Originally posted in 2009. Updated for early 2017, and again in late 2017.
Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum last year someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons.
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 (Nottingham is certainly no exception here) 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.
You see, 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! Which makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den, I suppose.
Those of us who remain here on Planet Earth will carry on doing things the way they do now: 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.
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 – 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.
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 proper law which says your instructor can’t charge you. However, if he or she does (or tries to), find another one quickly because the 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 – 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.
As an example, one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up. 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.
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).
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. This year (2017), I have cancelled two lessons on the morning of 10 December as the snow has come in, mainly because I don’t know how bad it is going to be just yet, the pupils in question live on sloped roads, and that Highways England has advised not to travel unless it is essential around this way.
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 roads. Most recently, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was very frosty and the side roads were icy. I also had one cancelled due to fog.
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.
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 – it’s on the cover note that no one bothers to read which goes with the confirmation email.
Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, etc.)
It doesn’t matter if it’s 1815, 1915, 2015, 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 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. 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.
As I’ve mentioned in the About Me section, I seriously considered becoming a teacher before I went down the route of being a driving instructor. I like teaching people.
I saw an advert on the TV just now from the Department for Education pushing its Get Into Teaching campaign.
I think it’s fair to say, judging from those in the clip, that I wouldn’t be able to do it now. The advert clearly implies that only women and possibly those from minority groups are eligible. The video above carries interviews with seven people (six women, one male). The second video in the series has ten interviews (8 women, two men).
It’s funny, isn’t it? If it had been the other way round, World War III would probably have started.
I hate positive discrimination. It is usually far more deliberate than the usual type everyone gets worked up about.
I originally wrote this back in 2012, but it has had a run of hits lately so I thought I’d update it.
Although the official line suggests otherwise, I’m sure these signs were around long before I became a driving instructor, and their exact purpose was always a bit of a mystery to me.
You’ve probably seen them. You get them mainly on motorways and they consist of a rectangular sign with yellow writing. There is the name of the motorway, a letter (A, B, J, K, L, or M), and a number. On the M1, for example, if you’re heading one way the letter will be ‘B’, whereas heading the other way it will be ‘A’. The numbers change by 0.5 between each sign.
I had guessed that they had something to do with being able to pinpoint precise locations, and that the signs were 500m apart so the number therefore represented a distance in kilometres. I hadn’t seen them explained anywhere, but it wasn’t until I started teaching people to drive – especially on Pass Plus motorway lessons – that I bothered to find out more. The trigger was a pupil who knew someone who was a paramedic, and who had been told that these signs “marked the distance to the end of the hard shoulder”.
That explanation didn’t make any sense. It was obviously wrong, since the signs appear even when there is no hard shoulder, and the numbers had no connection whatsoever with the end of it when there was.
Part of the difficulty in finding out what they were for was not knowing what they were called. They don’t appear in the current Highway Code, and Googling for “signs with yellow writing on motorways” or something similar didn’t help (certainly not at the time I became interested , anyway). I emailed the local Police traffic department and that was where I discovered they were called Driver Location Signs.
It turns out that they are “new signs on motorways” as of 2008. That still bugs me, because I’m damned sure they’ve been around longer than that, but maybe I’m imagining it. The Highways Agency has confirmed to me that they were “trialled as early as 2003”, but my memory says they were around even in the 90s. But that doesn’t matter.
They consist of three lines of text. The top line is the route name (e.g. M1, M6, M25, etc.). The second line is the carriageway identifier, A or B, and in spite of what The AA says they’re not necessarily London-centric (i.e. just think in terms of ‘A’ being the carriageway going in one direction, and ‘B’ the opposite carriageway going the other). If there are parallel but physically separated carriageways, those running with A are labelled ‘C’, and those running with B are labelled ‘D’. The letter ‘J’ denotes a slip road OFF carriageway A, and ‘K’ a slip road ON TO it. The letter ‘L’ is the slip road OFF carriageway B, and ‘M’ is the slip road ON TO it. Other letters can apparently be used at complex junctions. Finally, the third line shows the distance in kilometres from a known point (usually the start of the road), and is called “the chainage”.
