A Driving Instructor's Blog

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Statistics - it doesn't have to be complicatedI first published this back in 2012 after someone had found the blog on precisely that search term!

Passing the driving test is a skills-based event, so probability doesn’t come into it – not in any way that could be manipulated or measured, anyway. But I had another one recently come to the blog via the term “the probability that a person passes their driving test is 75%”.

The problem here is that people get probability and statistics mixed up – and they don’t understand either.

Every test centre has a pass rate. These are all statistics – measurements of what has actually taken place – and any given test centre might have a pass rate anywhere from under 30% all the way up to 80% or more. Why is this?

Mallaig - north of nowhereTake Mallaig in Scotland, for example. It is a tiny fishing village in the middle of nowhere. It has something like 10km of roads in total, no dual carriageways, one roundabout, a total population of about 1,000, and is 140 miles away from the nearest motorway (it’s actually only a few miles north west from the place where Connor MacLeod was born in Highlander). In the business year 2017/18 a total of 21 tests were conducted at the test centre there, with a pass rate of 71%. In contrast, Nottingham has three test centres, and between them there were over 20,000 tests conducted during the same period, with a pass rate of about 45%. Nottingham has a population of over a quarter of a million, lots of dual carriageways and complex roundabout systems, a busy city centre, and protracted rush hours vying with overrunning roadworks and ever-changing road restrictions. Similarly, Bradford’s three test centres conducted around 15,000 tests, even though it has a slightly larger population than Nottingham and similar types of roads. However, one of its test centres had a pass rate of just 37% in the same period.

In 2012, Bradford – well, one of the test centres there – was highlighted as having the worst pass rate in the country at less than 30%. Bradford’s problem at that location is that there’s a high sub-population of non-UK nationals. As unpalatable as it might be to the politically correct mob, non-UK provisional licence holders have a tendency to want to go to test before they’re ready, and they will often do it in their own cars without ever having had any formal training in the UK. And they do it again, and again, and again, test after test, with no training in between tries. All large cities have this problem one way or another.

I’ve got just such a pupil right now. There is no way I would ever let him go to test using my car the way his driving is, and I have told him he needs more lessons before he tries again. But he won’t listen, and keeps going in his own car after taking a single hour with me each time. It’s hard to put this into words, but he hasn’t got a bloody clue how to do even the simplest of roundabouts, and when he encounters one with lanes marked on it the lines may as well not be there. In fact, in his head, they aren’t there. As soon as he realises it’s a roundabout he panics and – poof! – the lanes just vanish as far as he’s concerned. He is in his 30s and has driven for many years in one of those places where you are “able to drive” if you can put your head down and accelerate into heavy traffic and weave around hundreds of others all doing the same. It’s also one of those places where the men will never admit that they can’t do something, even when it is completely obvious to everyone – including them – that they can’t. He simply cannot get it into his head that he hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of passing his test until he sorts this out. But he’s got another one booked even now.

DVSA actually publishes pass rate data by ethnicity – something which surprises me, given the risks of misinterpreting the data to suit personal agendas – and if you look at the lowest rated Bradford test centre, the pass rate among those identifying as Asian or British Asian and Black or British Black is 34.5% whereas among those identifying as White it is 47%. You have the same skew in Nottingham under those same headings, and pretty much everywhere else. It’s a big difference, and although the data don’t go into finer detail, I would lay money that it is the non-British element within those groups which is pulling the figures down. Where the ratio of non-UK to UK is higher in any given community, the overall pass rate in the location covered by that test centre is so much lower.

Non-British Asian/Black people taking tests tend to be older, have families to support, have low-paid jobs (carers or security, for example), are desperate to get a licence to improve their prospects, and are isolated from their larger family and have no financial backup beyond their wages. They also tend to have many years’ previous experience of driving – albeit badly – and believe they are capable of passing the test over here. Habits are deeply ingrained. Whites tend to be 17-24 year olds who are only learning to drive because its the next thing they need to do in their lives, who haven’t driven much before (if at all) and so don’t have habits to break, who probably won’t get a car for the next year or two anyway, and who can often sponge off mummy and daddy for the lesson fees. It’s not a clear cut division, but it is the tendency nonetheless. And that affects the statistics.

You can already see how complicated this is. A test centre’s pass rate is meaningless except for comparing that centre’s performance over time, and it has no clear bearing on the rates from other centres in other parts of the country because other factors are involved. For example, Bradford’s apparent “improvement” since 2012 is highly likely to have been a deliberate manipulation to make it look better following the bad press it received back then. As an illustration, Mallaig’s pass rate could go up to 90% or fall to 20%, but that would not affect Nottingham’s statistics unless the change were the result of something which affected everyone in the UK, and in a quantifiable manner. I mean, imagine DVSA adding a motorway element to the test. Mallaig’s nearest motorway is further away than London is from Nottingham, so they couldn’t possibly do it, but test centres like Nottingham Watnall and Chilwell – which are both right next to the M1 – would see it affect on their pass rates.

Car with L plateStatistics are a statement of what did happen. They are not probabilities – a prediction of what will happen.

If someone takes a driving test having never driven before, and never having had any lessons, they will fail – no matter what their test centre’s pass rate is. Statistically, the centre could have a 100% pass rate, but someone who can’t drive has a 0% probability of passing. It follows logically that even if someone has had lessons, unless they’ve had enough to make them good enough they will still fail. Only when they have had enough training to make it possible for them to pass a test does probability enter into the equation – but even then it is still not something you can assign a definite number to, because so much depends on nerves, road conditions, events on the day, and so on.

All you can say is that if a candidate can drive to an acceptable standard, and doesn’t do anything stupid on their test (for whatever reason), there is a high probability of them passing. That probability is much higher than the pass rate at the test centre they’re using, but definitely much less than 100%.

If they can’t drive to an acceptable standard, the probability of them passing is close to 0%.

