This is an old article which was updated several times over the years to maintain a link to an up to date DL25 – which was the name of the form used to record the result of a driving test. However, since November 2019, DVSA has switched to using an electronic version of the DL25 via iPads during the test. There is no longer a paper record created at the end of the test. And I have since discovered that as of April 2021 (and apologies if the link has been broken longer than that), DVSA no longer provides the DL25 for download. I guess it makes sense that they don’t, since it is now obsolete and would not reflect any changes to the test going forward.
What happens now is that the candidate is told whether they passed or failed, a debrief is given the same way it always has been (referring to the faults displayed on the iPad), and a copy of this same results list is emailed to the address given when the test was booked.
It’s a straightforward exercise getting the pupil to email or text you a copy if you really need it. Quite frankly, in most cases you don’t – you can refer to the pupil’s copy the next time you see them, and you’ll already be aware of what they failed for by listening to the debrief.
However, right now having a copy of the old DL25 is useful when conducting lessons – especially for new instructors. The test is still marked pretty much the same as it ever was (at the moment), it’s just reported differently. And the test report (explanations of what is expected) is useful to anyone learning to drive.
Here is a PDF file of the last DL25 form that I had. Note that some of the pages were for examiners’ internal use, and are not relevant to pupils.
The test report is explained in detail in this article.
Can instructors use an iPad when doing mock tests?
The short – and correct – answer is no, they cannot. There’s no point arguing about it: you can’t.
When a candidate is on their test, they are not classed as a learner driver. Therefore, the examiner is not the supervising driver. That is why the examiner is not breaking the Law by filling in an iPad form.
However, when they are on lessons, pupils are still learners, and that means the instructor is the supervising driver. It is illegal for whoever is in overall control of the car to use a handheld device while the car is moving (or if the engine is on, even if you’re stationary, if you’re going by the letter of the Law),
Personally, I have never understood the fascination many ADIs have with “mock tests”. The only test that matters is the real one – because it is conducted by someone who is specifically trained and authorised to administer them. Anything else is just play-acting. This is even more true when the test conductor insists on dressing up in hi-vis jackets and farting about with a clip board, when they’re either going to mark more harshly than an examiner would, or more leniently simply because they’re not examiners and can’t mark properly. While staging this performance, they are still the supervising driver.
Having seen many paperless tests in action (i.e. no big deal at all), I can assure you that filling in a DL25 by hand on your mock-test pantomime sessions is not going to ruin the impression anyone has of you.
Originally posted in 2009. Updated annually, so here’s the 2020 version. It’s the end of December, we had a few flakes of snow in a few places, the papers are full of photographs of people’s dogs in snow, and children sledging on a combination of mud and 1mm of sleet, and dire warnings about the coldest winter since 10,000 BC (the last Ice Age). Same as every year.
Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there might be a market for specialised snow lessons at premium prices. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing 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. Even when we get a little of the white stuff it is usually gone inside a week or two at most. 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 fall 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.
Every year, the incompetence and bureaucracy at local councils typically means that every time there is any bad weather, it’s like they’ve never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are. Having a ‘specialised snow Instructor, in the UK (especially in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing the Mediterranean: bloody stupid!
One bit of advice. Make sure you have the right mixture in your wash bottle, and a scraper for removing any frost or snow. A further bit of advice. Never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a metal-bladed ice scraper. Always plastic. Trust me, I’ve tested metal ones for you, and you are welcome. Don’t use metal.
Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?
It depends on how much of it 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 a lot of sense to do them if you can to 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. If your instructor cancels then you should not get charged. If you are, find another instructor quickly.
If the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea. That’s when they’re likely to be cancelled.
Also 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 based on the weather in your area.
Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?
Yes. If he or she doesn’t (or just doesn’t turn up without telling you), find another. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask.
My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather
Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018). I’m telling you in the most absolute terms possible that this is utter nonsense. I have never heard of insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather, and especially not driving instructor insurance. If anyone tells you this, find another instructor quickly.
Do [driving school name] cancel lessons due to bad weather?
Cancelling lessons due to bad weather is down to the instructor and not the driving school they represent. So it doesn’t matter which school you are with. But yes, lessons can be cancelled for bad weather.
Any decent instructor might cancel lessons due to too much snow – either falling, or on the ground – making driving dangerous. They might also cancel due to thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain/flooding. The decision lies solely with the instructor. If you disagree with their decision, find another one.
Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?
There is no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you, but if he or she does it goes against all the principles of Common Decency. You should not be charged for bad weather cancellations initiated by your instructor. If you are, find another instructor as soon as possible.
However, if it’s you who wants to cancel, but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson, it’s a little more tricky. You being nervous is not the same as it being genuinely too dangerous. I had someone once who would try to cancel for light rain, bright sun, mist, and wind when she didn’t feel like driving. You’ll need to sort this out yourself, but as in all other cases, if you’re not happy just find a different instructor – being aware that if the problem is you, the issues won’t go away.
I want to do the lesson, but my instructor said no
You need to be realistic about the conditions. Just because your test is coming up, for example, and you don’t want to have to move it doesn’t alter the fact that the weather might just be too dangerous to drive in on the day of the lesson. When I cancel lessons in snow it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. On the other hand, if the police are advising against travel, or if the roads are at a standstill, 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 late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. His house was on a slope, and it was clearly becoming difficult to drive without slipping. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson. The snow lasted for about as long as his lesson would have, but was gone by the afternoon. Cancelling was the right decision.
Do lessons in snow cost more?
No. If you’re charged extra for normal driving lessons in snow, find another instructor immediately.
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, like the red car in the picture above.
You should never drive in snow
That’s total rubbish. Unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’, doing lessons on snow or ice is extremely useful for when you pass. Partially melted snow is ideal for doing ‘snow lessons’ if you have the right instructor. The one thing you do need is to make sure you are suitably equipped in case you get caught out. A scraper, de-icer, the right liquid in your wash bottle – and perhaps a pair of snow socks.
Generally speaking, yes – as long as I feel it is safe to do so, and unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’. I do not do lessons in snow because I am desperate for the money – I will happily cancel if I believe it is too dangerous. And sometimes it is.
Why do YOU do lessons in snow?
Several years ago we had two winters where it snowed properly for the first time in around 26 years. I had not experienced it as an instructor before, and I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks I realised I was being over-cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I recognised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching aid. Not with the beginners or nervous ones, but the more advanced ones definitely.
Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.
I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.
Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?
It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you must turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.
At one time, tests wouldn’t go out if there was any snow at all in Nottingham. In February 2018 during the visitation by ‘The Beast from the East’ (aka the ‘Kitten in Britain’), I had an early morning test go out with substantial snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway). You can never be certain, but be prepared.
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. And you shouldn’t be charged for your lesson or car hire that day.
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 could easily be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.
Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, or 2018, etc.)
It doesn’t matter if it’s 1818, 1918, 2018, or any other date. If there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy then your test may well be cancelled. 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?
Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets will likely be 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. You are a new driver and you probably haven’t driven on snow before. DVSA cannot take the risk, and you have to accept it.
PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED AT THAT TEST CENTRE BEFORE YOU SET OFF – YOU WON’T FIND THE ANSWER GOOGLING FOR IT. DECISIONS ARE MADE MINUTE-TO-MINUTE AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT BY CALLING THEM.
In the past, I have had 8.10am tests booked in the middle of winter and sometimes I know for a fact that when I pick the pupil up at 6.30am the conditions are so bad the test is going to be cancelled. But until the examiners get in just before 8am there is no way of checking. That’s why I advise against my pupils booking early tests in winter – cancellations are far more likely when it is cold and icy, and it is more likely to be cold and icy (and foggy) first thing in the morning before the sun has come up properly.
You have to laugh. Right from the start of the pandemic – with the requirement to wear a mask (unless you are a twat or genuinely exempt) – glasses steaming up has been a problem. If you go by social media, anything from washing up liquid, through squirrel pee, shaving foam, all the way up to 20ml bottles of over-priced chemicals is the way forward.
The bottom line is that your glasses – in my case, sunglasses – steam up because the mask directs warm and moist air up into the lenses.
Sometimes, the solution doesn’t lie with trying to stop basic physics (moisture condensing on glass). It lies with basic physics not being involved in the first place (keep the moisture away from the glass). And these things are the answer.
I bought some and they work perfectly. You just put one over your nose, put the mask on top, and the moist air goes out the side and not the top. The fact that they’re re-usable and cost as little as £5 for a pack of ten of them makes them a much better solution than bottles of Magic Liquid that you’re going to keep wiping off and use up in a week.
This article is from 2015, but it’s had a run of hits lately and is therefore due an update.
I saw a discussion on a forum where someone had crossed or straddled a solid white line to pass a jogger and was now fretting that he’d broken the Law. I also noted that none of the replies gave a definitive answer.
The Highway Code (HC) only says this about crossing solid white lines (it’s in Rule 129):
Double white lines where the line nearest you is solid. This means you MUST NOT cross or straddle it unless it is safe and you need to enter adjoining premises or a side road. You may cross the line if necessary, provided the road is clear, to pass a stationary vehicle, or overtake a pedal cycle, horse or road maintenance vehicle, if they are travelling at 10 mph (16 km/h) or less.
Laws RTA 1988 sect 36 & TSRGD regs 10 & 26
It is this rule that most people focus on. But what they usually don’t do is take into account the reference at the bottom. You see, whenever the HC refers to a MUST NOT rule (which is in RED in the paper version of the HC), the actual law you would be breaking is always given in the reference underneath. In this case, Section 36 of the Road Traffic Act (1988), and the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions Regulations 10 and 26. These are abbreviated to RTA and TSRGD.
TSRGD, which is the one we really need to look at, has a handy web app now. Reg 26 of TSRGD, Paragraph 6, says:
(6) Nothing in paragraph (2)(b) shall be taken to prohibit a vehicle from being driven across, or so as to straddle, the continuous line referred to in that paragraph, if it is safe to do so and if necessary to do so
(a) to enable the vehicle to enter, from the side of the road on which it is proceeding, land or premises adjacent to the length of road on which the line is placed, or another road joining that road;
(b) in order to pass a stationary vehicle;
(c) owing to circumstances outside the control of the driver;
(d) in order to avoid an accident;
(e) in order to pass a road maintenance vehicle which is in use, is moving at a speed not exceeding 10 mph, and is displaying to the rear the sign shown in diagram 610 or 7403;
(f) in order to pass a pedal cycle moving at a speed not exceeding 10 mph;
(g) in order to pass a horse that is being ridden or led at a speed not exceeding 10 mph; or
(h) for the purposes of complying with any direction of a constable in uniform, traffic officer in uniform or a traffic warden.
When it comes to what you can pass there are a lot of things that aren’t specifically mentioned here – what if it’s a cow, or a sheep, or even a dog that’s being led… but not a horse? What if it’s someone pushing a broken down vehicle (i.e. a motorcycle)? Does the Law therefore expect you to stop dead, possibly on a NSL road, just because it isn’t a horse instead of passing it carefully? I think not.
Passing a jogger is perfectly acceptable as long as you do it safely and correctly. Those white lines are there for a reason, after all, and although they will extend beyond the actual hazard they’re safeguarding you have to make sure you choose the best place to cross them.
Unfortunately, this is where learners – whether they are learner drivers or trainee/new instructors – can get it badly wrong. The HC also says (Rule 163):
…give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car…
It doesn’t mention joggers, but anyone with an ounce of common sense will realise that it means them, too. I remember from my days training to become an instructor that there was this idiotic idea hanging around that you MUST give cyclists TWICE as much space as you would a car. That would mean driving almost on the pavement on the opposite side of the road! I’m not making that up – it was common at one time to advise twice the amount of clearance as for a car.
I actually like the HC wording, because sometimes you might have to overtake a something allowing less than a metre’s breathing space (i.e. on a country lane or other narrow road) – though you’d aim for at least a car door’s width in most situations. And like it or not, sometimes you have to do the same with cyclists and pedestrians (probably more so in summer, as they begin to use narrow country lanes). Even horse riders will occasionally stop and wave you through on a bend when they can see ahead – though they really ought not to – and you may have to pass much closer than you would normally as a result.
In order to pass a jogger (or a slow-moving cyclist) properly and safely – in the real world – your wheels would barely have to cross the solid white line in most cases. Solid white lines are there for a reason, and just because you have a reason to cross one doesn’t mean overdoing it and creating unnecessary danger. You need to pick your place, make your move, and be careful.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t cross the white line if you are just trying to gain advantage as a priority, if the obstacle is moving at more than 10mph, or if you can’t see that it is safe to do so. Conversely, I am not suggesting that you should aim to whack every cyclist or runner with your wing mirror as you pass – try to give them 1.5m clearance, go slower if you have to get any closer, and don’t try to get past at all if there’s a risk of hitting them – just wait until you can do so safely.
Right now, giving ‘at least 1.5m clearance’ is advice and not Law. If you can do it, then do so. Otherwise, be very careful.
My article, Should I Become A Driving Instructor, is very popular. If you’re thinking of moving into this industry as a result of losing your job during the last 9 months, you might want to read it. Yes, it’s a long article, and if you don’t have the attention span to get through it then maybe you ought to reconsider this career path. But it contains information about the realities of the job.
One thing that crops up time and time again on social media (it used to be certain web forums, but time affects all things) is the issue of how much it costs to become an instructor, and therefore raises the second issue of avoiding franchise companies at all costs. Let’s take a look at things properly.
When you’re an ADI you will often get new learners whose first question is ‘how many hours will it take me to learn?’ Roughly translated, they mean ‘how much will it cost me?’ It’s the one question that has no absolute answer, and which immediately puts you in an awkward situation. Do you tell them the truth based on official figures, or do you tell them what they want to hear and show yourself up if they don’t achieve what you told them later?
When I first meet them, I try to rationalise the concept of ‘average’, and point out that DVSA statistics say that the average new driver takes around 45 hours of lessons with an instructor along with 20 or more hours of private practice with a family member or friend. I then point out that I have had people do it from scratch in as little as 14 hours (with lots of private practice), and others take as long as 160 hours (with and without private practice). The vast majority take between 25-50 hours (with or without private practice). Some initially lead you to believe they’ll never learn, and yet do it in less than 40 hours, and others who you’d bet money on passing keep screwing up and end up taking 80. So the average comes out somewhere in the middle, with some individuals being at either end of the whole range.
The problem is that many will listen to all this, and only hear ‘blah-blah-blah-14-hours-blah-blah’. They’re not uncommon – I had one a couple of years ago who’d never driven except for going out once or twice with his mum, and triumphantly announced after his tenth one-hour lesson: ‘that’s it, I’m ready for my test’ (he wasn’t). And I’ve lost count of those who have budgeted based on a fixed amount of money that they want to spend, and then go white when you explain the realities. Basically, for a new learner, learning to drive could take anywhere from 14 hours (in my experience) to almost 200 hours, with the average being somewhere around 30-40. And you can’t pick which one you like best and just do that. All things considered, it means that if their lessons cost £27 an hour, they are likely to end up paying out nearer £1,000 plus the cost of their test(s). It’s just how it is.
When it comes to training to be a driving instructor, far too many people only hear ‘blah-blah-blah-earn-£30,000-blah-blah-hours-to-suit-yourself-blah-blah’. But the same variables are involved. After all, a trainee instructor is identical to a learner driver in many respects – they have to pass a test. Three tests in the case of instructors.
First of all, you have to get through the theory (Part 1 of ADI training). Every time I do it using an app, I score 99%-100% (and I kick myself if it’s the 99% one) against the 85% pass mark. But the real pass rate for Part 1 the last time I looked is only around 50%, which is worth thinking about. You don’t need to pay anyone to train you for it. Next comes the ADI driving test (Part 2). It’s harder than a normal learner test in that you’re allowed fewer faults, need to complete more manoeuvres, drive for longer and further, and are generally expected to be of a higher standard than a new driver. Finally, there is how well you can teach others (the Part 3 test), which is probably the hardest of all because it will involve new material for most people.