The signs can only be a maximum distance of 500m apart, which is what they normally are, but if there is an obstruction they can be 400m or 300m apart (this explains why they don’t all end in 0.5 km). And they CAN be seen on some newer and very long dual carriageways. There’s a lot more to their placement, but this is a basic summary.
The AA likes to have them quoted when people report breakdowns. I have always assumed that they’re most useful to the emergency services.
There is a Highways Agency leaflet which explains them in simple terms, available to download from Greater Manchester Police.
Knowing what they are and how they work – and being able to explain it – is going to be important when we are eventually allowed to take learners on to motorways (in 2018, if that comes to pass).
Note that the way the Part 3 is conducted and scored is going to change. At the moment, the official date for the change has been given only as “late October”, but I am writing this update in mid-October and nothing has been confirmed yet. DVSA has already said that Parliamentary approval is needed before the change can be introduced, and the way that often goes it might not be this October they were thinking of!
Update 1 November 2017: An email alert from DVSA advises that they STILL haven’t got Parliamentary approval and everything is still up in the air.
The new Part 3 marking sheet can be downloaded here.
The section below is the original article from January 2014, with the old PSTs linked to as a PDF file.
The blog gets a lot of hits from people looking for the PST (ADI 26) marking sheets used on the Part 3 ADI test. In fact, this file has been downloaded many hundreds of times, yet I think less than half a dozen people have bothered to say thank you – even though I know that it is very difficult to get hold of these from anywhere else.
You can download them by clicking the PDF image on the left. The file contains all ten PSTs, and they’re full-sized, so you can print them out if you want to.
The PSTs are also given in the Driving Instructor’s Handbook, although much smaller. But you can see what’s on them at least – which is really all that matters.
Just one last word on the “thank you” thing. If you have anything like the same approach when you start teaching real pupils you may find you don’t stay in business very long.
I originally wrote this article about seven years ago – February 2010, to be precise – but its popularity keeps spiking and I now update it periodically. At the moment (mid-2017), there seems to be a surge in people training to become ADIs.
Back in 2010, when this was originally published, we were at the tail end of the previous ADI recruitment drive, and on the brink of a recession (though we didn’t realise it at the time). Garish 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 2017?
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 the first twinges 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” (note that 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 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), you’d got 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 was once again 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, as of mid-2017 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.
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, 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 much 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. That price affects your gross profit over the entire period of time you own the car. 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 8-year period – in other words, the car is effectively costing you £30 a week over the whole five-year period. 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 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. 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, the initial cost of a typical electric vehicle is around 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 around 100-150 miles, and it takes 30 minutes to charge up to 80% of that range (or overnight if you want a full charge). Also think how your smartphone battery lasts less now than it did when you first bought it – will an electric car with 150 miles from a full charge when new still be able to do that after one year, then two years..? How much will a new battery cost you? And so on.
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. 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. After all, it’s what’s on the dashboard display when you take it back which counts.
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.
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.
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 (or pushing £28,000 based on 2016 fuel prices). 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.
More realistically – but only slightly – 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. However, if you don’t work evenings, the only way you’d ever manage to fit in 30 hours of lessons is if you started very early, rushed between lessons, and were happy to take your pupils into morning and evening rush hour. 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, and so on). 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!
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. And God help you if there’s an accident and road closures. 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 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.