DVSA is not looking for perfect drivers who don’t make any mistakes. The criterion they are using is that the test candidate should be safe enough to drive unsupervised so that they can then gain more and more experience over time.

What are the chances of passing a driving test?

If you can’t drive, they’re approximately zero – you have no chance whatsoever. If you’re a good driver, your chances are very high. It’s that simple.

So my chances are better if I take one or two lessons?

If you can’t drive well enough to pass the test during those lessons, your chances of passing a real one are still almost zero.

Take the parallel park exercise as an example. If you can’t do it during lessons, you’re not going to be able to do it on the test. The same goes for every other aspect of driving that might result in a serious fault on test if you don’t do it properly.

What are the chances of passing my driving test after failing the first time?

Your chances of passing have nothing to do with your previous attempts. If you can drive without your instructor intervening on lessons, you’ll probably pass your test. If you can’t, then you will probably fail it.

Too many people go for their test before they are ready – especially when they’re desperate for a UK drivers licence. Some think they’re ready, some want to be ready, and some just don’t want to (or can’t) spend any more money. Then they fail.

If you’re not ready you will fail. Even if your dream came true and you scraped a pass, you’d be dangerous on the roads.

Yes, but what are my chances of passing second time?

Exactly the same as they were the first time if you still can’t drive properly.

I can drive, so why did I fail?

Assuming that you really can drive, it might just have been a bit of bad luck on the day – some other road user doing something you didn’t expect, or that you’d never had to deal with before. It happens.

However, a lot of learners mistakenly believe that they are better than they are. Many take their tests based on how many hours of lessons they’ve had (in turn, based on how much they could afford). The risk of failing is much higher if you approach your test that way.

What is the best time of year to take your driving test?

There isn’t one, any more than there’s a “best time of day” to take it. If you can drive – and don’t make any serious mistakes – you will pass, whether it’s at Christmas or in summer, morning or afternoon.

What are the statistics that somebody will pass their driving test 2nd time?

That term has been used to find this article. If you can’t drive properly, your “chances” are exactly the same as they were the first time. Passing the test is about ability, not chance.

What are the chances of passing the driving test third time?

That term has been used to find this article. The simple answer is that your chances of passing your test are the same every time you take it if you assume that your ability remains constant. If you get better at driving, your chances increase, but they only become “good” once you can drive well.

The likelihood of passing your driving test is based on your ability, not probability. People who fail at their first attempt are usually better prepared for the second. However, some people are simply not prepared at all and are just gambling on scraping through every time.

If the probability of passing your test is 75%, what is the probability of passing in under four attempts?

Someone found the blog on that search term. I suspect it is a maths question rather than a driving one, but I will answer it as though it were the latter.

Passing your test is not based on probability. If you can’t drive, then you have no chance of passing, and the probability is effectively zero. As your driving ability improves, so does the probability that you will pass. However, it is impossible to put a number to driving ability such that the probability of passing can be calculated, and even if you could, you’d then have to factor in other equally unmeasurable numerical representations of any number of unpredictable events on the day of your test which could shift your chances of passing either up or down the scale.

Just for the record, and as I’ve just explained, the probability of passing your test is not 75% in the first place. And whatever the outcome of your first attempt, that has no measurable bearing on what happens on subsequent tests. It is quite possible to only just fail one test, then fail miserably on one or more of your following attempts.

Generally, most people do improve between tests, but so many other variables are involved that general improvement in the candidate’s ability might not show up as a reduction in driver faults. I’ve seen people fail with perhaps two faults – one of which is a serious – and then pass their next attempt with maybe 9 driver faults.

Does everyone have the same chance of passing their test?

Everyone has the same opportunity to pass – they’re all being tested to the same standard. However, everyone is different, with different abilities, and success in the test is governed by ability.

Since I’ve been doing this job I have encountered people who, quite frankly, should be prevented by Law from ever going near a car. Frighteningly, I know of at least three of them who have passed their tests – one of those has had numerous minor accidents related to emerging without looking properly, and another did so much damage to her car in the fortnight she owned it by keep reversing into her gate post (three times that I know of) that she has given up driving and got rid of the car.

Aren’t you at fault for teaching these people to drive?

Believe me, I think about that all the time. I wish that we were allowed to tell people that they should give up the idea of driving. I have my own way of dealing with it – but I know that they just go and find someone who will carry on teaching them, and they take test after test until they pass.

I had a guy a couple of years ago who failed five tests with me (he’d failed several before). He refused to do more than a single one hour lesson before each attempt because he’d already “spent enough”. He argued that he failed on something different every time, and so all he had to do was not make that same mistake again and he’d be all right. He wouldn’t accept my explanation that his “different” mistakes were due to the same underlying issue, which if dealt with would increase the likelihood of him passing. That was in January 2014, and it was the last I saw of him. Well, until November 2014, that is, when I saw him coming out of the test centre as I was going in with a huge grin on his face. While he was with me, he spent £230 on lessons and £310 on tests over three months – pro rata, he would have spent a further £500-£800 in tests by the time I saw him nine months later in November.

This is how these people are. You can’t tell them directly that they can’t drive. And even if you did, someone would still teach them.

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Empty parking baysI originally wrote this article in 2011. There are updates here, and here. This main article has been updated again in July 2018 to reflect the new test, which came into force from December 2017.

The new test has done away with the Turn In The Road (aka “three-point turn”) and Reversing Into A Corner. These have been replaced with Forward Bay Parking and Stopping On The Right. The Reverse Bay Park and Parallel Park manoeuvres are still tested.

At the time of the original article, some test centres didn’t ask candidates to do a reverse bay park simply because they didn’t have a car park to do it in. It was no secret that in those areas a fair number of ADIs didn’t bother teaching it (virtually no one taught it in Nottingham before Colwick Test Centre opened – the first TC in Nottingham to have a car park big enough to do it).