You can take Part 1 as many times as you like (you could take it once every few weeks for the rest of your life if you wanted), but once you pass it you then have two years in which to complete the Part 2 and 3 tests. You are only allowed a maximum of three tries at each of these within that two-year window, and if you fail one of them more than that – or if you don’t pass Part 3 within the two-year window – you go straight to jail, do not pass ‘GO’, and have to start the entire process again once the two years are up. It is quite possible for this to happen, and it is even more possible that you will take at least one of the tests more than once.
When a learner driver fails their driving test they almost always need further remedial lessons before their next try. The same applies to someone trying to become a driving instructor, compounded by the fact that they will likely have invested more money and even planned their future around succeeding than a learner driver will have.
So how many hours are involved? In the article, Should I Become A Driving Instructor, I detail the exam costs and likely training costs. Let’s cover them again here. You can think of Part 1 as 0 hours if you do it yourself. For Part2, around 10 hours of lessons is average for a decent driver. For Part 3, let’s just say 40 hours for now. And the hourly rate for those lessons is likely to be in the range £30-£40 (let’s stick with £30 for the purposes of this discussion).
The Part 1 test costs £81 at the time of writing. Parts 2 and 3 cost £111 each. That’s a total of £303 just for doing each of the tests once.
The cost of training for Part 2 would come £300. For Part 3 it would amount to £1,200. So assuming you passed all the tests first time, and only did the average number of training hours mentioned above, your total outlay if you were paying by the hour would be £1,800. And if you did pass, you’d need to spend another £300 on your green badge before you could teach.
If you failed Part 2 the first time, you’d need to pay another £111 for a test, and any additional training – let’s say 4 hours, so £120. If you then passed Part 3 on your first attempt, you’d now have spent over £2,000. It would be your choice, but not doing any additional training would be unwise if there were issues to resolve. But as with what I said above, some people only hear ‘blah-blah-blah-pass-first-time-blah-blah’.
Now, although we said 40 hours for Part 3 training, some people might find this part a struggle and would need maybe 50 hours – sometimes even more. That additional 10 hours would add another £300 on to the overall cost, plus any additional tests if they had failed the first. Now they’d have spent over £2,300 – more if we include tests. And even if someone took only the average number of hours, but three attempts at each of Parts 2 and 3, their total outlay would be £2,250.
And just like any learner, you cannot pick in advance how much it ends up costing. Because what eventually happens is what it is. All you can say is that if you pay £30 an hour, and if you take the bare minimum amount of training, and if you pass each test first time, you will be paying at least £1,800. This is the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) approach that social media will tell you is the cheapest way.
Now let’s look at some packages available – the pay-up-front approach. I’m not going to mention any by name because I am not recommending any one of them above the rest.
One is currently advertising a Black Friday discount of £888 for a full course, including 52 hours of in-car training. The normal price is £1,000. Others come in at anywhere from £1,000-£2,000, and include up to 80 hours of training. At least one offers a money-back guarantee (there are conditions attached), and another offers a full refund of the course cost if you qualify and go into a franchise with them (conditions also attached, such as minimum term of contract). All of them offer inclusive remedial training (conditions attached, of course, such as there comes a time when enough is enough). But the important detail is the remedial training if you need more than the average number of hours – it’s inclusive up to a point, whereas on PAYG you just pay more for it no matter what.
During the lockdown I’ve had a lot of people asking me about training to become ADIs. One told me that a PAYG trainer had insisted on a minimum of 30 hours for Part 2 and 50 hours for Part 3 – that would amount to £2,700 even if you passed everything first time, and if the hourly rate was only £30 (it wasn’t specified). I would imagine that this isn’t a unique situation, either.
In all these examples – PAYG or package – the instructors are ORDIT-registered trainers. A trainer doesn’t automatically become bad simply because he is working for a company, or even if the company is one you’ve been conditioned to dislike because of what you’ve read on social media. You will be getting a similar standard of training however you do it and – as the example I just gave perhaps shows – any slightly bad apples might not necessarily be in the barrel you assumed they’d be in.
How you choose to train is up to you. But don’t be misled into thinking one way is either better or cheaper than another simply because of what you read in social media.
I originally wrote this way back in 2012 and it is a popular article, with around 45,000 views. It was due a major update, so here it is.
A lot of drivers get confused by roundabouts, and I’m not just talking about learners. Signalling, lane choice, and lane discipline seem to provide huge challenges for many people.
The Highway Code (HC) says this about roundabouts:
When reaching the roundabout you should
give priority to traffic approaching from your right, unless directed otherwise by signs, road markings or traffic lights check whether road markings allow you to enter the roundabout without giving way. If so, proceed, but still look to the right before joining watch out for all other road users already on the roundabout; be aware they may not be signalling correctly or at all look forward before moving off to make sure traffic in front has moved off.
Signals and position.
When taking the first exit to the left, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
signal left and approach in the left-hand lane keep to the left on the roundabout and continue signalling left to leave
When taking an exit to the right or going full circle, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
signal right and approach in the right-hand lane keep to the right on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit the roundabout signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want
When taking any intermediate exit, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
select the appropriate lane on approach to the roundabout you should not normally need to signal on approach stay in this lane until you need to alter course to exit the roundabout signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want
When there are more than three lanes at the entrance to a roundabout, use the most appropriate lane on approach and through it.
This is very straightforward. However, you have big roundabouts, small ones, ones with only one lane, and others with multiple lanes. Some junctions consist of two or more roundabouts in quick succession, and then you can have complex junctions with flyovers, and roundabouts underneath them. A lot of drivers have problems even with the simple ones, and the more complex ones can be hotspots for minor bumps or worse.
The bottom line, though, is that although every junction is different and there is no single ‘golden rule’ which governs how you negotiate them, almost every individual roundabout works according to what the HC says in Rules 185 and 186.
The simplest type of roundabout is unmarked, single lane, usually quite small, and pretty much symmetrical as far as the feed roads are concerned.
When the HC talks of ‘exits’, the standard system is that the road you are approaching on isn’t numbered, so in this diagram a left turn is the 1st exit, straight on is the 2nd exit, and right is the 3rd exit, Only if you are using the roundabout to go back the way you came does the road you are approaching on become the 4th exit.
Road signs with roundabout directions like this one always assume you are approaching from the bottom.
As you approach it, you should signal left if you’re taking the 1st exit, and right if you’re taking the 3rd or 4th exits. You do not signal for the straight ahead (2nd) exit as you approach the roundabout.
When you reach the roundabout, and once it is safe to proceed on to it, you steer a path around it and signal left at the exit immediately before the one you intend to leave by. Your position as you drive around the roundabout is not really important if it is only wide enough for one car.
If the roundabout is wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side as they pass round it, then you should adopt the left-hand lane position if you’re taking the 1st or 2nd exits in this example. You would adopt the right-hand position if you’re taking the 3rd or 4th exits. Remember that as you take the exit you require, if you are in the right-hand lane position you will need to have a quick glance in your mirrors to make sure no one is trying to overtake on your left. If you don’t follow this lane discipline on a wider roundabout, people could potentially be trying to get past on either side as you exit.
Lane discipline is the biggest factor in people’s inability to deal with roundabouts. It’s also one of the most common reasons for failing driving tests. In most cases, people are not even aware that there are ‘lanes’ they should be following. This can be more of an issue with unmarked roundabouts, where the ‘lanes’ need to be visualised even though there are no white lines telling you where they are.
Not adhering to lane positions on roundabouts is called ‘straight lining’. It isn’t illegal, but it is an advanced driving technique which requires planning and good all-round awareness. When learners and new drivers do it, they are not applying any advanced driving skills – they’re just weaving all over the road without realising it.
Of course, most roundabouts are not perfectly symmetrical – and this is where many driving instructors try to simplify things by making them a hundred times more complicated using silly rules. Let’s get one of them out of the way immediately: there is no such thing as ‘the 12 o’clock rule’.
At some point in the distant past, someone somewhere tried to create an all-encompassing rule that worked for all roundabouts. They came up with ‘the 12 o’clock rule’, and so ingrained did it become that even BSM used to teach it as gospel at one time (it may have been BSM who invented it). But there is a problem with it – it doesn’t work all the time, so it cannot possibly be called ‘a rule’. In some situations, it inconveniences others and is actually dangerous.
You can see that this roundabout layout is identical to the first one, other than the 2nd exit is slightly further round. The ‘12 o’clock rule’ divides the roundabout into a clock face, and argues that any exit after the 12 o’clock position is a right turn! This is nonsense in the majority of cases, and the last thing a new and nervous driver who is already struggling with roundabouts needs is to have to decide whether the road they want is after 12 o’clock or not on top of everything else. Many such roundabouts won’t have a sign in the first place to help decide, and even the ones that do may have a symmetrical one like the first example, when the actual road layout is more like the second. And then there is the physical appearance of the road layout as you approach it at ground level – the approach roads may well have bends on them which give the illusion of an exit being in one location on the clock face when it is actually elsewhere.
If you indicate right approaching such a roundabout, at least some – probably the majority – of the people around you will assume you are taking the 3rd or 4th exit – actually turning right. If they then tried to zip past you to take the 2nd exit – irrespective of any argument that they shouldn’t assume anything – you suddenly cutting across to take it as well is not going to end happily. This is even more likely if your other problems means your lane discipline or late signalling is conveying the wrong message as well.
Not all roundabouts are limited to just four exits – they can have anywhere from two and upwards, though they’re more likely to be marked roundabouts the more exits they have.
In general, your lane positioning and signalling on approach to an unmarked asymmetrical roundabout should be exactly the same as for the symmetrical ones. However, there are some instances where treating a 2nd exit that is a long way round as a right turn would make sense. Like this one.
This used to be on every test candidate’s test when there was a test centre at Chalfont Drive in Nottingham, and as they drove off at the start of their test they immediately came to the point ‘A’. I still take people to it now so I can show them different roundabouts and how they work.
My advice to my pupils when they reach this one is to indicate right if they’re taking the 2nd (B) or 3rd (C) exits. The 2nd exit is so far round it makes sense to do so, and it also tells drivers coming in from the unmarked road at the bottom right of this picture that they intend to pass in front of them and haven’t just forgotten to signal. If my pupil is taking the 2nd exit (B), they signal left at the red dot. If they’re taking the 3rd exit, they signal left as they pass B.
It is worth noting that if a candidate didn’t signal right here, as long as they signalled left in good time to take the 2nd exit without confusing drivers waiting at C then they would not have been faulted for it. Likewise, if they signalled right and left it late to signal left, perhaps causing those waiting at C to pause, then they easily could have been (which is true on any roundabout). The way I teach it is intended to get them to think about things, and not to blindly apply silly rules which achieve nothing.
Basically, if the 2nd exit is very much further to the right, a signal might make sense. But it is not because of ‘the 12 o’clock rule’. Your choice of a signal and lane position is not automatic, and depends on the individual roundabout and the circumstances at the time.
Here are some more examples of unmarked roundabouts. As I said earlier, all roundabouts are different, though the basic principle you use on them is given in the HC. These examples are all in Nottingham. Some are on test routes, and some aren’t. Some of them don’t exist anymore (thanks to Nottingham’s tram).
This one is a mini-roundabout in West Bridgford. The majority of traffic passes A-B and B-A (the side road has busier periods as it leads to a sports ground and school).
Travelling A-B, no signal is needed (even if B is past 12 o’clock). If you signalled right, people travelling B-A would have to assume you were turning around and were going to pass in front of them, so they’d stop. And I can assure you that it is annoying when someone signals needlessly, especially because sometimes people are turning around and it gets confusing.
Travelling B-A, a left signal is a positive indication to those travelling A-B that you are not intending to turn in front of them into the school or sports ground. This principle applies to most three-exit roundabouts where there are no marked lanes. However, if you didn’t signal on your test in such a situation it probably wouldn’t be marked.
This one doesn’t exist anymore. It was a three-exit roundabout. If you were travelling A-B (which is literally following the road ahead), a left signal told those at B that you weren’t turning in front of them. Travelling B-A would not have required a signal – although in this case, if you had signalled it would have been less of an issue because of the size of the whole layout. But it was still totally unnecessary, and if you had delayed giving a left signal to exit but were still signalling right, that could have been seen as a fault – especially if someone was waiting at A.
I must repeat again that every roundabout is slightly different and sometimes only experience can teach the best way of dealing with them. There is also the issue of other people not signalling at all, or signalling incorrectly, so it’s best if you don’t add to it by joining them. If a signal isn’t specifically (and correctly) telling someone something they need to know precisely when they need to know it, then it is more than likely going to add even more confusion to a situation.
Think about what you are doing, and don’t try to blindly follow artificial rules that are intended to achieve think for you.
Larger roundabouts, like the one shown at the start of this article, usually have road markings to define lanes and show routes. They often have multiple intermediate exits of differing sizes and priorities, and you’ll sometimes see them described as gyratory or spiral roundabouts. These are the ones that people seem to fret about the most, but they are actually very easy to deal with once you know what you’re doing. Personally, I don’t like the terms ‘gyratory’ or ‘spiral’ because technically these apply to all roundabouts. The markings just guide you, and making a big deal out of them by giving them special names just scares (and confuses) pupils even more.
I’ve written a separate article about the Nuthall roundabout, partly as an illustration of how ‘the 12 o’clock rule’ doesn’t work reliably. This roundabout is huge and the island itself is raised and covered in trees, which means the intermediate exits are not visible. You have to look for and use the road markings and road signs to plan your way through. In all honesty, anyone encountering it for the first time probably wouldn’t stand a chance of doing it properly, especially a learner. And since there’s a high probability of having to drive on it if you have your test at the Watnall Test Centre, pupils need to be able to handle it.
This diagram above shows how the road markings appear as you approach the roundabout along the A6002 Woodhouse Way heading towards the city centre (any large roundabout in any other city would have similar markings). The A6002 is a single lane road, but on approach to the roundabout it widens dramatically and splits into four lanes. It is important to know where you are going and to get into the correct lane straight away – or rather, not to leave it too late to get into the correct lane. For example, if you know you want to exit along the A610 towards Nottingham, then you should ideally go straight into the right hand lane which has the A610 route marked in it. Failing that, you will need to move safely into that lane once you see the road markings – though on your test this is a much more risky strategy because there will likely be other traffic already moving in behind you.
Absolutely the worst thing you can do is leave it too late and end up in one of the other lanes, and then try to get over at the last minute – by then, other traffic will have boxed you in. The option of switching lanes on the roundabout itself is only marginally better, and relies on extremely good observation and a lot of luck. Of course, many drivers out there do it wrong all the time, but they aren’t on their tests and they simply end up annoying other drivers and putting dents in their cars as a result.
As I said, the Nuthall roundabout would be very difficult for anyone to do correctly if they hadn’t done it before, let alone a learner meeting it for the first time on their test. So a good driving instructor will make sure their pupil knows how to negotiate this sort of roundabout before they go to test. That applies everywhere – not just in Nottingham – because these sorts of road systems exist all over the country. And a good learner will learn to understand what is happening so they can deal with it and apply it when they start driving by themselves.
Once you’re in the correct approach lane it is then vital to stay in that lane and make the valid choice of available lanes in front of you as you enter the roundabout. The approach lane for the A610 here can then branch off towards B600 or A611, and you have to make the correct choice.
The main reason learners have such problems staying in lane (referred to as ‘lane discipline’ when it is marked on test by an examiner) is down to the fact they don’t even see (or aren’t aware of) lanes or lane markings as they’re driving along.
If you look at the diagram above you can see a single lane represented as though you were looking at it out of the front of the car. You can visualise it in various ways, and one method is imagine that the white lines form the rails that a train is running along. The driver has to stay between them.
Unlike a train, which is more or less fixed to the rails, a car driver has to keep between the rails by steering – and they can only do that if they are looking at the rails, seeing them, and being aware of them all the time. That’s where it breaks down with many learners, and when I discuss it with mine one of the most common comments is that they get confused by ‘all those lines crossing’.
