A Driving Instructor's Blog

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Bill and Ben - Flower Pot MenThis came in via the Google newsfeeds. It seems that Bill Plant driving school went into administration on 27 April 2017. It has since been bought out by Ecodot, which is:

…a specialist in car vehicle preparation and dual control vehicle hire. Our main services are, Dual control vehicle hire, Alloy refurbishment, Porfessional (sic) Valeting services and Body Repairs

I would have used an image above which related directly to Bill Plant, but from past experience I know that they’re a bunch of prima donnas who threaten court action unless you’re saying anything good about them. Of course, such behaviour makes it even more difficult to say anything good about them.

The reason for the titsup is given as being due to:

…exceptional costs associated with a change in operating model.

Or, in other words, they were a bunch of incompetent prima donnas. Most of the other belly-ups in the driver training industry went bust during the economic downturn during the last decade and the early part of this one. Bill Plant has managed it during a period of economic growth, and that doesn’t bode well for their future.

This industry is not high-margin. Driving lessons can only cost so much before learners won’t pay for them, and at the moment almost everyone is charging the same (in the region of £25 an hour, give or take a few quid). Similarly, instructors who work on a franchise will only pay so much before they walk away, too. The amount they pay for the franchise lines the pockets of the franchiser, who is at the top of the pile, and that franchiser will not be happy unless he or she is pocketing enough to keep a new X5 on the driveway. A kind of status quo is established, whereby the only loser is the instructor – lesson prices can’t go up by much, and the franchiser will still want to increase profits year on year, so the franchise fee goes up. It’s a simple Law of Nature.

It makes you wonder what the numpties did to their “operating model” to screw things so badly. I wonder if it had anything to do with introducing BMW X1s as tuition cars – the prices of which range from £23,000 to £35,000, which is at least double (and up to five times) the price new of most instructors’ tuition vehicles? If it did, I can’t see Ecodot – which is apparently now trading as Bill Plant Driving School Ltd – keeping them. Someone somewhere in the chain has to pay for the overheads.

As I say, this industry is not high-margin, and anyone who buys a top marque as an overhead and then delivers lessons costing the same as they would in a vehicle costing a quarter of that is not going to stay in business long without someone on the outside pumping them money intravenously. Having hubby (or wifey) supply the financial drip feed to their other half is one thing, but for a limited company it’s a different matter altogether.

Ecodot isn’t big enough to pump money in indefinitely, and I can see big changes coming.

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Reversing around a cornerThis article gets a lot of hits, and reversing around a corner is the manoeuvre many of my own pupils struggle with the most.

What seems to make it so difficult is that you have to control the car all the way through  – it’s not just full lock one way, then full lock the other – so you need to know which way to turn the wheel. And that’s where the problems arise: steering the car when it is going backwards. In my experience, most people – 80% or more – seem have problems initially, and for some it is always a real struggle.

The secret to overcoming the issue of which way to steer and mastering the manoeuvre is to retrain your instinctive behaviour by careful calculation. What does that mean?

Steering - forwards and backwardsWell, imagine you are sitting in your car in the middle of a big, empty car park. If you steer left and drive forwards, as shown by the green arrow in the diagram, then obviously the car will turn to the left. What you might not be aware of is that the back of the car swings out to the right, but since you aren’t usually looking at that bit of your vehicle when you’re driving your brain doesn’t take it into consideration.

However, if you stop, put the car into reverse, and then start to move backwards, although the car will still turn to the left, as shown by the red arrow, this time the front of the car swings out to the right. You see that quite easily, and when you’re stressed your brain will instinctively try to make sense of that. Your instincts kick in and immediately tell you to steer the opposite way.

Your instincts can get even more confused by information provided by the mirrors. It is surprising how many people without previous experience subconsciously believe that everything in the mirrors is the opposite way round, and since your instincts feed off your subconscious, relying on them can be a recipe for disaster.

Remember that your instincts will kick in whenever you are stressed, and if they’re incorrectly programmed you’ll usually end up steering the wrong way when reversing around a corner. The secret is to: take your time, stop… and think… often.

Each time you stop, you must work out – calculate – what to do based on the hard facts, as illustrated in the above diagram. Ignore the front of the car as you do your calculation – you’re guiding the rear end. Absolutely the worst thing you can do, and especially so when you are still learning, is to go quickly and avoid stopping, because that forces your instincts to take over. The more you get it right, the more confident you will become, the less stressed you will be, and the quicker your instincts will get retrained.

Reversing around a corner is actually quite simple, and on your test all you’re expected to do is keep reasonably close to the kerb and watch out for other road users (the examiner only has tick boxes for “control” and “safety”). The examiner won’t get out and use a tape measure, and as long as you don’t mount the pavement or end up across the other side of the road then you’re unlikely to attract even a driver fault, let alone fail your test. The examiner doesn’t care what method you use, or how often you stop (as long as you don’t take forever and cause hold ups for other road users), so you can gauge your position relative to the kerb by looking out of the back window, the rear passenger window, using your mirrors, or a combination of any of these. You can steer as much or as little as you like as long as you remain in control – and are aware of what is happening around you.

Remember that reversing into a corner isn’t a parking manoeuvre, and you shouldn’t attempt to get really close to the kerb. You want to try and keep about as far away from it as you would be if you were emerging to turn left going forwards.

Here’s a fool proof method which works every time. For it to work, your mirrors must be adjusted the same every time – if they aren’t, your position relative to the kerb will be different.Reversing around a corner - start position

First of all, look at the bottom edge of the mirror housing in the picture above. Note the two white dots – I have marked these on the picture using my graphics software, but you can put suitable markers on your own car using Tipp-Ex (which you can scrape off easily without leaving any marks) or two rubber bands. The actual positioning of the dots isn’t critical – all you need to do is split the mirror approximately into thirds. You don’t even need to put any marks on your car – just imagine the position of the thirds markers.

Step 1

Drive past the road you want to reverse into and stop safely about two to three car lengths beyond it, and about half a metre (the width of a drain grating) from the kerb. When you look in the mirror you should see that the kerb is more or less at the nearest third marker (as shown in the picture above). It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit closer or a bit further – as long as you can see it.Reversing around a corner - the point of turn

Step 2

Get the car into reverse, and safely and slowly reverse back until the kerb curves away from the car, as shown above. Stop when it lines up with the furthest third marker. This is the point of turn (where the kerb is branching away from the car).

Step 3

This next part is critical: work out which way you need to steer. The kerb has moved away from you(←, or “to the left”), so you need to steer towards it (←, or also “to the left”). Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reversing around a corner - kerb gets closer

Step 4

Reverse safely and slowly until the kerb comes back to the nearest marker.

Step 5

This part is critical again: work out which way you need to steer. The kerb has moved towards you (→, or “to the right”), so you need to steer away from it (→, or also “to the right”). Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reverse around a corner - kerb moves away

The kerb will now move away from you again. Repeat the above steps – carefully working out which way to steer every time you stop – until the car is into the side road.

Step 6

Once you are parallel with the kerb in the side road, stop. This part is critical again: work out which way you need to steer. If you continue moving without doing anything, you will continue to get closer to the kerb and will hit it – so you must steer away from it (→, or “to the right”) to avoid that. Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reversing around a corner - in the side road

Step 7

Reverse back safely in a straight line for about 3-4 car lengths, then stop and secure the car.

You do not have to use the handbrake each time you stop as you move around the corner (but it doesn’t matter if you do). Use it if it will help prevent the car from rolling, and especially if you’re reversing on a slope.