Since December 2017, there are now two bay park manoeuvres – the original reverse one, and one which involves driving in forwards, then reversing out again. A reader informed me several months ago that the reverse park is always done at the TC, whereas the forward park can be done at various locations outside (supermarkets, council parks, etc.). I wasn’t aware of that, and had assumed that they could both be done anywhere.

Supermarket car park bays

Many drivers are terrified of any sort of parking and spend a large part of their driving lifetimes avoiding doing it. So it must be a bit of a bugger now that all the test manoeuvres are parking manoeuvres. It’s actually quite funny (and sad), sometimes, if I’m in Morrisons’ car park in the mornings. You can watch mainly older drivers, some of whom clearly have trouble walking, parking as far away as it is possible to be from the store entrance – even though there are spaces very close to it – solely because they want to stay away from other cars.

Bays can be laid out in a rectangular pattern, diagonally (often called “herringbone”), and in regularly or haphazardly arranged linear blocks. I’m sure there are other types, but these are the most common ones.Bay layouts

Reverse Bay Parking

If you get this one, it will be either right at the start, or right at the end of your test in the TC car park. The examiner will not tell you which bay he wants you to reverse into, from which side to do it, or in which direction you should be pointing. He will just expect you to do whatever you normally do and  finish inside a bay. He doesn’t care what method you use, and within reason you do not need to be exactly in the centre of the bay or precisely straight. You can even be parked on one of the lines, and it still isn’t a fail.

So what counts as a fault? DT1 – the examiners’ SOP – says that faults are:

  • poor co-ordination of controls
  • ending up straddling two bays
  • unnecessary shunting forwards and backwards
  • turning the steering wheel the wrong way
  • stalling

Observation:

  • no blind spot checks
  • relying too much or entirely on the mirrors
  • ineffective observation
  • looking but not reacting to other vehicles or pedestrians
  • waiting too long for other users in the car park

Basically, faffing around and causing hold ups, and not looking for/reacting to people who you might be holding up or are likely to reverse into.

So how do you do it? There isn’t a “best way”, but there are several alternatives, all of which have their place at one time or another. Some pupils can handle one way better than the others.Bay parking from a fixed position (rectangular grid)

My preferred method for beginners is to start in a fixed position at right angles to the bay you want to park in, and about a car’s width away from the end of the bays (the orange car in the diagram). The fixed point in question is usually relative to the third line away from your target bay, though I did once show someone how to do it in an 18’ minibus and that involved the fourth line – it’s just a case of knowing where to start from.

Put full lock on and reverse until you are at 90º to your original position. Use your wing mirrors to determine when you’re parallel with the bay lines. Then straighten up and reverse into the bay.Bay parking from a fixed position (angled grid)

The method works just as well where the bays are in a herringbone pattern, although you have to angle the car as shown.

Success with this depends entirely on being able to start from exactly the same position relative to your target bay every time you do it. You need to find a reference point on your car, and line it up with the third (or whatever) line away from your target bay.

I prefer this method because a) it requires the smallest amount of space, b) anyone can do it, and c) you can put it into written words and follow it prescriptively.

An alternative way is to simply turn away from your target bay as you approach it – possibly even driving into another bay opposite if it is vacant – then reverse back in a straight line. This is fine if you have enough room, and if you don’t have to correct your position too much.

The most flexible method is simply to use your mirrors to aim into your target bay – possibly with a little forward/backward shuffling if space is tight. The problem with this method is that it is almost impossible to put into simple words because there are so many variables, and since many learners steer the wrong way when reversing, the complexity just makes things worse.

Whatever method you use, make sure you look around for pedestrians and other traffic before you start reversing, during any pause, and when there is something that needs an eye kept on it (i.e. people walking in your direction – at some stage you may have to wait for them to pass). My preferred method is broken down into three distinct stages, and pausing at the end of each one gives a window in which to look around. If you try to bay park in a single movement, be very careful not to miss your safety checks – you will fail if you miss them, especially if there is something you should be dealing with.

Forward Bay Parking

Driving forwards into a bay is as easy as reversing into one. You just steer in a different place. You also need to start further away from the ends of the bays so that as the car swings in it doesn’t cut too far into neighbouring bays. The examiner will be marking using the same criteria quoted from DT1 above. So don’t faff around, and keep a look out for anything that might need dealing with.

My preferred method involves lining up a specific point on the car with the nearest line of the bay you want to drive into at a right angle to it. Put full lock on and move forward until you are at 90º from your starting position. Straighten up and drive into the bay. However, this is only half of the manoeuvre, and you will now be asked to reverse out – which must be done safely and without excessively encroaching on the neighbouring bays.

Reverse out of the bay in a straight line until the ends of the bays are at roughly the same position as your reference point for driving in. Put full lock on in whichever direction you need to leave the car park, and carefully drive away.

Again, my method involves fixed stops, and these act as trigger points for looking all around – and especially behind you. Look before you move. At every stop. The forward bay park manoeuvre takes longer than the reverse, so more safety checks will be needed for that reason alone. You are also much more likely to be reversing towards or crossing the paths other vehicles or pedestrians because of your wider start position.

There is no reason why you can’t just drive into a bay in one single movement, but like I said earlier, if you miss any safety checks – and especially if you don’t see something you should have – you will fail.

Are there any other ways to bay park?

The fixed position method for reverse bay parking has two major drawbacks in the real world, 1) you have to have at least two more lines lines beyond your target bay otherwise you can’t do it, and 2) the bays have to be a standard size. So if you want to get into an end bay or one that’s been over- or undersized by whoever painted it, you’ve got to choose another way.

The 90º method is certainly the easiest. It works in the real world, but you must have room or else you simply can’t do it. It is perfect for use on the test because it works reliably and is easy to teach to a point where the learner can do it by themselves. Note that the size of the bays is irrelevant when forward bay parking.

