you read what I said about how hard it is to get work – just because there is work available doesn’t mean that you will be able to get it.

Also remember that more new ADIs qualify every day. At some point they will have mopped up all the surplus pupils looking for lessons, and then we’ll start the next price-cutting cycle and people will start going out of business again. There is also the significant prospect that we might return to a Brexit-induced recession.

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Ramadan MubarakI originally wrote this back in 2010, but it gets a new raft of hits each year, usually around the start of Ramadan – which is today, in 2019 (well, last night).

I had a pupil on test a while back who failed, and she mentioned that Ramadan had started as I drove her home. She insisted that she felt OK, but I couldn’t help wonder if it might have had some effect on her concentration otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up.

Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims. During it, participants abstain from eating and drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Technically, those fasting are not even supposed to drink water (there are exceptions for pregnant women or those with specific illnesses), and some participants take it more literally than others. At least one reader has had concerns that Ramadan has affected their driving, and in 2016 it was unusually long at 32 days. In 2017, it ran from 26 May to 24 June, and in 2018 it spanned 17 May to 15 June. In 2019, it runs from 5 May until 4 June. It’s pretty much a full month anyway.

Some years ago, I worked in Pakistan – in Karachi – for a short time, and was there during Ramadan. Some people ate during the day, but very little, and some fasted properly. But in the main, whether they fasted or not, they just got on with things and worked normally. After sunset, though, the street vendors came out and it was scoff-out time (I have vivid memories of the sights and smells when I went to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s tomb one evening).

At the other end of the spectrum, when I worked in the rat race over here, Ramadan and other such religious festivals were used by some (not all, I must add) simply to avoid work. I remember some of my shop floor staff trying it on, and although we knew that they were doing so (having a smoke outside when you’re supposed to be praying is a bit of a giveaway), the employment and discrimination laws in this country pretty much tie the employer’s hands.

I used to have the (bad) habit of getting up at 8am or earlier, drinking only a cup of tea, not eating anything until I finished work in the late evening, then pigging out on kebabs or curries. Occasionally, during the day, my blood sugar would get so low that I’d crave something to eat there and then – at which point I could easily put away four Mars Bars and drink a litre of Lucozade! Someone who is very slight would probably not be able to get through the day without being affected at least partially – and this must also apply to those fasting during Ramadan.

If you are teaching Muslim pupils it’s worth discussing the subject with them – and just be open about it: they don’t mind talking about their religion (it’s people who think they do who have the problems). I’ve had several pupils in the past who were suffering during fasting, and in several cases we postponed lessons until it was over. Indeed, in 2019, I have a pupil who is very nervous and jumpy in the car, and we were both worried Ramadan might affect her. So we have agreed to do her lessons later in the evening (that was my idea), and although I will admit I thought sunset was a little earlier than it really is when I suggested it, we’re doing lessons at 9.30pm once a week so she can keep driving.

Irrespective of the reason for fasting, not eating could affect both lessons and driving tests because concentration could be impaired by low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This would apply to anyone who hasn’t eaten properly (remember that it could also be due to an underlying health problem, like diabetes, so I’d advise anyone who is experiencing such symptoms to check with their GP). Not being able to concentrate on driving during lessons is a waste of the pupil’s money whether it’s due to a cold, hay fever… or fasting.

Advice I’d give to anyone fasting during Ramadan is to take lessons or tests in the morning or late evening (if your instructor will do it), and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. It also makes sense that anyone who isn’t fasting eats and sleeps properly, otherwise their lessons (or tests) could also be affected. In extreme cases, just put the lessons on hold until Ramadan is over.

As for the question about whether they should be driving or not, I think you need to be realistic. I’d say that 99% of white, non-Muslim UK drivers drive when they’re not feeling 100%, and Ramadan hardly turns most participants into hospital cases. I can’t see any automatic reason why people who are fasting for Ramadan shouldn’t drive.

Can I take my test during Ramadan?

Of course you can. However, you should consider how fasting affects you and your concentration. It might be better to plan ahead and avoid booking a test during Ramadan altogether. Alternatively, try to book an early test at a time just after you have eaten – or rather, before you start to get hungry.

Fasting during Ramadan affects my driving to work

Honestly, someone found the blog on that search term! The answer is simple.

If you are having problems, either don’t drive or don’t fast. What other answer did you expect? Some Magic Pill that makes it all OK? If you don’t feel well, don’t drive. And that applies whether you’re ill, drunk, menstruating, or fasting. It’s just common sense.

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CalendarSomeone found the blog on the search term “what are the chances of passing your test in three months?”

The short answer: DVSA statistics show that the average UK learner takes 46 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice. Without getting into any arguments over that just yet, let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that you will need 46 hours.

If you take a single one hour lesson a week, it’s going to take you 46 weeks to get to test standard. If you take two hours of lessons a week, it’ll take 23 weeks. If you take four hours of lessons a week, it’ll take you about 13 weeks. That’s around a year, six months, or three months respectively.

The longer answer:  For all sorts of reasons, an individual could end up taking far fewer or many more than 46 hours to get to the required standard. That DVSA figure is an average measured from real people taking real tests. It’s not a forecast, though it can be useful as a rough pointer.

Over the years, I’ve had two pupils manage passes in well under 20 hours, many who have done it with between 20-35 hours, and several who have taken well over 60. I can recall two who took 140 hours and 160 hours, and a recent one who did 120 hours spread over more than three years. I also know one who took 100 hours in a manual car with me, then a further 100 hours or more in an automatic, before finally passing on her seventh attempt (she’s since given up driving because she crashed the car almost every time she left her driveway – three times in the first fortnight after she got it).

I explain all this to my pupils who have never driven before, and suggest they think in terms of 30 hours plus to start with, then see how things go. I also point out that if they are typical, it will probably take around 4 months if they’re doing an average of two hours of lessons a week. I explain clearly that this is not a prediction or target, but merely a guideline based on past experience, and if it turns out they can do it it 10 hours, I’ll be as happy as they are about it.

Now, 30 hours – taking two hours of lessons per week – would just about squeeze into a three month window with a bit of tweaking here and there. If it was going to take 40 hours, you can add another month to that time frame. On the other hand, if you’re in the 30 hour bracket and did three of four hours a week, passing within six weeks would be feasible.

The reality: You simply don’t know how many hours you’re going to need until you’ve taken them. However, once you start lessons you can usually get a good idea of where you are on the curve within a couple of hours. Obviously, if you have previously taken lessons – possibly even getting close to test standard – then you’ll probably already be a long way towards your goal. On the flipside of that, If you’ve only got previous experience driving overseas, you may find that you are only marginally ahead of a beginner when you start in the UK.

If you’re on the wrong side of the curve – for whatever reason – you’ll need more hours than someone who isn’t. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – it’s just the way it is.

You can’t be a Marvel Superhero just because you want to be, so picking a preferred number of hours and expecting to pass if your learning ability points to a higher number being required isn’t going to work. I had one early last year who declared after his tenth hour that he was now test ready. I asked him if he’d always only ever planned to take just ten lessons, and he said yes. He’d never told me that, and we parted company at that point. He was nowhere near test standard, and the last I heard was that six months later his mum was still teaching him.

People in general seem to have major problems understanding averages, distributions, and how biology works. So I stress again that DVSA’s statistics show that the majority of people take about 46 hours of lessons with an instructor. It doesn’t matter that your best mate Kyle was taught by his mum, or that he told you he passed “after 8 hours”. He was almost certainly lying or very confused over that figure (I’ve had them before where they are already good drivers, but the skills were picked up in stolen cars or driving illegally, and they don’t include that in their public declarations of Superheroism). And in any case, you are not Kyle and are probably not being taught by his mum.

Just remember: the average learner in the UK takes around 46 hours and some private practice to get to test standard. Some take a lot less, and some take a lot more, thanks to Mother Nature.

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I wrote this article in 2013 after I’d seen someone desperately trying to complicate the subject by claiming that the Emergency Stop isn’t in DT1 (the examiners’ internal guidance document). Just for the record, that document contains the following section:

1.31 EMERGENCY STOP

An emergency stop should be carried out on one third of tests chosen at random. It can normally be carried out at any time during the test; but the emergency stop exercise MUST be carried out safely where road and traffic conditions are suitable. If an emergency has already arisen naturally during the test this special exercise is not required; in such cases the candidate should be told and a note made on the DL25.

With the vehicle at rest the examiner should explain to the candidate that they will shortly be tested in stopping the vehicle in an emergency, as quickly and safely as possible.

The warning to stop the vehicle will be the audible signal “Stop!” together with a simultaneous visual signal given by the examiner raising the right hand to face level, or in the case of a left hand drive vehicle, raising the left hand. This should be demonstrated.

The examiner should explain to the candidate that they will be looking over their shoulder to make sure it is safe to carry out the exercise, and that they should not pre-empt the signal by suddenly stopping when the examiner looks round, but should wait for the proper signal to be given. To minimise the risk of premature braking, examiners are advised to ask the candidate if they understand the ES instructions.

The emergency stop must not be given on a busy road or where danger to following or other traffic may arise.

It is essential that examiners take direct rear observation to ensure that it is perfectly safe to carry out the exercise. They must not rely on the mirrors.

