A Driving Instructor's Blog

Training

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National speed limit on dirt trackOn lessons, it is quite common for pupils to query why there is a national speed limit in force in places where it is obviously not possible or safe to drive above about 30-40mph. One particular road around here is a single track with crude passing places on it (not the one shown in the photo above, but similar).

The history of the national speed limit (NSL) is quite interesting.

The first speed limits were introduced as long ago as 1865 for vehicles which were not powered by animals. A limit of 2mph in urban areas, and 4mph everywhere else, was in force, and someone with a red flag had to walk in front of the vehicle. The first speeding ticket was issued in 1896, when someone was assessed to be driving at 8mph in a residential area.

Obviously, the maximum speed capability of vehicles improved, and people were flouting the Law on a regular basis. So in 1903 the maximum speed limit was increased to 30mph.

By 1930, that speed limit was being ignored, too, and the Road Traffic Act got rid of speed limits completely. Of course, at that time, not many cars could go much above that anyway, so it wasn’t a problem for a while. However, the number of road deaths began to increase and in 1935 a 30mph limit was introduced in built-up areas, and that remains the case up to the present day. However, there were no limits anywhere else.

The first motorway appeared in 1958. Most cars could only manage up to about 50mph, so having no speed limit wasn’t much of a problem. But in 1964 – with motorways being the straightest and flattest roads available, and still unrestricted – the rally driver, jack Sears, took a test car (a Cobre Coupe) on the M1 and got up to 185mph. The newspapers were all over it, citing it as dangerous driving, and debate still rages over whether he was to blame for the trial the following year of a 70mph limit on motorways, though the foggy winter and number of accidents it led to was probably a factor. In 1967, the 70mph limit became Law. It applied to all non-urban roads.

In 1973 there was a major oil crisis. To conserve fuel, the NSL was temporarily dropped to 50mph. This was lifted in early 1974. However, later that year, as part of a fuel conservation initiative, the NSL on non-motorway roads was reduced to 50mph. But in 1977, this was relaxed and the NSL on those roads went up to 60mph. The two NSLs were made permanent in 1978.

And that’s why we have the speed limits we have today.

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Normal DistributionThis question crops up repeatedly. It’s often the first question a pupil asks when they get in the car for the first time.

The official DVSA statistics say that the typical learner takes around 45 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice before they pass their test. As soon as this is mentioned, people who haven’t got a clue what statistics are start trotting out the usual crap and accuse DVSA of interfering in their job.

Look. There was a study a few years ago which asked a lot of new drivers how many hours they had had, and the result was an average of 45 hours plus at least 20 hours of private practice. You can’t alter the fact that that’s what happened: those drivers did have an average of 45 hours plus 20 hours of private practice prior to passing. Just because the word “statistics” is used, and you don’t understand them, doesn’t change that. It’s what did happen.

Try to understand what the word “average” means. If you have 100 people, and each one of them took between 20 and 100 hours to pass their tests, if you add up all the hours then divide by 100 you get “an average” number of hours. It doesn’t mean that every person took “the average”. It just means that was the middle-ish amount of hours taken. In the case of the DVSA study, that average number of hours turned out to be 45. This is a lot more reliable than saying how long it took your last pupil, who did it in less.

Of course, if each one of those hundred people took a different number of hours, ranging from 1 to 100, then the average wouldn’t tell you much. However, the likelihood – indeed, the reality – is that the majority of people would be clustered somewhere in the middle, with only outliers stretching off towards the extremities. It would be called “a distribution” – in statistical terms, a “normal distribution” – and if you plotted the numbers on a graph it would look something like the one shown above. This is a powerful and very useful tool, and it remains such even if you haven’t got a clue what it means. The DVSA study showed that 45 hours was the average that most people were clustered around.

When a new pupil gets in the car and asks how many hours they’ll need before you’ve even seen them drive, you need your head examining if you quote them a specific figure, and especially if it is from your last model pupil. However, explaining the above statistic in suitable terms will give them a rough idea, and illustrate clearly that they’re almost certainly not going to be ready by next Friday if they’ve never driven before.