The mirrors method requires good reversing skills, which many learners simply don’t have – nor do they have the financial resources or desire to part with such resources in order to acquire such skills , particularly if it turns out they have a problem.

I show all these methods to my own pupils, but in almost all cases it is the 90º one that we go with. I explain that they will have plenty of time to practice the other ways once they’ve passed. Being brutally honest, taking two minutes to park in Asda once they’ve passed is only going to annoy a few drivers (and maybe give them a bit of a giggle), whereas taking two minutes over it on your test could lead to a fail. So it makes sense to focus on a method that works rather than one that they have got the next 40 years to perfect.

Which method should I use on my test?

It’s up to you. However, I always explain to my pupils that although I am teaching them to be good drivers for the rest of their lives, we mustn’t forget that I am also teaching them to pass their tests in the most cost-effective time frame for them (and no matter what they might claim, all ADIs are teaching their pupils to “pass the test” – it’s what they are paid to do!) This is not the same as only teaching the bare minimum to pass.

To that end, the 90º method is usually the best option for me and them, because it works every time as long as you get one simple reference position right, and it also works in real life.

I remember my own examiner telling me when I’d passed my driving test that it was only the start, and that I’d be learning for the rest of my life. She was right. And that is just as true now as it was then. If you can park reasonably well, you’re going to be fine – you don’t need a PhD in the subject.

Will the car park be empty when I have to do it?

Assume not. In the TC car park, it usually is substantially empty, but I’ve been there and seen tests having to do it when the park is full up with cars and vans, and it is far too common that some prat of a driving instructor (are you listening, SAM?) has yet again ignored the TC manager’s requests to stay out and gone there to practice (or pretend to need the toilet) as tests are coming back.

Supermarket and council car parks are unlikely to be empty, or to remain so while you’re in them. You may have to park next to another car, or even between two of them.

Can I open the door to check my alignment?

Yes. In all honesty, you shouldn’t need to – but, yes.

How does the examiner know I’m inside the bay?

Some will get out and walk around the car at the end of the manoeuvre (usually, if you’re not straight or are displaced to one side). Others will open their door and take a look – with practice, you can easily tell if the car is in and if it’s straight just by looking at the position of the  bay lines next to you, and examiners are good at this. Some will just lean forward and glance in the left wing mirror (that’s how I do it).

How does my instructor know I’m inside the bay?

Same as the above. If we’re not straight or not in a bay, I will often get the pupil to get out and walk round the car and see for themselves.

Will I fail if I’m on a line or not centralised?

No. Finishing on a line or very close to one  is not an automatic fail – the examiners’ DT1 document used to state that, and I am not aware that the criteria have changed. You should always aim to finish dead centre at the first attempt, of course, and you are allowed to correct yourself. But take this example.

A while back, one of my pupils hated the reverse bay park manoeuvre, even though as far as I was concerned she was very good at it. Of course, this was the manoeuvre she got on her test. It was at the end as she came back to the test centre, and I was watching from behind a hedge so she couldn’t see me.

She reversed back and was cleanly inside the bay, but for some reason she decided she needed to fix it. She drove forward, then reversed back into almost the exact same position. She tried again, and once more ended up in the same position. Then she had another try and this time ended up diagonally across the other side and with her rear nearside wheel half way inside the neighbouring bay. I saw the wipers settle and knew that she’d turned off the ignition, so I walked over thinking “damn, she’s failed”. As I approached the car, the passenger window was open and the examiner said “just a minute DOAADI, we haven’t finished yet”. I walked on and stood somewhere behind. The examiner said something to my pupil, who then tried adjusting it one more time. She finished not quite straight, but just inside. And she passed.

So never assume anything.

Do they do the bay park manoeuvre at Watnall?

Both forward and reverse bay parking can be conducted on tests at all the Nottingham test centres.

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Updated 4 April 2014 in accordance with the latest DL25 format on sheets my pupils are currently receiving. Note that this is slightly different to the DL25 sheet on the GOV.UK website.

Minor update 30 July 2017 advising of impending changes to the test from 4 December 2017. Note that even as of July 2018 the linked document is still not updated to reflect the new test which came in in December 2017


A lot of people find this site using search terms like “driving test report explained” or “what are S and D on the test report”. I’ve explained everything below. This is taken from the sheet you get whether you pass or fail your test, which is officially known as the DL25. The explanation sheet you receive tells you what the examiner was looking for, and why he or she marked you as they did.

I always give out copies to – or at least run through certain sections with – my pupils.

1(a). Eyesight Test

At the start of the test the examiner asked you to read a vehicle registration number. If you do not meet the eyesight standard then your test will not go ahead. If you need glasses or contact lenses to make sure you can read the number you must wear them whenever you drive or ride.

If you can’t read the number plate of a car the driving examiner (DE) chooses outside the test centre then you can’t take the test, i.e. you “fail” immediately.

2. Controlled Stop

You may have been asked to show you were able to stop your vehicle in good time and under full control, as if in an emergency situation. Remember, when driving in wet or icy weather conditions, it will take you longer to stop safely.

One in every three tests gets a full-blown emergency stop, and you will need to be able to do it the way your instructor taught you. In addition, the DE will ask you to pull over and move off again several times during your test, and at least one of these may involve stopping behind another parked vehicle or obstruction, and then moving off again.

3, 4, 5 and 6 Reversing and turn in road exercises

Depending on the test you took, you may have been asked to complete one or more slow speed manoeuvring exercises. You needed to show you were able to keep control of your vehicle. This needed to be done whilst taking effective observations and acting correctly on what you saw.