I have one pupil at the moment who sometimes does 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’s up to. She doesn’t know weeks in advance, and I simply modify the lesson on the day. Another does regular 11am lessons mainly on Fridays with pick-up and drop-off at work. Another does 2.15pm from school on a Monday, 4pm from school on a Friday, or weekend daytime only if she isn’t going anywhere and those other slots aren’t available. A recent new pupil has a weird rolling shift pattern which means he starts later and later in the day each week, so his lessons move accordingly. Another has a shift pattern where he works for 7 days then gets three days off, but the at-work period is shift-based and includes nights – so we have to plan lessons around him getting some sleep either before or after his shifts. Another always does 5.15pm from work, unless it’s a weekend lesson and he isn’t traveling home to see his parents. Yet another is also shift-based (a week of “earlies” and a week of “lates”) and we have to fit his lessons in around that. Several can only do weekends – one, only Sunday mornings and another, only Saturday morning or Saturday evening. At the moment, nearly all the younger ones are restricted by exams, and that will be worse come April-June. The majority 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 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. This seems to be a bigger problem now than it used to be, and is especially true for absolute beginners who find driving a difficult concept to grasp. Another valid reason for not doing 2 hour lessons is time – some pupils (usually students) just don’t have time for more than one hour 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 course work to do, too. 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.
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.
The economic situation in 2016 is such that work is certainly out there, and the thinning out of the Register following the recession means that fewer ADIs are trying to get it (if anything, there is more work than there are ADIs to handle it, 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 have been inundated with ever since. 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. 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 hanging around outside my house 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.
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.
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 they finally get round to thinking about it. 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, 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 either finds 1st by mistake, or pulls on the handbrake lever instead. Or the one who, when moving out into (or driving in) busy traffic, hits the brake instead of the accelerator by mistake. And so it goes on. Some of it just happens. Other times, I suspect that there is an undiagnosed medical issue such as dyspraxia involved (sometimes, it is diagnosed – they just 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.
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 facade 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 next 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.
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 doesn’t apply anymore, 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. Last year 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). Some years ago, 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 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 the Bramcote residents even more than usual. 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 (both Colwick and Beeston) while tests are coming and going, or the ones who form a queue to use the corner you’re reversing around – sometimes even moving in when you’re into the side road (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.
The problem is that if you can be too busy, and then 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. 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.
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 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 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. This is the basis of a simple, successful business. You shouldn’t be considering extremes – they’ve already been evaluated, which is why they are pre-defined and within a narrow range.
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.
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 still try it, though, and even one of the lesser national schools offers a “free” lesson, which has to be 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 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 costs them an average of about £700-£800 in lost income and eliminates any chance of new work coming from referrals by that pupil The park-and-prattle method will save them £1,000-£2,000 a year in fuel at best, so two lost pupils easily 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. 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.
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 £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.
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.
What can I charge for lessons?
The average lesson price in the UK is around £23-£25 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.
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.
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, and 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 decides 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 you won’t be earning much, either, so that cancels out the extra money you’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 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 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 full diary
- the Register is likely to fill up again over the next few years
- there might be another recession, which 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
I’ve not seen this claim being made by the larger national schools, and it seems to be mostly the smaller local ones who do. 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 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. 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 have conveniently forgotten it – and they still persist with attitudes based on the old company’s reputation.
One thing I do know, and that is that RED 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. 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 will be much better off than independent ones struggling to find pupils.
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.
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 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 a huge payback, otherwise you’re just throwing money down the drain.
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).
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 (CRC) carried out. At the 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 – and the reason they do it is as follows. First of all, the instructor in question will be desperate for work – and I mean absolutely and totally desperate. He or she will have offered some sort of “deal” which attracted the pupil in the first place, but which also further reduced any profit they may have made out of it. The wad of cash handed over would go straight to pay off some of their debts, which meant that as far as the instructor was concerned all future bookings covered by that cash would be non-paying. They wouldn’t have realised this at the time, but as soon as the prepaid pupil wanted a lesson, the ADI would prefer to fill the slot with someone who was paying 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). 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.
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 an ADI?
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 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 the cash flow issue.
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 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 (which currently involves role-playing) 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 2017? Yes. We’ve just emerged from a recession and the Register has been thinned out again 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.
About bloody time. An email alert from DVSA advises that learners will be allowed on motorways – with an instructor and dual controls fitted to the car – from 2018.