I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important it is to stop and work out which way you need to steer. If you react on instinct you will almost certainly steer the wrong way, so you have to calm things right down and prevent instinct from taking over.

One useful tip is to talk out loud. If I stop my pupil and ask “which way has the kerb gone?” they should answer “away from me” (if that’s the case). I will then ask “so what do we want to do?” and they will say “get closer to it”. I then ask “so which way should we steer?” – and this is where logic must beat instinct: logically, if the kerb has moved away, and we want to get closer, we simply steer towards it. If the pupil can do that with me asking the questions, they should be able to do it if they ask the questions themselves – except that if they only think the questions instead of saying them out loud, the subconscious is involved and instinct is likely to win out. By asking the questions out loud, the conscious is involved, and logical actions are much more likely.

Are there any other ways to do it?

Of course. As long as you can get round the corner safely and in control, you can do it however you want. If you have good reverse steering skills there is no reason why you can’t just go slowly and steadily round the corner, steering as much or as little as you need until you’re in the side road. Actually, that’s the ideal way of doing it – just don’t forget to keep an eye out for other traffic and pedestrians, which is easier said than done when you’re still moving and trying to avoid the kerb. Depending on the car you’re using, you could watch the kerb out of the rear passenger or quarter light window, or even out of the back window. However, do not be fooled into thinking you shouldn’t use your mirrors: they’re there for precisely this kind of thing.

Is there a fool-proof way of doing this manoeuvre?

The one I have described here is pretty close. As I said at the start, this manoeuvre requires you to control the car throughout based on your position relative to the kerb. I suspect that you’re asking this question with a view to finding a method where you don’t have to think: you’re not going to find one. Like it or not, you need to know what you are doing, and this method works for any wide corner.

Isn’t your method too prescriptive?

Other instructors love this sort of nit-picking. Many people have major problems steering in reverse, and it is not written anywhere that they must be able to go backwards around a corner at speed without stopping. New drivers need all the help they can get, and whilst they may one day be able to whizz safely and accurately around a corner whilst simultaneously solving a Rubik’s Cube and playing the banjo, during this phase of their life when they can’t do that, this method (or a similarly prescriptive one) can help them.

Why can’t they just steer round naturally?

The fact that you’re reading this ought to make the answer obvious! If your pupil (or you) can do it freestyle with their eyes shut, all well and good. If your pupil (or you) has problems knowing which way to steer, you would be stupid to persist with doing it freestyle – they/you will just get in a mess and steer the wrong way. It’s a waste of the pupil’s time and money, and highly detrimental to the instructor’s reputation if the pupil decides they’re not getting anywhere. Not “making progress” whilst haemorrhaging money is one of the big reasons I pick up partly-trained pupils who’ve had enough.

What do I do if another car turns up when I’m reversing?

You need to use your own judgement. As a rough guide, while you are on the main road, wait for anyone coming up from behind (don’t worry too much about those coming from the front unless it’s a very narrow road). Once you’re turning in, keep an eye on those approaching from the left/front but only worry about stopping to wait if it’s a narrow road or if they are turning into the side road). Once you are well into the side road, cars on the main road are not an issue as long as they’re not turning into the side road. At all times, be aware of traffic coming up behind you from the side road.

Of course, a lot will depend on where you do the manoeuvre. The Golden Rule is not to fail to see approaching traffic (or pedestrians) because the examiners are watching for precisely that. Generally, if you look, you will see – if you don’t look, you can’t see!

What do I do if someone flashes their lights at me?

Make sure that they’re flashing at you and not someone else, and then carry on with the manoeuvre if it’s clear that they’re waiting for you – but keep an eye on them, because once you’re around the corner (assuming they’re behind you) they’ll probably go past and you’ll have to pause as they do.

What would be a serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The decision will be the examiner’s, but as a rough guide: missing other cars and pedestrians, not looking all around before commencing the actual turn, mounting the pavement, going more than half way across the side road at any point in the manoeuvre, and so on are likely to be marked as serious faults.

Never self-assess, though. Most people who assume they have “failed” for something usually turn out to be wrong, and not long ago one of my own pupils rode up the kerb slightly and slipped back down again (jeopardising my alloys) and still passed. It depends on how good the drive was, and the way the particular examiner marks tests.

Do I fail if I stall when reversing around a corner?

No. Not automatically. It depends on various factors – how many times, how you deal with it, what is happening at the time (i.e. other road users), and so on. Aim not to stall, stay calm if you do, then concentrate on the rest of the test and keep your fingers crossed. Don’t self-assess. It’s the examiner’s decision, not yours.

Read the article on stalling.

At what point do I turn?

It doesn’t have to be millimetre perfect. All you’ve got to do is follow the kerb around, making sure it doesn’t go too wide or disappear into the side of the car when looking in the left mirror, and you’ve cracked it. Generally, you want to start turning just as the kerb starts to curve away from the car. The method I’ve detailed above takes care of it for you.

How much should I turn the wheel when reversing around a corner?

To go round most corners driving forwards you’ll need between a half and one full turn of the steering wheel. It would obviously need about the same amount going round it in reverse. It depends on the corner – some are much tighter than others – and the exact amount of steering will also depend on your car, since some have tighter turning circles than others. The method I’ve detailed above takes care of it for you.

What if it’s a very sharp corner?

Good question. The method I have detailed above will not work as it is written for sharp corners. Reversing into a sharp corner

To deal with sharp corners, all you have to do is work out where the turning point is, then apply full lock. In my car (and when I’m driving), when the kerb of the road I’m reversing into appears just inside the nearside passenger window (see image above), that’s the turning point. You can work it out for your car (or seating position) by driving slowly forwards around the corner (i.e. doing the manoeuvre in reverse) and stopping as soon as you are straight. Take a look where the kerb of the target road is and remember that position.

If you’re trying to teach this to a pupil, remember that what you see in the side window will not be the same as what the pupil sees (unless they have their seat adjusted to exactly the same place you do, and they’re the same height as you). Let them work out their own reference point – don’t tell them what it is, because it probably won’t be!

Which way should I steer?

This is the main reason many learners have problems with this manoeuvre. Their instincts tell them to steer in exactly the opposite direction to what is required whenever they are reversing (I’ve explained the probable reason why, above). Instinct takes over whenever the pupil is panicked or rushed. Quite simply, you steer the way you want the car to move, whether driving forwards or backwards. The direction you steer does not change when you are reversing.

As I explained above, talking to yourself can help a lot – it forces you to work things out instead of just going on instinct.

Can I dry steer?

Yes, if you need to. Dry steering is when you steer while the car is stationary, and although it isn’t good practice to do it unnecessarily (it can damage the tyres, the steering column, and the road surface), it is NOT marked on the test. You can read more about steering in this article. In any case, you will usually only be steering a little while you are carrying out this manoeuvre, so dry steering is even less of an issue.

Should I use the handbrake every time I stop?

No. Use it if there is a risk of rolling, if you think you might be waiting for a long time, if you want to shift your foot, and so on. Otherwise, control the car smoothly using the brake and clutch as necessary (not at the same time, though). Having said that, if you do use the handbrake for each stop you’re not going to fail for it, so if it makes you feel better go ahead and use it (several years ago, one of my pupils was told on the debrief that there was no need to use the handbrake so much – but no fault was recorded and they still passed).