I’ve mentioned before that the fastest learner I ever had went from zero to pass in 14½ hours over a couple of months. He was exceptional, though, and it is worth also noting that he must have done at least five times that number of hours as private practice. I rarely come across anyone as dedicated as he was. Some years before him, another pupil managed the same in 17½ hours. She, too, did a lot of private practice when she went home between terms, though she took over a year to learn. Then there was another one, who did it in 23 hours. He was unusual inasmuch as he didn’t do any private practice at all. I’ve had a fair number manage it between 25 and 30 hours, and a huge number between 30 and 50 hours. These are first time passes I’m referring to, and some did private practice, whereas some didn’t.

At the other end of the scale, I taught one woman for over 100 hours until I finally persuaded her to switch to automatic (I’d been trying that since around the 40 hour mark). She never had a test with me, and she then took at least another 100 hours of automatic lessons, and finally passed on her seventh attempt. She’s since given up driving, after wrecking her car bit by bit over the course of the first fortnight she had it.

Another took 160 hours and three attempts before passing (his brother tells me he has had numerous minor bumps). More recently, another passed on his fourth attempt after 133 hours over more than three years. I’ve had a few I can recall with around 60 or 70 hours, and not all of them had issues like those others. One in particular nearly passed with a single driver fault on his first test – until he nudged the barrier at the Colwick Test Centre when he parked at the end – and then took a further 7 attempts (if I recall) to pass, with regular lessons in between. He was a good driver, but the number of hours he took was disproportionately high.

I’ve never bothered to sit down and work it out properly, but my average is somewhere between 25 and 45 hours. That’s the range most of my pupils are in. The overall skew is towards the lower end of the range, since those taking a large number of lessons are fewer than those who manage the much shorter numbers. It’s statistics again.

With all that in mind, when anyone asks, I simply tell them that the national average is apparently 45 hours with as much private practice as possible, but that I’ve had people do it in as little as under 20 hours, and as much as 200 – though those were exceptional cases. I explain that everyone is different, and you only know how many hours it will take after you’ve taken them. I explain that it is best to think in the 30-40 hour range to begin with – but if we can do it quicker, we will. I tell them that it is impossible to predict how many hours they will need at the outset, but we’ll get a better idea as their lessons progress.

If they don’t like that they can go elsewhere. Only a few ever have, but they were exclusively non-UK drivers who wanted to take a test immediately.

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Borders graphicThe system we have in the UK is that if you hold a full non-UK licence from a non-EU country, or a country which does not have a reciprocal arrangement with the UK, you can drive on that licence for up to 12 months.

The clock starts ticking from the moment you set foot in the UK. It doesn’t stop if you go home again, and it doesn’t get reset at any time. Oh, and you can’t go back home, get a full licence, then come back and drive for a full 12 months on it. The clock is started as a result of your first entry into the UK – not the entry of your licence.

The purpose of this arrangement is to give you time to apply for a UK provisional licence, take driving lessons, and pass your test. Unfortunately, many see it as an excuse not to do anything for another 12 months – then get desperate.

Many years ago, while I was still a relatively fresh ADI, I had a new pupil who was from Pakistan. He had a job with a big pharmaceutical company based in the south of the UK. On his first lesson I asked to see his licence, and he handed me a pristine Pakistani one (green card). Alarm bells rang immediately, and asked him how long he’d been in the UK (two years). I then asked him when he had obtained this licence. He told me he went home earlier in the year (about three months previously) and got the licence then. I told him I didn’t think he could drive on it and – in his presence – called the main police station in Nottingham to seek clarification. As luck would have it, the guy who answered on that Saturday or Sunday afternoon was ex-traffic police, and he told me he thought I was right, but went to fetch the handbook to check for me. That was when I heard the full detail I have already given, above. In this learner’s case, he needed a UK provisional licence and didn’t have one, and the lesson obviously didn’t go ahead.

Some designated countries (and the whole of the EU) have those “reciprocal arrangements” I mentioned. The full list is here (and although it is dated 2013, it is still correct at the time of writing). People who hold full licences from those countries can exchange them for a full UK one without having to take a test. The exchange is like-for-like – an automatic licence from Australia would get exchanged for an automatic licence in the UK. And the original licence must have been obtained in one of the reciprocal countries – not one near by, or with a similar sounding name or geography (i.e. North Korea is not the same as South Korea, USA is not Canada, Hong Kong is not China (nor is Singapore), and so on).