This covers all of the manoeuvres, although you will only be asked to do one of them during a normal test. The manoeuvres are:

  • turn in the road (not tested since December 2017)
  • left corner reverse (not tested since December 2017)
  • right corner reverse ((not tested since December 2017)
  • stop/reverse/move away from the right (since December 2017)
  • forward bay park/reverse out (since December 2017)
  • reverse bay park
  • parallel park

It is/was very rare for someone taking the test in a car to be asked to do the right corner reverse (it is/was usually vans which get that one) – but  you could have been asked to do it (that came straight from my local test centre manager). Likewise, some test centres don’t have parking bays and therefore don’t usually ask candidates to reverse bay park, but that doesn’t mean they never will (forward bay park is done away from the test centre in a supermarket or council car park). Your instructor should have at least run through any questionable manoeuvres with you because you’ll need to know how to do them once you’re driving on your own.

For all the manoeuvres you must be in control of the car (e.g. no stalling, not too fast or too slow, and not too jumpy). You must also be safe (e.g. looking for other road users before and during movement, and dealing with them appropriately).

7. Vehicle Checks

It is important that the vehicle is in good working order before you start the engine. The examiner asked you some safety questions of a ‘show me / tell me’ nature. You needed to show a basic knowledge of the checks you should make on a regular basis. These include checks on oil and water levels and tyre pressure and tread depth.

This refers to the show-me-tell-me questions. Make sure you can answer them for the car you take your test in – for example, knowing how to check the oil using the dipstick is one thing, but being able to identify where it is another matter entirely.

Note that from 4 December 2017 one of the questions will be asked while you are actually driving. I’ll update this article nearer the time.

11 Precautions

These checks are simple but important. Before you started the engine, you needed to make sure that your seat was adjusted correctly to allow you to reach all your driving controls with ease. This is because an incorrect seat position can affect your ability to take observations and keep proper control of the vehicle.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a pupil who was asked to go through the cockpit drill on their test. However, I have heard stories of candidates being asked to do it, so make sure you know how to adjust your seat and mirrors properly.

12 Control

Throughout the test you needed to show you can use all the controls smoothly and at the correct time. This means less wear and tear on your vehicle and a smoother ride for your passengers.

This covers use of the clutch, brake, and gas pedals as well as the steering and other controls. Make sure you can use them properly.

13 Move off

You needed to show that you can move away on the level, on a slope and at an angle safely, under full control, taking effective observation. Move off only when it is safe to do so.

This covers moving off in control (e.g. without stalling) and safely (e.g. looking all around, including your blind spots, and signalling if necessary). Examiners tend to be quite relaxed about signalling when it isn’t strictly necessary, but they will pick up on not checking your mirrors and blind spots – so even if you signal correctly, if you don’t check properly you could be faulted for it. This is a common cause of failing the test.

14 Use of mirrors – rear observation

You should have used the mirrors safely and effectively acting correctly upon what you saw. Where mirrors are not enough, for example to cover ‘blind spots’, then you must take effective rear observation. You must always check this carefully before signalling, changing direction or changing speed. You needed to demonstrate you can use the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine effectively.

This relates to using the mirror-signal-manoeuvre (MSM) routine properly in all situations. It is another common reason for failing your test – particularly if you encroach on the lane next to you at multi-lane junctions and on roundabouts.

Check your mirrors (and blind spots, if relevant) before you change lanes or position (e.g. when passing parked cars or other obstructions). Make sure you look properly and don’t just go through a robotic routine – it is surprising how many times I see learners apparently look somewhere and yet fail to actually see the lorry or car coming straight towards us.

15 Signals

You should only use the signals shown in the Highway Code. On test you should have signalled clearly to let others know what you intend to do. This is particularly important if it would help other road users or pedestrians. You should have always signalled in good time and ensured that the signal had been switched off after the manoeuvre had been completed. You should not beckon to pedestrians to cross the road.

Forgetting to signal is a common fault – especially during the independent driving section of the test. Forgetting to cancel a signal is also common. Make sure you don’t signal too early or too late, and don’t signal to overtake every obstruction.

16 Clearance

You should have given parked vehicles and other obstructions enough space to pass safely. You needed to watch out for changing situations such as pedestrians walking out from between parked cars, doors opening and vehicles trying to move off. You should have been prepared to slow down or stop if needed.

Although it seems to vary depending on where you are, most DEs are very strict when it comes to passing parked vehicles. One common problem is when the candidate slows down for an obstruction on their side to let an oncoming vehicle through, and gets too close to the obstruction. As they steer out they often “shave” the obstruction (i.e. get close to it). Going too fast for the situation is also marked quite harshly.

Response to signs and signals

You needed to show that you can react correctly to all traffic signs, road markings, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. You should have obeyed signals given by police officers, traffic wardens, Highways Agency officers and school crossing patrols. You should watch out for signals given by other road users and carry on only when you are happy it is safe.

Be ready for traffic lights changing if they have been on one phase for a long time (going through an amber when there was time to stop is a common fault). Watch out for pedestrian crossings, and look for pedestrians standing near them – they will have pushed the button, so the lights could change at any moment. Look for school crossing patrols (be aware of the time of day), and don’t miss speed limit changes or other relevant signs. Read the road ahead by seeing what is happening and predicting what might happen next.

18 Use of speed

You should have made safe and reasonable progress along the road. You needed to keep in mind the road, traffic and weather conditions, road signs and speed limits. You needed to show confidence based on sound judgement. Remember, at all times you should have been able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear.

Don’t go too fast, and don’t go too slow. Don’t take chances. Plan ahead.

19. Following distance

You should have always kept a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front. You should be able to stop safely, well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave extra distance in wet or slippery conditions. Leave enough space when you are stopped in traffic queues.

A lot of people are caught out by getting too close to the car in front – either when driving or when stopping at lights.

20. Maintain progress

On test you needed to show that you can drive at a realistic speed appropriate to the road and traffic conditions. You needed to approach all hazards at a safe, controlled speed, without being over cautious or slowing or stopping other road users. You should always be ready to move away from junctions as soon as it is safe and correct to do so. Driving too slowly can frustrate other drivers which creates danger for yourself and others.