My last instructor told me it’s wrong to look in the mirrors

Your instructor is wrong, and you did well to get away from him before he did any more damage. The aim of this manoeuvre is to stay reasonably close to the kerb and to keep an eye out for other traffic. Your mirrors are there to tell you what is happening behind you, so you should make use of them. Just make sure you don’t stare at them – just as you shouldn’t stare out of the back window like a zombie if you’re using that method. Move your head and look around you, but don’t be afraid to use the mirrors as your primary way of gauging distance from the kerb.

But what if I can see the kerb out of the window?

Use that by all means. Just be aware that when you buy your own car you might not be able to see the kerb through the windows. I pick up loads of pupils who can’t use that method in my Ford Focus and they haven’t got a clue what to do. A mirror-based method works in any car.

What does the left wing mirror tell me?

It came as a big surprise to me when I discovered that a few pupils actually believe that if something is moving closer to them in the left mirror, it must be moving away from them in reality! This is not correct. If something is getting closer in the mirror, it is getting closer. Period.

Although it depends on how you’ve adjusted it, as a rough guide you want to keep the kerb about a third of the way across the left wing mirror.

Can I ask the examiner to adjust the mirror for me?

Yes. The examiners’ DT1 guide says that they should not refuse to assist if this request is made. Obviously, this only applies to manually-adjusted mirrors – you can adjust electric ones from the driver’s seat. As I said above, if your mirrors are in the correct place for normal driving then they don’t really need to be adjusted. However, I am aware that some ADIs advise their pupils to adjust the mirror downwards so that they can see the kerb, and although I personally cannot see the point, if that’s how you do it then it doesn’t matter if it works for you.

Do I need to adjust the mirror?

If it’s in the right place for normal driving, quite honestly you don’t need to. Some people do, though. It’s up to you.

I can’t adjust the mirror any more to see the kerb

If you are quite short, then you may find that the mirror won’t go much lower. As I said above, you don’t really need to move the mirror away from the normal driving position to see enough of the kerb to reverse around the corner. I know that some instructors do teach it with a lowered mirror, but you have just discovered one of the drawbacks to doing it that way.

How far away from the kerb should I be?

I teach my pupils that ½ metre (about a drain grating’s width) away from the kerb is perfect, ¾ metre is a little wide (but acceptable), and more than ¾ metre is too wide. These are the ratings I use on lessons – they do not apply to the driving test.

On the driving test the examiner’s decision is final, and in most cases they are happy as long as you don’t hit the kerb or go more than half way across the road you’re reversing into at any point during the manoeuvre. My approach to teaching the manoeuvre is that by training my learners to be very accurate about it, if they deviate a bit on their tests then they’ll still be well inside acceptable limits.

Will I fail if I’m too far away from the kerb when I’ve finished?

Yes. Probably. But “too far” is a grey area, and you have to be very wide indeed to fail for it. As I said above, as long as you are on your side of the road you shouldn’t really get more than a driver (minor) fault.

Remember that this is not a parking manoeuvre. You are not supposed to keep really close to the kerb (½ to ¾ of a metre is ideal). As a rough guide, you need to be about as far away from it as you would be if your were driving forwards to turn left.

What happens if I touch the kerb?

First of all, never self-assess your performance when you’re on your test. People who assume that they have failed because they’ve made a mistake are often wrong. Brushing the kerb isn’t an automatic fail (DT1, the examiners’ own internal reference document, says that). Some examiners seem to be harsher than others considering all the tales I hear, so it’s obviously best to not touch the kerb at all – but if you do, don’t worry about it and keep your fingers crossed.

Mounting the pavement is almost certainly a fail – but again, don’t assume anything! Not long ago one of my pupils rode up the kerb slightly and then slipped down again (risking taking chunks out of my alloys), but he still passed. He probably wouldn’t have if he’d have managed to get the whole wheel on to the pavement, but the point is that the rest of the drive can play a big part in how some mistakes are marked. Examiners often use common sense and aren’t out to fail people without a good reason.

Is it OK to keep stopping during the manoeuvre?

Yes, yes, yes, YES! Although it IS possible to fail for taking too long to complete the manoeuvre, stopping for a few seconds a half a dozen times as you steer around is not going to push it anywhere near this. The worst that can happen is that you’ll get a driver fault for taking a bit too long – which is much better than a serious fault for steering the wrong way and messing the whole thing up. Take your time. The problem with keeping moving while trying to figure out which way to steer is that the car will carry on going wider or closer, then you’ll panic and your badly-programmed instincts will tell you to steer the wrong way or by too much, then the whole thing is ruined. If you stop, the kerb stops getting closer or further away and you can think what to do.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes when you’re trying to master it on your lessons. Start out slow – a suitable speed will come naturally later.

My instructor told me to keep moving

Your instructor is wrong. Find another quickly before they do any more damage. You do not have to keep moving, and doing so when you are getting muddled over which way to steer or are going out of position is guaranteed to mess the manoeuvre up completely.

Can I fail for taking too long?

Yes, but you have to be really slow about it, or cause hold ups for other road users. I’ve only ever had one pupil fail for taking too long on a manoeuvre, and it was about 10 years ago on the parallel park. He reversed back and touched the kerb. He moved out to correct it, then touched the kerb again. He moved out one more time, and got it parked properly this time. The examiner failed him for taking too long because there was a car waiting.

What if I don’t have power steering?

It doesn’t matter. You need to steer enough – and that will be the same amount of steering that you’d use driving around the same sort of corner going forwards.

My last instructor told me to look out of the back (or side) window to follow the kerb

In my car – and many others – the rear sill is too high for this to work, and people who have been taught that way get into a terrible mess if they try it. I drive a Ford Focus, and many of those who pass their tests are likely to drive one, too. They were quite probably taught in a small “learner” car that there was never even the remotest possibility of them going out and buying (not until they reach 60 or 70, anyway).

The mirrors exist so that you can see what is behind you. Use them to follow the kerb and you’ll be able to reverse in any car. Having said that, if you can see the kerb out of the windows use that by all means – just remember that when you get your own car it may not work.

I can’t see the kerb when I reverse around the corner

If your mirrors are correctly set for normal driving then you WILL be able to see the kerb if you are carrying out the manoeuvre properly. If you’ve been taught to look out of the back or rear passenger windows, the chances are you’re driving a different car where that method won’t work.

What should I be looking for out of the back window?

Pedestrians and other road users – and not just out of the back windows. Keep a lookout all around as you carry out the manoeuvre.

What if I can’t see it’s clear?

You mustn’t reverse anywhere if you aren’t sure it is safe. If necessary, get out and have a look – but make sure the car is safely positioned and secured before you do.

When would a corner be unsuitable for this manoeuvre?

People ask this when they’re training to become ADIs because it’s one of the subjects that crops up at some point. The usual answer is when it’s a one-way street – you can’t reverse the wrong way up a one-way street. Other reasons for not reversing into a particular corner would be if it is very busy, if it is controlled by traffic lights, if it is within the boundaries/zigzags of a crossing, if it is on a dual carriageway (i.e. you’d be going the wrong way), on a motorway, if all-round visibility is restricted and there are a lot of people around, and so on.

Watch out for other drivers who might not care where they do it, or how they affect others. Taxi drivers, for example, will turn wherever and whenever they want – rules or no rules.

I can’t see the point of turn

If your mirrors are adjusted properly for normal driving you will be able to see the point of turn – it’s when the curved part of the kerb starts to move away from you in the left mirror. You don’t need to angle them down especially or anything, though some people do. However, if you’ve been taught to reverse by looking out of the rear windows then you will have problems in many vehicles.