Ignorance of these rules – real or pretend – is not going to get you anywhere if you get stopped by the police. I know for a fact that there’s a fair number of older non-UK drivers, who have been in the UK for quite some time, who still drive on their “international licence” by virtue of going to visit family in their home country once a year, thus believing they’re resetting the counter. They only get away with it because they haven’t been caught yet – and I know for a fact that there are some who have been caught, and who therefore can’t fall back on “pretend” ignorance any more, but who carry on driving nonetheless. Sorry, but it’s true.

As driving instructors, our only professional responsibility is to make sure the people we teach are licensed to take lessons with us. Anything beyond that is a personal matter, and climbing on to a soap box to bemoan the dangers of allowing foreigners to drive in the UK at all, without (or before) passing a test, has nothing to do with our day job. Don’t forget that we are foreigners when we travel outside the UK, and if you think we should bar anyone who hasn’t passed a test in the UK from driving here at all, then expect to have your (or your kids’) future plans for camping or skiing holidays seriously curtailed in return.

This has been the system used for many years across many countries. It doesn’t result in carnage, and apart from the usual mad rush to get a licence at the end of the 12 month window, it works reasonably well. For us as well as “them”.

Foreigners can fail a test and still drive. That’s wrong.

Look. It’s the system. How many current UK drivers would pass the test if they took it right now, without additional training? How many ADIs would?

It’s worth looking at the DVLA’s official position on this before spending the rest of your working life believing something else. I wrote to them and specifically asked what happens if a non-UK/non-EU full licence holder takes and fails a test within the 12 month window. Their response was:

A non GB licence holder can still drive for up to 12 months regardless of a UK test failure.

Is that clear enough? ADIs are always whinging about how one of their pupils was unfairly failed for things like not looking in their blind spot even though no one was nearby, or braking hard at a junction, but that they’re otherwise good drivers. Like it or not, the test is a series of hoops the candidate has to jump through, and if they miss one, they fail. The difference is that a learner has never driven unsupervised and has never been licensed to do so, whereas those holding licences from other countries usually have. There’s a big difference.

And don’t forget that when a UK driver visits another country, they expect to be able to get a hire car if they want one and visit all the tourist sites. A UK driver in Europe, the USA, or anywhere else is no different to a foreign driver in the UK. It’s the system.

If you’re teaching a foreign driver, just concentrate on your job and teach them. Get them through their test.

Trying to get them off the roads is a personal issue, not a professional one.

Foreigners may never have driven on the left

No. And foreigners in other countries – foreigners from the UK – may never have driven on the right. Yet many thousands do it every year. It’s the system.

The driving test isn’t specifically about driving on the left or right. It’s about being able to drive safely enough to get a licence. It’s all very well giving examples of the bad examples you may have experienced or heard of (or even imagined might happen), but a lot of non-UK drivers holding full licences are perfectly safe on the roads.

Of course, some aren’t. But as I suggested previously, some of our own learners fall into that category.

Professionally, we should concentrate on teaching our own learners. If you want to embark on a personal crusade, keep it separate.

I’ve seen people fail their test and drive away from the test centre

If they have a full licence from another country and are still within their 12 months, they are not breaking the Law. It’s the system. I repeat what the DVLA has told me:

A non GB licence holder can still drive for up to 12 months regardless of a UK test failure.

If they drive away on a Provisional licence unaccompanied then they are breaking the Law. It’s a totally separate situation, and one that isn’t confined to non-UK drivers.

Even EU drivers are unsafe

Look. Try to understand this. The people who come to you are not representative of the entire population of the universe. They are merely representative of the type of people who have issues with their driving.  Crass, all-encompassing statements about EU (or any non-UK) drivers are just wrong. The ones who approach you obviously know they have issues, otherwise they wouldn’t have.

Foreigners have always driven here when they visit – certainly within your lifetime. The vast majority are exactly the same as a Briton driving abroad – and we’ve always done that.

There are some UK drivers – people who can trace their family tree back virtually to the Saxons – who are crap drivers. They’re probably less “foreign” than you are. It happens. And they’d be just as crap driving in France, Spain, the USA, or anywhere else. The same is true for some people who were born in other countries. Driving is a human skill, not a racial one.

The UK test is stricter than everyone else’s

You can’t have it both ways. First, it’s about driving on the left, now it’s about British superiority.

Britain doesn’t have the “hardest” test – not even within Europe.

In my own experience – and that of a lot of other ADIs if what I have read is correct – people from countries where obtaining a licence is easiest tend to realise they’re going to have problems and take lessons when they get here. Not all of them, of course, but a fair few.