If the exercise cannot be given within a reasonable time the candidate should be asked to pull up, care being taken to choose the right moment as the candidate will have been expecting the emergency stop signal and may react accordingly. They should then be advised that the exercise will be given later and that they will be warned again beforehand. Alternatively, if conditions ahead are expected to be favourable, they should be reminded that the exercise will be given shortly, and the instructions repeated if necessary.

If a candidate asks whether they should give an arm signal, they should be told that the command to stop will be given only when it appears that no danger will arise as a result of a sudden stop, but that they should assume that an extreme emergency has arisen and demonstrate the action they would take in such a case.

The emergency stop exercise must not be used to avoid a dangerous situation.

It’s worth pointing out a few things that worry learners, all of which are mentioned above or in the rest of DT1:

  • you will not be asked to do it on a busy road
  • the examiner will check behind first, so you don’t have to
  • having to do it in a real situation could count as having done it on the test – the examiner will tell you
  • it will not be done as part of Independent Driving

Furthermore, DT1 adds:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DVSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

I’ve mentioned ABS and the Emergency Stop before because of people trying to complicate it simply as a result of their own lack of understanding. I’ll repeat what I said in that article: when it says to press the brake and clutch at the same time, it doesn’t specifically mean that both feet must go down as if they were glued together at the ankles. The thing you have to remember is that the clutch will begin to release as soon as you start to press the pedal, and the brakes will start to bite as soon as you start to press them. Neither are digital switches – they are analogue devices, which means that there is significant travel of the pedals to achieve varying amounts of the relevant effect. So if the clutch releases more than the brakes are braking, the car will take longer to stop because the effect of engine braking is removed. For that reason, you really want to be braking hard first, then depressing the clutch a fraction of a second later when executing an emergency stop. The whole process happens in less than a couple of seconds anyway.

It still amounts to pressing both pedals “at the same time”, but this distinction relates back to the older method of cadence braking (on non-ABS cars), where you had to pump the brakes and slow down in stages, THEN put the clutch down right at the end to avoid stalling. In this case, you were not pressing both pedals at the same time, and doing so would most likely have been a serious fault on someone’s test.

Trust me, if your mum walks out in front of you and you need to do an emergency stop to avoid hitting her by a hair’s breadth, not utilising engine braking properly could make all the difference between a big sigh of relief or a trip to the hospital.

It doesn’t matter if the ABS kicks in (and makes a noise outside, with vibration on the brake pedal inside) during the exercise. As long as the driver is in control and stops the car promptly then the Emergency Stop will have been completed satisfactorily.

The Emergency Stop will nearly always be carried out as a totally separate exercise on the test, though if you have had to do one in a real situation (possible but highly unlikely for most candidates) then the examiner may count that as having done the exercise if you were one of one in three who gets it. For the exercise proper, the examiner will ask you to pull over and he will then explain as follows (again, taken from DT1):

Pull up on the left please (either specify location or use normal stop wordings) Shortly I shall ask you to carry out an emergency stop. When I give this signal, (simultaneously demonstrate, and say) ‘Stop’, I’d like you to stop as quickly and as safely as possible. Before giving the signal I shall look round to make sure it is safe, but please wait for my signal before doing the exercise.

Do you understand the instructions?

Once you have completed your Emergency Stop, he will say something along the lines of:

Thank you. I will not ask you to do that exercise again. Drive on when you are ready.

It’s that simple. And the decision over what is and isn’t acceptable lies with the examiner.

What would be a minor (driver) or serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The procedure as I teach it is as follows (immediately after the STOP command):

  • brake firmly
  • declutch just after
  • keep both hands on the steering wheel
  • once stopped, apply handbrake
  • put into neutral
  • look all around
  • relax

Then, once the instruction to drive on is given:

  • put into gear
  • gas/bite ready
  • look all around
  • if safe, release handbrake and drive off

Possible driver (minor) faults might include stalling, going for the gear lever or handbrake before the car stops, or not looking all around properly after you’ve stopped (though that last one is rare).

Possible serious faults might include getting into a mess/panic if you stall, not stopping quickly enough, putting the clutch down before the brake, or not looking all around at all before you move off (this is more common).

Some faults might be only minor in some cases, but become serious if other traffic is around. For example, stalling before you move off and not checking all around again. Or if stalling/panicking causes a hold up for traffic. Or moving off before you’ve looked around properly and someone is overtaking you. The examiner’s decision is what counts because every situation is different.

If you do it right – or even close to being right – on your lessons you’re almost certainly not going to fail your test over it. I’ve never had anyone fail for it. So make sure that you can do it right on your lessons.

Will I fail if I stall on the emergency stop?

No, you shouldn’t if you react appropriately by making the car safe, then get it started again promptly. It will usually be marked as a driver fault. However, you are on test and you might panic and do something else wrong which could result in you failing.

Do I have to pull over when I do the emergency stop?

No. That would defeat the purpose. The idea is to stop as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining control and safety. If you waste time trying to pull over you’ll travel further, and so won’t stop quickly enough.

Imagine your brother or sister (or pet dog or cat) runs out a few metres in front of you while you’re driving along. That’s why you want to stop as quickly as possible, and to hell with what’s going on behind you (the examiner will check to make sure it’s safe by looking behind – you don’t have to).

Once the exercise is complete, you will drive on normally unless the examiner specifically asks you to pull over – which he might, since pulling over then driving off again is a separate thing that is being assessed on your test.

Should I signal when I move off after an emergency stop?

In most cases it isn’t necessary, and you certainly don’t want to be doing it before you’ve looked to see if anyone might benefit. However, if you look around and decide that you should signal – for a pedestrian perhaps, or if someone is coming towards you from either direction – then do it (make sure you signal right and not left).

Why shouldn’t I use the handbrake to stop?

Depending on how old you are, you may remember from certain action movies that the characters involved in car chases sometimes brake, skid the car around, then drive off the other way. What they are doing is called “a handbrake turn”.

The handbrake usually only operates on the rear wheels, and if you are driving along and pull it sharply it can lock the wheels, and that causes them to skid. Since only the back wheels lock, the rear of the car spins around because for all practical purposes the rear wheels are not gripping the road surface.

It’s all well and good if you’re doing a stunt for a movie shoot, but on roads where there are other road users it is incredibly dangerous. Imagine an emergency situation, where you need to stop as quickly as possible, and usually in a straight line. You aren’t going to achieve that if the rear wheels spin out and are not gripping the road surface. At best, you’ll stop over a much longer distance because the handbrake isn’t designed to stop the car in the first place. At the worst, the car will spin out of control and you might hit something or someone – or even roll it.

On top of that, the ABS on modern vehicles functions via the footbrake (which is hydraulically controlled through the car’s on-board computer), not via the handbrake. In a handbrake stop you have no ABS functionality (the electronic handbrakes in modern cars usually won’t operate when you’re moving anyway).

If you apply the handbrake before the car has stopped in the Emergency Stop exercise you’re almost certainly going to get a serious fault for it.

Can you stop using the handbrake in any other situation?

The classic example is if your normal brakes fail for some reason – you press the footbrake and nothing happens. Your only option is to slow down and stop using the handbrake (noting the comment above about electronic handbrakes not working when you’re moving).

It happened to me many years ago when I’d flushed my brake system, but left an air lock in it somewhere. I came to a T-junction and the car wouldn’t stop, so I used the handbrake to slow it down. Fortunately no one was coming, because I couldn’t stop in time for the junction, but I did prevent the car ending up in someone’s living room!

I’m an ADI. How should I teach the Emergency Stop?

You really ought to know this. It isn’t rocket science. What I do is run through skids and how to deal with them, the factors likely to cause them, and so on. I have a few stories about when unexpected things have happened to me (like the time I was in a column of traffic driving at 60mph in the Cotswolds and a herd of deer ran out about 5 metres in front of the van at the front, who slammed into them because he couldn’t do anything). Then I explain the Emergency Stop procedure, which is basically as follows:

  • I give the signal
  • You brake hard, then put the clutch down – IN THAT ORDER
  • Put the handbrake on and put it in neutral
  • Look all around

When I (or the examiner) says to drive on:

  • Put it in gear and get ready to move off
  • Look all around
  • If it’s clear, release the handbrake and drive off

Looking all around – and that includes both blind spots – before you move off is critical because traffic or pedestrians could be passing either side of you. If you just glance in your mirrors after you’ve stopped you tend to get away with it, but if you try that as you drive off then it’s pretty much a fail. No guarantees, of course, but if you look properly it won’t be an issue.

I like to feel as though the ABS is about to kick in when a pupil stops. If the ABS does kick in a little, even better. But I don’t want them stamping hard on the pedal.

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This article was originally written in 2011 after someone asked if it is OK for the ABS to kick in when you do the emergency stop on your test (and in real life).

DT1 – DVSA’s Internal Guidance Document – says:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DVSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says this concerning ABS systems:

…You should refer to the owner’s handbook for details of the manufacturer’s recommended method of use…

More on what TES says about emergency braking later. Let’s take a look at some typical (and common) owner’s handbooks.

Vauxhall Corsa

For optimum braking, keep the brake pedal fully depressed throughout the braking process, despite the fact that the pedal is pulsating. Do not reduce the pressure on the pedal.

Do not let this special safety feature tempt you into taking risks when driving.

Traffic safety can only be achieved by adopting a responsible driving style.

Vauxhall Astra

Antilock brake system (ABS) prevents the wheels from locking.