Can you move forward to correct your position if you make a mistake?

Yes, but be careful. Having to add extra stages means having to do extra safety checks, and the pressure of knowing you’ve gone slightly wrong will increase the risk of you forgetting to do them. It’s best to get it right first time to avoid all of this. However, it isn’t a good idea to drive all the way back to the starting position so you can have a second try – apart from the additional safety checks, you’ll end up taking much longer over it and that can be grounds for failure.

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Originally published in 2012, previously updated in 2014. New update for 2017.


Melted chocolateI will never understand why driving instructors get themselves so wound up about mock tests. I mean, I know why they do, but I’ll never understand. The only test which matters is the actual driving test, and the outcome of any arbitrary pre-test conducted by the instructor (or one of his mates) is completely irrelevant as an indicator of how that real test will turn out. The best learner driver can make a silly mistake on the day of their test and fail, whereas the most nervous learner can put in a faultless performance against all the apparent odds. Mock driving tests are about as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to predicting how test-ready someone is!

I’ve mentioned before that some ADIs go to town with their little mock tests. They buy clipboards, hi-vis jackets, and wear a suit just so they can sit there pretending to be examiners. When I originally wrote this, some were already trying to use iPads (the DVSA had been carrying out trials with these at the time) to enhance their ‘mockability’ profile. Unfortunately, the problem with using tablets and computers is that when someone goes to test, for 40 minutes or so they’re not a learner but a candidate, and the examiner is not an instructor, and is not in charge of the vehicle in the same way an ADI is when he is teaching. For that reason, pissing about with gadgets during mock test performances (or at any other time) is right up there with using your mobile phone.

Comments often made on various forums suggest that some instructors spend the last few weeks before someone’s driving test just doing mock after mock after mock, gleefully reporting the “result” back to their “candidates”. At the time of the original article, some were even going public on forums when their pupil failed their real test, complaining that they had passed all their mocks and should have passed the test. It goes without saying that it was the examiners who were at fault in these instructors’ eyes.

The answer is quite simple. There is no way a mock test could ever be considered as “real”. The instructor isn’t a real examiner, even if he thinks he’s dressed like one, is armed with a colour copy of the DL25, and sits there all stern and serious (the last two Christmases, all of ours at one test centre have come out to tests in matching Reindeer sweaters). Even if he gets one of his mates to carry out the mock test, his mate is also not an examiner. The pupil knows this full well, and no matter how they score, they will more than likely still be shitting themselves on the day of their proper test. In fact, there’s every chance that the mock shenanigans will have made them even more nervous by gearing them up for an unpleasant experience, especially if they kept “failing”.Test Centre Sign

Mock tests seem to be of much more value to the instructor than to the pupil. ADIs start drooling over them even before they’ve got their green badges, and many seem to look forward to qualifying just so they can do the damned things. The chance to dress up and pretend to be important overrides all else.

A decent instructor will be highlighting what is and isn’t acceptable from very early in pupils’ training. If something is going well, there’s no need to say anything other than “well done”, etc. When problems arise, the change in approach is a “mock test” situation in itself. Instructors certainly should not be waiting until they start performing their “official mock tests” before relating driving skills to performance in the real test – by that stage they will be becoming habitual and will be much harder to rectify in the inevitably short time that remains,

I don’t routinely carry out mock tests for all the reasons I’ve given above. If a pupil or their parent asks me about them I explain how pointless I think they are, but that I’ll do one if they really want me to.

As an aside, some time ago I had a pupil whose father and sister used to invite themselves on to lessons. He had apparently had a lot of lessons already, and they were forever going on about the him taking his test (which they kept booking against my direct advice), and repeatedly demanded mock tests. The truth was that the young lad was special needs and was extremely slow picking things up. He’d only had a handful of lessons from me. He genuinely believed that if something in the mirror was moving further away from the car, it was actually getting nearer to it in reality,  and this prevented him from being able to carry out any reversing manoeuvre. I could not let him drive unaided without continuously having to intervene to prevent serious issues arising. On one occasion, he sailed into a busy junction where five roads intersect, then – right in the middle, after a red light on the periphery of his vision caught his attention – slammed on the brakes and attempted to come to a stop. In order to make a point, I gave in and attempted to “mock test” him – I think I had my hands on the steering wheel more than he did. Even after this, his father still wanted him to “have a go” at the test. I refused point blank and didn’t hear from them again.

I make it clear to all my pupils that I cannot possibly simulate a real test because I’m not an examiner. I absolutely cannot reproduce the circumstances that lead to the nerves they will experience on the day of the real test because those circumstances are an inherent part of the day of the real test. And I emphasise that if they can drive on lessons without me getting involved, they don’t need a mock test.

It’s not uncommon for me to stop a pupil from emerging at a junction as they attempt to pull out in front of oncoming traffic. It’s part of the job. Every so often, though, one of them will subsequently ask “but apart from that, was it all right?” They are incapable of understanding that purely because of “that”, the entire manoeuvre or procedure was non-existent, and the danger they had put themselves in was of infinitely greater importance than whether they were steering properly (even their MSM on approach is completely sunk if the final assessment resulting from it was so poor). The same mentality carries over to the subject of mock tests, and they use them to try and itemise things which they shouldn’t do on the real test. The worst ones for it are those who can’t afford lessons, or who want to pass quickly, and they end up with an ever-expanding list of things they shouldn’t do. Getting them to understand that if they could drive properly they wouldn’t have to be worrying about remembering what not to do is nigh on impossible (similar to how there are people who think that hiring impersonators and trying to bribe examiners are cheaper solutions compared with learning properly).

On the rare occasions I do mock tests, they’re usually the decider in an ongoing discussion about whether to move the test date, where the pupil is reluctant. I don’t think I have ever done one which lasts the same length of time as the real test – the necessary data is obtained much more quickly.

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Driver using mobile phoneFrom today (1 March 2017) the penalties for using a mobile phone when driving have increased.

If you get caught now, it’s 6 points on your licence and a £200 fine. New drivers – those who passed their tests less than 2 years ago – should bear in mind that the points will put them at the limit provided during the probationary period. In theory – and, hopefully, in reality – that means you’re banned.

DVSA’s photo used in the news release carries the words “make the glove compartment the phone compartment”. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen – the typical 17-year old can only put their phone in one of two places: in their hand, or between their legs. Well over half of my new pupils try that at first, and I know for a fact that however much I emphasise the dangers and penalties, when they pass they’re going to do it. I also know that they will use their phone while they’re driving – it is a condition of 17-year olds today.

I fully agree with higher penalties. The only form of education which stands any chance of working is one which carries a significant punishment with it.

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Coaching - the true purposeOver the last week or so I’ve noticed the sudden appearance in my stats of visits to the blog using the search term “applied coach approach”. Until the first one last week no one has EVER used that term before, now it is appearing multiple times per day.

I should also point out that – so far – I have not been spammed with it, but after a quick search it would appear that the DIA is selling a coaching course with this title, costing a little under £100. Better still, as well as being a standalone course, it apparently “builds on” the original Coach Approach course, which no doubt also cost somewhere around £100. I bet there are some dipsticks out there who have done both, as well.

You know what they say about a fool and his money.