I once had a pupil who was a great driver, but who collapsed mentally whenever she took her test. One day, just as we were going off to a test, her mum came out to give her a pep talk: “Now don’t forget what we told you, Jane. Drive everywhere slowly”. I could have screamed. Less than 90 seconds after driving away she tried to merge with a busy 50mph dual carriageway (where most people do 60mph) at just under 30mph!

Don’t hold other people up, and don’t drive differently to the way you do on your lessons.

21. Junctions including roundabouts

The examiner would have looked for correct use of the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre MSM procedure. The examiner was also looking for correct positioning and approach speed at junctions and roundabouts. This is because these skills are essential for dealing with these hazards safely. Turning right across busy roads/dual carriageways is particularly dangerous. To drive safely and pass your test you must be confident that you can judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic safely. You also need to look out for other road users emerging and turning at junctions and be ready to alter your course or stop. Be extra watchful in poor light or bad weather conditions for the more vulnerable road user, such as cyclists and motorcyclists.

This is self-explanatory. Inappropriate speed is the learner driver’s worst enemy in many situations – if you can’t do the damned things at the best of times, why should attempting a junction at Mach 3 make it go any better? Think and plan ahead – and make sure you know how to handle situations in the first place before you take your test.

22. Judgement

Your examiner will have assessed your judgment skills throughout the test. You will have needed to show sound judgment when overtaking, meeting or crossing the path of other road users. You should have only done this when it was safe and legal. You should have made your intentions clear and been sure that you understood the intentions of other road users.

Again, speed comes into this for many learners. If you see a car coming towards you and there is a narrow gap that only one of you can get through, do not try and plough through – even if you technically have right of way (i.e. the obstruction is on the other side of the road). The Golden Rule as far as I’m concerned is don’t trust anyone else out there (and especially not if you’re in a car with L plates on it). Check your mirrors, slow down, and watch the other driver carefully… and remember that for most people who mess this up, it isn’t that they have deliberately decided to take the other car on – it’s just that they haven’t thought anything at all!

23. Positioning

You should have positioned your car in a safe position; normally this would be keeping well to the left of the road. You needed to keep clear of parked vehicles and be positioned correctly for the direction that you intend to take. You needed to look for and be guided by road signs and markings. Other road users may judge your intentions by where you are positioned so be aware of where you are at all times.

Don’t weave all over the road, and stay in lane (unless you are deliberately changing lanes for some reason). And watch the kerb, especially on bends (and when looking at the speedometer, and when checking mirrors, and when changing gear, and… you get the idea). Don’t get distracted by looking at or dealing with one thing for too long.

24. Pedestrian crossings

You should have been able to identify the different types of pedestrian crossing and take the correct action. You needed to monitor your speed and time your approach to crossings so that you can stop safely if you need to do so. You should have paid
particular attention where crossings were partly hidden by queuing or parked vehicles. You should also show consideration for elderly or infirm pedestrians who are trying to cross the road.

Self-explanatory. Look and plan well ahead and watch for pedestrians pushing buttons.

25 Position / normal stops

You should have chosen a safe, legal and convenient place to stop, close to the edge of the road, where you will not block the road and create a hazard. You should know how and where to stop without causing inconvenience or danger to other road users.

Self-explanatory. Don’t stop in driveways, opposite junctions, too far from the kerb, and so on. The examiner will ask you to pull over and drive off again several times, and they will be looking for mirror checks, signals, and your choice of location.

26. Awareness and planning

You must be aware of other road users at all times. Your examiner is looking to see that you plan ahead to judge what other road users are going to do. This will allow you to predict how their actions will affect you and react in good time. You needed to anticipate road and traffic conditions, and act in good time, rather than reacting to them at the last moment. You should have taken particular care to consider the actions of the more vulnerable groups of road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, other motorcyclists and horse riders.

Look and plan ahead and always assume the worst. Cyclists in particular are likely to change position or direction without warning.

27. Ancillary controls

You needed to show that you can operate all of your vehicle’s controls safely and effectively. The examiner was looking to see that whilst on the move you kept proper control of your vehicle whilst using secondary controls. These include demisters, heating controls, indicators and windscreen wipers.

If it rains, make sure you know how to use the wipers and washers. If it’s cold, make sure you know how to demist the windows inside. If it gets dark, make sure you know how (and when) to turn on the lights.

Eco Safe Driving

You should drive in an ‘eco friendly manner’, considering your impact on the environment. Plan well ahead and choose appropriate gears, avoid heavy braking and over revving of the engine, particularly when stopped or moving off. If you have to stop for a long period such as at road works or railway crossings, consider stopping the engine to reduce pollution and save fuel. The examiner will assess this on your test; however this assessment will not affect the overall result of the test. If there are areas that need improvement you will receive appropriate feedback at the end of the test.

As it says, you can’t fail for this (not yet, anyway), but driving in an eco-friendly way will save you money in the long run.

So how does the examiner mark you? If you look at the driving test report itself, you can see columns with “S” and “D” over them – that’s for “serious” and “dangerous” faults, and you are not allowed to get any of those (you’ll notice that the eyesight check only has a box under “S” – if you can’t read the number plate the DE points out to you then the test doesn’t go ahead and you effectively fail there and then).

You can get up to 15 driver faults (often called “minors”) and still pass – but you need to understand that there is no way any DE is going to let someone get all 15 in a single category. So if you stall the car once when moving off, you might get a single driver fault. Do it two or three times when you move off and you are sailing close to the wind. Do it more times than that and it will more than likely become a “serious”. However, it is quite possible to stall just once – in the wrong place at the wrong time – and end up with a “serious” or “dangerous” fault for it. Likewise, you could stall several times, each time in a different situation, and get away with much more.