ABS starts to regulate brake pressure as soon as a wheel shows a tendency to lock. The vehicle remains steerable, even during hard braking.

ABS control is made apparent through a pulse in the brake pedal and the noise of the regulation process.

For optimum braking, keep the brake pedal fully depressed throughout the braking process, despite the fact that the pedal is pulsating. Do not reduce the pressure on the pedal.

Ford Focus

Using ABS

When hard braking is required, apply continuous force on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brake pedal since this will reduce the effectiveness of the ABS and will increase your vehicle’s stopping distance. The ABS will be activated immediately, allowing you to retain steering control during hard braking and on slippery surfaces. However, the ABS does not decrease stopping distance.

Ford Fiesta

Using ABS

When hard braking is required, apply continuous force on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brake pedal since this will reduce the effectiveness of the ABS and will increase your vehicle’s stopping distance. The ABS will be activated immediately, allowing you to retain steering control during hard braking and on slippery surfaces. However, the ABS does not decrease stopping distance.

The message is quite clear: LET ABS DO THE WORK, AND DON’T TRY TO OVERRIDE IT.

Whether the ABS kicks in or not is down to many factors. A controlled stop that won’t engage the ABS in dry conditions on a clean and level surface will almost certainly engage it in the wet on a slight declination. Even on the flat, a bit of dust or gravel will change the physics completely. And on snow or ice, the ABS will kick in as soon as you touch the brake whether you want it to or not. It’s up to the examiner at the time to decide if the stop was prompt enough to be labelled as satisfactory.

If the test candidate stamps on the brake with all their might, causes the examiner to head butt the roof, and scuds to a halt over less than a metre from speed of 30mph, then the examiner just might consider it to be “not controlled”. But the ABS kicking in short of this is not a fault in any way.

TES goes into more detail after having advised checking the car’s owner’s manual. It deals with the issue on the premise that the ABS should be allowed to do the work.

How do you do the emergency stop?

At the prompt (when the examiner says “STOP” and raises his hand; or when in real life – for example – that woman with the pushchair walks out in front of you):

  • brake firmly and progressively (i.e. apply more and more pressure) to stop in the shortest distance safely
  • put the clutch down just after you brake
  • keep your bloody hands on the steering wheel up to this point!
  • once you’ve stopped, apply the handbrake and put it in neutral
  • take a look around and rest your feet

In reality, you’ll brake hard and declutch very soon afterwards – almost (but not quite) simultaneously. There’s no messing about with stopwatches and stuff! You just do it. But what things are classed as potentially serious faults during the stop?

  • responding too slowly
  • putting the clutch down before the brake
  • putting the handbrake on before you’ve stopped
  • skidding out of control
  • missing the brake pedal
  • taking your hands off the steering wheel

Notice how “stalling” isn’t on there. As long as you put the handbrake on and put it in neutral if you stall, then restart the engine, you shouldn’t worry – but obviously, don’t stall deliberately. Learn to do it properly.

Putting the clutch down too soon can cause the car to surge forward if you’re going downhill (on the level, it’ll simply not slow down), then the brakes have to do more work. This results in longer stopping distances. Make sure your method allows the brakes to engage before the clutch is disengaged.

When moving off – when told to do so by the examiner – get it in gear, get ready, and look all around. That’s over BOTH SHOULDERS and the mirrors. You can fail for not looking around properly before driving away.

Just to summarise one more time, though:

  • when that woman with the baby in the pushchair walks out in front of you after you pass your test, you will hit the brakes as hard as possible to avoid hitting her
  • you won’t give a flying toss whether the ABS kicks in or not – because you don’t need to
  • you want to stop over the shortest distance, so don’t put the clutch down before the brake
  • on your test, the examiner wants to see you demonstrate this simple skill by stopping quickly and in control when he tells you to
  • there is a big difference between doing it on test and doing in real life (e.g. to avoid the woman with the pushchair)
  • if your car has ABS, it is there to help you. Let it!
  • the DSA says you should do it this way
  • your vehicle handbook almost certainly says to do it this way (check!)
  • if someone is telling you otherwise, they are telling you wrong

Does ABS kick in if you hit the brake hard?

Not automatically – or rather, not as an immediate result of hitting the brake pedal. ABS kicks in when the wheels are locked, and allows them to move slightly. By hitting the brakes hard, if the wheels lock – and the car starts to skid – then ABS will kick in. However, if you hit the brakes just as hard and the car stops without skidding then the ABS will not kick in.

It is locked wheels which trigger the ABS, not the act of braking by itself.

Should I put the clutch down at the same time as the brake?

The blog has been getting hits from www.pistonheads.com (hi guys) as a result of a thread asking precisely this. As DVSA guidelines say, doing so is not automatically a fault – but it depends.

The problem with wording stems from the older method of cadence braking (on non-ABS vehicles), where you had to pump the brake pedal and slow down in stages, then put the clutch down at the end to avoid stalling. In this older situation, you did not “press both pedals at the same time”. The thing you have to remember is that the clutch will begin to release as soon as you start to press the pedal, and the brakes will start to bite as soon as you start to press them. Neither are digital switches – they are analogue devices, which means that there is significant travel of the pedals to achieve varying amounts of the relevant effect. So if the clutch releases more than the brakes are braking, the car will take longer to stop because the effect of engine braking is removed. For that reason, you really want to be braking hard first, then depressing the clutch a fraction of a second later when executing an emergency stop in a car which has ABS.

If you put the clutch down first, the car will free-wheel (or surge forward if going downhill), and the brakes will subsequently have to do all the work (and a lot more of it!). At the very least, you’ll stop over a longer distance, and that is no good for the woman with the pushchair you were reacting to. We can easily say that you must not de-clutch first.

If you hit the clutch and brake at exactly the same time it is highly likely that you will release the clutch plates before the brakes have started to grip significantly – and it will vary from car to car depending on clutch wear and pedal adjustment. In a panic situation this could easily lead to a longer stop.

So, common sense would suggest that you brake first, and then de-clutch (as per the advice in TES). This makes sure the brakes are starting to act before engine braking is lost by separating the clutch plates. Unless your vehicle handbook says otherwise, leave de-clutching for as long as possible to increase the amount of engine braking available during the braking phase.

The simple solution as far as training new drivers goes is to teach them to brake firmly, then put the clutch down. During an actual stop the two operations happen so quickly that they are virtually simultaneous anyway – but not so simultaneous that de-clutching affects the braking operation.

As long as the brakes have purchase, de-clutching will not attract a fault from an examiner if a satisfactory controlled stop is effected.

It’s easier for pupils to press both pedals simultaneously

I don’t teach my own pupils necessarily what’s “easiest” for them. I teach them what’s “best” or “safest”. Every single one of them has been able to do it the way I want them to after a few tries. Every single one. It is not a complicated process.

If you think “easiest” is better than “safest”, you need to have a word with yourself.

Do you fail if the ABS kicks in?

No. DVSA doesn’t say that anywhere. They will not fail someone just because the ABS engages during a controlled stop.

Do learners find the emergency stop difficult when taught “the DVSA way”?

No. To start with, there is no “DVSA way”. It makes perfect sense to brake first then de-clutch a fraction of a second later, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for most people to learn. DVSA’s TES is simply highlighting the best way.

Why not teach people to brake and de-clutch at the same time?

The method in TES says to brake first and de-clutch later. As long as this doesn’t go against the manufacturer’s recommendations (as DVSA correctly points out) then it is the best method. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the method outlined in TES. Furthermore, I have yet to see any manufacturer advise simultaneous braking/de-clutching – when they say to press the pedals at the same time, they just mean not to use the old cadence braking method.

The biggest danger of simultaneous pedal-dipping is that the clutch gets released before the brakes take hold. Obviously, this is extremely dangerous to the point of being potentially fatal if it causes you to stop over a longer distance.

How do you engage the ABS in an emergency stop?

The ABS is something that engages when it needs to. You don’t set out to make it operate. It will kick in if the wheels start to lock making it possible to maintain some steering control during the stop. When stopping in an emergency you simply brake as hard as you need to and if that causes the ABS to kick in then you just let it do its job.

The driving test only tests stopping in a straight line, but that’s not like the real world.

So what? The driving test emergency stop is making sure you can hit the brakes hard enough to stop, and do it in such a way that you stop in the shortest distance. It’s not testing you on every imaginable situation.

The bottom line is that if someone runs out just in front of you you’re going to hit the brakes and try as hard as possible to not hit them. On a bend, the risk of spinning off the road when braking hard at speed is extremely high. There’s nothing anyone can do about that – it’s the laws of physics.

DVSA is deliberately vague about how to do an emergency stop.

Nonsense. TES is a DVSA publication and it has two full pages of information about stopping in an emergency ,covering defensive driving and avoidance, ABS, and the basic routine itself. What exactly do you expect them to say?

What happens when the ABS kicks in?

Once the electronics under the bonnet detect the wheels have locked (i.e. that you’re skidding), they will release-brake-release very rapidly for you. The footbrake pedal will vibrate and you may hear a noise that sounds like you’re skidding on gravel. Just let the ABS do its job and don’t release the pressure on the brake (unless it is to help you recover from a serious skid, where the car is starting to swing out dangerously).

Is it safe to drive my [insert car name] when the ABS warning light is on?

Someone found the blog with “Ford Fiesta” inserted into the blank spaces.