I’ve had full licence holders from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, USA, Gambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, and some others I can’t recall right now come to me for lessons because they’re terrified of our roads.

If someone has a full licence from any country, and doesn’t give a damn about how they drive, they won’t come anywhere near you in the first place. So if they do, it’s either because they don’t have a licence, or because they know they need some guidance. And if they vanish once you explain how much work is involved… well, as I said previously, it’s a totally separate issue, and has nothing to do with allowing foreigners to drive for 12 months on their full national licences.

I never see them again when I tell them they won’t pass the test

You’d never see any learner again if you told them that. I was under the impression that ADIs were supposed to be positive when dealing with their customers.

Perhaps you should take a step back and consider that maybe your attitude to “foreigners” is clouding your judgement when you take them on.

When someone comes to me, and once I’ve assessed their driving, I explain to them what is required to pass the test, and that they’re not there yet (assuming that they aren’t, although many aren’t far off). I explain that there’s no chance of passing the test by luck unless you’re close to the required standard, so it is important to fix any specific problems. I stress to them that we’re going to do it in the shortest possible time, because driving lessons are expensive. I never tell people how long it will take, because I simply don’t know. If someone is no better than a beginner, they usually already know they’re not ready (and, usually, they do, no matter what you’ve convinced yourself of otherwise). One or two might believe differently – usually, the older drivers – but the majority don’t.

If someone insists on booking a test in spite of all that, I simply tell them that they can’t use my car. If they disappear as a result, I concentrate on my other pupils, because that’s my job.

If they pass, they’re not insured to drive away from the test centre

Neither are UK learners. That’s why I explain to any of mine – no matter where they come from or what colour their skin is – that if they go for their test in their own car (and a small number do), they need to phone their insurance company before they drive away just to be on the safe side. If they’ve spent all that money on learning to drive, they will listen. Any who don’t are not automatically “foreign”.

It’s their responsibility – not yours. And the problem is not confined to “foreigners”.

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Driving Test SuccessThis post from 2013, but an update is long overdue.

Unless they already have an app, I advise all my pupils that the only thing they need to buy to prepare for their Theory Test is Driving Test Success 4-in1, published by Focus Multimedia (DTS). It is available for both Android and iPhone, and costs £4.99 at the time of writing. Sure, they can buy a book if they want, or use any other service of their choice, but this is the one I recommend.

For many years, DTS was available as a DVD, and I used to bulk buy them from an ADI supply company and sell them on to my pupils at cost (which was much less than the retail price). However, the days of the DVD are behind us and phone apps are almost universal. I’m not sure if they still do a DVD version.

I’m sticking my neck out here, but you can only realistically get access to the entire official revision question bank by paying someone some money – especially if you want a polished and reliable interface. Free apps might contain only a sample of questions from the full bank, or they don’t include the correct up-to-date questions (someone might be using the old question bank). DTS contains every official DVSA practise question in a clean interface, and it also comes with 85 Hazard perception Test (HPT) clips, including the excellent CGI ones. You also get an electronic copy of the Highway Code, and a Road Signs app.

The Theory Test app also has a voiceover feature, and it will read the questions and possible answers out loud to you. Remember that you can choose this option on your actual Theory Test if you need it, so it is a useful feature.

But there is a free version

Yes, and it only contains a small sample of questions and no HPT. Try it, by all means. But don’t think that you will pass if you just run through it a few times. It’s only £4.99 for the full app and HPT clips, so stop pissing around and buy it. The Theory Test costs £23, so risking failing it needlessly is false economy.

This is a true story. Not that long ago I had a pupil who I’d advised to download DTS. He failed his Theory Test several times, and after each one I was asking him how he was doing when he used the app. He assured me he was getting 100% in every test. After the next fail – and I can’t remember how many he had taken up to that point – I remember asking what app he was using. He told me it was DTS, but I asked how much he had paid for it. He replied “nothing. It was free”. I could have killed him – he was getting 100% by being asked the same ten or so questions every time!

Does DTS do voiceover?

Yes. You enable it in the settings, make sure your phone’s media volume is turned on/up, and it will then read out each question and answer automatically as you do tests on it. You can ask it to repeat as necessary.

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TomTom Screen GrabI originally published this article in January 2018, but it is due an update.