What is the difference between a driver fault, a “serious” fault, and a “dangerous” fault? There’s no definitive answer, but an example would be moving away safely: if you don’t check over your right shoulder and no one is there (and you only do it once), that might be a driver fault. If you don’t do it and someone is coming (or if you do it repeatedly), that would be “serious”. And if you don’t do it but whoever is coming is close enough for you to cause a problem, that would be “dangerous”.

It is amazing how many people go to test without knowing the basics, and yet are fully clued up on how many faults they can “get away” with! Don’t rush going to test. Failing is not nice. Passing first time is – and it gives you great street cred!

What do the “S” and “D/C” boxes mean at the top of the form?

I believe that the “S” box is ticked if the car used for the test is a driving school car (as opposed to a private vehicle), and the “D/C” box is ticked if the car has dual controls fitted.

What does “DF” mean?

It stands for “driver fault”. A driver fault is what most people refer to as a “minor” fault. You can get up to 15 driver faults, but no “serious” (S) or “dangerous” (D) faults.

What do “R” and “C” mean under Reverse Parking?

“R” means you did it on a road somewhere (i.e. it was a parallel park), and “C” means it was done in a car park (i.e. you reversed into a bay).

Where is “dry steering” marked?

It isn’t. Dry steering isn’t marked anywhere because it isn’t a fault. As long as you’re in control you can steer pretty much any way you want.

What does ETA mean?

It means “examiner took action” and it can be marked under V (“verbal”, meaning the examiner said something like “STOP”) or P (“physical”, meaning the examiner used the dual controls or grabbed the steering wheel). You can assume that this is always a serious fault.

When marked – for example, if the examiner used the dual controls – many learners argue that they were “going to stop, but the examiner got there first”. My explanation to them is always that if the examiner had to do it, then they were too late and so they don’t have a valid argument. The examiner is not going to wait and see if you cause a pile-up before deciding you were at fault. He will let the situation go so far, then he will step in whether you like it or not.

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

Ford Focus cockpit

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is called the pull-push technique.

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

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

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

You should

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My instructor is teaching me to dry steer

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

I can’t master “pull-push” steering

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have to use “push-pull”?

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

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

What about “palming”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

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

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

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

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

How many turns is full lock?

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

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

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

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

How much do I need to steer?

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

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

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

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

How can I practice steering?

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

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

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

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Black Toyota Corolla - KM05 PWXI did my first motorway lesson this morning and everything went completely according to plan. The pupil said it was the best lesson he’d ever had.

Ironically, the only thing that I’ve had any negative thoughts about concerning lessons on motorways is if any pupil should panic and slam the brakes on. So as we left the M1 at Junction 23 to go through Loughborough, we were turning right at the roundabout, and who should try to overtake dangerously on the merge on to the A512?

Yes,a black Toyota Corolla, registration number KM05 PWX – driven by some stupid bitch who shouldn’t be on the road. It wouldn’t have surprised me if she had her kids in the car, either (all five of them, no doubt). You can see how far over she is in the photo – it was a single lane at this point. And she was speeding, too, once she got past us.

Of course, my pupil duly obliged by braking, but fortunately not too hard, since there were cars behind us.

Nothing directly to do with doing lessons on motorways, but just typical of the twats who infest the roads these days.

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A motorwayI’ve said it before, but this is about 50 years late. But better late than never.

As of today, 4 June 2018, learner drivers will be allowed on motorways as long as they’re with a fully-qualified instructor and in a car with dual controls fitted.

The Highway Code has also changed with effect from today. Specifically, Rule 253. This paragraph has been added:

From 4 June 2018 provisional licence holders may drive on the motorway if they are accompanied by an approved driving instructor and are driving a car displaying red L plates (D plates in Wales), that’s fitted with dual controls.

Apparently, learners are still not allowed on certain roads – designated “special roads”. Motorways were specifically designated “special roads” until today, but the Law has changed on that. So the big question has to be: what other “special roads are there?”

I have to be honest and say that until I saw this email from DVSA, I had no idea that there was a third category of non-private carriageway beyond normal roads and motorways. After looking it up, it would appear that I wasn’t alone, and a FOI enquiry was made on the subject in 2016 by someone.

It would seem that there is only one “special road” in the whole of the UK. Highways England – and even they had to look into it – responded to the FOI request with:

From the information that we hold, the only non-motorway special road that has been identified is the A282 in Essex and Kent, between M25 junction 30 and south of M25 junction 1b. This section of road includes the Dartford – Thurrock River Crossing.

Why does this country have to be so f—ing stupid? But anyway, the fact remains that as of today (4 June), learners can be taken on any road in the whole of the UK – except for the f—ing A282 in Essex and Kent (unless another one crawls out of the woodwork).

Jesus H Christ.

Update: A reader informs me that there is a stretch of the A55 in North Wales which is also classed as a “special road” (and maybe part of the A1 ‘oop north’). I’ve actually driven on that when visiting Llandudno one time before I became an instructor.

Ahhh. Llandudno. Every other shop is a Mobility shop. And (some) people drive around with wheelchairs on the rhino horns on the back of their cars. I’m not making that up. Much. And you’ll get tarred and feathered if you pronounce “Llandudno” the way it’s spelled while you’re there.

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Pills in a blister packI recently saw a forum post from someone who has failed their driving test five times, and who says that the whole test business is too stressful and that they’re ready to give up. The poster says that they fret over the test for weeks beforehand, and that the repeated failures are 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 she 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.

Being a naïve new instructor, I’d simply 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 over the years I’ve discovered that a fair number of pupils get it so bad that they are physically sick on test day – literally vomiting – and that is not normal. I’ve had others 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 told me that) while out on their test, suffer a break down and can’t continue. This is not “butterflies”, and anyone who dismisses it merely as “test day nerves” is talking out of their backside.