At the very least, if the ABS isn’t working, then it won’t kick in if you have to stop suddenly, and that could result in someone dying where they might otherwise have been unharmed, since you’re more likely to skid and lose control. More relevant is the fact that since your car would fail the MoT test if the ABS is faulty, so if you were involved in an accident there is a strong possibility that your vehicle would be assessed as unroadworthy, and you could get in serious trouble.

If ABS is fitted to your car, it must work. If it doesn’t, then technically you’re breaking the Law. A faulty ABS means the brakes will still work, but the ABS won’t. So no, it isn’t “safe”.

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Colwick roundabout - smallOne of the most common reasons pupils fail their tests is by not maintaining lane discipline on roundabouts.

I’ve noticed over the years that – from time to time – you get instructors who have read a few pages out of Roadcraft, and who have subsequently decided they’re going to teach their pupils to drive like police pursuit drivers from now on. It quickly develops into the inevitable boasting about how they get theirs to straight-line roundabouts.

Frankly, it’s a stupid idea to do that with 17-year old novices. When they’re under pressure, most of them are barely aware that there even any lanes there when they enter a roundabout, and even the normal observations and control are likely to suffer. With the additional checks needed if you’re going to skip lanes, the chances of something going wrong just increase. Furthermore, straight-lining is intended to allow police drivers to maintain speed, and that’s pretty much the last thing you should be encouraging 17-year olds to do.

I vividly remember an end-of-test debrief some years ago for a pupil who had failed with one serious fault. It occurred on the Virgin roundabout in Colwick, which basically has a two-lane dual carriageway going in, and two lanes coming out (therefore, two lanes on it, even though it is unmarked, and on the return to the test centre these are narrow). The examiner’s words were as follows:

I asked you to follow the road ahead at the roundabout. You approached it in the left-hand lane, and you straight-lined it – which is perfectly OK – but you didn’t check your mirrors to see if there was anyone in the lane to your right.

I have never forgotten that, and I use it on my lessons frequently. However, the pupil in question (and many others since when we’ve been dealing with roundabouts) didn’t have a clue what the examiner was talking about. At the precise moment it happened, he was thinking of a hundred other things. He knew, of course, that there were lanes, but when it came to do it – with the pressure of the test and all the stuff that happens inside people’s heads when they’re on a roundabout in that situation – he didn’t. That’s how it is for most learners, and if instructors are skimming over that to play with the big boys’ toys in Roadcraft, they’re doing those pupils a disservice.Colwick roundabout approach - lane structure

I teach all of mine that staying in lane is the best policy, and they can play at being smart arses once they’ve passed and gained more experience around the nutcases infesting the roads these days. If nothing else, learning to stay in lane is a solid foundation on which to build your later skills – it’s a stepping stone to driving like a smart arse, if you like. If you’ve never been taught to maintain good lane discipline, but you have been shown advanced (and often pointless, for normal drivers) techniques that develop out of it, sooner or later you’re going to have trouble. And your driving test is an excellent place for that trouble to make itself known.Colwick roundabout approach - options towards City

How an instructor teaches roundabout lane discipline varies from pupil to pupil. Some will pick it up quickly with no problems at all, but getting it over to others can be a huge challenge.

I have a big notebook of plain paper, and I frequently do sketches of roundabouts (and other things) to get the point I’m trying to make across. Sometimes, you get pupils who simply don’t get diagrams, and you have to resort to words and analogies with things they are familiar with (which can be a pain these days, as an increasing number of them appear to have absolutely no outside interests you can draw upon).

I also use graphics I have produced and laminated, like the ones above. The arrow diagrams show how the lanes on the approach from one direction to the main Colwick roundabout work, and which ones you’d use depending on where you are going. The one at the top is an accurate representation of the same roundabout with lane markings (click it to see the full sized version), and I have these for all the tricky roundabouts – not just the test ones. It means we can pull over and discuss what happened, and what ought to have happened.

As I have explained in the article about roundabouts, they nearly all work along the same basic principles, no matter how big and apparently complex they are. Even the largest can be broken down into a series of smaller parts that work exactly the same way as they do on smaller ones. Knowing how to do the smaller parts allows you to piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle when applying them on different roundabouts.

When it comes down to it, any large problem is just a collection of smaller ones. So as you learn, you learn to solve each small problem on its own, and over time put the pieces together so that you end up with an overall solution.

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Refer also to this article on whether or not to push the button when you use the handbrake. This article updated following a reader question on STOP junctions.


I saw a “debate” a while back on one of the forums about using the handbrake. It was started by an ADI whose pupil got a driver (“minor”) fault for not using it at a junction. Of course, as far as the ADI is concerned, it is the DVSA who is wrong. Heaven forbid that his pupil might actually have been at fault.Handbrake

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES, 2010/11 version) – which is effectively the syllabus that learners should be taught from – says:

You should normally apply the parking brake whenever the vehicle is stationary.

Apply the parking brake and put the gear lever into neutral when you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing behind other vehicles, unless the wait is likely to be very short.

Your foot could easily slip off the footbrake if, for example, your shoes are wet or if you’re bumped from behind. You could then be pushed into another vehicle or a pedestrian.

The use of the parking brake is even more important in vehicles fitted with automatic transmission. The parking brake will avoid

  • the possibility of ‘creep’
  • the vehicle surging forward if the accelerator is pressed accidentally while in D (Drive).

The important bit is in that second paragraph – “unless the wait is likely to be very short”. It couldn’t really be much clearer. Furthermore, you are going to be marked on the use of the car’s controls on your test, and if you don’t use the handbrake in a situation where really you should then you will pick up a driver fault at the very least. You might even pick up a serious or dangerous fault if, for example, you roll back towards someone or over a give way line towards traffic.

On the matter of putting the car into neutral, I really only advise this if you know you’re going to be waiting for longer than usual, and that you’ll have time to put it in gear without getting into a flap. If you do it when you’re at the front at normal traffic lights, and they’re the ones where there is only enough time on green for a handful of cars to get through at the best of times, you will annoy other drivers if you only start trying to get it in gear and drive off once they’ve changed. This is likely to pan out even worse for learners and new drivers, who might struggle to find the right gear quickly, possibly choose the wrong one, and stall as they panic. I prefer my pupils to be ready to move off promptly.

With some temporary lights, or in very heavy and slow-moving traffic where you are a long way back in the queue, there may be a longer wait, so there is a good excuse to go to neutral and rest your legs. The same is true at level crossings, where you can calmly get ready as the train passes and the barriers begin to rise. The decision about whether to put the car into neutral or not is the driver’s. Just remember that it isn’t a fault keeping it in gear at traffic lights, nor is it a fault putting it into neutral – but  screwing up when you try to move off probably is. You simply do what is most appropriate – and what is easiest for you to deal with.

As for the handbrake, at junctions I advise my learners to be aware of the gradient. Not using the handbrake on downward-sloped junctions sometimes makes more sense than not using it on upward-sloped ones. If you stop on an upward slope, the car will immediately start to roll back as soon as you release the footbrake to go for the gas. If you’re good at it then it is possible to get going quickly and safely, but many learners panic and lift the clutch too fast, resulting in a stall. This is a prime example of a situation where a learner should be taught to use the handbrake, whereas an experienced driver probably wouldn’t need to.

At some stage, most learners ask something along the lines of how long they should be stopped for before using the handbrake. ADIs love to use the “when a pause becomes a wait” line, and then apply a number – for example, a pause is under 3 seconds, a wait is over. That’s rubbish. There is no way this can be answered in black or white terms – it depends on the situation.

Oh. And your foot can slip. I had a pupil pass her test recently who stalled during her manoeuvre because it had been raining and her foot slipped off the brake.

It would appear that the ADI who was criticising DVSA in the first place wasn’t actually present on the test or even at the debrief, so I don’t know how they can claim the examiner’s decision was wrong! DT1 – the DVSA’s internal SOP for examiners – makes several references to what constitutes “a fault”:

For the turn in the road:

 

The object is to see if the candidate can manoeuvre and control the vehicle in a restricted space where proper use of the clutch, accelerator and handbrake, combined with judgement of the position of the vehicle in relation to the kerb, is essential.

The bold text is mine. Use of the handbrake is as important as use of the clutch and footbrake.

For normal stops:

 

The candidate should be able to pull up parallel to, and within a reasonable distance of, the nearside kerb. The examiner should observe whether the candidate then applies the handbrake and puts the gear into neutral.

The bold text is mine. You have to use the handbrake when you do a normal stop at the side of the kerb.

In automatic vehicles:

 

The handbrake should be applied for temporary stops, e.g. waiting at a red traffic light, a junction, or in a traffic hold-up, if they are likely to be of a long duration.

Short stops may not require the application of the handbrake.

The handbrake may need to be applied to prevent `creep’.

Note that this is very specific in terms of where the handbrake should be used.

At the time of originally writing this article (April 2014), the DT1 was last updated in October 2013. Prior to that, there was a statement which said:

Full use of the parking brake should be used, to prevent the vehicle rolling backwards or forwards.

This is no longer anywhere to be found, and there is no specific mention of when to and when not to use the handbrake other than that the car should be in neutral with the handbrake on when the engine is started (which is actually confusing, as people will take it to mean that you should go into neutral if you stall).

Will I fail my test if I don’t use the handbrake?