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 satnav in my Focus. The graphics on that are straight out of the 80s, and you half expect Super Mario to bounce across the screen. It, too, 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 last map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus.

The more I thought about these issues, 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. But 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. 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 for up to ten years for the same price as a standalone unit that would be out-of-date within a year.

A massive additional benefit 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. When you sync them to your device, they appear in the 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 speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link.

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.

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All the Es

This article was originally published in 2011, but I’ve updated it a couple of times since, this latest one in 2018 following a run of hits.

The original article came about after watching an argument flare up on a forum concerning the 4Es. Basically, no one knew what they were, but they’d all done a quick search and were arguing their own interpretations of the first hit they’d come across on Google. It’s funny watching people trying to put each other down when none of them have a clue.

Since the original article, some idiot organisations have turned the 4Es into the 5Es. I suppose it means they can have more meetings and do more flipcharts instead of getting on with some bloody work. There’s even the 3Es out there somewhere. And even if you find an explanation from the UK, the order and even the word for each of the Es will create still further confusion!

One of the big problems trying to get to the bottom of what the 4Es are all about is that even the people apparently implementing them obfuscate things so much that it is obvious they really don’t have a clue, either. That’s the classic sort of behaviour that I had to endure when I was in the rat race. The best place to go for a serious explanation is America, and this public safety site for Nevada is probably the best I’ve seen.

Nevada gives them as:

  • engineering
  • enforcement
  • education
  • emergency response

The Wikipedia entry explains:

Accident prevention and improvement of traffic safety

This comprises education and information, above all following the “4 Es”: enforcement, education, engineering, encouragement/economy. The main goal is promoting safety by influencing and modifying behavior using legal, educational, vehicle- and road-specific measures; driver training, driving-instructor education, information on traffic issues, campaign design and marketing, effective enforcement.

You will note the slight difference with the fourth one, though if you think about it, Nevada has it covered with their version – and bear in mind that they actually use it.

“Engineering” means things like road design, lane markings, footpaths, and so on (design things with safety in mind). “Enforcement” means publicity, policing, and so on (remind people, and pull them up if they don’t comply). “Education” means giving out information, conducting campaigns, and so on for all users (pedestrians and drivers). “Emergency response” refers to maintaining a “first responder” system.

India has been looking into it, and they refer to:

…included engineering of safe roads, provision of emergency care, enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, the use of ITS for improving road safety, and the creation of an educational and awareness campaign for changing road user behaviour to improve road safety.

The same headings as Nevada. And the ITE – an international organisation – says:

Within the 4 E’s of transportation safety, “engineering” and “education” are two of the more traditional focuses for transportation engineers and planners. However, the importance of “enforcement” and “emergency responses” should not be understated, and both are critical elements of a successful roadway safety management program.

I’m not completely sure where the hits on the blog are coming from, so I don’t know who is searching, or why. It does seem popular, though, and mostly the search terms being used include the word “discuss” – which is why the 4th E is particularly interesting. However, from a driving instructor’s point of view, the education part is the one they are going to be dealing with, though perhaps with a little enforcement thrown in.

Remember, though, that it is the dog which wags the tail – not the other way round – and decent instructors are covering their part automatically without having to worry about acronyms and the inevitable flipcharts and Powerpoint sessions.

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TumbleweedIt’s funny, but I keep seeing instructors claiming on forums and social media that they all still teach turn in the road (TIR) and reversing around a corner (RRC). I mean, 99% of them are all doing it, same as they ever were.

For anyone who doesn’t know, DVSA stopped testing these manoeuvres in December 2017.

Before then, instructors would be queuing up to use corners that the examiners used. There’d sometimes be three or more cars waiting to muscle their way in (I’ve written several times about how I’d “had words” with the prats who’d tried it when I was somewhere with a pupil and they’d got in my way). A lot of them would spend a full hour there, boring their pupils witless with try after try. Right now, the only time there are any problems is in car parks used by examiners for bay parking. All the old, favourite corners and quiet roads for turning have tumbleweed blowing across them.

So I’m wondering where they’re doing these manoeuvres now, because it sure as hell isn’t in the places I go – and I travel significant distances with my pupils. I reckon I’ve seen two cars having a go in the last year – and they were private runners or PDIs by the look of them. There must be some mythical place out there, like the “elephants’ graveyard”, where all these instructors are when they reckon they’re still covering them.