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 – and I hadn’t cottoned on – she’d been a bag of nerves on her tests, but after she started taking the tablets she passed on her next attempt. From then on, if I ever suspected someone was suffering from crippling nerves, I would advise them to speak to their GP. If beta-blockers were prescribed to them, there was a marked effect every time – with some bordering on the miraculous. I can only remember one person out of many dozens for whom they seemingly did nothing.

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. The one they usually prescribe is propanolol. When I read up on the subject 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 is able to make the call on whether you can have them or not.

Beta-blockers are not “zonk-out” pills. No one knows the precise mechanism by which they can be used to treat anxiety, but one way of looking at it is to consider what someone is like when they get anxious or nervous. Terms like “jangling nerves” sum it up. When I’m explaining it to pupils, I use the example of static hiss on a radio – as the hiss gets louder and louder (representing “nerves”) the music in the background (what they need to be concentrating on) becomes less and less distinguishable, even though it is still there. Eventually, it can be completely drowned out, and that’s what happens to pupils’ concentration if the nerves are hissing or jangling too loudly.

Beta-blockers reduce or even eliminate that background hiss.

Concentration and awareness of what is happening all around is vital when driving. Nerves act like a distraction, negatively impacting concentration and so reducing awareness. In the early stages of learning a certain level of anxiety and nerves is completely normal, and that’s why beginners often make mistakes. It’s later on – in cases where the jangling nerves don’t go away – that people can become discouraged.

One method I use to find out what’s happening with established pupils is to do some scaling to find out what they’re feeling. When I’m scaling pupils, I’ll set up the scale with something like this as we’re sitting parked up in a quiet location:

Imagine you have an inner pressure dial that goes from 0 to 100. Imagine now that you’re sitting at home, feet up, watching TV with a can of beer or a cup of tea. That’s ‘0’ on the dial. Then imagine you have an important job interview tomorrow, and you’ve got to do a presentation to a room full of people you don’t know. You’ve not been well, so you haven’t prepared for it properly, and getting the job depends on how well the presentation goes. That’s ‘100’ on the dial. Now, on that same scale of 0 to 100, what is the dial reading right now?

Most pupils will say something like ‘10’ or ‘20’. A fair number will say maybe ‘30’ or ‘40’. But every now and then, someone will come out with ‘70’ or more – and when that pupil has had maybe 20 or 30 lessons… well, that’s when my beta-blocker stories get an airing.

One of the best stories concerns the 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 isn’t a natural driver, and she was going to find things difficult no matter who she was learning with, and no matter how many lessons she’d had previously. 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.

I’d already talked to her about beta-blockers, and when she’d gone to see the 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 for a month or two more. But then she went back to her GP – 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 represent the process of learning to drive on a 0-100 scale, she was at about 10-20% and getting no higher. Beta-blockers suddenly allowed this to climb to 40-50% over a couple of months. Then, disaster! She fell pregnant again and had to stop taking them.

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. Unfortunately, she then had a few family crises all in quick succession and had to put her lessons on hold.

The way I describe it, she was initially enclosed in a shell created by her “nerves”, and nothing new could get through – it was just deflected. Then, with the beta-blockers, the shell was cracked open and information was able to get through so that learning took place. When she stopped the medication, the shell closed up again, but what had previously got through stayed there.

Many of the others have marvelled at “how calm” they feel when they start taking them. One of my current pupils has gone from being stuck on a low plateau since she started last year to being likely taking her test in the summer – and it was definitely down to the beta-blockers.

You see, some pupils don’t like the idea of “relying” on medicine. But as the first example shows, you don’t have to. The medicine appears to allow confidence to develop, and that brings the overall “nerves” down so that the medicine isn’t needed permanently.

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.

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This article was originally posted in September, 2010, but it becomes quite popular every year when Ramadan comes around. It’s spiked again in 2018, possibly due – in part – to insensitive comments by a Danish politician with an agenda.

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

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

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

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

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

If you are teaching Muslim pupils it’s worth discussing the subject with them – and just be open about it: they don’t mind talking about their religion – it’s people who think they do who have the problems. I’ve had several pupils in the past who were suffering during fasting, and in several cases we postponed lessons until it was over.

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

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

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

Can I take my test during Ramadan?

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

Fasting during Ramadan affects my driving to work

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

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

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StairsLast December (2017), the driving test was changed to include use of a satnav, and two of the harder manoeuvres were replaced with two that my cat could do. From June 2018, learners will – at long last – be allowed to take lessons on motorways (with an instructor, and not with mum, dad, or best mate Kyle/Kylie).

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a new pupil if they knew about the changes, and they came out with something about “graduated licences”. I pointed out that graduated licences (GLs) have been talked about for almost as long as learners being allowed on motorways has (30 years at least), and although they are a good idea, their introduction is not going to happen in the near future.

I picked up this month’s copy of Intelligent Instructor and saw that Northern Ireland is to introduce such a scheme, and DfT is going to monitor the success of this with a view to introducing a scheme for the rest of the UK. It is worth pointing out that the scheme in NI is set for launch “in 2019/20”. Allowing for a suitable monitoring period, followed by consultation, then the likely changes in the Law, any similar scheme in the UK is unlikely to be seen before 2025. And even that is if there’s a highly favourable following wind (i.e. the same government and no other unrelated problems rearing their heads).

For a start off, IAM is involved, and it is already opposed to night-time curfews – which would be one of the most obvious things to include in any GL system). Then there is some nonsense about post-test training involving parents, when the parents are some of the worst offenders out there. And Theresa May’s hold on power is tenuous at best, so she’s unlikely to risk bringing in anything that loses votes.

The learners-on-motorways saga picked up steam almost ten years ago, but it’s taken until now – with several government changes and other delays along the way – to come to anything. Now, we have Brexit hanging over us like a skip load of manure ready to fall.

Don’t hold your breath.

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