In this diagram, you have the same layout as above, but with the added complication of other sets of rails crisscrossing it. The trick is to only look at your set of rails – the others are nothing to do with where you want to go.
You seldom need to make sharp turns on a roundabout, and your route will be a smooth and gentle series of curves (or rails). Switching to one of those other sets of rails would not be smooth.
Being stressed affects how easily drivers see these lines. One of the things I do with my pupils involves ‘scaling’. I ask them to imagine that they’re sitting at home with their feet up, just after a meal, a nice drink in their hand near a warm fire watching TV – that’s 0 on the scale. Then I ask them, for example, to imagine having just jumped out of an aeroplane on their first ever parachute jump, knowing that someone they had an argument with last night had packed their parachute – that’s 100 on the scale. Then I ask them what number on that same 0-100 scale (which I call their stress-o-meter) they are imagining in various situations when we’re on lessons. This can be a real eye-opener. Some of them will surprise you and tell you they’re over 80 even when driving normally on a clear road. However, whatever their ‘normal’ number, if it goes up near a roundabout this will tell you they’re effectively ‘going blind’ when they try to negotiate it. And I am certain that a lot of ‘experienced’ drivers have the same problem every day of their lives.
Stress acts like a veil or blindfold. Everyone has a different threshold, but at some point an individual’s stress level starts to prevent them from thinking or seeing clearly. Things go out of focus or even disappear completely.
Are roundabouts classed as junctions?
Yes. Any point where two or more roads meet or cross is a junction, so roundabouts are also junctions, but they have their own rules compared to T-junctions and crossroads.
What are the signalling rules at roundabouts?
Read HC Rule 186. You normally signal left or right on approach only for the first or last exits (or full circle). Intermediate exits normally don’t need an approach signal. When leaving the roundabout every exit is a left turn, so you normally indicate left at the exit just before the one you want.
What is the Highway Code 12 o’clock rule?
There isn’t one! This is a fabricated ‘rule’ which doesn’t work, and leads to confusion for you and other road users when used blindly. The HC says that on approach you shouldn’t normally need to indicate for any intermediate exit.
There are some roundabouts where the intermediate exit you want is so far to the right that a signal might well benefit other drivers, but there are far more situations where it would definitely confuse them.
Doesn’t the Highway Code wording automatically imply the 12 o’clock rule?
Not in the slightest. I saw someone on social media make that claim and couldn’t believe my eyes. They actually stated that it is in the HC. If anything, the HC explicitly refutes the ‘12 o’clock rule’. It is not in the HC.
But the 12 o’clock rule is just a way to help learners when they’re starting out.
There are other users on the road. You do realise that, don’t you? If I’m waiting to emerge on to a busy roundabout and see someone coming round it with their right indicator on, I will wait – and it is bloody annoying when they then exit left before they get to me. So I end up waiting for longer. That’s what happens when you indicate right unnecessarily when you’re going ahead at a roundabout. You confuse other people because you’re giving the wrong signals.
Learners should understand what they are doing, not just following stupid rules made up by people who understand little more than their pupils do. The ‘12 o’clock rule’ does not work.
How do you teach roundabouts not using the 12 o’clock rule?
This is where an ADI earns their money. In most cases, the reason pupils can’t do roundabouts is because they panic and everything becomes a blur – they’re worried about all the other traffic on the roundabout and, as a result, lose sight of the lanes. They need to be able to bring things back into focus and learn how to deal with what is, after all, only a simple junction. What I normally do is sketch a diagram of a crossroads, and tell them I want them to turn right, so who do they have to look out for before they go? We start with something like this.
I ask them to imagine they’re in the yellow car and they want to turn right – where do they need to check before they go? After a while, we’ll have touched all the bases – cars from the left turning to their left, right into our road, or going ahead; then the same for cars from the right, and cars in front of us. We end up with something like this.
I point out to them that they can handle all that without any issue (well, most of them), even though all the possibilities of where traffic is coming from are quite complicated to assess.
Next, I erase the drawing and draw the junction again, but this time like this.
Again, I ask them to imagine they’re in the yellow car and want to turn right – so where do they need to look before they decide to go. We (eventually) settle with ‘to the right’ – though not always to start with. So now we end up with this.
At this point, I usually ask them why it is they can handle the crossroads situation, and yet they turn into a quivering blob of jelly the moment I say the word ‘roundabout’. The roundabout is actually far easier when it comes to the reasons they give for not liking them. All they have to do is learn to assess the red zone and that’s it – they can then just look where they’re going.
Obviously, there’s a bit more, but this is a way of trying to demystify the whole roundabout situation.
Should I indicate to go straight ahead on a 3-exit roundabout?
Look at the mini-roundabout in this photo. The main road is A to B, and the side road leads off to a school and recreation area, and this is what it looks like as you approach it from A.
Clearly, you do not signal left, because you are not going left into the school. But if you signalled right, what would the red car think you were going to do? If it was me driving the red car, I would think you were planning to turn right in front of me, so I’d stop.
This is the same roundabout, but this time approaching it from B. There is no car coming the other way in this picture, but if there was and you were not signalling, could the driver be certain you were not going to turn right into the school? Yet if you signalled left, you’d be giving a positive indication that you weren’t.
If you came to the roundabout and no one was on the opposite side, a signal could be omitted. But if someone was approaching it, a left signal would help them.
See how this works? Each situation is different, but if you understand and think, it all becomes easier. If your signal helps someone and doesn’t confuse them then it is a good idea to use it. This is useful for most three-exit roundabouts.
Another useful exercise is to watch what other drivers do and ask yourself if they’ve helped or confused you by signalling or not signalling, and use that to develop your own strategy in future. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of changing the way you do things as you learn.
But you’re only supposed to signal if you’re changing direction, aren’t you?
No. This question arises from the idea that by going straight ahead on a roundabout you’re not “changing direction”. Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) – the official DSA guide – says:
- to let others know what you intend to do
- to help other road users, including pedestrians
- in good time and for long enough to allow other road users to see the signal and act upon it
In the example I used in the previous question, if other road users can’t otherwise be sure of your intentions then using your indicators makes perfect sense. It is helping other road users.
Should I always indicate to go straight ahead?
NO!!! You still see older drivers indicating right when they’re going straight ahead and it is extremely confusing if you’re coming the opposite way. Apparently, this was taught once upon a time, and some people still use it. But it is wrong.
But you shouldn’t rely on people’s signals, should you?
No. And that’s because they often don’t signal or signal incorrectly. Giving a positive signal at the right time helps people. But other people getting it wrong doesn’t mean you should join them.
Isn’t this Highway Code roundabout diagram wrong?
No. This question arises periodically on social media from people trying to pick fault with the HC. Note how the green car turning right is shown exiting in the right hand lane – even though the arrows clearly show that it can exit in either the left or the right lane.
The diagram is absolutely correct, particularly in view of the fact that every entry road in the diagram has two marked lanes, implying that the roundabout itself has two lanes on it.
A good example of this is the Virgin Roundabout in Nottingham, which features on several Colwick test routes. An aerial view of it is shown here.
The main road is a dual carriageway on one side, and two lanes quickly merging into one on the other (the yellow dotted lines). The two side roads are single lanes into industrial areas, one of which is sometimes used for test purposes (the green dotted line).
The two lanes on the main road define the number of lanes on the roundabout, and this means that emerging from the industrial road in question requires careful thought.
It is perfectly acceptable to move across and merge with the left hand lane as you negotiate the roundabout as long as you do it safely. However, as I have already mentioned, learners are often unable to handle the extra safety aspects involved in switching lanes, especially on roundabouts. In this particular example, the main road is very busy and the likelihood of someone entering the roundabout in the left hand (yellow dotted) lane while you are on following the green dotted line is extremely high (it’s normal practice, in fact). For that reason, I explain clearly to all of my learners that the safest and easiest way to negotiate the roundabout is to remain in the right-hand lane and exit in that lane (as shown by the green line). Then, all they have to do is to allow others to merge from their left once they’re safely on the main road.
But ‘the 12 o’clock rule’ works!
No it doesn’t. Something only ‘works’ if it is never wrong and never leads to confusion for anyone. But it does lead to confusion for other drivers, and that is potentially dangerous.
Do you always position left for going straight ahead?
No, not always. In the simplest cases, yes. But it depends on the roundabout and the situation. This question came from a reader concerning a test route roundabout in Gloucester, shown here.
As you can see, it has five roads leading into it. The test route involves approaching from the road at the bottom and taking the third exit (3). The reader pointed out that the roundabout is completely unmarked and unsigned. So which lane should you use for the third exit?
Looking at the photo – and with the benefit of hindsight – I’d probably use the left hand lane position on approach for the exits 1 and 2, and the right hand lane position for the exits 3, 4, and 5. The reader points out that that’s what the examiners expect.
However, someone new to the area encountering that roundabout for the first time could easily attempt the third exit in the left hand approach lane. This clearly shows the importance of local knowledge, and further demonstrates why pupils really do need to be taught specific sections of test routes. There is no way most learners could handle features like this (there are no signs or road markings) if they encounter them for the first time on test.
Finally, I would not signal on approach for the 3rd exit. I can see how some might, and it probably wouldn’t matter so long as they cancelled and indicated left as the passed 2. If they cancelled late, it could be marked as a fault.
Do you always position right if you’re taking the 3rd exit or turning right?
No. Usually, you will, of course – but there are roundabouts where the left lane can have double- or even triple-headed arrows painted in it. However, if the roundabout is unmarked on approach or has no marked lanes then it is most likely you will use the default roundabout procedure and so adopt the right position if turning right – unless local knowledge says otherwise.
Which lane should I choose?
It depends. If the roundabout is a simple four-road one and is unmarked:
- for left or straight ahead you should approach in the left hand lane or position to the left if the approach is a single lane. You should stay in that lane until you have left the roundabout, remembering to signal at the exit before the one you want
- for right or full circle then you should approach in the right hand lane or position to the right, then check your mirror and signal at the exit before the one you want
If the roundabout is marked, or if it has more than four roads joining it (quoting the HC):
- choose the appropriate lane or position on approach
Signs or road markings might tell you what position to use. Sometimes, it is down to local knowledge and nothing else. Here’s an example submitted by a reader.
The A47 from Norwich (A) continues straight ahead to Great Yarmouth (B). It is a dual-carriageway on both sides. The second exit (C) goes to the village of Blofield. The reader asked which lane to use approaching from A when intending to exit via C.
Most marked roundabouts like this will have signs and road arrows telling you which lanes to use. Unless you really know what you are doing, if two or more lanes are going in your direction, stay in the one on the left as the safest option.
This particular example is complicated by the fact that the main feed roads are dual carriageways, and that changes the priorities somewhat. If you think about it logically, trying to negotiate from A to C in the left lane is potentially dangerous because – in the absence of road markings telling you otherwise – it is perfectly acceptable for people to travel A to B in either lane. That would mean that if you tried to go A to C in the left lane, colliding with someone in the right lane who was travelling A to B would be quite likely. This is yet another example of local knowledge being extremely valuable.
Can I fail for going straight ahead from the left lane?
Ordinarily, the left hand lane is the correct one for straight ahead. However, if the roundabout is non-symmetrical, has more than one ‘straight ahead’ (intermediate) exit, or if signs or road markings indicate otherwise, then the left lane may not be the correct lane to use.
There is no one-size-fits-all, unfortunately. Gaining local knowledge through a driving instructor is important in these sorts of cases. So yes, in some cases just defaulting left will result in a fail.
Why isn’t it the middle lane for going straight ahead?
Sometimes it is – if there is one. But it can just as often be another lane. The Nottingham Knight roundabout near me has three lanes on one approach, with the two left ones going left, and the right-hand one for straight ahead and right. In general, you should follow the underlying principle of ‘left lane for left or straight ahead… unless road signs or road markings indicate otherwise’.
What does ‘lane discipline’ mean?
It means choosing the correct lane, and/or staying in the correct lane, and/or doing the right checks before changing lanes. It applies to all aspects of driving, not just roundabouts. Many drivers haven’t got a clue how lanes work, and this is where their problems stem from.
Can I change lanes on the roundabout if I get into the wrong one?
Yes, as long as you have checked to make sure you aren’t going to interfere with anyone else. However, it is a risky operation unless it is very quiet, and if you are likely to impede someone just follow the lane you’re in and effectively ‘go the wrong way’. Then either find a place to turn around or simply carry on round the roundabout and select the correct lane the next time around.
On your driving test, being in the wrong lane is almost certainly going to be marked as a fault. If you cause someone to slow down by changing lanes or hesitating you’re probably going to get a serious or dangerous fault. If you don’t check properly before switching you’ll probably get a serious fault even if there’s no one there.
What do roundabout exit numbers mean?
This is just a way for you to know where you’re going when you are being given directions. I explained it at the beginning of this article.
Does a satnav tell you which lane to use?
No. Even if it did it would be dangerous to trust it. Roadworks, for example, can change how you use lanes and the satnav would not know that.
What about service roads?
The term ‘service road’ is a bit of a misnomer these days. The road in question is just as often a gateway to a retail park or other site where there is usually no through road. They can even refer to entrances to grit yards or private areas where you’re not allowed to drive anyway. They usually appear on signs as smaller roads like this.
The service road is that little dash at the 8 o’clock position. Sometimes, the dash is so small you could easily not see it as you drive past. I usually don’t include them in the exit count – so the 2nd exit here would still be the one just after the 12 o’clock position.
But they are all different. We have one in Nottingham on the A52 which looks like this on the sign.
The garden centre is on a very small service road, and yet it has been designated as an actual roundabout exit by virtue of the length of the line.
Then you can have dual carriageways appearing as two dashes, like this (and I’ve included a service road).
Both carriageways are shown for each dual carriageway exit – but you only count each pair of dashes as a single exit. It is also common for dual carriageways to still only appear as a single dash on older signs.
It’s just a case of learning as you go along.
If the third exit is before 12 o’clock where do you position yourself in a roundabout?
As I have explained, there is no such thing as ‘the 12 o’clock rule. You simply use the same rules as for all the previous examples.
Remember that ‘straight ahead’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘the 2nd exit’. It depends on the road. Sometimes, ‘following the road’ can mean what would be virtually a right turn if you only looked at it from a geometric perspective.
If the 3rd exits is after 12 o’clock where do you position yourself in a roundabout?
As I have explained, there is no such thing as ‘the 12 o’clock rule’. You simply use the same rules as for all the previous examples.
Why do other people signal if it’s wrong?
You have to understand that simply having a driving licence does not automatically make someone a good driver. Some of them out there are appallingly bad.
As a result, you should never completely trust someone’s indicators – especially if they aren’t indicating at all.
What about these appendices to the Northern Ireland Highway Code?
A reader sent me a link, claiming that there is an appendix to the HC which advocates ‘the 12 o’clock rule’. The link is specifically for Northern Ireland (even though the reader is in England, and he should know that NI differs to the rest of the UK in several ways). The appendix in question is clearly not an official part of the HC, and it contradicts it directly. The actual NI HC says exactly the same thing as the UK one – except for this appendix.
What am I supposed to be checking for in my left mirror?
When you leave a roundabout, and especially when turning right, you need to make sure you’re not moving over into someone else’s path as you do.
What do I do if I’m leaving a roundabout and there is traffic on my nearside (left)?
Well, obviously you don’t want to end up colliding with the other traffic, so there’s your starting point. That leaves you with the choice of either slowing down slightly to give way to them, or continuing confidently and allowing them to give way to you. If there are two lanes, stay in yours and be careful.
Is it a ‘major’ if I stall at a roundabout?
It will be a driver fault if no one is there (or if you deal with it quickly or are lucky and the examiner is in a good mood). It will be a serious fault or worse if you cause a hold up of other danger. It is not automatically a serious/dangerous fault – but it can be.
What is ‘local knowledge’?