I show my pupils how to do those old manoeuvres once or twice, so if something happens on their test (or once they’ve passed) and they have to turn around they’ll at least be able to physically do it (and that has happened a couple of times on tests). I bring it in sneakily, by wanting to turn round and go back the way we came for some reason, pointing out afterwards that “that used to be on the test”. That way, they realise what they’d use it for without worrying about the finer details too much, and it means they can’t accuse me of teaching them things “they don’t need”. But there’s no point spending hours on it so they can do the original ultra-polished pre-2018 test version.

What annoys me, though, is that DVSA took TIR and RRC out of the test in the first place. It was bloody obvious that instructors would gradually stop teaching them, even if they were “still on the syllabus and should be taught”, as DVSA stated. Pupils – and especially their parents – are highly likely to object to paying for lessons if they’re being taught stuff they don’t “need”, in their eyes. Christ, before any bay parking was included on tests up here, no one taught it at all. TIR and RRC are no different to that now.

What makes it all the more annoying is that it wouldn’t have cost DVSA a penny, or caused them any extra work, to keep both on the test as possible manoeuvres that could be requested, along with the newer ones. That way, instructors would have had to teach them – and pupils would have had to accept that. It would also have resulted in better trained drivers. I’d like to think DVSA will come to its senses and bring them back, because if they leave it too long it will be a major problem, since ADIs won’t remember* how to teach them properly.

Unfortunately, as with most large organisations, logic is not DVSA’s strongest point.

* You think I’m kidding? When they first introduced bay parking at one of the then two test centres in Nottingham, 80% of ADIs boycotted that one and went to the other. They didn’t know how to teach it. Several retired because of it.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated early/late 2017, early 2018, and once again in late 2018.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

Until February 2009, it hadn’t snowed to any appreciable extent in the UK for around 26 years! We had two bad winters, but since then they have been relatively mild ones with almost no snow. When it DOES snow a little it is usually gone inside a week or two. Snow – and especially in the UK – is usually extremely localised. The media talks it up so it sounds like the whole country is blanketed in a metre of the stuff, especially if a few wet flakes fell in London. This  is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their yuppie wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

Will I be ditching my normal pupils and specialising in snow driving? Will I be buying a Ski-doo and offering lessons on that? I don’t think so.

Having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Still, I guess that makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den (it could go on right after the new parents with a “great idea for a line of baby clothes”).

Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

Here are some typical search terms people use to find the blog.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much snow there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes sense to do them so you can get valuable experience. But beginners perhaps shouldn’t because it’s just too dangerous for them. It’s your instructor’s decision, even if you want to do it.Snow on road scene 2

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. Your instructor will decide. You won’t get charged for it – but if you do, find another instructor quickly. Remember that if the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea.

Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning with the AA, BSM, Bill Plant, or any other driving school. The decision is down to your instructor.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

He or she should do. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask. Why make life so complicated when a simple text will sort it all out? If he just doesn’t turn up, get another instructor as soon as possible.

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018).

If your instructor tells you this, I am telling you in the most absolute terms possible that you need to find another as soon as possible, and not spend a penny more with this one. I’m going to hedge my bets here, but he is simply lying to you. I have never come across any insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather.

If he’d told you it was too dangerous, that would be different.

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Realistically, they should only cancel if there is too much snow on the ground, making driving dangerous. There is the remote possibility that thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain might also provide a valid reason for cancelling – but in the UK, extreme occurrences of these are rare.

The decision to cancel a lesson due to bad weather lies solely with the instructor – not with BSM or any other school – so if yours is doing it when there is obviously no valid reason, you might want to look for another trainer.

Note that although DVSA will cancel driving tests due to fog there is absolutely no reason why your lessons can’t go ahead in it as long as it isn’t extreme.

Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?

Well, there’s no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you. However, if he or she does (or tries to), find another one quickly because the unwritten Law Of Common Decency says that they should NOT charge you. Not in a million years!

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel – but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson – then it is a little more tricky. It all depends on whether the conditions really are too bad, and whether or not your ADI is making the right decision based on the right reasons. Unfortunately, this is between you and your instructor – your instructor might be right, but as I said above, if you aren’t happy then find another one.