This change will only apply to cars – not motorcycles. Only ADIs will be allowed to do motorway lessons – not trainee instructors. Mum and Dad (or best mate) will not be allowed to take anyone on the motorway.
Motorway driving will not be included on the driving test. Motorway lessons will be voluntary.
The exact date hasn’t been decided yet, and until it has, it is still illegal for learners to go on the motorway with anyone.
Over the years, I’ve taught many pupils whose ability behind the wheel gave me cause for concern. In some cases, it seemed that they would never learn simple clutch control, gear changing, and steering, let alone roundabouts and complex road junctions, and even when they reached test standard, it was obvious they still had issues. To this day, I sometimes ponder over what I am helping to release on to the roads.
Only one pupil that I know of has ever given up driving – on the grounds of it being too expensive, though the “expense” may have been to do with causing over £1,000 damage to a £1,500 car in three separate incidents involving inanimate objects within two weeks of buying it. She did over 100 hours with me until I finally persuaded her to switch to automatic lessons, whereupon she took another 100+ automatic hours and passed after 7 or 8 attempts.
Another pupil passed on his third attempt after 160 hours. I discovered two years later that he had learning difficulties brought on by an accident when he was younger, and I also now know that he has had numerous small accidents through emerging without checking properly at junctions.
Another was almost a clone of the previous one in terms of how he looked and drove. He passed first time after 80 hours, and his sole ambition was to drive 200 miles with his best mate to see his grandma who lived the south coast on other side of London. I made him promise me he’d do it in 30-minute hops, because of his concentration issues.
And another also passed first time after 60 hours. She put in an almost perfect drive on her test (I was sitting in back), and to my knowledge she has had a problem-free five years or more since. These are probably my worst four.
So, the question is this: if you could push a button at any point, preventing any given pupil from ever being allowed behind the wheel of a car, would you do it?
It might seem an easy question to answer, but consider that by making such a decision you are influencing someone’s entire future. Given the number of young pupils I take on who have emotional issues (including anxiety/depression) requiring medication these days, you may also be influencing someone’s life in a more direct sense.
Of course, in real life there is no actual button to press, so taking it to a more realistic level: if you decided to do it, how would you tell someone they were never going to be able to drive? And at what point?
In only one of the four examples I gave above would I have been right if I had gone ahead and said it. But I would only have been “right” with the benefit of hindsight. All the others had similar control issues which were overcome only with great difficulty, so if I had made the same decision with them I would most certainly have been wrong in at least two cases. When I look at my career overall, I have lost count of those pupils who’ve had major problems to start with, but who have suddenly broken down the wall and turned out to be excellent drivers.
This is the problem with trying to play God. You’re not God. You cannot see into the future, and that means you can make mistakes.
The reason I mention all this is that I noticed someone has raised the issue regarding the suitability of “some” people in becoming driving instructors, suggesting that there should be some barrier beyond the current Criminal Record Check that prevents “certain people” from being allowed to train as ADIs.
The question I would ask is: on what basis you to decide if someone is suitable or not? Is it a retrospective thing, in that they’ve said things you disagree with? Is it that they annoy you? Are they quiet? Loud? Do you dislike their appearance or their tone of voice? The danger is that pressing the metaphorical button I mentioned earlier can take on a very personal slant if you’re not careful. Some people may even use it as a way of achieving something they are frustrated at not being able to achieve using more direct means.
There is already a system in place to check for instructors who cannot teach properly (the initial qualifying process, and the standards check), and it can certainly weed out the seriously bad material. Admittedly, it is somewhat harder to find those who simply don’t teach properly, especially when it appears that a large number of ADIs appear to want to put on a show when they have their standards check, judging by the questions they start asking when they get the dreaded “letter”. But if an ADI has a decent pass rate, is it really any other ADI’s business if they otherwise come across as complete dipsticks? And does being a dipstick before you start training to become an ADI mean you shouldn’t be allowed to become one?