Coaching is coaching. Once you’ve done one course and are using the techniques as necessary, unless it turns out that you’re desperately crap at it, any further courses only benefit those who are pocketing your cash. Incidentally, the coaching clip art I found for this article struck me as being very appropriate. It looks like someone trying to coach someone else up on to a toilet seat.

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Back to the Future - flying carI was on a lesson with a pupil today and I asked her how she was getting on studying for her theory test. I asked her to identify a pedestrian crossing we had just passed, and it was clear she was a little confused. Next time we stopped, I got my sketch pad out and went through the different types to show her how understanding them made answering theory test questions much easier than just trying to remember the answers.

We talked about Pelicans, Puffins, and Toucans. I mentioned how they’re named after various birds, but that in spite of people trying to make the connection, Zebra Crossings are much older and are named after Zebras and not Zebra Finches. That brought us to Equestrian Crossings, which I mentioned using the common name of “Pegasus Crossing”.

Who do you think would use a Pegasus Crossing?

I don’t know.

Think about it. What was a Pegasus?

A flying horse.

Good, and half of that might explain who uses them. Who might that be?

Flying cars.

My ribs are still hurting now. She realised immediately, but – at the time – she meant it.

Edit: Incidentally, she was one of the best drivers I’ve had, and a very pleasant pupil. She passed first time in May, having started in January with no previous experience.

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Navy navigator with sextantI picked a pupil up for a lesson tonight from his house. He’d already asked if we could finish at his girlfriend’s place over in Cotgrave, which I had no problem with. Well, I say that, but I did have some small reservations, which grew as the lesson went on.

I enjoy this job immensely, but there are two particular things which I have to admit I have nightmares about. One is to do with steering. I’ve been teaching for long enough to know that pupils can do things you’d think that no sane person would ever do. For example,  a few months ago a girl who was a bit unpredictable behind the wheel in the first place was steering almost full-lock around a tight mini-roundabout to turn right when the ball on her nose ring (which she fiddles with incessantly) fell off at the precise moment she needed to steer left into the exit road. Who would ever have thought that a rational human being would instantly decide to let go of the steering wheel with both hands and plunge head-first into the foot well to try and catch the ball before it hit the floor in this situation? And in another example some years ago, a pupil was driving at 50mph down a long, straight, well-lit 60mph road, with other cars visible several hundred metres in front of us doing the same, when he suddenly decided we needed to make a 90° turn to the left. There was no left turn there anyway (not even anything resembling one), and even if there had been we couldn’t possibly have managed it at that speed, and nor should we have attempted to do so. He could never explain why he had tried (I remember his exact words: “I honestly don’t know why I did that”).

The second thing that gives me the heebie jeebies is when a pupil asks to be dropped off somewhere different to the pick up, and before I’ve had time to look it up. This is made worse when I attempt to identify the location with them and they can’t tell me anything other than “I know the way”. Those four simple words convey an absolute encyclopaedia of possible meanings, such as:

  • I’ve only been once
  • I was asleep on the back seat at the time
  • And I was only four
  • My mum (or dad) normally drives
  • My mum (or dad) think they might have once heard of something called The Highway Code
  • My mum (or dad) think that they once passed their driving test, but now they can’t remember
  • I usually walk there
  • I usually ride my bike there
  • I’m aged 17-25 and beyond the end of my road (less if it’s a long road) I get lost
  • I got lost the last two times I came here on my own
  • I usually catch the bus

Young drivers are often so poor at navigation that they think 5cm on a map “isn’t very far” – even though they’re looking at a World projection printed on A4. With a big border. And cornering on two wheels with no signals (just like mum or dad) comes naturally. With all of this in mind, the conversation at the start of today’s lesson went something like this:

Where in Cotgrave do you need to be?

I know the way

Yes, but I don’t. What road does she live on?

Ummm.

[Groan] You don’t know the name of the road?

But I know the way

At this point, I jokingly explain much of what I’ve written above.

I don’t know how you “usually” get to Cotgrave, and there’s more than one way. Where is she near?

Ummm.

Is she near Ring Leas?

[A light seems to come on] Umm, I think.. ummm.

OK, we’ll head for Ring Leas and you can tell me where you’re going from there

It’s near Sainsbury’s

[I pause for a moment] But Ring Leas is nowhere near Sainsbury’s

I’ll know it when I see it

Yes, but I want to get there alive. We’ll head for Sainsbury’s then

We carry out the bulk of the lesson. Once we’ve done it, we strike out for Cotgrave along the A606 Melton Road. Just after the Wheatcroft Roundabout the conversation proceeds:

I normally take the next turn left

I know how to get to Cotgrave, just concentrate and you can tell me where you think you want to go later

I assumed that he meant he’d normally drive down Tollerton Lane (which is actually the fourth left from where we were), even though that would be a pointlessly longer way to get to Cotgrave. As we turned into Cotgrave Road (fifth left):

Yes, this is the way we come

But this isn’t “next left” like [I decide not to pursue it]… now concentrate on the road, it’s dark and narrow [and it’s snowing now]

As we approach Cotgrave:

It’s left at the Church

But Sainsbury’s is on the right

No, it’s this next road [pointing right at Mensing Avenue]

But the Church is a bit further down, and Sainsbury’s is on the right at the end of this road

No, there’s one here [Scrimshire Lane, second left, and on the right]

That’s the graveyard, the Church is on the left down there, and you said it was on the left. But this is the road she lives on, yes?

Ummm. Yes. I meant on the right.

[We turn into Scrimshire] Where does she live?

On the left just here [points]

What, down here? [Cherry Orchard]

No, down here [points left again]… where that car’s going [actually, into someone’s driveway]

You mean Ring Leas, then [which is just past it]?

Ummm.

So it’s down here? [I point at Ring Leas as we approach it]

No, it’s down here on the left

Several possible left turns later, we finally arrive – albeit about 1km beyond the point where our destination was “just here on the left” the first time.

Promise me you’ll buy a sat nav as soon as you pass.

I knew where it was

No you bloody didn’t. Not one of your directions was correct, and what do you think you would have done if you’d been driving on your own? You’d have taken that first turn back on the A606 and ended up in West Bridgford if you were lucky. Then you said it was “near Sainsbury’s” – it’s nowhere near.

It is

Sainsbury’s is over a mile away. Have you any idea how difficult it is to find an address when you don’t know a road name or house number, and are searching in a one-mile radius based only on visual recognition – in the dark? Your idea of this house being “near Sainsbury’s” is like saying “Nottingham is near Derby”. In global terms it is, but not if you’ve got to walk it wearing a blindfold!

Society is doomed, I tells ya!

And this is why I sometimes have those recurring nightmares.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated for 2017.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum last year someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

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

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy (Nottingham is certainly no exception here) means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

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

You see, having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Which makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den, I suppose.

Those of us who remain here on Planet Earth will carry on doing things the way they do now: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

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

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

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

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

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

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

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

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

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do lessons in snow cost more?

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

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

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

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

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

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

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

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

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the roads. Most recently, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was very frosty and the side roads were icy. I also had one cancelled due to fog.

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

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

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

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

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it – it’s on the cover note that no one bothers to read which goes with the confirmation email.

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

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1815, 1915, 2015, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And it doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

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

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

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

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

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Intelligent InstructorThis month’s Intelligent Instructor magazine talks of the “reaction” to government proposals to allow learners on to the motorways. Just for the record, I – as an objective and… well, I won’t say ‘intelligent’, but let’s just say ‘more so than plankton’ observer – think it is a good and long overdue change (if it happens).