If you want to do the lesson, but your instructor refuses, again – if you’re not happy with that (and you must be realistic about the conditions) – find another one. When I cancel lessons it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. All the others can handle it as long as conditions aren’t too bad. As a general rule, if the advice is not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, or if the roads are gridlocked, then I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

An example: one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson (we actually moved it back a few days) because I had no idea how long the conditions would last. With hindsight, it was the right decision because the snow continued for about an hour – but it had almost gone by the afternoon.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If someone is trying to charge you extra for such lessons, find another instructor quickly. Any half-decent ADI will use snow as a chance to teach something many learners never get to experience, not as an excuse to screw more money out of them.

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

A tricky one. Although I can’t vouch for other instructors, if I decide it is too dangerous to take one of my pupils out, then it is dangerous enough for any argument over it to be completely moot. I will always do lessons if I can (especially after my first frozen winter in 2009, where I was perhaps a little over-cautious to begin with) so the issue has never really come up.

If you really do disagree with your instructor, you could phone around and ask a few more ADIs if they have been conducting lessons. If they have, and if you’re still convinced, change instructors.

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing (see the picture above – that orange car is being driven by someone with a full licence, and there isn’t much snow at all, yet they have skidded off the road).

You should never drive in snow

Sorry, but that’s total nonsense. Advice “not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary” only applies to the point at which snow is falling, has recently fallen, or if other extreme conditions prevail (extreme cold, high winds, and so on). It most certainly does not apply to partially melted snow conditions.

Unless a specific and current warning is in place, the decision to drive is with the driver. If someone chooses to travel once the worst of any snowfall is over and conditions improve, they are not going against any warnings.

If you are frightened by driving in snow or icy conditions, then put the car away and don’t go out.

Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes. When we had that first heavy snowfall a few years ago I cancelled a lot of lessons to begin with, but in later falls I cancelled less. I hardly cancelled any the second winter with heavy snow. In 2017, I cancelled two lessons one day in December as snow came in, mainly because I didn’t know how bad it was going to be, the pupils in question lived on sloped roads, and Highways England had advised not to travel unless it was essential in my area.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

I am a driving instructor. It is my job – the way I make my living. If I cancel all my lessons, I don’t make any money at all. Up to a point, I can cope with that. Beyond that, though, I will have problems.Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?

Some years ago, when we had a lot of snow for the first time in 26 years, I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks, the reduced cash flow started to bite, and I realised I was being far too cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I realised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching prop with many pupils. Not the beginners or nervous ones, but everyone else, certainly.

Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.

I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you MUST turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the main roads. In February 2018 during our visit by “The Beast from the East” (aka the “Kitten in Britain”), I had an early morning test go out with snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway).

Conversely, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was cold and the side roads were icy with that white frosting you get. I also had one cancelled due to fog (which was localised near the test centre, as it is situated next to the River Trent). Since I have no political aspirations, I simply go along with what the test centre decides. The alternative is to make myself look like a prat by arguing on social media about something that I can’t change, simply because my opinion isn’t quite the same as that of the test centre manager in a few cases. Most of the time, the test centre is spot on with its decision.

If my test is cancelled, will I have to pay for another?

No. They will send you a new date within a few days (or you can phone them or look it up online). And it will not count as one of your six “lives” for moving your test.

Can I claim for out of pocket expenses if my test is cancelled?

No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back – which is one reason some unscrupulous ADIs might try and charge you for the hire of the car on the day as if the test had gone ahead.Snow on road scene 4

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, or 2018, etc.)

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1818, 1918, 2018, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And it doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Use your common sense. Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets are covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you WILL skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could EASILY lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions.

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. Some people who take driving tests are nowhere near ready, and DVSA knows that. Therefore, DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

Incidentally, I keep seeing search terms like “cancelled driving test 23rd” from people located 300 miles away in my stats. The internet doesn’t work like that!

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED NEAR YOU – YOU WON’T FIND IT ON THE WEB.

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Parking Ticket on windscreenSomeone found the blog today with the search term “how far from the kerb can you park?” I’m not sure what the context was for the question, but this is what I tell my own pupils.

To be completely legal, you should park within 19” (48cm) of the kerb – I round this up to half a metre when I’m being metric. Finding a definitive source of any actual distance is a nightmare, but my understanding is that many local authorities started to follow what London has always adhered to (PCN Contravention code 26). However, I point out that whatever the Law does or doesn’t say, half a metre is a bloody long way – it’s almost the middle of the road – and you’d have to be a complete idiot to think that parking that far from the kerb is acceptable.