Perhaps these God-wannabes will rely on comments from their pupils before deciding to “push the button” on someone they don’t know? I mean, if I have someone who keeps cancelling lessons at the last moment (or who just doesn’t turn up whenever the weather’s nice, claiming they were “unwell”), and who I’ve spoken to sternly on more than one occasion about their reliability, explaining how much it costs me when they do it (even though it isn’t costing them, because I don’t charge them for it, even though I should), and who I have eventually gotten rid of if they haven’t stopped lessons anyway because of all the talking-tos… if they go to this Glorious God-wannabe and tell them I used to shout at them… well, hey! Push the button, why don’t you?
Remember that “shouting” is in the eye (or the ear) of the beholder, and isn’t always an absolute. Raising your voice to tell someone they just made a mistake is one thing, but raising it to tell someone they just cost you another £25 on top of the previous four times they did it is something else entirely.
When I lost my rat race job, my sole aim was to get back into employment as soon as possible. I needed to earn money to pay my bills. My decision to train as a driving instructor was motivated by that: income from employment. I didn’t experience an epiphany, where the clouds parted, and the Heavenly Host sang while a booming voice told me I had been chosen. And as I recall, getting my green badge when I passed my Part 3 involved paying £300 and waiting several weeks for it to arrive in the post. There was no pulling it out of a stone, or having it handed to me by a mystical female hand rising from a pool of still water by the light of a full moon.
No. It was me that did the choosing, and that choice was based on doing something that sounded enjoyable whilst earning a decent income. In many respects, the fact that the company I chose to train with was probably more interested in my money than my suitability meant there was little chance of my educational background and business experience getting up anyone’s nose. Since qualifying, I’ve had loads of grateful pupils pass, a full diary most of the time, and a lot of fun.
And it seems there would still be someone out there who would happily press the button if they could were I to do it all again.
(Note: The graphic used above refers to judging without possessing all the relevant facts.)
This story has appeared in a few newspapers recently. It concerns the stopping distances in the Highway Code (HC), and “research” by Brake – which is usually involved when anything like this kicks off. The charge being levelled this time is that the HC is wrong, and stopping distances are actually much longer.
The first thing to point out, even though the forums are already running with it – is that only the typical driver’s reaction time is being questioned. It has nothing to do with the actual braking distance (remember that overall stopping distance is equal to the thinking distance + braking distance). The second thing to recognise is that it isn’t even a new issue. It had been ably discussed at least as long ago as June 2016 on Chalkdust Magazine. If I was being cynical I would suggest that Brake had been at a bit of a loose end since its last crusade, seen this article, and picked up the reins.
The HC’s standard figures for stopping distances date back to the 60s, and this has led many to argue that they must be out of date for that reason alone. Consequently, most arguments start with the premise that stopping distances are wrong because cars have improved, and then proceed to cherry-pick disparate data which appear to support that premise. Most arguments focus on the braking distance.
I’m not going to repeat Chalkdust’s excellent calculations here, but it is important to understand from the outset that the braking distance in real situations has nothing to do with the weight of the vehicle. Braking distance is all to do with friction, and since any vehicle on the road has brakes which can freeze the wheels instantaneously if they’re applied hard enough, and an amount of rubber in contact with the road surface which is proportional to the size and weight of the vehicle, it is the overall friction between the tyres and the road which matters most.
As an aside, tyres are better today than they were in the 60s, road surfaces are better, and brake systems are better. So, if anything, a car in the 21st Century would probably stop more efficiently than one in the 60s did. But as I say, the issue isn’t about braking distance.