Precisely what it says – knowledge of how the locals deal with a situation. It doesn’t mean you can break the rules or anything, but it might be to do with how you position yourself to deal with a roundabout or other feature.
How do I enter a gridlocked roundabout?
There’s no simple answer to this. Every situation will be different. Above all else, you need to be both confident AND competent! Then it will come down to the realisation that unless you try to move out, you’re not going to get anywhere. Once you do start to edge out, someone will let you in.
What should I do if the traffic lights are out on a light-controlled roundabout?
In theory, treat it as a normal roundabout, giving way to traffic on your right. However, assume that everyone else on the road is an idiot who doesn’t understand this (trust me, it’s happened to me before, and everyone else IS an idiot in this scenario), and be very careful with traffic entering in front of you.
What is a spiral roundabout?
Personally, I don’t like this term and I don’t use it with my pupils (although I often explain it to them). All roundabouts are ‘spiral’ if you’re turning right – if you are on the inside nearest to the island, you’ve got to move out in order to exit.
The term is typically applied specifically to larger marked roundabouts – the ones that have a lot of lanes on them.
Why did I fail my test on roundabouts?
There is no specific mark for roundabouts on the DL25 marking sheet. Roundabout faults can come under a lot of things, usually related to lane discipline, observations, following road signs or road markings, correct signalling, planning, and so on.
I originally wrote this way back in 2008, but update it regularly. The topic keeps coming back because it is relevant to all learner drivers.
At the time of the original, DVSA had just updated its Internal Guidance Document (DT1) to say:
To ensure uniformity, when conducting car or vocational tests and ADI qualifying examinations, only assess the candidate’s ability to control the vehicle and do not consider it as a fault if, for example, they do not hold the steering wheel at ten to two or quarter to three or if they cross their hands when turning the steering wheel. The assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control.
The highlighted part was an addition, and prior to that DT1 had not mentioned the steering technique at all. In my area, none of the examiners had ever failed people for ‘crossing their hands’, anyway, and what DVSA was apparently doing was making sure that those around the country were clear on the subject (‘[ensuring] uniformity’). Reading between the lines, there had been a few complaints about some examiners faulting candidates unnecessarily.
The bottom line is that as long as steering is under control it doesn’t matter how a pupil does it. They can steer with one hand, with their palm, use hand over hand… it simply doesn’t matter. It hasn’t mattered for a very long time – not officially, anyway – and DVSA’s addition to DT1 was a clarification and not a major change in policy.
I think the root cause of the issue is that a lot of examiners are ex-ADIs, and many ADIs (and PDIs) get massively hung up on the whole business of ‘crossing your hands’ and holding the steering wheel ‘correctly’. This leads to more problems than it solves, especially if the person teaching it doesn’t understand what they are saying. Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) is the official syllabus that instructors should be working to, and at least two editions ago it said:
Turning – When turning the steering wheel, avoid crossing your hands. Except at low speeds, this can reduce your control and can cause an accident. Feed the rim of the steering wheel through your hands. Vary your hand movements according to the amount of lock you want.
This is called the pull-push technique.
This was not saying that you mustn’t cross your hands. It just quite correctly pointed out that the rapid steering action a hand-over-hand method can lead to might give rise to a loss of control at higher speeds – a subtlety lost on many people. But there is a huge difference between the effect produced by whipping the steering round quickly as you’re turning into a road at 20-30mph and the same action at 5-10mph.
The most recent editions of TES have merely said:
- place your hands on the steering wheel in a position that’s comfortable and which gives you full control
- keep your movements steady and smooth
- turn the steering wheel to turn a corner at the correct time
Personally, I rue the loss of the extra detail in the versions before this. It is part of a dumbing down process, and far too many instructors are ready to interpret it as some sort of admission that the ‘pull-push’ method is wrong. It most definitely isn’t. The pull-push technique – where steering is achieved by alternately pulling the wheel down with one hand, then changing grip and pushing it with the other – certainly isn’t the only way to steer, but for most beginners, who have not yet developed a suitable technique, it should definitely be the starting point. It requires hand coordination which, in turn, becomes a foundation for good car control.
A good analogy would be with a professional footballer. He can play ‘keepy up’ for hours on end in training because it is an important basic control skill – but you will rarely see him do it on the field. However, the coordination required to do it enables him to do other things during matches that he would otherwise struggle with.
It’s the same with steering. Being able to use pull-push properly is an important foundation skill that drivers should possess, even if they rarely using it in favour of a more chav-like style. Once beginners can do pull-push, they can steer easily without going wide on bends and corners. They are less likely to over-steer into kerbs, and are more confident as a result, being able to adjust their steering in a controlled manner. A major drawback to hand-over-hand steering for beginners who know no other way is that they can easily panic and over steer, and pull-push can help to address this.
Incidentally, when someone pull-pushes the steering in one direction, the natural return action frequently involves push-pull. They’re not two separate methods like some people seem to believe. It doesn’t matter whether you pull first, or push.
Why shouldn’t I turn (dry steer) the wheel when the car isn’t moving?
Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called ‘dry steering’. There’s no rule or law which says you mustn’t do it, and examiners do not mark you on it. I have much less of an issue with it than I once did, especially when doing manoeuvres. However, it is bad general practice for several reasons:
- it can damage your tyres
- it can damage your steering mechanism
- it can damage the road surface
Scrunching your tyres over gravel instead of rolling over the road surface leads to more wear. Doing it on glass or nails can give you a puncture. The extra strain involved when dry steering leads to more wear in the steering mechanism of your car. And scrunching your tyres on tarmac in hot weather can chew up the surface, which holds water in winter, and which can cause cracks if the water freezes – leading finally to potholes. You’ll get some smart arses telling you they’ve never come across an example where dry steering has caused actual damage, and others who insist the car will spontaneously disintegrate if you do it. The reality is that you should simply avoid doing it needlessly.
I find that many pupils can’t control the car and steer at the same time, and they need to dry-steer
That’s fair enough. However, in all the years I have been teaching, the number of pupils who couldn’t be taught to control the car at low-speed and steer pull-push at the same time have been relatively few.
Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering
I agree, but it can usually be overcome. Having said that, as time has gone by, I have less of an issue with pupils dry steering when doing manoeuvres than I once did.
I can’t master ‘pull-push’ steering
If you can steer safely and in control, it doesn’t matter how you do it. However, being able to pull-push is a basic skill to have, even if you don’t use it once you have acquired it. You can easily practice it at home using a book or dinner plate as a dummy steering wheel.
Don’t overthink steering, and don’t dismiss not being able to do it the very first time you try as some sort of permanent problem, because it almost certainly isn’t.
Do you have to use ‘push-pull’?
It’s actually called pull-push, but whatever you call it the answer is ‘no’. As far as I am aware, you have never had to do it that way, and you’re probably confused about being told that by your own instructor. The examiner doesn’t care how you steer as long as you’re in control. Pull-push is just an extremely useful basic skill to have, especially at the start.
What about ‘palming’?
This is what I refer to as ‘chav steering’ – it’s where someone uses the palm of one hand to rotate the wheel, and is the favoured method of people who are trying to cultivate an image. In all my years of driving, I have never felt that I need to use it, and have never tried to use it purposely. The only time I ever get close to it is when I am demonstrating something from the passenger seat and need to reach over and steer full lock one way or the other (something I learned when I was training and my tutor asked me to show him how to do a turn in the road from the passenger seat).
I often pick up pupils who use it, and I don’t immediately try to change them. However, if my guts flip even a small amount as a result of the change in momentum when turning a corner or bend then I’m right on it, and they will learn how to steer using pull-push.
Is it OK to teach learners to ‘palm’ the wheel?
As I have repeatedly said, if someone is in control when they steer, how they do it is irrelevant. But if instructors are purposely teaching this as the default method to beginners, you have to ask the question ‘in God’s name, why?’ A decent instructor should not be teaching palming as a preferred steering method for beginners. There’s too much that can go wrong with it.
They used to fail people for ‘crossing hands’ when steering
I’m going to stick my neck out here, but no they bloody well didn’t”!
Crossing hands has not been an issue in itself for the 40 years I’ve been driving. The only time it is a problem is when the learner grips the wheel and turns from the shoulders. At some point – less than half a turn – their arms cross and they can’t steer any more, even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That would be marked under steering control and could easily lead to failing a test.
The whole issue of not crossing hands comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them, quite possibly because their instructor didn’t understand it, either.
How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?
It isn’t rocket science, so don’t lead your pupils to think it is. Teach them how to pull-push first, and then let them develop their own style from there. Pull-push requires fundamental skills that they can use in their own style. Let them practice with a large book or diary – if you have a dummy steering wheel, so much the better.
My pupil can’t steer in a straight line
This is usually because they are thinking way too hard about what their hands are doing. Some will even be looking at the car logo in the middle of the steering wheel as if that is going to help.
The important thing here is ‘let your hands follow your eyes’. The way I deal with it is like this. I find a big empty space – a car park at weekends or in the evening is usually a good bet. Then I point out a few landmarks, such as ‘that blue door’, ‘that chimney’, ‘the front of that lorry’, and so on. Then, I take control of the car using the dual controls and tell them to aim directly at whichever landmark I identify.
I get them to turn their heads and keep their eyes fixed on whatever I have pointed out to aim for, and not to look at their hands. We might stop to do a quick pull-push refresher using my diary as a steering wheel, then maybe practice it at very low speed, but we get back to aiming at the various targets. We might start by purposely driving in a figure-of-eight pattern, but that quickly becomes a rote action, so I then randomly start naming targets so they have to steer in directions – and to degrees – they decide for themselves.
How do I correct someone’s steering while they’re driving?
This is an actual search term used to find the blog. It might be necessary for an instructor to position the car correctly for a learner simply by holding the steering wheel and steering slightly from the passenger seat. The pupil can then zero in on their position relative to the kerb or white lines and learn from that.
How many turns is full lock?
This one gets a lot of hits. It varies from car to car. In my Ford Focus it is currently just over 1¼ turns either way, but in the previous model it was just under 1½ turns. One of my pupils had a car where it was nearly 2 whole turns. The easiest way of finding out is to try it – but don’t get hung up on it, because you need to steer enough to make the car go where it needs to go, and not worry about numbers.
Is full lock the same as one complete turn?
Full lock is when the steering wheel won’t turn any further. It will go “clunk” against the end stop. One turn is one turn. If full lock is more than one turn, then no, full lock and one turn are not the same.
How much do I need to steer?
You need to steer enough to make the car go where you want it to go, and not to hit things you want to avoid. Don’t get bogged down counting quarters or halves of turns of the wheel (except perhaps during some manoeuvres). Steer as much as you need to by watching where you’re going and making the car go there.
I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?
The clue is in the question. Too much of anything is likely to be wrong. If you steer ‘too much’ on bends you are liable to clip the kerb or put too much sideways force on the car, which could lead to you spinning out or losing control (among other possible bad outcomes). So, yes. It is dangerous – and wrong.
What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?
In my experience, the following are all high on the list:
- looking at the steering wheel
- looking too close to the front of the car
- looking at the kerb
- not looking ahead
- being distracted by other things
- gripping the wheel too tightly
- not moving their hands when steering
- steering too much or too quickly
- steering too little or too slowly
The list is really endless, but not all learners make all these mistakes. Most pupils who have problems tend to major in just one of them. It’s their ‘thing’.
Whatever fault they are experiencing, it is important to identify the precise cause. It’s usually because of where they’re looking, or what they’re thinking about when it happens (fiddling with indicators is a classic example, or struggling with the gears).
My pupil keeps moving the steering wheel all the time, even on straight roads
It’s probably because they’re not looking far enough ahead. Learners tend to look just in front of the car, and react to things with jerky actions. An experienced driver will be looking well ahead, making minor steering corrections all the time to maintain a straight line. Since learners don’t see as far ahead to start with, they tend to drift closer to kerbs and centre lines, and only realise this later and so react in a jerky way. Trust me, if you ask your pupil to stare at something in the far distance – ‘that big tree’, ‘that bollard’, ‘the back of that lorry’, and so on – their steering nearly always becomes silky smooth immediately. Make sure you explain to them what just happened, and how to use it, otherwise some are likely to think that just staring at the back of any lorry is the solution to everything!
This is often where I park up and do my ‘perspective’ session. I sketch a horizon line, and build up a drawing of a road with buildings and pavements all meeting at the ‘vanishing point’. I explain that if they always aim for the vanishing point, they can’t possibly hit any of the buildings or pavements. There’s more explanation to it than this, but that’s the basics.
My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel
If they’re in control it doesn’t matter. They should try to keep two hands on the wheel, but dropping to one hand now and then isn’t a problem. It can even be a good exercise to get them to steer with one hand – their road position often improves dramatically, because they are concentrating more.
How can I practice steering?
Well, first of all, don’t overthink the subject. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a pupil who couldn’t steer within a few minutes – and certainly not within 20 minutes or so – so you shouldn’t worry too much about it.
Occasionally, I do get people who have an initial problem with pull-push steering if they’ve never done it before. What I do in those cases is whip out my diary, which is A4-sized, and get them to pull-push-pull one way, then the other. For many, it’s a bit like those wooden Chinese puzzles you get, where once you know the secret you can do it with your eyes shut. Once they get the hand movements for pull-push once, they’ve cracked it.
In the past, I’ve had pupils who have practiced at home using a dinner plate, and one even used the toy steering wheel one of her kids had. Years ago, one of my pupils used to practice parallel parking at home on the bed using a dinner plate (when I asked, she said she didn’t make the engine noises to go along with it). As long as you lock yourself in somewhere with the curtains drawn no one will laugh at you!
I thought I’d update this article yet again as I’m currently getting a lot of hits from people looking for ‘overall stopping distance’ and ‘stopping on ice’. I also get quite a few people looking for motorbike stopping distances.
This diagram shows stopping distances in metres (which are easier to remember).
First of all, for motorbikes, all the Highway Code (HC) says:
Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should
- leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. The safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance (see Typical Stopping Distances [chart above])
- allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic and in tunnels where visibility is reduced. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and increased still further on icy roads
- remember, large vehicles and motorcycles need a greater distance to stop. If driving a large vehicle in a tunnel, you should allow a four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front
If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.
There are no official stopping distances specifically for motorcycles that I’m aware of. The Highway Code just says motorbikes need to allow a greater distance to stop. In any case, stopping distances are theoretical and depend on various external factors. Any chart is only for guidance, and these stopping distances from the HC are based on a well-maintained vehicle with good brakes and fitted with tyres having plenty of tread.
RoSPA carried out some tests in 2005 and measured stopping distances versus different tyre tread depths (at a fixed speed).
They found that overall stopping distance increases dramatically when tread is less than 3mm and recommend that tyres be changed at this point.
Obviously, tyres cost money. For that reason many people avoid replacing them until it is absolutely necessary. However, I would suggest that many bumps and even some more serious accidents might have been avoided if people had had their tyres replaced sooner.
Remember that if you are stopped by the police and found to have defective tyres then you could lose your licence – especially if you’re a new driver on the two-year probationary period who perhaps already has points. Remember, too, that someone who lets their tyres go below the legal minimum of 1.6mm is likely to have let other things slip as well, and the police will almost certainly check for other defects if they find your tyres are bald.
What is the legal minimum tread depth?
The specification is that tyres should have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread across the middle three-quarters of the tyre’s surface, and this should apply for the whole circumference.
How can I measure my tread depth?
Use a proper tyre tread tool, available for a few pounds from a motorists’ store. Alternatively, the little ring of dots on 10p coins (newer coins don’t have them) is about 1.6mm from the edge of the coin. If your tread is anywhere near 1.6mm, get your tyres replaced urgently.
How can I remember stopping distances?
First of all, you can try and use your memory. It’s easy to remember the different speeds from 20mph up to 70mph. Similarly, the “thinking distance” starts at 6m and goes up by 3m for each 10mph step. All you have to do then is memorise the overall distances, which allows you to calculate the “braking distance”.