Ingenie is a an insurance company for young drivers. Statistically, it’s users seem to be about 75% female. So opinions by its members are therefore predominantly those of young, recently-passed females. And you have nonsense such as this:

Stupid idea it’s bad enough on the roads but on a fast moving motorway it’s ridiculous dual controls or not. I’ve seen some shocking and dangerous moves from learners which instructors should have taken control of but they don’t. Lorraine

As a driver I do not think it’s a good idea. Motorways are dangerous, high speed areas and definitely not suitable for learners. Paulina

Like there’s not enough accidents on motorways as it is without the added ‘mistakes’ from learners. Don’t get me wrong, we all have to start somewhere but jeez, bad call. Megan

The ink is still wet on these people’s licences, so anything they say should be taken with a pinch… no, wait. Anything they say should be completely ignored. They probably voted for Brexit, for God’s sake, and then had to look up what ‘Europe’ meant.

The only real danger on motorways is from Audi and BMW drivers, and from people like Lorraine, Megan, and Paulina, who seem to have a girly fit over the whole issue whenever it crops up. Motorways themselves do not have any intrinsic danger associated with them – all they are is fairly straight 70mph roads with blue signs instead of green or white ones. The fact that learners have never been allowed on them means that a mystique has grown up around them, which people like Lorraine, Megan, and Paulina easily latch on to. More dangerous, by far, are rural roads, with lots of twists and turns which makes them intrinsically dangerous. This danger is exacerbated by the same Audis and BMWs which create problems wherever they drive, and by the inexperienced Lorraines, Megans, and Paulinas of this world (especially if, as some do, they aspire to such behaviour themselves).

It’s very telling that ‘Lorraine’ thinks she’s perfect, and that all learners are not, and I can just imagine her reaction if she is driving behind one (she’s just pretty much said it herself). Both Megan and Paulina are extremely misinformed people – so badly misinformed that you wonder how they got licences in the first place.

Actual data – that’s real information, not made up stuff from Lorraine, Megan, and Paulina – show clearly that there are seven times more casualties on rural roads compared with motorways. The number of fatalities is ten times that on motorways.

The bottom line is that driving instructors should be able to teach learners on every type of road they will drive on once they pass their tests. Having motorways out of the equation for reasons lost in the mists of time is just bloody stupid, and the only real problem here is that some ADIs wouldn’t go near a motorway purely for their own selfish reasons (i.e. saving money on fuel). Come to think of it, some of those ADIs don’t take their pupils on rural roads for similar reasons, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if I found out that ‘perfect’ Lorraine and her buddies weren’t taught on those, either.

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Stalled in the wrong placeBased on search terms used to find the blog:

Do I fail if I stall on my test?

No. Not automatically. It depends on many things, like where you do it, how many times, and how you deal with it. Stalling is NOT automatically a serious (or “major”) fault.

If you stall once when moving away or stopping, then as long as you start the car safely and move away or stop correctly afterwards, the worst that will happen is that you’ll get a driver fault (and you may not even get one of those). However, if you repeatedly stall when moving away, as a rough guide you’ll get away with it maybe two or three times (a couple more if you’re lucky) until the examiner decides it is a real problem – then you’ll get a serious fault for it.

If you stall at a junction a lot depends on what is happening behind and in front of you, and the delay, danger, and inconvenience that results. For example, if you want to emerge from a junction, stall, and miss a gap in heavy traffic – which causes inconvenience to those behind you – then you can easily get a serious fault.

If you stall in the middle of a junction (i.e. when turning right), the risk of inconveniencing others and causing a dangerous hold-up increases dramatically. It is possible to recover completely from this and come out of it with only a driver fault (and maybe not even one of those), but a serious or dangerous fault is also possible.

Much depends on how you deal with it. Stay calm, and make sure you get going again quickly and safely.

Will I fail if I stall twice?

As I said above, it depends on how and where you do it. The short answer is no, not automatically. However, stalling is a control issue, and you’re being assessed on how you control the car as part of your driving test. Any stall is bad and should be avoided, but if it happens just deal with it as I’ve explained elsewhere in this article and keep your fingers crossed.

If you stall, you can’t undo the fact that you’ve done it. But you can prevent it snowballing into other faults or further stalls.

If you repeatedly stall in the same situation – when moving off, for example – then you really can’t control the car and are probably chasing down a fail. You can’t blame nerves – the examiner is marking you on what he or she sees. As I say, avoid stalling – but deal with it properly if it happens.

If you stall several times in different circumstances – let’s say once in a queue of traffic, once during a manoeuvre, and once right at the start of the test –you just need to keep your fingers crossed and not let it worry you. You might legitimately blame it on nerves in this case, and the examiner may interpret it that way, too.

Will I fail if I stall more than three times?

An examiner once told me he worked on the “five strikes and you’re out” principle. Not all examiners adopt the same approach, and it certainly isn’t written down anywhere that they have to. I tell my pupils to assume “three strikes and you’re out – if you’re lucky!”

As I’ve said above, you can fail for stalling just once if it happens in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if you deal with it inappropriately. Stalling occurs due to poor control of the clutch and gas pedals – you cannot just blame it on nerves, though this may be a contributing factor. So if it happens more than once it is definitely edging towards being marked as a serious fault. Three or more stalls is even further along the path.

I have seen people pass their tests with more than three stalls having been recorded. However, I’ve seen many more fail for less than that.

How many times can you stall on your test and still pass?

How long is a piece of string? You can fail for doing it once, or pass after doing it any number of times. It all depends on the situation(s) involved.

Simplest advice: don’t stall. If you do, deal with it and keep your fingers crossed.

I keep stalling on lessons and my test is next week

If stalling is normally a problem on your lessons, you simply aren’t ready for your test. You need to sort the problem out and not look for ways of “getting away” with it. You should take your test when you are properly trained, not just because you want to.

Is stalling twice on my driving lesson good or bad?

As I have said elsewhere in this article, stalling is a driving fault. If you do it even once on your test, it could easily lead to a situation resulting in a fail. Do it more than once and that risk increases, because the more you do it, the more it points to an underlying lack of control.

You shouldn’t be stalling on a regular basis on your lessons – if you are, then you’re not really ready for your test. Having said that, we all make mistakes (or have “off days”), and a couple of stalls as an isolated event doesn’t mean anything at all. Just remember that even if you never stall on lessons, if you do it on your test you still run the same risk of failing.

What is a stall?

It is when the engine can’t handle what it is being asked to do and stops. The car (usually) has an engine management system which will attempt to avoid stalls at low revs, but when you try to move off with too little gas set the weight of the car slows the engine down so much it just stops. This can happen even more readily on upward slopes and hills if you don’t set enough gas, or if you don’t accelerate away hard enough as you raise the clutch further.

Sometimes, the car can’t make up its mind whether it is going to stall or keep going, and that’s when you get the “kangaroo hop” everyone associates with learners. If this happens, put the clutch down quickly and you’ll probably rescue the situation. Then apply the gas and find the bite gently again.

What is “repeated stalling”?

Someone has recently been finding the blog on that precise term. I would have thought it obvious that if you stall once, then again, then stall again when you try to move off, you are stalling “repeatedly”. Likewise, if you stall every time you try to move off,  or at every junction, or set of traffic lights, you are also stalling “repeatedly”.

You shouldn’t stall at all, though it can happen to anyone. If you do stall – even once – then it is usually just a driver fault on your test. If you do it more than that – especially if you do it repeatedly – it becomes a serious fault.