In practice, you should park within about 30cm of the kerb. More than that and it starts to look bad, maybe even interfering with other road users. If you are on your driving test, parking wider than this could start to attract driver faults. You do not have to be the full half a metre away before you can get a serious fault.

Can I get a parking ticket if I park too far from the kerb?

Apparently, you can. I wrote about it ages ago, when traffic wardens in Wales were issued with tape measures to check for violations. I’ve never met anyone who has been ticketed for doing it, although I’ve seen hundreds who perhaps should have been.

What is the official legal distance you are allowed?

I don’t know. I’ll be damned if I can find any clear reference, but some local authorities have been policing a distance of 18″ (45cm) after following London’s lead.

Just face facts. If you’re more than 45cm – half a metre – into the road, you’ve effectively stopped in the place where all the other traffic drives. You are way too far away from the kerb, no matter whether you’re male, female, or a blue badge holder. Somewhere or other in all that, you are doing something wrong, so why not just learn to do it properly instead of arseing about trying to find loopholes?

Which Law am I breaking?

I have no idea. Parking tickets are enforced by the local authority, whereas criminal offences are obviously covered by UK Law. If you get a ticket for parking in the middle of the road, your best bet is to accept you did it, pay the fine, and learn to park properly. Because if it turns out you’d parked dangerously once you’d kicked up a stink, you might find it much more expensive to deal with in more ways than one.

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Pile of £20 notesI noticed an FAQ on the Intelligent Instructor website just now, where an ADI was asking for advice on how to plan ahead for the winter and Christmas periods.

The answer includes the following:

Think of clever ways of increasing your short term income. … I know an instructor who made over £1000 on Christmas Eve just by advertising his ‘Looking for a last-minute gift?’ marketing ploy!

Whoa! Hold on a minute, here. Until someone has actually taken a lesson – notwithstanding any last-minute cancellation policies you might have in place – the money is theirs, and not yours. In fact, instructors taking huge wads of cash for future lessons then spending it is one of the most common reasons for them to start cancelling lessons, or becoming uncontactable, leading to pupil complaints.

Any ADIs reading this should remember: if you take a block booking payment, the money is not yours until the pupil has taken the lessons. You’re holding it in trust. If they pay you, for example, £700 for 30 hours of lessons – as one of mine did the other day (in cash) when they took up an offer I do – that money effectively comes to you in £23 portions as they take each lesson hour. It most definitely does not belong to you immediately they hand it over. If they only take one hour a week, you only get £23 a week from the pot. If they request a refund at any time, you are duty bound to give it to them minus whatever lessons they have taken, and in the worst case scenario you might have to refund them the entire £700 – which could be fun if you’ve already spent it on Christmas, as suggested by someone in that Q&A, and are asked to refund early in the New Year because they’re strapped for cash and want to postpone lessons for a while.

The same goes for gift vouchers or any other promotion. You can’t take money from people unless you are prepared to refund it in the event of unforeseen circumstances (add the condition “non-refundable” at your peril). Refuse once, and you and your business will probably never recover from the negative press you’d get.

I make it absolutely clear to all my pupils from Day One that any block payment money remains their property until they’ve had the lessons, and that I will refund any outstanding amount immediately upon request. I’ve already pointed out that they might have cash flow issues, but it’s also common for pupils to pay for blocks of lessons, and then move away from the area – especially if they’re students. Whenever that happens to me, I refund in cash, or by bank or PayPal transfer. In one odd case, I did it with postal orders, because I don’t use cheques, and the pupil was a nutcase who wouldn’t give me their bank account details. I wasn’t about to shove £140 in cash through their letterbox, so I shoved postal orders through, instead.

It’s essential to be able to cover whatever money you’re holding in trust at any one time.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a fair number of pupils who have written off fairly substantial sums to other instructors when block bookings have gone wrong. The local franchises around here all seem to wash their hands of whatever their instructors get up to when it goes tits up. Nearly all my affected pupils have had the old “I can’t fit you in” ploy played on them, or the instructor has simply gone AWOL. One recent case – where the franchise refused to do anything – was when an instructor “retired” owing the pupil money.

My opinion of many ADIs is such that I don’t think they should be given such misleading advice about taking money for block bookings, because it’s just asking for trouble. In my experience, far too many pocket the cash and then avoid giving the lessons, so this could be one temptation too far.

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