There is also a way to calculate overall stopping distance in feet using a little mental arithmetic. All you do is square the speed you’re doing in mph, divide by 20, then add the mph you had at the start to get the answer. For example:
- At 20mph: 20 x 20 = 400; divide by 20 = 20; add 20 = 40 feet
- At 70mph: 70 x 70 = 4,900; divide by 20 = 245; add 70 = 315 feet
You can convert this to approximate metres by multiplying by 3, then dividing by 10, so:
- For 40 feet: 40 x 3 = 120; divide by 10 = 12 metres
- For 315 feet: 315 x 3 = 945; divide by 10 = 94.5 metres
It’s only approximate, but it is close enough to get the answer when you’re doing your Theory Test.
Is it vital to know stopping distances?
Well, in order to pass your Theory Test (assuming a question comes up, and assuming you want to get it right), yes.
Personally, I don’t think that knowing the actual numbers is of any direct benefit for seasoned drivers. The main thing is to understand how the distances increase the faster you’re going, which means you should allow for this when you’re driving. Learning the stopping distances when you first start your lessons helps you develop that understanding.
If you assume that a typical car is 4m long, a stopping distance of 96m (315 feet) is equivalent to about 24 car lengths – or approximately 150 paces for someone of average height. That’s a long way.
The 2-second rule is of far greater practical application in day-to-day driving.
What is the stopping distance when it’s wet?
There are no tabulated figures, because the term “wet” can mean anything from a bit damp to under several inches of water! The stopping distance chart applies to good tyres on a good surface under good conditions – and even then you cannot possibly know how close you are to all those “good” conditions.
The HC advises that you allow for a following distance of at least 2 seconds (‘the 2 second rule’) in good conditions, and to at least double that (4 seconds) in the wet. Note that the HC doesn’t say how long it will take to stop when it’s icy – it just says it will take a lot more than a 2 or 4 second gap will allow for.
Maintaining a safe distance like this gives you time to react and stop – and that’s where your overall stopping distance fits in.
The whole point of the stopping distance chart is that you recognise the overall distances involved – not that you quickly do a load of maths in your head every time you brake, or attempt to drive as close as you can to someone in front. After a bit of experience you will be capable of recognising what amounts to “too close”.
What is the stopping distance on ice or snow?
There isn’t one. Trust me, if you’re going too fast on even the gentlest downward slope in snow or on black ice and you brake, there is every chance that you won’t stop until you collide with something. Some sources say it can take up to ten times the normal stopping distance, but that’s far too specific for something that is virtually impossible to measure accurately.
How quickly you stop on ice or snow (or mud, or leaves, or oil) depends on the temperature, the type of slippy stuff you’re on, how thick it is, how compact it is, and many other factors.
I’ve already mentioned the gradient, which has a dramatic effect – skid uphill and you’ll stop thanks to gravity, skid downhill and gravity may well cause you to speed up once you start to slip. There are a few hills on my patch which are impassable in winter if it snows – in either direction. You either can’t get up them, or you can’t stop if you’re going down and need to.
This is why the split between ‘thinking distance’ and ‘braking distance’ is irrelevant on snow and ice.
What is the stopping distance for [insert car name here]?
Yes, someone found the blog whilst searching for Ford Focus stopping distances!
I’ll repeat what I said above: stopping distance applies to good tyres on a good surface under good conditions. It has virtually nothing to do with what car you’re in.
What is the stopping distance in a tunnel?
It’s the same as anywhere else. I think people are getting mixed up with this sentence in the Highway Code (Rule 126):
If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.
Note the word ‘stop’. It’s to allow freedom of movement if people have to get out and evacuate (or if anyone needs to get in to deal with something). However, you should use your own common sense when driving normally through a tunnel. The two-second rule is a minimum, not a target to meet at all costs. Maintain a safe distance of at least two seconds when driving in a tunnel, and leave at least a 5 metre gap if you have to stop in a tunnel.
Incidentally, if you are following the two-second rule when driving at 30mph, you will be nearly 30 metres behind the car in front. At 60mph this gap will be over 55 metres. That’s plenty of space to ensure you don’t stop too close to the car in front if traffic stops in the tunnel.
Have Highway Code stopping distances ever been updated?
Not to my knowledge. They’re the same now as they were in the 1960s, I believe.
Remember that the ‘thinking’ part won’t have changed anyway (other than being questioned by Brake), and the actual ‘braking’ part is still composed of the physical capabilities of the car and those of the driver.
This article was last updated in 2018, but it’s become popular again recently.
At the time of the original, I had recently seen a forum post from someone who had failed their driving test five times, and who said that the whole test business was too stressful and that they were ready to give up. The poster said that they fretted over the test for weeks beforehand, and the repeated failures were affecting them deeply.
Many years ago – and I’d not been an instructor for very long – one of my then pupils (let’s call her Clare), who had previously failed two tests, told me she’d been to her doctor and he’d prescribed beta-blockers. I knew what they were normally used for and asked her if her heart was OK. She told me they weren’t for her heart, and that her doctor had prescribed them to help her with her driving nerves. So I read up on the subject.
At the time this happened to Clare, I’d naïvely assumed that everyone would be like me, and that “getting butterflies” was par for the course. For most people it is par for the course, but as the years passed I came to realise that a fair number of pupils get ‘butterflies’ so bad that they are physically sick on test day – literally vomiting – and that is not par for the course. I’ve had those who start shaking when we arrive at the test centre, or who just break down and can’t go through with it. And I’ve had a couple who, after committing a non-serious fault (the examiner’s precise words) while out on their test, suffer a complete meltdown and can’t continue. This is not ‘butterflies’, and it is not ‘test day nerves’. It’s people with genuine issues.
The effect on Clare was dramatic. She was already a good driver, but she improved even more as a result of a growing confidence. Previously, she’d been a bag of nerves on her tests – it even transpired that she was nervous on lessons, but tests made it a hundred times worse. But after she started taking the tablets she passed on her next attempt. It was a real eye-opener for me. From that moment on, if I ever suspected someone was suffering from crippling nerves, I would advise them to speak to their GP. In many cases this resulted in them being given beta-blockers. There was a marked effect every single time – with some bordering on the miraculous.
Although beta-blockers are intended to treat heart conditions associated with angina and heart attacks, doctors often prescribe them “off-label” (i.e. not for their licensed purpose) for anxiety. Propanolol is usually the one they issue. When I read up on it it turned out that actors and musicians commonly use them to ward off the effects of stage fright or the jitters when playing instruments. They’re banned in athletics because they give archers and marksmen an unfair advantage (steadier hands than without them) in competition.
Beta-blockers are a prescription-only medicine, and should only be taken if specifically prescribed to you by your doctor for this specific purpose. You must not get them from someone else, as there might be a medical reason you can’t have them, and the dosage might be different. One pupil wasn’t allowed them when she was in the early stages of pregnancy, for example, and was prescribed a lower dose while she was breastfeeding. Another had problems with his blood pressure and wasn’t given them. Another was already taking medication for anxiety and the doctor switched her to beta-blockers instead (which also helped as she was less tired with them), but another was already on anxiety medication and wasn’t given them because her existing medication was stronger. Only your GP knows your medical history and will be able to make the call on whether you can have them or not.
Beta-blockers are not ‘zonk-out’ pills that make you sleepy. No one knows the precise mechanism by which they can be used to treat anxiety, but I explain it this way.
Imagine that you’re sitting at home, feet up, chilling out with a beer or whatever. Your anxiety level (i.e. ‘nerves’) might look something like this.
Assuming you don’t have any issues, if you’re confronted with a situation of some sort which stresses you out a bit, your nerves might react like this to the stressful situation.
This is perfectly normal – anyone is going to get stressed when confronted by a stressful situation. However, some people have a chilled stress level which looks like this.
It might not be like it at home (though sometimes it is), but even going on a driving lesson is likely to send it in this direction. The problem then is that the test (and sometimes, even driving lessons) can send it to this when additional stress is added.
This is into meltdown territory. At the very least, the person experiencing it is going to find concentrating difficult, especially on their driving test – and that is likely to lead to mistakes.
What beta-blockers do is effectively make this.
Much closer to this.
Maybe not as low as this, but much more like it. And that means any additional stress doesn’t lead to overload the way it does in an already stressed person.
One of the best stories I have concerns a pupil who was initially breastfeeding. She’d been taking lessons for a long time before she came to me and wasn’t getting anywhere. She turned out to be one of those people who aren’t natural drivers, and who were going to find things difficult no matter what. It didn’t matter what we covered on a lesson, or how much progress appeared to have been made, because by the next lesson she’d be doing things exactly the way she always did. Every stop was likely to throw me through the windscreen if I wasn’t ready for it, and she was like a cat on hot bricks with every action or movement. Driving in a straight line was fine as long as we didn’t have to stop – if we did, you could see the wheels in her head start to go round, the possibilities start to multiply, and chances were she’d try and turn left or right instead for no reason whatsoever. She was like a guitar string that had been tightened to breaking point when she was in the driver’s seat, and some days were especially bad. I saw her walking down the street a couple of times, and she was always in a massive hurry and looking flustered – in one instance, even muttering to herself.
I’d already talked to her about beta-blockers, and when she’d gone to see her doctor – not her regular GP, who was away – she’d been told she couldn’t have them because she was breastfeeding, so we soldiered on. But she went back to her GP a couple of months later – this time, her regular one – and asked again about using beta-blockers. He told her she could have them, but at a reduced dose.
The effect was astounding. All of a sudden, she was actually learning things, and they were sticking between lessons. If you think of learning to drive on a 0-100 scale, to begin with she was about 10-20 and getting no better. Beta-blockers suddenly took her to 40-50 over a couple of months. Then she fell pregnant again, and had to stop taking them, but the remarkable thing was that her driving stabilised where it had got to – it didn’t fall back – and we were in a much better position to move forward.
Initially, her nerves had created a shell through which nothing new could pass. Beta-blockers cracked the shell wide open, and new information flooded in. When she stopped taking them, the shell closed and we were back to square one in the sense learning new stuff was difficult – but the extra she’d learned before was still there!
So, in a nutshell, if you really are having a problem with anxiety or “nerves” when you’re driving, a trip to your GP might be worth considering.
I originally published this back in 2010. It is extremely popular, and since it keeps getting plagiarised (without due credit) elsewhere, I update it regularly.
I’ve seen a huge surge in hits during the COVID-19 pandemic. I assume that this is due to the number of people who have lost their jobs and are looking to work for themselves in future.
Incidentally, this is a long article, and if you don’t have the attention span to read it, and if Facebook one-liners and emojis are more your style, being an ADI might not be for you. And that applies even if you are already one.
In 2010 we were on the brink of a recession following a spike in ADI recruitment. We didn’t realise there was an imminent recession, but there were lavish adverts everywhere, promising huge earnings (one of them – LDC – laughingly declared that you could earn £40k a year!) Such earnings, the adverts said, could be had working “hours to suit yourself”. But was that really possible? To earn £30,000 or more by working just a few hours a day, and not weekends? Are things any different now?
Recession aside, it was certainly possible to earn that magic £30,000 as long as you had the work, charged sensible prices, and were prepared to do long hours – but I stress the word “possible”. LDC, who I mentioned above, were referring to turnover with their £40k nonsense, and that is highly misleading.
This industry is fickle, and a fat period can easily be followed by a lean one. Even in normal times, you can do 40 hours one week, but the next might see you struggling for 20. Over a full year you might manage £30k, but the next one – especially if it had a recession (or a pandemic) in it, or if fuel prices increased (petrol went from 80p to over 140p within two years in 2010) – you’d have no chance. I was lucky and managed to weather that storm – but many instructors failed dramatically and gave up the job which had cost them so much to train for.
Things picked up again at the start of 2016 after a five year doldrums and the future once again looked bright. There were a lot of pupils wanting lessons, and fuel prices fell again. Then Brexit came along and threw a massive spanner in the works, fuel prices continue to go up and down like a yo-yo, and now we have the damage caused by COVID-19 to deal with (along with whatever Brexit ends up doing). And on top of that the government and local councils are intent on making it as hard for drivers as possible, even to the extent that the end of manual cars is clearly on the horizon.
Many instructors have already given up thanks to COVID-19. But plenty of people who cannot drive, and who have also lost their jobs, need licences in order to improve their prospects – and there is a huge backlog of them. The future looks uncertain, but for ADIs it might have a few silver linings depending on how you look at things.
About Being an ADI
How does an ADI’s wage compare with my old wage?
You must compare like-for-like figures. If your old salaried job had a stated 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 obtaining money (turnover) from customers by selling lessons, and paying out money (expenses) in order to deliver those lessons. Their “wage” is totally dependent on these things, and is basically what they have left after subtracting expenses from turnover. Both are variable, so it is necessary to make a few sensible assumptions if you want to estimate future earnings. The worst thing you can do is overestimate your potential turnover and/or underestimate your potential expenses – if you do, the figure you come up with is little better than a random guess.
An ADI’s business expenses come from annual costs for their car, fuel, insurance, advertising, office supplies, and so on. Turnover is just the total amount of money they took from whatever it is they are selling – usually lessons, but sometimes a few other related things. The turnover-minus-expenses calculation has to be for a full year to get the comparable salaried figure. In the simplest case, if an ADI delivers 30 hours of lessons per week for 52 weeks of the year, and charges £25 per hour for lessons, their annual turnover will be £39,000. Expenses (or overheads) will be different for everyone, but a typical overall annual figure might be around £12,000. Subtract one from the other and you’re left with £27,000 gross profit. That is a wage figure – before tax and National Insurance – which can be used to compare with other jobs.
What are examples of expenses/overheads?
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. Having dual controls fitted is an overhead. 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 portion of your household heating and lighting is a business overhead. A car wash is an overhead. And so on.
Advertising is an overhead which can make all the difference between success and failure for an ADI, though these days the kind of advertising that costs a lot of money is less beneficial than cheaper (or free) methods, such as social media. If you are on a franchise, advertising is less of an issue as the franchiser takes care of it, but if you are independent then you will need to arrange and/or 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?
Look it up on the internet, in magazines, or visit showrooms and forecourts. One way or the other, the price you pay for your car affects your “wage” over the entire period of time you own it. For example, if you spend £10,000 on one, keep it for 5 years, then sell it for £2,000 at the end of that period, that £8,000 difference is a business overhead, and it works out to about £30 a week over the 5-year period. No matter how you look at it, or try to word it, it is definitely costing you £30 a week over the whole five years. Fitting dual controls, and taxing and insuring it, are extras which might amount to another £10 a week over the same period. Repairs could be anything from £0 and easily up to an equivalent of £10-£20 a week in any given financial year (the age of the car is important here).
Alternatively, you could lease a car from one of the various main dealers, specialised ADI lease companies, and driving school franchise providers. Prices start at around £60 a week and often include tax and insurance as part of the price. Dual controls are usually standard items, or can sometimes be negotiated into dealer prices if that’s the route you choose. Top prices can be £200 or more per week (but read the rest of this article before you decide that £200 is “too much”).
How much does it cost to run a car?
It depends on the mpg figure of the car, and how you and your pupils drive it. Obviously, this is a variable, but for normal petrol vehicles a 30 hour week fuel bill might come to £90-£120 (2019 estimates). For diesel, it would be about two-thirds of that figure. I don’t know about the other fuel types.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are obviously making inroads these days, and people start going on about how little it costs to “fuel” them. The first thing to remember if you think going electric is some sort of unique selling point that will save you money is that you would be teaching automatic and not manual. On top of that, there is the initial cost of an EV to consider (which is much higher than for normal cars), it’s range per charge (which you’d have to work around), its charging time (ditto), and where you will charge it (ditto). If you buy an EV second-hand, think about how the range will be affected, and how you would handle a failed battery (which is usually a substantial part of the vehicle’s cost new). Also think about the future – once the government stops getting income from tax on petrol and diesel, it will start looking for other sources of funding, and EV drivers are still only “road users” at the end of the day,
How many miles would I drive in a year?