You’re supposed to use the handbrake to help prevent the car from rolling and to make it safe in certain situations. That’s what it is there for.  Although you are unlikely to fail simply for not using it in a given situation, if you do end up rolling backwards or forwards your chances of failing increase significantly. A good example of when to use it is when you stop at a pedestrian crossing to let people cross – if you’re at the front of the queue, and especially if the pedestrians include children, just think what could happen if your foot slipped or someone bumped you from behind. In this situation – and certainly on your test – not using your handbrake is potentially dangerous and the examiner could mark it accordingly.

If you stop facing up a sharp incline, common sense says the handbrake will help you avoid rolling backwards when you move off again. However, if you choose not to use it and remain in control then it won’t be marked. Remember, though, that your right foot will be on the brake, and if you get the timing wrong and lift the clutch too far before you’ve switched your right foot to the gas pedal then you will stall – which means you’re not in control – and then you’ll have to try to stay in control all over again to avoid rolling back as you restart the engine and give it another shot. It would make much more sense just to use the handbrake for what it was designed for in the first place, and all of that would be avoided.

When should I use my handbrake?

Whenever it would help prevent the car from rolling backwards or forwards.

It can also help you avoid stalls. If you have the handbrake on, it means you can set the gas and find the bite ready to move off quickly. If you’re holding the car still using the footbrake, you’re likely to get your timing wrong and lift the clutch too much before you’ve set the gas properly – which increases the likelihood of stalling. You’ll get better at being able to do that with time, but certainly to begin with – and for many people this includes even the point at which they’re at test standard – using the handbrake will help to avoid stalling in many situations.

When is it compulsory to use the hand brake?

It isn’t. You should use the hand brake whenever it would help you prevent the car from rolling backwards or forwards when it isn’t supposed to. In theory, it would be possible to not use the hand brake at all on your test and still not get faulted for it. However, the reality is that there will be times when not using it is just stupid and asking for trouble, and much will depend on the kinds of roads you’re driving on.

If you have to deal with steep hills, the risk of rolling back is going to be very high. With new drivers, a roll back is often accompanied by a stall as they panic and lift the clutch too quickly before they’ve applied gas. Not using the hand brake might not be recorded, but the stall probably will – particularly if it is then followed by more stalls, and causing a hold up for traffic behind, which is common with new drivers (especially if they’re nervous on test).

At night (and you won’t be doing your test at night), the risk of brake dazzle is very real. It is bad practice to just hold the car with the foot brake all the time, and although it would be a very picky examiner who faulted you for it, it IS potentially a fault.

If you don’t use the hand brake when you perhaps ought to a couple of times on your test, it probably won’t be marked unless it leads to another problem. If you don’t use it every time you really should, you’re just asking to be faulted. The simple solution is to aim to use it and not to worry if you forget a few times – as long as it doesn’t result in a worse problem as a result.

An experienced (and good) driver will use the hand brake less than a new (good) driver because they’re likely to be able to hold the bite better. Someone who is not so good with holding the bite – no matter how much experience they have – really ought to use the hand brake more. The reason for this is that they can then set the gas, find the bite, then release the hand brake when they want to move off. The alternative is that they will have to take their foot off the foot brake, set the gas, and then find the bite without rolling back and without stalling. With new drivers, that sort of timing is often a problem.

As I’ve said elsewhere in this article, not using the hand brake when you should is the sign of a lazy, bad, and/or arrogant driver.

Do I apply the handbrake first, or put it in neutral first?

In most cases it doesn’t matter. Common sense says that the safest way is to stop the car with the foot brake, apply the handbrake, then put the car into neutral (you can take your foot off the foot brake then). But no one is going to penalise you for it if you put it in neutral first as long as you don’t roll or lurch.

Just remember that learners (and new drivers) are more likely to lift their feet when they stop, and if they get muddled with their foot timing then they may run into problems, which are made worse if the handbrake isn’t on and the car is still in gear. At least if the handbrake is on, the car won’t go anywhere.

Why should I use the handbrake at junctions?

Primarily, to prevent you from rolling backwards or forwards where this would be undesirable. In addition, sitting with the footbrake on means your brake lights are on, and in modern cars – especially at night – that dazzles people behind you, and is inconsiderate.

If you’re going to be waiting for any length of time beyond a pause, use the handbrake. That’s what it’s there for. Not using it when you ought to is as lazy as it is wrong.

What is the rationale for using the handbrake?

Use it to help prevent the car rolling backwards or forwards when that would be dangerous or inconvenient. Use it at pedestrian crossings – especially if you are the first car in the queue – so that if someone went into the back of you and/or if one of your feet slipped the car would not surge forward.

My friend told me you don’t need to use the handbrake on flat roads

Your friend is wrong. You use the handbrake to secure the car when it needs securing. It can still roll – or be pushed into a roll – on flat roads. In any case, most roads have a camber (a curvature to help water drainage), which means they’re not flat at all.

Imagine sitting – on a flat road – at a zebra crossing with people walking in front of you, just using your footbrake. Then imagine what would happen if someone went into the back of you. Believe me, your first thought isn’t going to be to keep your foot on the brake. Worse still, it might slip on to the gas pedal. If you had the handbrake on then the car would stall.

Trust me: not using your handbrake is the sign of a lazy, arrogant, or dangerous driver.

Do you use the handbrake in an automatic car?

Yes, and anyone – including driving instructors – who tells you otherwise is wrong. TES says:

In vehicles fitted with automatic transmission, the use of the parking brake is even more important. The parking brake will help avoid

  • the possibility of the vehicle creeping forward
  • the vehicle surging forward if the accelerator is pressed accidentally while in ‘D’ (Drive).

You may get away with it on test if you don’t use it (just as you may get away with it in a manual car), but if that’s the way you’ve been taught then you’ve been taught wrong.

There seems to be a lot of instructors these days who are switching to automatic cars without knowing how to drive them properly. They are then teaching their lack of knowledge to learners. It would appear that just as some learners see automatic as an “easy” way to getting a licence, instructors are seeing it as an “easy” way to avoid teaching important things.

What if my car has “hill start assist”?

“Hill start assist” (HSA) is feature on some new cars (it’s actually been available on automatics for some time), where if a gradient of more than a certain amount is detected, stopping with the footbrake then releasing it doesn’t result in a roll back. The brakes hold for short time until you find the bite.

Personally, I don’t like it. It doesn’t always kick in (it depends on the gradient as already mentioned), and I don’t agree with taking control – and therefore the requirement for skill – away from the driver (don’t even get me started on self-driving cars!) Learners should be taught how to drive properly, and not how to cut corners. In any case, what happens if I teach them how to drive using HSA, when the first car they buy doesn’t have it?

Most cars allow you to turn HSA off. If you have a car with HSA, use it by all means – but remember that it is merely a tool to help manage many drivers’ inability to find the bite properly. Also remember that it IS NOT intended to be a substitute for using the handbrake in situations where the car needs to be properly secured.

My friend told me that “hill start assist” prevents the car from moving if someone drives into the back of you, so you don’t need the handbrake

It makes me mad when I hear rubbish like this. That is NOT what HSA does – and even if that was, only an even bigger idiot would trust it over a mechanical feature like the handbrake.

HSA is intended to stop the car rolling back when on a gradient above a certain amount. It only works for a short period of time before the car DOES roll back, and I can assure you that it doesn’t kick in every time – you cannot trust it implicitly under any circumstances.

Should I use the handbrake at every set of traffic lights or every junction?

No. Use your common sense. If you’re likely to roll then use it – especially if you’re not confident holding the car on the bite for a few seconds on upward inclines. If you expect to be waiting just a short time then use the footbrake – but don’t try to be clever and argue that a 3 minute wait at temporary lights is “short”. It isn’t. By “short”, we’re talking in seconds, not minutes. And don’t forget the issue of brake dazzle at night.

I’ve found that this question often crops up when pupils who have not been taught to use the handbrake properly switch to a better instructor, who then begins to point out the error to them.

Should I use the handbrake at every pedestrian crossing?

Again, no. Use your own common sense. But above all, be absolutely certain that you are not endangering pedestrians crossing in front of you. If you are first in the queue and people are crossing in front of you then it makes a lot of sense to use it. If you’re further back and no one is moving up behind you, there is less need. If it’s night time, consider brake dazzle on the driver behind.

Should I always use the handbrake at STOP junctions?

The short answer is no. You do not need to use the handbrake at every STOP junction.

However, you MUST actually stop, and it is very common for drivers to think that they HAVE stopped when they haven’t. I often have my pupils argue that they DID stop when I know for a fact that they didn’t – they just creep very slowly, and that is NOT the same as stopping. Even when they do stop I am not always convinced that they did so on purpose, and that had the conditions been slightly different, they might have continued rolling (they sometimes admit to that when I Q&A them over it afterwards). Therefore, you might want to think about using the handbrake at STOP junctions to make sure you really have stopped.

I am not saying that you must/should use the handbrake at every STOP junction. But it might help you if you do. What I tend to do is explain the situation as I have here, then watch what happens on lessons. Most pupils are easily able to consciously bring the car to a full and proper stop. Some aren’t, though, and when I have one of those I just advise them to use the handbrake (yes, I teach these pupils to use the handbrake at STOP junctions).

The examiners have to fail you if you don’t stop at a STOP junction, and no amount of arguing about it will reverse their decision.