Chalkdust pointed out in 2016 that the HC stopping distances allow for a thinking time of 0.68 seconds, and they suggest that this appears to have been chosen because it meant that the “thinking distance” in feet is the same as the speed in mph – which is one of the methods learners use to memorise the stopping distances table in the HC. By comparison, the United States uses 1.5 seconds thinking time, and Canada assumes 2.5 seconds. Chalkdust suggests a new “thinking distance” in metres which is numerically equal to mph, and which equates to 2.24 seconds thinking time.
|Speed||Current Thinking Distance||Current Stopping Distance||New Thinking Distance||New Stopping Distance|
Brake has decided to argue something completely different, coincidentally adopting the American thinking time of 1.5 seconds (but allegedly following “research” into “average thinking times”). Consequently, its proposed stopping distances are somewhat shorter than Chalkdust’s – and horrendously un-rememberable!
|Speed||Current Thinking Distance||Current Stopping Distance||New Thinking Distance||New Stopping Distance|
Even without the decimal fractions, there is no pattern to aid remembering them. At least with Chalkdust’s figures, the “thinking distance” is memorable, thus more or less eliminating one of the variables involved. Let’s not forget that knowing or remembering the distances is one of the primary concerns here – it isn’t an exercise in having precise distances nailed down.
In my opinion – and I’ve said this before – knowing the actual stopping distance at any given speed is as useful as a chocolate fireguard. However, knowing that the current 70mph stopping distance is about as long as a football pitch is much more useful (compared with knowing it is 315 feet or 96m). Let’s face it, if you’re in a situation where this is suddenly important, and you’re trying to push the pedals through the floor to avoid something in front of you, you’re not going to be worrying about how far 96m is from where you are now.
The “two-second rule” (which would probably become the four or five second rule based on this), or some variation of it, is infinitely more useful.
Modern cars are lighter than they were in the 60s
No, they’re not. A Ford Anglia – the car allegedly used to set the current numbers – weighed about 740kg. A Ford Focus weighs around 1,400kg. Even a Citroen C1 weighs over 800kg. A BMW Mini weighs about 1,200kg, compared with about 650kg for an original Mini back in the 60s.
Tyres were different back then
Yes, and they are unlikely to have been as good as those we have today. Modern cars have better tyres and better brakes, and more of the tyre is in contact with the road. Modern roads have better grip. If anything, modern cars can stop much more quickly that their 60s counterparts could under the same conditions.
In April, I reported that the driving test will change from 4 December 2017. I won’t go into the details again – you can read them in the earlier article – but DVSA has published the amended Show Me, Tell Me (SMTM) questions on the GOV.UK website that it plans to use from December (the questions which are currently in use are available here).
The only real difference to the SMTM questions is that, from December, some of them will be asked while the candidate is driving.
As an aside, I had someone on test recently, and the examiner asked him to show how he would clean the windscreen if it was dirty. My pupil duly operated the front washers, at which point the examiner added: “how about the back one?” Sneaky! He demonstrated it, but that’s one of the new questions.
Anyway, I have some misgivings about asking questions on the move, since they will require additional multitasking by the candidate. I’ve got more than a couple who have a job monotasking as it is. I think I mentioned this a while back, but one of my current lot has a ball stud in her upper lip, which she is wont to fiddle with while she’s driving (well, she doesn’t anymore, as a result of the story I’m about to relate). On one particular lesson, we were turning right at a mini-roundabout. Given that roundabouts are her main nemesis, and that she had applied almost full lock to turn right in this instance, you would think that, when the ball fell off her stud at the precise moment she needed to steer back into the target road, she would prioritise her steering and not, for example, a headlong dive into the foot well to try and catch the ball. I expected the first option. She chose the second. I think I screamed.
The one particular question that seems to be winding up a lot of instructors out there is the one about testing the horn. The current question, asked at the start of the test whilst stationary, is:
Show me how you would check that the horn is working
From December, it will be asked on the move, and will take the form:
When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you’d operate the horn?
This is getting a lot of ADIs into a tizzy, because they don’t understand the Highway Code or associated rules properly.
The Highway Code says:
The horn. Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn
- while stationary on the road
- when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am
except when another road user poses a danger.