A typical driving test in Nottingham can cover 10-15 miles, so you could logically argue that on average your lessons would cover a similar distance. On a 30-hour week, that’s 300+ miles (16,000+ annually) just for lesson time plus, say, 5 miles travelling between every lesson (another 8,000 miles). A total of 24,000 miles annually. If you get busy, it goes up further. And if – like me – you take pupils outside test routes, it goes up even more. It’s also worth noting that 24,000 miles would equate to around 50 trips to the garage forecourt, or at least 80 full charge cycles on a typical EV.
Leased vehicles usually have mileage caps. I lease, and speaking personally, I do between 30,000-45,000 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, because it’s what’s on the dashboard display when you give it back that matters and not just how far you drove with your pupils.
Obviously, giving lessons in big cities might cover fewer miles. But make sure you do your homework properly, and don’t apply London mileage to rural locations. If you end up trying to stay within a mileage cap your lesson quality will suffer, and you’re less than 12 months away from a return to salaried employment if you do that. One reason I’m usually busy is that I don’t hold back on the miles, and pupils like that. Being busy easily compensates financially for driving a few extra miles.
How many hours would I need to work?
Everyone’s personal 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.
If this job is your primary income source, you’ve got to earn enough to be able to pay your bills by getting a living wage. If every hour you work nets you £25 of turnover, and your weekly overheads bill is £220, you will need to work for 9 hours (dead hours) to cover that. 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 £27,000. However, you will almost certainly not get this amount of work straight away, it also doesn’t include Christmas or other quieter periods, it doesn’t take into account fluctuations in fuel prices, and it assumes your insurance company doesn’t lay any nasty surprises on you from one year to the next. You should allow for all this in your plans.
When I first started teaching I needed to be doing 17 hours of lessons each week in order to run my business and pay my personal bills as they stood at that time (these days, it’s much less). I was covering my business overheads within a week, and my personal commitments within 5 weeks. Since then, and apart from the Christmas period (which also fluctuates depending on which day Christmas falls), I’ve never dropped below 20 hours. Your personal circumstances will be different to mine, so you can only use this as guidance, but I’ve seen people on various forums still struggling to make 10 hours even after a year. You can’t survive long on that.
New ADIs consistently overlook the fact that unless you are averaging 30 hours a week over a full 12-month period, you are not going to earn £27,000 over that same period. A 40 hour week here or there feels great, but if for every 40-hour week you have three 15 hour ones, your average is just over 20 hours. So your annual salary is going to be substantially (a third) less than that £27,000 figure.
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 seeking to become ADIs tend to be brimming over with enthusiasm the moment they announce they’re going to do it, but they haven’t considered the harsh realities of running business. Dreaming of earning £30k is light years away from achieving it. And remember your tax and NI. At the end of each financial year, you are going to have to pay those two by 31 January the following year. Never fall into the trap of thinking every penny you take is yours to spend unless you want to get yourself in a mess at Christmas each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a wholly unforeseen example of what can go wrong. You need to make sure you can deal with such things if they hit, instead of being in a position where you can’t afford to eat and your house is at risk.
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 no, and it’s no with knobs on if you’re expecting it right at the start. Those adverts are dangerously misleading when they suggest this is possible, because it always comes back to the simple fact that your salary is directly proportional to how many hours you work. Sticking with 30 hours as a target weekly number needed, you could fit that into five days in theory, but you are counting on things that simply cannot be relied on.
When I first started, most pupils took two hour lessons, and the best days were when I had a 10am, a 2pm, and a 6.30pm lesson. Since I also work weekends, it meant I was easily getting over 40 hours many weeks, and I even remember doing a couple where I ran to over 50. As time has gone by, pupils have gradually shifted to doing hour or hour-and-a-half lessons. Some still want two hours, but not all the time. I’m comfortable as long as I do at least 30 hours. Bearing all that in mind, imagine trying to fit it into Monday-Friday, then imagine trying to make it 9-5 as well.
Firstly, you’d have to go out during rush hour, and I avoid this like the plague because traffic is often gridlocked. Secondly, you’d have to give yourself a short travel time between lessons, and heavy traffic can screw that up in an instant. Short gaps between lessons means rushing the debrief, or cutting driving time short to compensate, and pupils will notice that. They will also notice if you are late for a lesson. Thirdly, you need to eat, drink, and have toilet stops. Some people insist on a ‘lunch hour’, which kills an hour from your schedule. Then there are the school run times, accidents, road closures, and so on. The tighter you make your schedule, the more likely it is to go wrong.
If you’re late more than once, many pupils will simply dump you and say bad things about you (I pick up loads who cite turning up late as their reason for changing). If lessons are rushed, they’ll end up dumping you. If you take them into heavy traffic when they’re not ready, some won’t like and will dump you. You driving around trying to find somewhere quiet will not go down well more than once, and they will dump you. At best, they won’t recommend you. All of this will damage your business.
Finally, many pupils will have fixed times during which they can do lessons – fitting around lectures, jobs, childcare, and so on. In many cases, this will mean they want evening or weekend lessons.
In a nutshell, you cannot reliably deliver 30 hours of lessons week-in and week-out in most locations if you just do Monday-Friday, and you’ve got no chance if you also make it 9-5. Realistically, you’ve got to allow for evening and weekend lessons unless you’re only doing the job for a bit of pocket money.
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 is utterly convinced that they will corner the entire pupil market and consistently be working 50-hour weeks inside a fortnight. That isn’t going to happen.
You can never guarantee how much work you will have even in the good times, which is probably the main reason so many people went back to salaried employment after the last recession. As I said earlier, I sometimes see newbies on forums and social media still struggling to get as many as 10 hours, even after a year.
COVID-19 has thrown a massive spanner in the works – right next to the one Brexit threw in earlier. The last recession was evidence enough of what can happen. This time around, the problems caused by COVID-19 might initially have a positive effect on work levels, but if a major recession follows then that could all change in an instant.
In my early days, when the market was buoyant, I tested the water in various ways. First of all, I spent £600 on a business card sized advert in Yellow Pages (the done thing when YP was the size of a breeze block). I got absolutely zero enquiries out of it, other than skip loads of spam ever since. Then I tried placing a quarter page advert in one of those local free monthly magazines with a “guaranteed circulation of over 10,000” at a cost of £300 over three months. Again, I got zero enquiries. The return on the investment just wasn’t worth it, so I stopped. But by then I was getting referrals, so it didn’t matter anymore.
People think they’ll get lucky pinning their business card on the wall of the local chippy. One person in a thousand might, but the other 999 won’t. So be careful when other established instructors tell you to ‘advertise’ like this because times have changed, but they haven’t. It’s worth doing it, but don’t rely on it.
The only realistic way these days is to make sure you’re on social media, have a website, then annoy everyone else on the internet by keep mentioning your school, FB page, and website every time you get the chance. It’s really annoying, but don’t worry because everyone does it anyway. Then, once (and if) you start to build a good reputation, you’ll also get people refer their friends and relatives to you by name. It’s a slow-burn method, but it works. In the the first couple of months of 2020 I had about a dozen new pupils come through that way.
So how DO I get new pupils?
As I said above, get yourself on social media, get a website, and push your services whenever you can. Get some business cards, and – if you can afford it – some giveaways. I give all my pupils a plush toy animal keyring when they pass their tests, and an A5 diary each year (so some will get two diaries while they’re with me, and one has had at least three!)
Once you’re established you will start to get referrals from previous pupils. However, don’t expect these referrals to go on forever. Some pupils will not refer you anyway, and others won’t have anyone to refer even if they wanted to. Every now and then you’ll perhaps get lucky, and a pupil (or their parents) will start giving your number to dozens of other parents, so you’ll get an influx of work. This is why it is important to deliver good quality lessons and overall service – sometimes, you’ll get a stack of referrals even after just one lesson if the pupil liked you. Other times, a pupil you taught anything up to ten years ago will suddenly start flashing your name around – I’m teaching a lot of Nigerians at the moment for precisely that reason. But in most cases, beyond a brother or sister, the channel dries up and you have to hope others kick in.
Don’t expect all referrals to run smoothly, either. You may have taught an excellent pupil, who you got on really well with, and who passed their test easily, and who is now singing your praises to everyone. But their brother, sister, cousin, friend, or whatever (and I’m thinking of one fairly recent example of my own) can turn out to be a right unreliable pain in the arse.
By all means experiment with different methods, but bear in mind my own experiences. And don’t expect overnight results.
How do you deal with unreliable pupils?
Not all unreliable pupils are like that just because they’re prats. Some will have ongoing health issues, some have genuine bereavements, some have genuine and very important job interviews that they weren’t aware of when they arranged their lesson, some work for employers who couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery (McDonalds, for example), some have money issues, and so on. Of course, there are always a few who really are just prats.
My philosophy is very simple. I can tell what mood someone is in two seconds after they open the car door, and I build up a detailed picture of the kinds of people they are from the first moment I meet them. I’m straight and upfront with them – if they’re shy and quiet I mention it, and I quickly find out what they do and what kind of music and sport they follow, so we can talk to each other like grown-ups (obviously avoiding the taboo aspects). I know what jobs they have, which college or university they’re at, what they’re studying, and so on. So I tend to know if their claim to having just shaken off a bout of malaria or having undergone a full internal organ transplant is true or not. If I think they’re lying to me when they make their excuses, I’ll give them my “riot act” speech and allow them a couple more chances. If they do it again after that I stop teaching them. I have only ever got rid of a small number out of the many hundreds I’ve taught.
My “riot act” speech includes how much it costs me to run my business, how much I lose when people cancel or don’t turn up, and the question about how they would feel if they lost that amount of money out of their wage packet. It also includes a bit about being honest, and how I am far more tolerant with someone who simply can’t afford the lesson and tells me so than I am with someone who can’t afford it, but instead claims they were hit by a meteorite or had food poisoning for the sixth time in two months. It usually does the trick.
I give every pupil a paper diary and insist they bring it out with them every lesson (and that can be fun). I often get their parents involved. Those with health issues will already have told me about it, and I just ask them to give me as much notice as possible if they are unwell. Sudden genuine illness can’t be helped, nor can sudden job interviews. If someone is sick, they can’t drive – and that includes me. If something personal comes up, that can’t be helped either – and that includes me, too.
The only time I claim a lesson (and even then, not always if they call me first) is when they are pissed, or are recovering from having been pissed. I had one turn up one time who couldn’t stand and didn’t recognise me, and I didn’t teach him again. There are some pupils I won’t allow to book Saturday mornings because I know they go out Friday nights. If I know others are going anywhere where they might drink, I won’t let them book the next morning as a precaution – or certainly discuss it with them. Many will already think of this themselves. And many – or their parents – will insist on paying anyway if they know they’re at fault.
Each pupil is worth an average of £900 to me, and a zero-tolerance approach would cost me a lot more than the occasional missed lesson does. Therefore, I do everything I possibly can to work around the problem. It’s only the ones I can’t fix who I let go. I treat last-minute cancellations as holidays, not as lost income. You simply have to accept that short-notice lesson cancellations will happen, but you have to consider what you will lose if you’re too driven by your terms & conditions. For me, with a 48-hour written cancellation policy (which I rarely uphold), alarm bells start ringing when cancellations reach about 10% of the likely income I’d get from a pupil over short period of time. That happens very infrequently – and these days I can usually fill vacated lesson slots even with less than 24 hours notice.
How easy is the job?
You’ll spend all of your time sitting on your backside, save from the occasional walk into and out of the test centre, 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. And 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 imagining the piles of money you’re going to be rolling in.
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. Any learner can 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 that doesn’t even have an entrance, 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 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. Or the one who doesn’t even see the roundabout or 90 degree turn right in front of them. Or the one who decides that “follow the road ahead” means go where the car is pointing right now. Or the one who only hears you say “right” when you say “look to the right”, and instantaneously yanks the wheel in that direction (this is even more likely if you also make any sort of hand gesture indicating a particular direction). Or the one from a country where there is no such thing as “give way”, who executes an emergency stop every time they detect another vehicle within half a mile of 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. Or the one who, while driving along at a steady 50mph, decides to change gear needlessly – and then either finds 1st by mistake, or pulls on the handbrake lever. Or the one who, when moving out into (or driving in) busy traffic, accidentally hits the brake instead of the accelerator. And so it goes on. Some of it just happens. Other times, there’s an underlying medical issue such as dyspraxia involved – sometimes diagnosed, sometimes not (and sometimes diagnosed, but they just haven’t told you about it even though you have specifically asked them a dozen times before in an attempt to figure out why they apparently want to kill you every lesson).
Then there are pedestrians, Audi drivers, and – sigh – cyclists, who will think nothing of moving directly into your path, who 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. And let’s not forget squirrels, pigeons, and other cute animals – the average pupil can spot a squirrel in full camouflage gear in a tree 500 metres away in the dark, even though pedestrians on crossings might get overlooked. Squirrels are worth at least an Emergency Stop.
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. And some people never get 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.
I think part of the problem is that 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 and perceive it as “you’re shouting at me”. It is their defence mechanism, and no matter how you approach the situation some will just blow their lids. It’s virtually impossible to smooth it out short-term, and you may find that things are never the same between the two of you again. It happened to me once when I was teaching a pupil to do the turn in the road. We got on great, but on this occasion she stopped half way through and started to ask questions about which way to steer. People were waiting, and I said “come on! Get on with it! We’re blocking the road”. Once we were out of the way, she said “I don’t like being talked to like that”, and that was it.
Occasionally, though, you’ll get a real lunatic. My most recent example of that is the woman who had told me she thought she was being stalked. I took it at face value and advised her to contact the police, but she already had. When the police investigated the “suspect” it turned out to be a false alarm – just a courier driver who stopped in the same place each morning at the same time she walked her dog. 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 the stick with alarming ease. I realised a few weeks later after she dumped me for “a female instructor”. When I phoned to ask what was wrong she told me that I “made her feel uncomfortable”. I was mortified – this has always been a phobia on my part, and my skin crawls even now when I think of what accusations she could have levelled against me. I had never even thought of her that way, but God only knows what she told her new instructor.
Then you have to manage people with various “issues” (not uncommon), those who 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 and their mum told them to (also very common), those who resent you suggesting that they should move their tests back (sometimes accusing you of trying to extract money from them)… well, you’re going to end up stressed however you deal with it.
Outside the car you have other road users. Some of them are 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. As far as they’re concerned, L plates mean the Highway Code doesn’t apply and they can get in front of you anyway they see fit. They will pull out or overtake dangerously at every opportunity, cut in where there’s nowhere to cut into, and tailgate you. They will sit behind you at traffic lights, hand paused over the horn in case your pupil moves off more slowly than they think they should (older female drivers are worst for this). Others will force their way past on narrow roads, even driving on the pavement to do it (couriers and postal drivers especially). Younger drivers will openly begin texting at traffic lights, delaying moving off to finish the tweet they were engaged in, so you have to catch your pupil who might have been looking at the lights and not realising what was not going to happen when it should. And only learners, of course, have to follow the speed limit.
Elderly homeowners in middle class areas seem to spend the better part of their retirement hiding behind their curtains, ready to race out and get needlessly involved in whatever happens outside their house – such as claiming ownership of a corner or stretch of kerb. Others will report you if you stop and leave the engine running for more than 15 seconds. Some elderly drivers will deliberately drive up behind you and stop centimetres from your bumper if they see your reversing lights on (that happened once on a pupil’s test – the examiner’s verdict of “stupid cow” was very apt). On the rougher estates, where people are all related without realising it (the men have one big eyebrow and the women have scrunched up hair which pulls their eyes into slits) be prepared for things to be thrown at the car. Once, one of the local Neanderthals prostrated himself on the road in front of the car (we were actually reversing – they’re not too smart). And one year I had three punctures in the space of three weeks, which I narrowed down to a corner I used on an industrial estate for reversing, where fresh screws were clearly being scattered on a nightly basis.