I failed my test for not using the handbrake at a STOP junction

I wasn’t there, but I would lay odds that you didn’t actually stop. You just think you did – that’s a very common error. Remember that stop means “STOP”. Slowing right down and creeping – no matter how slowly – is not the same as stopping, and you have to physically stop at STOP junctions. You automatically fail if you don’t.

Also remember that YOU have to stop at the STOP line. It doesn’t matter if you stopped behind the car in front of you who got their first – that is not the same as stopping at a STOP junction. These junctions are usually there when oncoming traffic is obscured by buildings, bends, or hills (or if you’re emerging on to a tram line) – in other words, it is potentially dangerous and you need to take special care. You can’t do that if you are a long way behind the line – you have to be right up to it, stop, then creep forward and look for the opportunity to go.

You are wrong to teach people to use the handbrake at STOP junctions

Actually, I’m just not so anally retentive that I insist on doing everything by the book – and especially so when it’s a book that doesn’t exist!

As I pointed out earlier, I often get pupils who KNOW they should stop and THINK that they have. They even argue the point. But I know full well that they haven’t. I make it absolutely clear that if they do that on the test, they will fail. And that – technically – if they do it in real life, they COULD get a ticket, COULD get a fine, COULD have an accident, and COULD even end up having to pass their test again depending on what points are already on their licences. All of my pupils know exactly what they SHOULD do, and using the handbrake is an ideal solution for those people whose car control/mental processes are not as perfect as the anal retentives would like to think they should be.

There is nothing wrong – nothing at all – with using the handbrake at a STOP junction. It just isn’t mandatory, and people generally don’t need to if they have above average control and awareness. But, like it or not, many people who are genuinely test ready are only at or below average in this respect.

When people simply don’t see the STOP sign, then that is a totally separate problem which can be dealt with.

Why is it a STOP junction? I can see it’s clear

They don’t install STOP junctions just for the sake of it. There aren’t that many compared with normal junctions at the best of times, so there must be a reason. Usually, visibility is restricted at a STOP junction. Around my way, the half dozen or so that I can think of off the top of my head include:

  • there is a hill on the road you’re joining where you can’t see what’s coming up it
  • there is a rise on the road you’re joining and you can’t see what’s coming over it, and the speed limit is 40mph (which equals 60+ for Audis)
  • there is a bend on the road you’re joining so you can’t see what’s coming unless you stop and then creep out slowly
  • the road you are joining is NSL and has bends on it
  • there are buildings right up to the edge of the road and you can’t see until you creep out slightly
  • you’re crossing or joining a tram line
  • the junction has had a lot of accidents in the past
  • and various combinations of all the above

Don’t kid yourself that YOU can see it’s clear. Just stop for the piddling two or three seconds it will take to make sure it’s safe and don’t be a smart aleck. Every boy (or girl) racer in the country thinks they know best – until they become one of the statistics they have been sneering at.

I failed my test for not using the handbrake at a normal junction

Again, I wasn’t there, but something else must have happened to attract the serious fault. Most likely, you rolled backwards or forwards when you shouldn’t have, or perhaps something was happening behind you (a pedestrian walking, for example) whom you could have rolled into.

If you genuinely didn’t roll and nothing else was happening to warrant using the handbrake then you have been treated unfairly. Proving that would be extremely difficult though.

Should I always use the handbrake at roundabouts?

Someone found the blog with the question “if you have to give away [sic] at a roundabout why is it very important to use the handbrake?” The answer is the same as above: use it if you need to, or if you are likely to be waiting for any length of time. You do NOT need to put it on every time. Personally, I hardly ever use the handbrake at roundabouts – but I do sometimes.

When does the handbrake begin to bite?

In a new or recently serviced car the handbrake will probably move about three ratchet clicks before it is fully engaged. So the obvious answer is that it starts to bite as soon as you begin to pull it. However, the cable will stretch over time, and the brakes will wear down, which is why some cars require four, five, or sometimes more clicks to engage the handbrake. In this case, it is fair to say that until the slack has been taken up the brake will not bite as quickly.

I suspect this question was asked because someone is worried about not taking the handbrake fully off. Basically, avoid driving around with the handbrake on even by a single notch.

Why does my car move when the handbrake is on?

The handbrake isn’t designed to hold the car still if you’re trying to drive it forward! The brakes will slip quite easily, and you’ll be able to drive off in most cases, albeit with a little difficulty. If you can hear the brakes creaking (i.e. slipping) when you have the handbrake on if you’re stopped on a hill then it isn’t on enough. If you hear the same noise when you find the bite, then the brake either isn’t on enough or you’re finding too much bite (possibly both).

In many modern cars, you should apply the footbrake firmly and then apply the handbrake. This gives a stronger braking action – it appears that the handbrake clamps the brakes where the foot brake put them to.

If you still have problems then get the handbrake checked out at a garage. It may have a fault.

Is there any danger in moving a short distance with the handbrake on?

Obviously, trying to drive off with the handbrake applied is wrong. It results in greater wear and tear on the brakes, and increases the chances of stalling. The car will not accelerate as quickly as you might need it to – when emerging from a junction or on to roundabouts, for example – and if you tried to change gear then the car would slow down more and the risk of stalling would increase again. Leaving the handbrake on can easily be a serious fault on your test.

Will a loose handbrake still hold the car?

It depends. The handbrake is used to pull a cable, which then causes brake pads to press against the wheels (simplified description). If the cable is stretched, and the lever can be pulled all the way up to its stop, then there might not be enough tension to apply the brakes enough to hold the car. On the other hand, if the lever still pulls tight – even if it goes up five or six clicks instead of the typical three clicks – then it probably will.

If the lever itself is loose – or even if the cable seems a bit stretched – it is worth getting it looked at, because it could fail completely at any time.

Is leaving your handbrake on a serious fault on test?

Assume yes. Even if you were to get lucky and get away with it, it is still a pretty serious problem. In most cases you will get a serious fault.

Is it wrong to use the handbrake and footbrake at the same time?

The footbrake is used to slow down or stop. The handbrake is the anchor that holds the car still when you are already stopped. Using the footbrake while you’re stationary and the handbrake is applied is just pointless, so in that sense yes, it is wrong. However, it isn’t a serious problem in this respect.

Remember, though, that your brake lights come on when you use the footbrake, but they don’t with the handbrake. Brake lights therefore send a message to other road users. If you have the footbrake on unnecessarily then you are sending the wrong message. Also remember that modern brake lights can be very bright, and especially at night that can dazzle other road users.

Conversely, using the handbrake to stop the car means no brake lights come on, and people following you might not realise you are braking. Applying the handbrake while you are still moving – even if you are using the footbrake to slow down – is dangerous because it can lock the wheels and cause you to skid. Doing it is likely to attract a serious fault on test.

I put my handbrake on but my car still rolls back/forward

You either haven’t applied it tightly enough or there is something wrong with it.

I’ve found that girls tend to have the biggest problem applying the handbrake. One trick is to make sure you have applied the footbrake firmly before applying the handbrake – that way the handbrake clamps the brakes a little more tightly. Also, don’t push the button in – let the ratchet click. That way the handbrake can settle maybe one or two clicks higher than it does when the button is pressed. Check you car’s handbook, because you’ll find some/many manufacturers these days advise not pushing the button when applying the handbrake, and using the footbrake the way I described above.

The only drawback is that once the handbrake is on tightly enough, people with weak arms sometimes can’t get it off again! I remember recently advising a female who had problems like this in my car – which doesn’t have a fault at all – to try a few exercises using dumb bells at the gym, which she attended regularly. It is vital that the handbrake can be applied and removed effectively.

If that fails, get someone else to have a try and if it appears that the car is at fault, get it looked at as soon as possible. It is dangerous if the handbrake isn’t working properly.

Can you be too weak to apply the handbrake?

I have had a few pupils who seem to have problems applying and releasing the handbrake. In more than one instance I have advised them to exercise with dumb bells at the gym. I’ve never had anyone who cannot apply/release the handbrake at all, though.

One way of looking at it is that if you can’t apply the handbrake in a car, then you shouldn’t be driving it. If you are so weak you physically can’t apply it, then you should have a modified vehicle (or one with an electronic brake) where you can.

How do I stop the car rolling in traffic if my handbrake isn’t working?

I can’t believe that someone found the blog with that search term! Your car ought not to be on the road if the handbrake is broken, and you probably shouldn’t if you have to ask questions like this! Get it fixed.

If your handbrake goes, can you keep it in reverse?

Yep, some jackass found the blog on that search term! Get it fixed, idiot. It’s illegal to drive the car if the handbrake is broken. Technically, your insurance is only valid if your car is roadworthy, so you’re effectively driving uninsured.

On the other hand, since you obviously are this stupid, reverse gear will help stop it rolling forward pointing down a hill, and 1st gear will help stop it rolling backwards pointing up. Make sure you angle your wheels so the kerb – which even as an inanimate piece of concrete is more intelligent than you are – will chock the wheels if the car moves. The key word there is ‘help’ – neither gear will guarantee that it won’t move on a steep slope any more than chocking the wheels will guarantee safety. So if it did still roll away and kill someone, then as well as no insurance you’d have that one against you, too.

Do your brake lights some on with the handbrake?

No. That’s one good reason why you should stop the car using the foot brake – so people behind know what’s happening.

If you’re stopped, brake light dazzle isn’t going to cause an accident, is it?