Note that stalling even once can be marked as a serious (or even dangerous) fault if you do it in the wrong place or at the wrong time, as I have explained elsewhere in this article.

Why do learners stall so much?

Actually, if they’re being taught properly, most learners don’t stall much at all. The time when stalling is most likely to occur for a typical learner is when it comes to moving away promptly. Stalling occurs due to poor control of the clutch and gas pedals, as explained above, and early-stage learners have not developed this skill. So when in a stressful situation (or if they’re not prepared) then they can easily lift the clutch too quickly, resulting in a stall or a kangaroo hop.

Stalling when moving off is not the same as stalling after they’ve stopped – or rather, it does not occur for the same reasons. It is quite common in the early stages for new drivers to pull over and take their foot off the clutch before they’ve put the car in neutral (often, they’ve tried to put it in neutral and got it into another gear instead). So stalling after they’ve parked is a completely different situation to stalling when they’re in flowing traffic (something I’m always quick to point out to them).

Some learners find clutch control much more of a challenge, and these might stall a lot more than the majority do. It’s simply a case of working hard to correct the underlying cause, which varies from person to person.

What should I do if I stall?

Above all else, don’t panic! Your absolute main priorities are to get the car started safely and to move it promptly out of the way, maintaining control throughout.

Your priorities are NOT to automatically stamp on the footbrake, put the handbrake on, and get it into neutral. Sometimes, that’s what you will have to do – but other times it will just make the situation worse by causing a delay in getting going again. Remember that if you cause a hold up, that’s far more serious on test than a simple stall that you quickly and safely deal with. You have to decide at the time which is the best way to deal with it.

Start the car quickly, check that it’s safe, and move away.

Do I need to use the handbrake if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. Sometimes, putting the handbrake on (and/or selecting neutral) just adds to the delay. You must do what is appropriate for the particular situation you’re in.

If you’re likely to roll backwards or forwards into danger then use the handbrake. The examiner’s brief is that you deal with things safely and maintain control if you stall – not that you systematically use the handbrake every time.

Should I go into neutral if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. However, if you are going to start the engine with the car in gear, make bloody sure you have the clutch down. Some newer cars won’t start without the clutch down anyway, but if yours isn’t one of those the car will lurch forward if you start it in gear with the clutch up. That’s almost certainly a guaranteed serious or dangerous fault because you are not in control and you are not safe.

Should I put the handbrake on and go into neutral every time I stall?

As I explained above, this may add to the delay and allow a dangerous situation to develop, so the answer is no – not automatically, and not every time. Some instructors argue that because you might panic, then you should go through this laborious routine for every stall. That is a bit of a cop-out, though.

Every situation is different – and plenty of them are such that if you did go through the full handbrake/neutral routine then it would push you into a fail, whereas using another approach would not.

Should I stop if I stall?

No. Not necessarily. Slamming the brakes on when it isn’t necessary could quite easily cause someone to go into the back of you at a busy junction if they see you start to move. It’s hardly much consolation knowing it was technically their fault if they’ve written off your car and given you whiplash (and are probably blaming you anyway with their insurer). You have to decide whether you need to stop or not depending on the individual situation.

Why did I stall?

A lot of possible reasons, including:

  • not depressing the clutch before stopping
  • being in the wrong gear for the speed
  • not enough gas when moving off
  • bringing the clutch up too quickly
  • using the handbrake incorrectly (e.g. using it to stop or leaving it on when trying to move off) with the clutch up

It could be any combination of these. Before you try and move off again, make sure that you’re in the right gear. That eliminates one possible cause.

Remember that you need to calmly set the gas, find the bite, check all round, then release the handbrake. Keep your feet still once you have the bite, then after the handbrake is released apply more gas and gently raise the clutch all the way. The most common reasons that people stall when moving off are that they panic and keep lifting the clutch beyond the bite while the handbrake is still on, or they suddenly lift the clutch after they release the handbrake. It has to be a smooth action.

Keep all these stages absolutely separate. If they all start to merge together it is a recipe for disaster! There will be plenty of time to develop overlapping control once you gain experience – but as a learner you must work on the basics and keep everything structured so that you can develop good basic control skills.

Why does my car “kangaroo hop” when I change gear?

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that learners often bring the clutch up too quickly without having enough gas set. So the car lurches forward, then decelerates as it nears stalling point. However, sometimes there is just enough gas set for it not to stall, at which point it lurches again, and then the process repeats itself. That’s the “kangaroo hop” in action.

If you don’t change gear smoothly – and I mean bring the clutch up gently, then apply the gas – you can get the same effect. You may find that it’s more of a problem if you were taught in a diesel and are having problems in a petrol car (i.e. you’re not setting enough gas), and you may find that it’s also a problem in older cars (try having your car serviced if you really think there is a fault).Acceleration and gear changing

In the majority of cases, it is probably because you’re changing gear too soon so you’re in the wrong gear for the speed the car is moving at. The two graphs of speed against time show how an experienced driver will accelerate in 1st gear, and when the car is well into the 2nd gear speed range he will shift into 2nd gear, then repeat for subsequent gears. Learners (and new drivers) will often robotically shift from one gear to the next before they’ve built up enough speed. They will also sometimes compound the problem by taking too long to change the gear, so the car actually slows down during gear shift.

Is lurching forward a driving fault?

Yes, and it could be regarded as serious or even dangerous depending on when and where you do it.

Lurching happens when you bring the clutch up too quickly and is pretty much the same as the “kangaroo hop”, but without as many hops. It could be very dangerous if you did it when you were stopped behind another vehicle, if pedestrians were standing in front of you, or if you were waiting to emerge into traffic.

Lurching is a sign of poor pedal (clutch) control. If you only do it once and no one or nothing is close by you’ll probably get away with it, but if it is obvious that this is how you operate the pedals it is most likely going to be marked more seriously.

Can I fail if my gear change isn’t smooth?

You are unlikely to fail if you’re a bit rough a couple of times. But if every gear change is like a bag of spanners falling down the stairs then it IS a fault, and you may find yourself being marked down for it. After doing it a handful of times, it COULD end up becoming a serious fault. Read the article which explains your driving test report. You’re supposed to operate the controls and pedals smoothly, so if you don’t you are at fault and could be marked down accordingly.

Note that selecting the wrong gears also progresses in a similar way, with the possible exception of getting it into 1st instead of 3rd. If you do that, the car decelerates rapidly, and that’s extremely dangerous – it’s like braking hard for no reason, and cars behind could hit you. A lot would depend on only doing it once, and not having anyone behind you when you did.

What causes my car to “switch off” when I’m driving up a steep slope?

It’s stalling. You haven’t got enough gas set, you are in the wrong gear, or a combination of both. It can happen going forwards or backwards.

If you’re talking about something else when you say “switching off”, take it to a garage and get it looked at.

How should I handle a stall?

It really depends on the situation. You can use the full handbrake/neutral procedure sometimes, but there are many other cases where just restarting the car is going to be the quickest and safest way out of a stall.

In the middle of a busy junction, for example, if you start to move forward but then stall, you could quickly start the engine while the car is still moving as long as you don’t roll into a dangerous position. Keep the clutch down as you restart it.

How do the examiners assess a stall?

DSA SOP DT1 only gives only one example:

Assessment Criteria – (example)

Driving Fault

After stalling at a road junction, handbrake applied but attempts to start the engine whilst in gear.