Lastly, 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. It happens in car parks when you’re teaching bay parking, where you’re in a small car park that’s only big enough for one car to practice, and some idiot ADI will drive in and start to do the same. In bigger car parks, you’ll be keeping to one specific area, and other ADIs will come in and start using every square centimetre of the car park as if you didn’t exist, thus preventing you from moving. Even in massive Park and Rides the size of six football pitches, you’ll be in late on a Sunday when there are no cars at all and the entire park is free, and yet some twat turns up and uses the same row you’re using. I make it absolutely clear what I think of all of them.
So stress is there in bucket loads, and you can’t avoid most of it. 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?
You have to face the fact that 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 are too busy the quality of your lessons will suffer. If nothing else you will be tired and stressed, and if your pupils have crap lessons when they’re tired or stressed, 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. 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 have their eyes fixed on that mystical £30,000 and doing 50 hours a week, and nothing seems to change that until the harsh realities set in. The truth is that if they could get anywhere near that level of work it would – if it didn’t kill them first – negatively impact their performance and health, and set in motion a downward spiral for their future earnings. Instructors who are genuinely able to work very long hours and maintain the quality of their work are in the minority in the first place, and are invariably those with more experience. Even fewer can do it week in, week out (I deliberately build in slack weeks here and there so I can have a rest).
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, end up in jail, or even be killed.
What amounts to “long hours” is different for everyone. Some may struggle to do more than 20-25 hours, whereas others might easily cope with 40. In my case, it was consistently doing 40-hour weeks for a while with one or two peaking at over 50 that made me decide to build in slack ones once I was established.
Can I make more profit if I reduce my overheads?
Of course you can. The real question is which overheads, and by how much? Driving instruction is a mature business, and any trick or USP which is likely to increase work or cut costs has already been tried, evaluated, and built into the costing model. As a result, what you charge, spend, and earn as profit falls into a fairly narrow pre-defined range. You can’t just go out and charge £40 an hour when everyone else is doing it for £25 and expect to stay in business. If fuel costs the rest of the country £1.20 per litre then that’s pretty much what you’re going to have to pay for it; and if a typical instructor drives 10-20 miles per lesson, someone in the same location who tries halving that without a bloody good reason will find themselves back stacking shelves at Tesco in no time at all. All you can do is find the best balance between enough work and minimising your expenses within this mature framework. This is the basis of a simple, successful business.
Can I cut my fuel consumption to reduce my overheads?
Up to a point, yes. But realistically, only if you are wasting it in the first place. Fuel is the largest overhead that you actually have much control over.
However, remember what I said about this industry being mature. There’s not a lot of scope for major tweaking, and some ADIs often get it into their one-dimensional minds that they would make shed loads more money if they used shed loads less fuel, without understanding that the syllabus they teach commits them to a significant amount of road time. As I pointed out earlier, a typical driving test covers about 10-15 miles, and if instructors aren’t covering a similar distance on at least some of their lessons (allowing for their teaching area) then something’s wrong.
You can’t cut your fuel consumption to nothing by parking up by the side of the road talking. You’re guaranteed to lose pupils that way and not get any more. Some instructors still try it, though (including a certain lesser national school, which offers a “free” lesson that doesn’t actually involve any driving). I pick up loads of pupils who have switched instructors for precisely this reason, and they’re not all telling lies.
By reducing fuel consumption too much, you’ll end up driving pupils away, so what you might save in fuel, you lose several times over in lost income. That impacts future income through gaining a bad reputation. So the whole system comes crashing down because you tweaked it too much. Wise management of your resources can certainly minimise your fuel costs, but you can only go so far before it’s too far.
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 unless it was a magic car that had no maintenance costs resulting from age and day-today-use such as punctures, broken windscreens, new wiper blades, oil, screen wash, 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 maintained while you have it. The vast majority of instructors cannot do this maintenance themselves and have to take it to a garage. It needs oil top-ups, new tyres, wiper blades, and so on. And that’s before you even consider serious breakdowns and repair costs – which happen to everyone sooner or later. If your car is off the road you lose money from not being able to work, or spend more money arranging for a replacement if it isn’t part of a lease agreement (and even if it is, the hassle alone will still result in at least some lost work while you deal with it). All of these are overheads which mean the car costs money above and beyond its material cost in the first place.
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. If you sell it for scrap after 5 years, that £10,000 has effectively cost you £40 per week since the moment you paid for it – and that is true, no matter what you tell the taxman and everyone on social media who will listen to you. Then you have got to replace it, probably by spending another £10,000 or so, and the whole saga starts again.
You can cut your initial outlay by either getting a used car, or perhaps by choosing one no one in their right mind would normally buy (the Nissan Cube, above, is for illustrative purposes only) that dealers are desperately trying to shift. You need to make sure you are comfortable in it yourself, as it will be your personal car as well as your school car. There are quite a few models out there that I simply can’t fit in without touching shoulders with my passengers, for example.
Finally, you then need to consider the effect the car you drive has on how much business you attract. My advice is not to just get the cheapest car you can find without considering how its looks might affect your business.
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 can have a significant effect on the work you attract – even though you might not realise it. 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 a ten-year old Corsa, whereas a brand new Corsa doesn’t. The car you drive could mean the difference between success and failure for a new instructor.
Incidentally, I have noticed on forums and social networking sites that a significant number of instructors have purchased second hand vehicles and are having mechanical problems down the line.and asking for advice. Some are off the road for weeks. Perhaps they shouldn’t have listened only to things they liked the sound of before they took the plunge.
My advice is not to cut corners without realising the possible consequences.
What can I charge for lessons?
You can charge whatever you want. The real question is how much are people prepared to pay for lessons? And if you’re thinking of cutting prices, how much profit are you prepared to lose?
The average lesson price in the UK right now is somewhere around £26-£30 per hour. I hear that in some areas they can charge £30-£35 an hour, but I know if I tried that here in Nottingham my diary would empty overnight, so I effectively have an upper price I can (or dare) charge, and I am actually in the upper part of that range.
During the last recession, price-cutting took off as a tactic as desperate instructors tried to attract work which wasn’t there at the expense of other instructors doing exactly the same thing. The theory was that if you are cheaper than anyone else, you’ll get more work. But it isn’t as simple as that if you’re even half capable of running a business.
I repeat again that this is a mature industry. Profit margins are not huge in the first place, and cannot be manipulated to any significant extent without having the whole thing come crashing down. Theoretically, if you were the only one doing it and were already charging the average for your area, dropping your price by £1 might well have the desired benefit with minimal impact on your profit. But as soon as others start doing it, you lose the benefit but retain the lower hourly rate – and without the benefit of more work, you’re now much worse off than before. Now you’re stuck – do you drop your price by another £1 (which will now seriously impact your profit even if it attracts work), or do you put your price back up (which will upset any pupils you have)?
Between 2010 and 2014 you would see cars advertising lessons for as little as £15 an hour. They couldn’t possibly have been turning a profit at that rate unless their lesson quality was dire. None of them are around anymore. Throughout the same period my prices stayed the same and I came through it comfortably.
You need to charge the highest price you can get away with to succeed, and not the lowest possible in order to flirt with bankruptcy.
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 it’s 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, whereas franchise-based schools – especially the larger ones – are geared up to advertise. Although there are never any guarantees, there is a bloody good chance that a decent franchise will be a hundred times better at getting work than you are.
In my opinion, anyone who goes independent right from the start is crazy. Qualifying in the first place was a gamble, so why risk it all again doing something I know from experience may not work? You need lessons in your diary. Your name emblazoned across a sign-written car is superficial, and will not do that for you.
Should I start out independent?
Ask this on social media you’ll be swamped with “go indie” advice from people. The problem is that those people are a mix of established ADIs, ones who are struggling themselves but deny it, and ones who have a sheep-like mentality and dislike franchises simply because its the done thing and they want to be part of the gang. Many will be doing this job for pocket money or as a retirement filler. Some don’t have mortgages or rent to pay, and have substantial private pensions. None of them know what your financial needs are. And if anyone starts with “I’ve heard…” then just ignore them.
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 for most people. I’m sure that there are some independents out there who genuinely hit the ground running when they made this choice, but I can assure there are a lot more ex-ADIs who didn’t.
It’s your choice. My advice is not to risk it unless you fully understand what will happen if you get it wrong.
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 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 nowhere near as great as social media would have you believe.
A franchised instructor might be paying £200 a week for his car (which includes pupil supply and vehicle back up). An independent will be paying at least £30-£40 a week as an absolute minimum, but probably more like £60-£80, and will have to manage their own pupil supply and any breakdown issues. Don’t believe them when they say they ‘don’t pay anything’ – they do, and it’s at least in the region of what I have just stated. It’s still cheaper – but not £200 cheaper. When you add on other costs an independent has to cover, which a franchise includes as part of the package, the difference equates to a couple of hours of work per week.
If you need to be earning sensible money to get a living wage, going independent immediately after you qualify is a huge risk. Going independent later is something you can seriously consider if you know you are generating enough work by yourself.
Can a franchise guarantee that you have work?
The short answer is no – no one can guarantee that. However, it isn’t that straightforward. As I said earlier, you cannot be certain of being busy all the time no matter how well-established you are. However, before the lockdown there were pupils by the truck load in most areas, and if a franchise or local school was “guaranteeing” work it was probably because most of them could. So don’t dismiss the claim out of hand.
Right now, in the middle of the pandemic, everything is messed up. The signs are that there are even more people desperate to learn to drive. However, we’re almost certainly going to hit a recession at some point, and everything could change. Just bear all this in mind.
Which franchise do you recommend?
I don’t recommend anyone. You have to make your own choices because there will be risk involved whoever or whatever you choose. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to stay away from large schools or franchises per se – they’re just wrong. Many hold a grudge for some reason, or are simply regurgitating what they’ve heard others saying.
Also be careful when you hear people complaining about notice periods. Ideally, choose a franchise which has an easy cancellation policy. That means read the agreement before you sign it, and ask about it before you do. These comedians you see complaining are usually trying to break a legally binding agreement they signed, and are blaming the franchise company because they can’t. I can guarantee that at some stage once you qualify that you will be whingeing about your terms and conditions and pupils cancelling at short notice or wanting refunds. Franchise companies have exactly the same problem with franchisees.
The people I see complaining about how hard it is to get out have usually tried to do so in extremely unprofessional ways, and very often egged on by idiots on social media telling them just to stop paying their franchise fees. If you do that, you’re going to get a visit from the bailiffs, and are also likely to find yourself on a reality TV show. But then they start making false accusations in order to shift blame to the franchiser. They’ll find a ready audience for this, and so the legends will be embellished and repeated down the years.
Should I choose a local or a national franchise?
It’s up to you. Many newly-qualified ADIs baulk at signing to “big names” and choose local schools instead. I once knew of someone who chose a small franchise simply because it meant he could remove their magnetic artwork from his car when he wasn’t working! It doesn’t matter what the school name is. All that matters is they provide you with pupils – and in my opinion, the national schools might be better at that, especially when times are hard, because they can invest more in advertising.
Also consider the lesson prices set by your franchise. Local ones tend to have lower hourly rates than the national schools, and while that might mean they can ‘guarantee’ work right now, you need to calculate what that will do to your profits at the lower hourly rate. And don’t forget ‘special offers’ (BOGOFs, block discounts, free first hours, etc.). Who pays for that? Some larger national schools finance it through the franchise fees paid by their instructors, whereas others (and the smaller local schools) tend to expect the instructor to cover it. Consider the possible scenario where you have ten new pupils assigned to you, each with a ‘free hour’ that you’ve got to cover. How will you handle that? I mean, ten hours of talking doesn’t cost much fuel-wise, but it doesn’t earn anything, either.
Why do people say bad things about franchises?
They’ve either had an experience that they aren’t happy with, or they know (or have heard of) someone who has. The simple fact is that the large national schools simply can’t afford to be as bad as some people claim they are – especially if they are a premier brand. Bad experiences are usually nowhere near as one sided as the teller would like you to believe.
RED driving school is a perfect example. The first thing any new ADI ‘learns’ is that RED must be hated at all costs. It all stems from a time 15 years ago when a school with that name advertised instructor training profusely, and made claims of huge potential earnings. That was enough to rankle people by itself, but there were lots of cases where people had foolishly committed their life savings to train as driving instructors and then quickly decided they didn’t want to do it after all. But they had signed a contract, for one thing, and in many cases were trying to get out of it a year or more down the line. That meant exaggerating things to make it sound like they were the injured party.
That RED went into administration years ago. It was bought out by a venture capital outfit who retained the name, and is absolutely not the same company at all. Instructors who train and work with the current RED give it good reviews except in a few cases when they’re trying to terminate their contracts early. So the old myths persist.
It’s the same with BSM. BSM used to charge something like £320 a week for its franchise, and was a favoured target for all those experts who were running a driving school with a car ‘that didn’t cost them anything’. BSM was bought by the AA almost as long ago as when RED went bust, and I believe that its franchise is now around £200, like the AA’s is.
Just be careful before you sign up to long contracts with anyone, then you’ll have much less to complain about later. Read the small print. An initial 12 month contract would be reasonable, thus allowing you to become established. After that, you want a short notice period of no more than 3 months if you decide to leave. If you sign up for 12 months, then try to leave after two, it’s you who is at fault for not doing your homework.
Why do people have these bad experiences?
Usually because they haven’t planned ahead properly when they decided on this career. I’ve seen a several examples on social media recently where someone was trying to get out of their RED contract due to ‘lack of work’. In all cases, the person in question mentioned they had kids (in one case, a child with special needs), so couldn’t work either enough hours or at the right times to earn a living wage. In all honesty, they shouldn’t have gone into this job in the first place. But here they were, creating new repositories of anti-RED propaganda, as everyone else joined in with the ancient history they’d heard about. That’s how it happens, so be careful taking any of it at face value. It is usually the complainant who is totally at fault.
As I’ve said elsewhere, you cannot expect to just turn on the tap whenever you want pupils. It’s nice when you can, but you can’t rely on it – and you shouldn’t. Pupils have to fit into your schedule, and if that’s too restrictive then it’s inevitably going to cause problems. You need to understand what being self-employed means, with both the risks and the expectations.
Having kids to feed and support is only one example, but it does show how badly some people have thought this career choice through if they have such a huge personal burden to manage, involving finances and/or time constraints, and then they take on a minimum term franchise contract on top of all that. A 12-month contract is likely to have a cash-in value of around £10,000, and if you want out half way through, like it or not you are liable for half that amount if you choose to break the contract.
You should not be signing any sort of financial contract under circumstances where you have kids and are on the breadline already (including car leases and loans) unless you are fully aware of what you are doing. You cannot make a full-time salary working part-time hours – no matter how many kids you have!
Franchises are too expensive!
Independent ADIs frequently claim that that they pay £200 less per week than an instructor whose franchise costs that much. They are totally wrong, and merely illustrate their lack of business understanding. The difference in most cases between franchise and independent is less than £100.
Consider this. Would you prefer to be independent paying (let’s say) £60 a week for your car and £60 for fuel, and doing 15 hours of lessons? Or would you prefer a franchise at £200 a week plus £120 for fuel, with 30 hours of work?
Many people only see the numbers as written, and conclude the first option is best. But in that first example your annual wage would equate to about £13,000 (without advertising costs), whereas the second it’d be around £22,000 (and that’s assuming the same premium lesson price, which the independent might not be able to charge).
I repeat. Independent is only cheaper if you have the work!
But you have to work a lot of hours for nothing to pay the franchise!
This is completely false. You have to work ‘for nothing’ to pay your overheads no matter how you do it, and both franchised and independent instructors have overheads. However, the franchisee will be paying maybe £100 extra per week at most – which requires four hours of lessons to cover. However, you might well have twice the number of lessons as a result of paying that extra £100. You’ll be getting close to £400 more per week as a result of investing that extra £100. It speaks for itself.
If you have lots of work, and no sign of it dropping off, independent is undoubtedly the best option, since you will be £100 better off each week. If you are struggling, it definitely isn’t the best option, since you’ll be several hundred pounds worse off.