Law CUR reg 99
Let’s clarify what this means. This is the only part covered by the MUST NOT (i.e. there is an actual law):
You MUST NOT use your horn
- while stationary on the road
- when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am
except when another road user poses a danger.
I’ve actually seen someone quote that section minus the two bullet point conditions, and proffer it as evidence that DVSA is wrong. They’re actually suggesting that it says “You MUST NOT use your horn except when another vehicle poses a danger”. Sometimes, I’m almost at a loss for words – then I remember the blog, and I’m not anymore. That is not what it says, and it is not what it means. And the rest of Rule 112 is completely advisory.
A private car park, your driveway, your garage, etc. are not “on the road”. The test centre car park is not “on the road”. If it was, how on earth could you ever legally test the damned thing to see if it was working?
Now, if you look up CUR reg 99, the prohibited time period of 11.30-07.00 specifically refers to being “in motion” and on a “restricted road” (i.e one which has anything other than NSL assigned to it). So you are not breaking any law if you sound the horn on your driveway, etc. during that time period (or if you’re on an NSL road). You’d be a complete arsehole if you did it needlessly, but you are not breaking this law or Rule 112. There is absolutely nothing in CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 which says you can’t test the horn while you are driving during the day, or if you’re on your driveway, in your garage, or in a private car park – at any time. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t do it if it going to confuse or annoy people, and although it is frowned upon to use the horn “aggressively”, even this does not go against CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 as far as any laws go.
What it boils down to is that examiners are not going to be doing anything wrong if they ask candidates to demonstrate the horn safely on their tests whilst driving along. The SMTM wording doesn’t state explicitly that the horn has to actually be sounded, either. It says “show me how” – and that could easily amount to a miming action, which most pupils seem to go for by default when asked, in my experience (even if they sound it, they do it as though it is going to bite them and it gets a brief “pap”). After 4 December, if someone tries to test it by giving it a 10-second burst, that would reflect very badly on their instructor in my opinion, as it already appears that some are preparing to make these changes as painful as possible to everyone concerned in order to register their protest.
All of mine are going to be taught as follows when we cover this:
If the examiner asks you to show him how you would test the horn, I want you to explain how you would do it and point to the bit of the steering wheel you would push. Ask him if he’d like you to actually do it. If he says yes, give it a quick toot if you think it’s safe to do it. DON’T do it on a bend, at a junction, or while there are pedestrians and other cars around.
And we will practice that during lessons, as we will the other on-the-move questions.
I think the problem with some ADIs out there is that they have been conditioned over many years of misunderstanding the rules to believe DVSA is breaking the law. Newer ADIs are naïve, eager to jump on the anti-DVSA bandwagon, and were probably trained by people who have these misunderstandings to start with, thus perpetuating the confusion. It would make life a whole lot simpler if they all just acknowledged their error and got on with the job instead of trying to defend the indefensible.
Remember the KISS principle. If it was absolutely forbidden to use the horn on the move, the rules would state this explicitly and unambiguously. They do not do so.
As I said earlier, I have misgivings about these SMTM changes just because I know that some of my pupils – past and present – would likely try to drive into a field as they shifted their entire focus from the road to the switch, dial, or button in question (some of them even try that when they see another vehicle, a dog or cat, a pigeon, or some other distraction for too long). I’m worried – perhaps needlessly – that some are potentially flaky enough to fall back to that when under pressure (and I’ve been proven wrong on many occasions, so it’s probably me). On the other hand, it provides a valuable teaching topic on lessons to make them able to do it properly.
Looking at it pragmatically, if someone can’t drive and operate the very controls they will need in the circumstances they will likely encounter when they pass their tests, they shouldn’t be on the roads. If they can’t do it safely on their tests after December, they won’t be. And that’s good.
This article was originally posted in September, 2010, but it becomes quite popular every year when Ramadan comes around. 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. This year, it runs from 26 May to 24 June, so it is pretty much a whole month again.
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.
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, and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. And I suppose it 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.