Driving at night and having to put up with dazzle can lead to tiredness or loss of concentration or awareness. Having bright lights shone unnecessarily in your face in uncomfortable at best, but can potentially lead to more dangerous situations. Anyone who says that brake lights don’t dazzle is wrong. They DO dazzle – especially on modern cars with high-intensity bulbs and LEDs.

Anyone teaching pupils to avoid using the handbrake – and thus, not to think of those around them – really shouldn’t be instructing. Brake light dazzle IS a significant issue, and pupils need to be made aware of it. Holding the car on the footbrake for too long, and especially at night, IS a sign of a bad or inconsiderate driver, quite possibly one taught by a bad or incompetent ADI.

Should you use the handbrake when skidding?

Jesus H Christ! NO. It will lock the back wheels and you’ll skid even more – probably into a tree or another car. If you have to ask that, I suggest you don’t drive in snowy or icy conditions.

Someone found the blog on that exact term in March 2018, just after the heavy snowfall.

Why shouldn’t I use the ratchet when I apply the handbrake?

You should look in your car’s manual – in most cases, in modern vehicles, the advice IS to use the ratchet. Applying the handbrake with the button pressed is an old-fashioned approach. I’ve written more about it here.

I hate it when I pick up pupils who have been told to use the handbrake every time they stop.

Well, good for you. However, you ought to allow for the fact that most new drivers find it difficult to assess when to do something that requires judgement or common sense, and often fall into the habit of either always doing it, or always not doing it as a result. They have often developed that habit themselves as a “just in case” strategy (they do it with signalling to pull over or move off, amongst other things). In every likelihood, they haven’t been told to “do it every time” at all. Mine sometimes try to do it, in spite of me never having taught them to.

TES makes it clear that you should use the handbrake where it would help you prevent the car from rolling. Using it unnecessarily doesn’t attract a driver fault unless it leads to holding others up or taking too long over something. However, not using it when you should can easily be identified as a fault in its own right.

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Original article published in 2008. Updated August 2016, and June 2018.

Ford Focus cockpit

The topic keeps coming back because it is relevant to all learner drivers. When I wrote the original story, DVSA – or DSA, as it was then – had just updated its Internal Guidance Document (DT1) to say:

To ensure uniformity, when conducting car or vocational tests and ADI qualifying examinations, only assess the candidate’s ability to control the vehicle and do not consider it as a fault if, for example, they do not hold the steering wheel at ten to two or quarter to three or if they cross their hands when turning the steering wheel. The assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control.

The part I’ve highlighted was an addition, and in previous versions of DT1 the steering technique was not mentioned. Even so, no examiners round my way ever failed people for “crossing their hands”. You see, all DVSA was doing with this update was making sure that its examiners were clear on the subject (hence the phrase “[ensuring] uniformity”). Reading between the lines, it seems that there had been complaints about one or two examiners around the country who had been faulting candidates unnecessarily. Reading even deeper, I would surmise that these were ex-ADIs who had carried their ideas about “crossing hands” and “holding the steering wheel properly” across with them when they gave up teaching.

The bottom line is that as long as steering is under control it doesn’t matter how a pupil does it. They can steer with one hand, with their palm, use hand over hand… it simply doesn’t matter. And it hasn’t mattered – not officially, anyway – for a very long time. I emphasise again that the change to DT1 was a clarification and not a major change in policy.

A lot of ADIs and PDIs get hung up on this whole business of  “crossing your hands”. Two versions ago, Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) said:

Turning – When turning the steering wheel, avoid crossing your hands. Except at low speeds, this can reduce your control and can cause an accident. Feed the rim of the steering wheel through your hands. Vary your hand movements according to the amount of lock you want.

This is called the pull-push technique.

TES was not saying that you shouldn’t cross your hands. It just quite correctly pointed out that the rapid steering action that a hand-over-hand method can lead to might give rise to a loss of control at higher speeds. But there is a huge difference in the effect produced by whipping the steering round quickly as you’re turning into a road at 20-30mph compared with the same action at 5-10mph.

The only type of  “crossing hands” that ends up being wrong in almost all circumstances is the one where pupils grip the steering wheel tightly and turn from their shoulders, keeping their hands in a fixed place on the steering wheel. This nearly always results in insufficient lock to get round the corner, resulting in wide turns, or possibly over-steering if the pupil suddenly panics and shifts their grip to get the car round. Just about every learner does it like this on their first lesson.

The last two versions of TES (most recently, 2015) have merely said:

You should

  • place your hands on the steering wheel in a position that’s comfortable and which gives you full control
  • keep your movements steady and smooth
  • turn the steering wheel to turn a corner at the correct time

Personally, I rue the loss of the extra detail in the version before this. I see it as a dumbing down exercise, and far too many people are ready to believe that it’s some sort of admission that the “pull-push” method was bad, when it most definitely wasn’t. The pull-push technique – where steering is achieved by alternately pulling the wheel down with one hand, then changing grip and pushing it with the other – certainly isn’t the only way to steer, and people who can already drive shouldn’t be forced to use it. But for most beginners, who have not yet developed a suitable technique, it should definitely be a starting point for them. It requires hand coordination which, in turn, becomes a foundation for good car control.Playing "keepy-up"

A good analogy would be with a professional footballer. He can play “keepy up” for hours on end because it is an important basic control skill – but you will rarely see him do it on the field. However, the coordination required to do it enables him to do other things during matches that he would otherwise struggle with.

It’s the same with steering. Being able to use pull-push properly is an important foundation skill that drivers should possess, even if they end up rarely using it in favour of a more chav-like style. Once beginners can do pull-push, they can steer easily without going wide on bends and corners. They are less likely to over-steer into kerbs, and are more confident as a result, being able to adjust their steering in a controlled manner. A major drawback to hand-over-hand steering for beginners who know no other way is that they can easily panic and over steer.

The new wording in TES could actually be taken as a mandate for teaching poor steering methods by some instructors, because it’s easier for them and easier for their pupils. Some people are already under the mistaken impression that it’s “coaching” to let people develop bad habits in preference to teaching them properly.

Incidentally, when someone pull-pushes the steering in one direction, the natural return action frequently involves push-pull. They’re not two separate methods like some people seem to believe. It doesn’t matter whether you pull first, or push.

Why shouldn’t I turn (dry steer) the wheel when the car isn’t moving?

Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called “dry steering”. There’s no rule or law which says you mustn’t do it, and examiners do not mark you on it. I have much less of an issue with it than I once did when doing manoeuvres. However, it can bad practice for several reasons:

  • it can damage your tyres
  • it can damage your steering mechanism
  • it can damage the road surface

Scrunching your tyres over gravel instead of rolling over the road surface leads to more wear. Doing it on glass or nails can give you a puncture. The extra strain involved when dry steering leads to more wear in the steering mechanism of your car. And scrunching your tyres on tarmac in hot weather can chew up the surface, which holds water in winter, and which can cause cracks if the water freezes – leading finally to potholes. You’ll get some smart arses telling you they’ve never come across an example where dry steering has caused actual damage, but the reality is that every time someone has to replace a tyre, dry steering could have contributed to its overall wear and tear.

Replacing a tyre is going to cost you a few tens of pounds at the very least. Fixing worn out steering will cost hundreds of pounds. Potholes can cause hundred of pounds worth of damage to your car – plus you pay taxes for them to be (eventually) filled in, so it makes sense not to contribute to their formation. However, your car is not going to spontaneously fall apart in the middle of the road if you dry steer occasionally, so don’t worry about it too much.

Except where pupils have a genuine problem and need to dry steer, as the default steering method in all situations it is an excuse for laziness and bad driving practices. Dry steering should be discouraged for most drivers, most of the time.

I find that many pupils can’t control the car and steer at the same time, and they need to dry-steer

That’s fair enough, but make sure you’re not just looking for an easy way out. In all the years I have been teaching, the number of pupils who couldn’t be taught to control the car at low-speed and steer pull-push at the same time, and so have had to resort to dry steering, have been relatively few. The vast majority of learners have initial problems with just about every aspect of driving, but that doesn’t mean they should be taught a dumbed down approach at the first opportunity. In my own experience, based on the observed skills of pupils I’ve picked up from other instructors, that is exactly what seems to be happening. Dry steering is seen as an easy way out.

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

Yes, I agree, but it can usually be overcome. Having said that, as time has gone by, I have less of an issue with dry steering than I once did during manoeuvres. The real problem  for most is to do with multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking doesn’t mean doing two things at the same time. The human brain can’t handle that. What it does mean is carrying out several tasks concurrently. I know that sounds confusing, but let me explain.A plate spinning act

Think of a plate-spinning act – the thing where some guy spins plates on the ends of sticks and keeps them all going without any falling off. He starts with one plate, sets it spinning, then uses the time before it starts to wind down to set another going. Now, he goes back to the first and gives it a boost, then he sets a third plate going. He can now go back and boost the second, and maybe the first again. Then he spins up a fourth plate. And so on, until he has many plates all spinning. All he has to do is give each plate a boost as necessary. This is proper multi-tasking – the plate spinner does one thing at a time, following a sequence.