Franchised ADIs only work weekends because they have to
This is a variation on the ‘too expensive’ argument, above, and is completely false. All ADIs have to work several hours a week to pay off their overheads (dead hours). Franchised instructors have to work four hours more to pay off their overheads, but are likely to earn up to £400 more as a result. The people who make this claim simply don’t have a clue about their own business, let alone anyone else’s.
Personally, I work weekends a) because I can, and b) because by doing so I can earn between £250 and £400 more than I would if I didn’t. I do it because I want to – and because there’s a big market for people who want me to – and not because I have to.
I repeat: if you have lots of work, independent is financially the best option. If you don’t, it isn’t.
Franchised instructors have to work half the week to pay off their franchise
Another variation on the ‘too expensive’ them, and also totally wrong. As explained above, a franchisee has to work maybe four hours more to pay off their franchise overhead, but they can earn up to £400 more per week as a result.
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. Franchises can be a good idea for those starting out part-time with a view to growing their business. Even a full franchise is still workable – as long as you ignore those silly claims above.
The fact is, no matter how you do it, you’re going to have overheads to cover. And apart from fuel, all the others are fixed and don’t change much depending on how many hours you work.
Independents can get their own pupils without paying a franchise to do it
Of course they can. It’s a wonderful theory. And if it turns out to be true, then going independent is definitely the best way on the financial front. But if it turns out not to be true, you’re going to be screwed once you can’t afford to carry on anymore. Just remember that more instructors have problems sourcing and maintaining a supply of pupils than don’t.
I’ve seen various threads on social media recently where people are asking about pupil referral companies – people who advertise driving lessons, then farm them out to instructors who are registered with them. The surprising thing is the number of independents who are already using such companies and offering up advice. I have no problem at all with these outfits, and if it gets work for instructors, all well and good.
But it is total hypocrisy. Independents keep telling people to ‘go indie’, and yet they’re paying someone to provide the work! Which is precisely what a franchise does – with more besides.
Independent ADIs can charge more
This is another wonderful theory. In reality, the last official survey on this showed that on average, indies charge at least £1 less per hour compared with the larger schools for their standard hourly rate.
I’ve seen people on social media claiming they charge top dollar for lessons, but when I’ve hopped over to their websites it turns out they have block-booking discounts that bring a £25 per hour stated price down to as little as £17 per hour! Nearly all of them offer discounts of between £3 and £5 off their standard ‘top dollar’ hourly rate. You are not charging £25 per hour if you’re giving £5 discounts to most of your pupils.
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). It means I can scale the offer as I increase my prices periodically. I don’t openly advertise it, and only bring it up if I have a phone enquiry and they ask about discounts, or when it comes to paying for their first lesson so it’s a nice surprise.
The bottom line is that any special offer is lost revenue, and big discounts need to have huge paybacks, otherwise you’re just throwing money down the drain, and most indies are doing precisely that but lying about their income.
Independent ADIs earn more
This is simply not true. If an independent has the same number of hours work as a franchisee, and if they charge the same hourly rate, then the indie will be about £100 better off per week. But as I have explained above, it is the ‘ifs’ which make all the difference. All the evidence suggests that many independents are not charging the same hourly rate, and they are not delivering the same number of lessons per week. Some are, of course, but many aren’t.
The bottom line is that some independents will be earning more than some franchised instructors, and some franchised instructors will be earning more than some independents.
Why are ADIs self employed?
There’s no rule that says they have to be. In the past some people have tried to employ salaried ADIs, and until recently (I can’t remember who it was), there’s was at least one place that was still doing it. The problem lies with the fundamental costing model.
If people are only prepared to pay, let’s say, around £25 for driving lessons, then anyone teaching them has to use that in their business model. Cars all cost roughly the same, fuel costs the same, and all other costs are roughly the same. For everyone at any point in time. Let’s call all this ELEMENT ZERO. It’s the lowest baseline.
If you introduce another layer of management in all this which recruits and manages instructors, there are suddenly more overheads to cover above and beyond ELEMENT ZERO. Offices, staff, advertising, and so on. All of that has to be paid for from somewhere, yet ELEMENT ZERO is fixed. Pupils will not pay much more than £25 per hour, and the overheads are more or less fixed. The instructor needs a certain wage. But now you’ve added a Limited Company with premises to pay for, as well. Who is going to lose out in all this?
Mercedes tried it by offering lessons in ‘high-end’ cars to ‘high-end’ earners. They recruited normal instructors, many of whom developed ‘high-end’ opinions of themselves, and stayed in business for a few years. But in the end they gave up, because it simply wouldn’t work financially.
The basic principle here is that ADIs are self employed because of ELEMENT ZERO. Having a franchise or car-leasing stage in the chain is about as far as you can push things before it becomes unprofitable. A franchise is a lower-cost option than a PAYE system, and that’s why ADIs are not usually employed.
Should I start part time after I qualify?
Starting out part-time makes sense on paper. In theory, you can start slowly and gradually build from there – and that can work for some people. The problem is that if you do start that way, it’s almost certainly because you intend to keep your salaried job while you grow. But the trouble will start with the first enquiries. What if they are for lessons at times you’re doing your other job? You’ll have to turn them away unless you have a very understanding employer (and it’s possible you might, though very unlikely). And what about taking those enquiries while you’re doing the other job? They’re going to come in at all times of the day, so will your boss mind? In many cases, will your boss even know you eventually intend to hand in your notice?
Start out part time by all means – but make sure you fully consider the feasibility of doing so before you go ahead.
Which advice should I listen to?
Use your own common sense as much as you can. Don’t lap up negative information and ignore the good, and don’t assume that any information is always right – especially on social media, because it often isn’t. As I’ve explained in this article, you know how much you can charge for lessons, how much a car will cost (various options), how much insurance will cost, and so on. So work things out for yourself.
If you’re going to look for more online advice, be wary of information that is clearly old or undated, and ignore anything that starts with ’I’ve heard…’ or something similar. Those comments will often have been written by bitter people sticking the boot in on the big advertisers from previous times, and usually reflect the recession of a decade ago.
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 (or CRC, now the DBS – Data Barring Service) carried out. At the original time of writing this costs £6 – but my advice is not to bother if you clearly will not be accepted on to the Register, or unless you’re prepared to lose the £6 if you end up being refused (some people still apply even if they have horrendous criminal records or stupid numbers of points on their driving licences, then complain when they are rejected). When you have your CRC you can apply to join the Register, and once you’re on it you can start your training (though I can’t see why you couldn’t start training before – you just wouldn’t be able to take any of the exams, and if you were subsequently refused then it would be money wasted).
What if I’ve been banned previously?
I don’t know for sure. If it was recent, I would guess you have little chance of being accepted on to the Register. If it was a long time ago, then you might.
Some endorsements remain on your licence for up to 11 years if they were serious crimes you committed. However, I’m not sure if the Registrar looks any further back than that – or even if they allowed to.
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. You can see that a lot of people fail.
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%.
The maths isn’t quite that simple, though. You can take Part 1 an unlimited number of times, and you’re bound to pass it eventually. You just need to ask yourself if it’s worth it if you fail more than a couple of times. Once you have passed Part 1, you can take Parts 2 and 3 up to three times each within a two-year period of passing Part 1. You are not bound to pass Parts 2 and 3. The overriding point here is that becoming an ADI is not a foregone conclusion, nor is it cheap. Failing at some point is more likely than passing – even if the overall probability of passing is not quite as low as 10%.
How long does it take to pass?
Theoretically, you could book each test as soon as you’ve passed the previous one and – assuming you pass each first time – go from joining the Register to having a green badge in just a few weeks. There’s no rule that says you can’t do it this quickly. You don’t actually need to invest much money in primary study material (just the app, the ADI handbook, and The Essential Skills, though other materials may be of additional value).
The theory test is available as an app and you can study for Part 1 by yourself without anyone else becoming involved. Realistically, you will need training for each of the Part 2 and 3 practical tests, and quite possibly more than one try with at least one of them. Waiting times for the tests can be several months depending on where you live. Doing the entire course over a period of between 6-24 months is most likely, with the bias being towards the longer end of that.
Some companies do ‘intensive’ courses, where you do all the training and exams over several weeks. My views on intensive courses are well-documented – they aren’t suitable for the majority of people, and even if the candidate gets a pass out of it at the end, do they really know what they are doing?
If you take your time, you’ll be better prepared for each test. If you rush, the chances of failure will be higher. You only get three tries at each of Parts 2 and 3 within the two years after passing Part 1. Fail a third time on either, and you have to wait until the two years is up, then do the entire application process again. It’s a terrible way to invest a couple of thousand of your money if you increase the risk of failing by rushing things and not being ready.
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% on that 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 – especially so for unsuitable candidates.
Do only good instructors pass the tests?
Unfortunately, no. Remember that the main reason most of us decide to become ADIs is for the money first, and because we want to teach people second. For a lot of people, money is at the top, but wanting to teach doesn’t even make the list. It sounds cynical, but it’s true. Over the years, I’ve lost count of the number of people who hate the job. I’ve seen a lot of newbies struggle to pass, then give up because they simply couldn’t handle it once they started teaching for real. If they’d have been able to see beyond the £££ signs right at the beginning they could have saved themselves a lot of money and stress. 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. That kills your chances of success.
Do business skills matter?
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 “unavailable” – ignoring texts and phone calls. I’m certain that the majority of these are not intending to defraud on purpose. It’s just that they are out of their depth from a business perspective. What happens is that they’ll already be struggling financially. Along comes a pupil with £200 cash in their hand, and they’ll snatch it away to fill the hole in their bank balance. The problem now is that for the next ten lessons – perhaps spaced out over 5-10 weeks – that pupil is effectively non-paying, and the instructor would much rather give lessons to other pupils who are paying on the day. Consequently, the instructor looks for excuses and tries to avoid the pupil who has already paid. Even worse is when that pupil decides to jump ship and asks for a refund – the instructor hasn’t got the spare cash to provide it, and it starts to become more serious.
I have always been acutely aware of the effect block bookings have on my own cash flow, and how it feels to have no “current income” from lessons. I always ensure that any money paid in advance doesn’t get spent before the lessons have been taken because it isn’t mine until they have. Other people don’t have the same scruples, though, and those who do it might actually be good instructors – they’re just crap at the business side of things.
Although it isn’t confined to independent ADIs, it does appear to be more prevalent among them (sorry, but it does) and smaller franchise outfits. The bigger the school, the less likely it will be to tolerate its name being sullied, and the nationals like AA and BSM will get rid of instructors who do things like this. Not long ago, I had a pupil whose mother explained that they had lost money to a local driving school when an instructor “retired” still owing lessons, but the school said it wasn’t their problem since the ADI was no longer with them. Frankly, if they had any decency at all, they’d have refunded it out of their own pockets – it was only a handful of lessons – and taken their “retired” instructor to small claims. I’ve taken on others who’ve had similar experiences and who have lost money with local instructors simply not delivering what they’d been paid for.
So, is it easy to qualify?
It depends how you look at it. Even if you’re not cut out to be an instructor you might sail through the tests. Conversely, even if it’s your calling you might struggle to pass. And vice versa. And I’ve already mentioned the national ADI pass rates.
If you’ve done your homework and really want to give the job a go, think of it as a challenge,
How much does it cost to become a Driving Instructor?
It will vary from person to person. There are two main ways to go about the training.
If you do it by yourself (referred to as “pay-as-you-go”, or PAYG), Part 1 is something you can do in your spare time, and apart from the cost of the exam (£81 at the time of writing) and suitable training materials (say, around £30 for books and an app) 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. You’ll have people tell you this is the best and cheapest way – mainly because pretty much the only alternative is training with a franchise, and we know how clueless some people are about that.
The alternative, therefore, is to pay for a complete training package from a training company – usually one of the franchise companies. This was how I did it many moons ago, and I have no real complaints other than for the fact that the small company I was with went bust while I was training (it was common at the time, but much less so these days), and I finished off privately. 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.
Either way can work. And either way can fail. Both ways for the majority of people will cost a significant amount of money.
Can you do it without paying any money except for the exams?
Yes, though it is a high risk path. A few people seem to manage it if you can believe what you sometimes read. But it is only a few, and far more take a lot of training before passing.
Realistically, I would estimate that more than 99% of people would fail if they tried this way.
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 specific 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, and turn out not to be very good at it.
Large schools like RED, BSM, and The AA are not cowboy outfits, so don’t listen to people who tell you otherwise. At best, their “advice” is coloured by their own experiences, and at worst merely based on hearsay.
As I have explained, becoming an ADI isn’t easy and many people struggle with the exams. The last person they will ever blame is themselves, so they target their trainers instead. Training packages tend to based around a set number of hours, and struggling PDIs often find they need more hours of remedial training.
Do you get trained in how to be self-employed?
It depends on who you train with. I don’t know what it is like now, but based on my knowledge and understanding of the past, some do, but most don’t. The ones who do cover it quickly, and it’s not “training” as such, just the transfer of basic information – you get told you need to do your own tax returns, what sorts of things are expenses and what are turnover, and that you can do it yourself or pay for an accountant. You aren’t shown how to do a self-assessment return or given the names of any accountants. Personally, I found it not to be rocket science when I came to do it myself. Some people will, though.
Do I need to use an ORDIT-registered trainer?
ORDIT stands for Official Register of Driving Instructor Training. At the time of writing, no. You don’t actually have to use any trainer at all. DVSA hopes to make ORDIT registration compulsory in the future.
How did YOU do it?
After I lost my job, I 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 it became apparent that bureaucracy in teaching is probably worse than the hell I had had to endure to get me here. And quite frankly, teaching had changed so much since I was at school that I don’t think I could have handled modern day kids without risking punching one of them. I believe that is considered unacceptable.
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 – they were the ‘RED’ of the day – but I only ever had one problem with them and that was when they went bust. 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 in my old capacity. I went self-employed then, and for a short time I was also a director of a company set up as a result of that work. When that finished, I did a stint in technical support for Dixons/PC World – (admittedly, working for them – 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, but did a bit of pay-as-you-go at the end.
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 I’ve already explained, many trainees are really vastly out of their depth.
Packages tend to be based on fixed numbers of training hours spaced out over a period of time, and many PDIs expect to do it in half the time on offer, yet end up taking half as long again to get test-ready. This is usually the original source of any hearsay issues – the trainee expects too much, then gets all shouty when it becomes apparent they need more help.
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 almost always down to the candidate’s weaknesses rather than 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. Others were completely tongue-tied when it came to talking or delivering briefings.
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. You do need to be wary of those telling you it is cheaper than a full package, because there’s a very good chance it won’t be. It’s only cheaper if you qualify in the shortest amount of time and pass all your exams first try. Most don’t, and then the PAYG costs start to ramp up, whereas the pay-up-front package was probably all-inclusive.
How do I know if I would be suitable?
Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the idea of the training with potentially tricky exams to pass, and a periodic check test/standards check (which is effectively an “exam” you have to pass regularly in order to remain as an ADI), don’t like driving, or if you are nervous working face-to-face with people (to give just a few examples), there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy being an ADI – and that’s well over half way towards failing in the business once you get going. Don’t let the dream of earning big bucks cloud your judgement, because if you aren’t suitable – and yet still qualify – you’ll be lucky to earn £3,000 a year, let alone £30,000. All that money spent on training will be wasted. The vast majority of the population are probably not cut out to be instructors and you need to accept that you might be one of them.
Is now a good time to become an ADI?
In 2020? It’s hard to say. In January or February it would have been a resounding yes, but with the proviso that Brexit might affect things. Right now, it’s just a resounding proviso that Brexit is imminent, the government is doing its damnedest to make it the worst possible Brexit, and now we have COVID-19. My own personal view is that Brexit was always going to f**k things up, it still is, and it remains to be seen what COVID does. But I am holding in there. Beyond that I can’t say – and nor can anyone else.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. But if we enter any sort of deep recession then it will be extremely hard.