Serious Fault

At a road junction, engine started whilst in gear, resulting in vehicle entering the new road with potential risk to other road users.

Dangerous Fault

Any situation brought about by a lack of ability to recognise the need to operate or being unable to operate the controls, which directly affects other traffic or pedestrians and causes actual danger.

This requires interpretation because it doesn’t cover every possible situation.

To start with, serious (S) and dangerous faults (D) are easy to identify. If the car moves into the new road – whether in gear or not – it is marked S or D. The division between a driver fault and a serious (S) fault isn’t as clear cut.

If you stall and restart the engine with the clutch down and still in 1st gear, as long as there is no risk to other road users, this is technically only a driver fault (but it may not be marked even as that). It is perfectly OK to do it, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t use the handbrake as long as you’re in control.

If you start the car in gear, but have the clutch up, the car will lurch. If it doesn’t enter the new road and there is no other risk or danger, it may only attract a driver fault, although it could easily be regarded as a serious (S) fault. If you’ve applied the handbrake when this happens then it may swing things in your favour. This is why some instructors end up blindly teaching the handbrake-neutral routine – albeit without realising why they’re doing it.

Of course, if you do the same thing twice or more – i.e. lurch forward without realising the clutch is up, or stall due to being in the wrong gear when trying to move off – then you’re moving deeply into serious (S) territory.

Hopefully, you can see the point here. If you are a competent driver then you can restart and continue as if nothing happened without using the handbrake or going into neutral. But if you stall and get any of the expected behaviour wrong, the meter starts to rise – how high depends on how much of a hash you make of it! And robotically applying handbrake/neutral creates its own problems because it takes time and causes longer delays in getting moving again.

It is important to stress once more that every situation is different and has to assessed at the time it happens. What is a driver fault one time could be a dangerous (D)  fault another, just because of who is on the road behind and in front of you.

Is stalling dangerous?

It depends on where you do it, but yes – it can easily be very dangerous.

Cars behind will see you start to move, and will expect you to move off normally and accelerate through the junction or crossing. If you stall they might not see you stop and could easily drive into the back of you. Rear-end shunts, as they’re called, are one of the most common bumps news drivers (and driving instructors on lessons) have to put up with. And even if the car behind you manages to stop, the one behind him might not – and it is all because you stalled.

Admittedly, from an insurance perspective it will almost certainly be considered as the fault of the driver behind who didn’t see you stop, but that’s no consolation if your car is all banged up (and your own insurance might still rise as a result, because you’re going to have to lodge a claim). Remember that even minor damage to an old vehicle might see it get written off by the insurers, and you’re not likely to get the same money you paid for it.

You might also cause serious problems if you stall in the middle of a junction as the lights change, and traffic starts moving towards you from the other roads.

Stalling when moving away from a parked position tends to get marked as only a driver fault (under “control” on the marking sheet). However, doing it repeatedly means that you can’t control the car and it usually becomes a serious fault once it is clear you cannot move off reliably.

Does stalling damage your car?

Or as the term used to find the blog went, “can stalling a diesel break ya car”?

Cars are tough, so the occasional stall is unlikely to do any harm. However, when you think about how the clutch works, if it wasn’t so tough – or if the stall was a bad one – the potential for damage is always there. Part of the problem is that a stall can vary from just asking a little too much from the car on a slope as you move away all the way up to lifting your left leg up at the same speed as a bullet whilst pushing the gas pedal to the floor with your right. And it doesn’t matter whether it is petrol or diesel.

It happened to me a couple of years ago. Without any warning whatsoever, a pupil who was otherwise a perfectly competent driver at that stage of his training somehow managed to put the clutch down and bring it up again twice in roughly the same time it takes to blink when he panicked in moderate traffic. As a direct result of hammering the clutch surfaces together like that, I needed a new clutch (£800).

Just face the fact that stalling is not good however you look at it, and that you should avoid doing it.

Can you stall in neutral?

No. Not unless there’s something wrong with your car. Learn how the clutch works, then you’ll understand.

Can you stall a diesel?

Yes. People who have reached test standard only have problems when they switch to a petrol car because they have been taught the finer points of control incorrectly. Simply because they didn’t stall in the diesel they learnt in doesn’t mean diesels can’t be stalled – they can.

It’s worth noting that some modern cars are “semi-stallproof”. If you stall them, then immediately put the clutch down, they will automatically restart. They still stall, but there’s no fiddling with the key and restarting and moving off again is much quicker. You still need to make sure you know why you stalled, though – otherwise you’ll just do it again.

Do petrol cars stall more than diesel ones?

They stall more easily. If driven properly – with enough gas and in the correct gear – petrol cars do not stall any more or less than diesels do.

I had my clutch replaced and now the biting point is completely different

Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt! And it’s horrible, isn’t it?

Don’t worry, though. When I bought an 18-month old Citroen Xantia many years ago, at its first MOT the garage told me the clutch was worn and would need replacing soon. Since I didn’t do many miles, I ended up driving it for at least another 4 years, but eventually the clutch began to slip and I had to bite the bullet. When I went to pick it up after the clutch was replaced I couldn’t move it out of the garage!

As time had gone by, the biting point had risen gradually and I had just gotten used to it. With the new clutch, the bite was now right back at the lower end of the pedal movement and my foot’s “memory” kept trying to go to the higher position – which meant stalling. A lot.

It took a few hours to get used to it, and a few minutes each day for about a week until my foot was re-trained. It’ll be the same for you, so just persevere and it’ll be all right.

I just bought a car but I keep stalling it

A lot of my learners tell me this. Again, don’t worry. There’s nothing wrong with it or you. All cars are different and whenever you get in a new one it will take time to get used to it.

My car has a weak biting point

Although this could mean a lot of things (it was a real search term used to find the blog), it most likely refers to the clutch slipping. That usually means the clutch is virtually gone and needs to be replaced. Trust me, if you try to drive your car it could easily just give up on you and leave you stranded (with expensive recovery charges).

Why do I keep stalling my diesel car?

Usually, diesels are harder to stall than petrol cars. If you are stalling your diesel – and you are absolutely certain that if you got in a petrol car then you wouldn’t stall – my first reaction would be to suggest you have a fault and need to get it looked at in a garage.

As I have explained, a stall is when the engine is asked to do too much and stops. It usually happens because you bring the clutch up too quickly, don’t have enough gas set, or a combination of both these things. Stalling is more likely when you’re moving off uphill, and it gets even more likely as the gradient increases (i.e. the steeper the hill).

Are you sure you’re putting gas on? Your instructor’s car – if it was a diesel – was likely to be new and properly serviced, and you may well have been taught (incorrectly) not to set any gas. It isn’t just petrol cars that become more temperamental as they get older, and it may be you are trying to drive your instructor’s way in a car that just cannot handle it.

Why do petrol cars stall?

All manual cars can stall. Diesel engines are less prone to stalling because they usually have more torque – or “turning power” – which means they’re harder to stop. People who have been taught inappropriately (i.e. not taught to set gas, or allowed to be clumsy with the clutch) will have problems if they drive a petrol car simply because its lower torque makes it easier to stop the engine when it has load applied to it.

Will a racing accelerator help me stop stalling in traffic?

This was actually used to find the blog.

If you mean fitting some kind of boy racer mod, then NO. Stalling happens because you aren’t controlling the pedals properly, not because of the kind of pedal you have.

If you mean applying some gas before you find the bite, then more gas before you raise the clutch further, YES. That’s what I have explained above.

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