Let’s apply all this to the turn in the road (TIR). In the worst case, a pupil will start moving without having a clue what they’re going to do next – and the car just moves off along the kerb as their brain tries to figure out what’s going on, and what they should do next. Not quite as bad, but still very messy, is the case where the pupil tries to get the car moving, control the speed, and steer all at once. What usually happens is that the car lurches (perhaps stalls), which distracts them from steering. Then, if they try to steer, their foot comes up off the clutch and the car accelerates, which distracts them again and the steering stops. By this time, they’re almost at the opposite kerbside with very little steering applied.

TIR (assuming we’re doing it as a three-point turn) can be broken into three identical stages, each looking a bit like this:

  • select gear
  • find the bite
  • look around
  • release hand brake
  • control speed
  • get full lock on
  • control speed again
  • look around
  • control speed
  • watch the kerb
  • control the speed
  • stop

If we apply the plate spinner approach, where controlling the speed is the same as giving a plate a boost, we have a nice structure that can be followed in a steady sequence. As long as the car’s speed is kept low, everything else just happens.

My instructor is teaching me to dry steer

As I said earlier, you won’t fail for doing it on your test, and I now have much less of an issue with dry steering on manoeuvres than I used to. However, it is bad practice to do it when you definitely don’t need to. It can damage your tyres and other things and it is something you need to avoid whenever you can. If you’re parked in a tight space, the only way you’re ever going to get out is by dry steering.

I can’t master “pull-push” steering

If you can steer safely and in control, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Even using the palm of one hand and driving like the chavs do is perfectly acceptable… as long as you’re in control. However, if you are a beginner and you don’t already have a suitable way of steering, pull-push is a good technique to master. You can easily practice it at home using a book or dinner plate as a dummy steering wheel.

If you want to steer left, move your left hand to the top of the wheel (or dinner plate), grip, and pull the wheel down until your hand is at the bottom. Move your right hand to the bottom, grip, let go with your left hand, then push the wheel/plate up. To continue steering, move your left hand to the top again, change grip, and repeat – although you’ll probably have full-lock on before you complete the third movement.

To steer right, start by moving your right hand to the top of the wheel and pull down, etc.

Using pull-push means you always have more steering available to you. Using big turns is good for getting full-lock quickly, but you can use small shuffles for more precise steering as needed.

Get the dinner plate out and make sure you can do it.

Do you have to use “push-pull”?

It’s actually called pull-push, but whatever you call it the answer is “no”. As far as I am aware, you have never HAD to do it that way – you’re probably confused about being told that by your own instructor, or by someone else whose instructor told them. The examiner doesn’t care how you steer as long as you’re in control.

That’s not to say that you can literally steer anyway you like, though. Pull-push (or something very similar to it) done properly is definitely the best way – especially for learners.

What about “palming”?

This is what I refer to as “chav steering” – it’s where someone uses the palm of one hand to rotate the wheel, and it is the favoured method of people who are trying to cultivate an image.

I often pick up pupils who use it, and I don’t immediately try to change them unless there is a problem with control. I’m perfectly happy for them to use it when they’re doing manoeuvres because of the low speeds involved. However, if they try it when turning into a road or round a sharp bend, if my guts flip even a small amount as a result of the change in momentum then I’m right on it, and they will learn how to steer using pull-push.

Palming to steer at normal speeds and in normal situations is pretty much pointless because you simply don’t need to steer that quickly. Beyond that, it comes back to that thing about image again – which is fine for an established driver (where you’d call it a habit), but not for an inexperienced beginner who just wants to look “cool”. Steering too quickly adds an additional sideways component to the forces acting on the car, and that increases the risk of a skid or spin-out, and palming can easily lead to that. And remember that this kind of accident is common among younger inexperienced drivers.

Is it OK to teach learners to “palm” the wheel?

Well, if they remain in control when they are steering then there is no fault for the examiner to mark. However, if they steer too quickly when turning left or right into side roads or bends then there most definitely is a control issue and the examiner might well mark it. With an inexperienced driver, showing them how to palm the wheel is a pointless additional risk.

A decent instructor should not be teaching palming as a preferred steering method for beginners. There’s too much that can go wrong with it. For established drivers the risks need to be assessed and dealt with honestly. Quite simply, too many ADIs steer like that themselves and this is why they teach it. It is bad practice, though – much like dry steering.

They used to fail people for “crossing hands” when steering

I’m going to stick my neck out here. But…

No. They. Bloody. Well. Didn ‘t.

Stop keep repeating things you heard as if they were fact without knowing what you’re talking about. Crossing hands has not been an issue in itself for the 40 years I’ve been driving. The only time it is a problem is when the learner grips the wheel and turns from the shoulders. At some point, the arms cross and they can’t steer any more – even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That will be marked under steering control.

Hand over hand steering – where the hands do cross over each other – is perfectly OK. It’s actually better in some cases. This has always been the case.

If crossing the hands has ever been worthy of a fail in its own right, it must date from so long ago that the people who keep going on about it probably weren’t even born, so it’s about as relevant as marauding dinosaurs. I mean, they used to have more rules for horse-drawn carriages than self-propelled ones in the Highway Code, but no one worries about what the sign of waving a whip over your head means.

The whole issue of “not crossing hands” comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them. Indeed, some instructors so obviously misunderstand the issue even now that it is easy to see how this nonsense is perpetuated.

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

It isn’t rocket science, so don’t let your pupils think it is. Remember that as long as they are in control it doesn’t matter how they steer. Having said that, if they have not driven properly before it is a good idea to teach them how to use the pull-push method first (and to avoid dry-steering), and then let them develop their own style from there. Pull-push requires fundamental skills that they can use in their own style. Let them practice with a large book or diary – if you have a dummy steering wheel, so much the better.

Once they know the principle of steering, the next step is putting it into practice. For most new drivers that’s not a problem and just getting out on the road is enough for them to hone their skills. However, some new drivers need a bit of extra help with knowing how much to steer and when, and finding an empty car park which is big enough to drive around in a figure of eight pattern is great for practising this.

How do I correct someone’s steering while they’re driving?

This is an actual search term used to find the blog. It might be necessary for an instructor to position the car correctly for a learner simply by holding the steering wheel and steering slightly from the passenger seat. The pupil can then zero in on their position relative to the kerb or white lines and learn from that.

How many turns is full lock?

It varies from car to car. In my Ford Focus it is currently just over 1¼ turns either way, but in the previous model it was just under 1½ turns. One of my pupils has a car where it is nearly 2 whole turns.

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

Read the previous answer. Full lock is when the steering wheel won’t turn any further. It will go “clunk” against the end stop.

One turn is one turn. If full lock is more than one turn, then no, full lock and one turn are not the same.

How much do I need to steer?

Don’t get bogged down counting quarters or halves of turns of the wheel (except perhaps during some manoeuvres). Steer as much as you need to by watching where you’re going and making the car go there.

If you get muddled when it comes to straightening the wheels after having turned to full lock, it can sometimes be useful to count your hand movements needed to get full lock in the first place, then count the same number of hand movements back. Obviously this depends on having a reliable technique – it won’t work if you use hand-over-hand one way, and tiny little shuffles going the other.

I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?

The clue is in the question. Too much of anything is likely to be wrong.

If you steer “too much” on bends you are liable to clip the kerb or put too much sideways force on the car, which could lead to you spinning out or losing control (among other possible bad outcomes). So, yes. It is dangerous – and wrong.

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

In my experience, the following are all high on the list:

  • looking at the steering wheel
  • looking too close to the front of the car
  • looking at the kerb
  • not looking ahead
  • being distracted by other things
  • gripping the wheel too tightly
  • not moving their hands when steering
  • steering too much or too quickly
  • steering too little or too slowly

The list is really endless, but not all learners make all these mistakes. Most pupils who have problems tend to specialise in one particular fault.

Remember that it is important to identify the precise cause of the fault. Someone might not steer enough going round a corner, but it could be simply that they were trying to change gear or cancel the indicator. In some cases, though, question them and you may well find it was because they were thinking about a mistake they made earlier. The trick is to dig the real fault out.

My pupil keeps moving the steering wheel all the time, even on straight roads

It’s probably because they’re not looking far enough ahead. Think about it: your hands will follow your eyes without you being aware of it, and this means that if you watched a video of yourself driving on a straight road, your hands would be making small corrections the whole time. Learners tend to look much closer to the front of the car, and as a result their adjustments are more frequent, and of greater magnitude. Get them to look a couple of hundred metres further on – point out various things for them to look at – and there’s a good chance their steering will become very smooth.

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

If they’re in control it doesn’t matter. They should try to keep two hands on the wheel, but dropping to one hand now and then isn’t a problem. It can even be a good exercise to get them to steer with one hand – their road position often improves dramatically, because they are concentrating more.

How can I practice steering?

Well, first of all, don’t over think the subject. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a pupil who couldn’t steer within a few minutes – and certainly not within 20 minutes or so – so you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Occasionally, I do get people who have an initial problem with pull-push steering if they’ve never done it before. What I do in those cases is whip out my diary, which is A4-sized, and get them to pull-push-pull one way, then the other. I demonstrate it first, of course. Once they’ve done the correct hand movements once, it’s no problem after that (it’s a bit like those Chinese puzzles you get, where once you know the secret you can do it with your eyes shut). In the past, I’ve had pupils who have practiced at home using a dinner plate (and even one of those kiddies toy steering wheels would do it – as long as you lock yourself in somewhere with the curtains drawn so no one will laugh at you!)

As I said previously, once people have the ability to do pull-push, I let them develop their own method from it.

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