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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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Rear of car with L plateI originally wrote this article in February 2010, but its popularity keeps spiking and I now update it periodically. In mid-2017 there was a surge in people training to become ADIs, and as of April 2018 – if the emails I receive are anything to go by – this is still the case.

Back in 2010, we were at the tail end of the previous ADI recruitment drive, but also on the brink of a recession (though we didn’t realise it at the time). Lavish adverts were everywhere, enticing would-be instructors with the promise of huge earnings (LDC laughingly suggested that over £40k was possible) in return for “hours to suit yourself”. Was it really possible to earn £30,000 or more by working just a few hours a day, and not weekends? Are things any different in 2018?

Even in the good times, you were never going to earn anywhere near £30k teaching only daytime weekday slots, and that’s still true now. But as those first ripples of what became the recession were being felt, fuel prices started to rise, pupil numbers started to fall, and the glut of very inexperienced and very desperate instructors commenced a suicidal programme of undercutting to try and get work which simply wasn’t there anymore. Even for an established full-time instructor with a moderately full diary, a maximum realistic wage was in the region of £20,000-£25,000 – and by “full-time” I mean working evenings and weekends. Price-cutting ADIs with empty diaries had no chance of making anywhere near this. Even if they could get 30 hours, their cut-price lessons would pull their pre-tax profit down to around £15,000. With only 15 hours of work – the reason they had cut their prices in the first place – it would be closer to £7,000.

It was certainly possible to earn £30,000 as long as you had the necessary work, charged sensible prices, and were prepared to do long hours – but I stress the word “possible” (LDC, who I mentioned above, were almost certainly referring to turnover with their £40k nonsense). However, this industry is fickle, and a fat period can easily be followed by a lean one. You can do 40 hours one week, but the next might see you struggling for 20. Over a single typical financial year you might manage £30k, but the next one – especially if it had a recession in it, with a 65% increase in the price of fuel (such as we experienced at that time) – you’d have no chance. I was lucky (or whatever) and managed to weather the storm – but many instructors failed dramatically and gave up the job which had cost them so much to train for.

At the start of 2016, the outlook once again looked bright. There were plenty of pupils out there, and fuel – which peaked at around £1.40 per litre – fell below £1.00 for the first time since 2009. Everything looked rosy – until the Greek Tragedy that is Brexit came along and suspended the Sword of Damocles over it all. This is what I mean about the industry being fickle. I suppose “fickle” is the wrong word – “unpredictable” would also work. Suffice it to say, in early 2018 the industry is still buoyant, but the future is looking very uncertain.


About Being an ADI

How does an ADI’s wage compare with my old wage?

To answer this, you have to compare like for like figures. If your old salaried job had a salary of £25,000, that would have been before tax and National Insurance were deducted. You need an equivalent figure for being self-employed to make the comparison. British Currency

Driving instructors are self-employed, and everything they do is concerned with sales (i.e. taking money from customers in return for lessons) and expenses (i.e. spending money in order to keep providing those lessons). Their “wage” is totally dependent on these, and since both are variable it is necessary to make a few sensible assumptions if you want to predict future earnings. The worst thing you can do is overestimate your earnings and/or underestimate your expenses – if you do that, any profit forecast is little better than a random guess.

An ADI’s official wage is determined by adding up all their business overheads (e.g. costs for their car, fuel, insurance, advertising, office supplies, etc.) and subtracting that sum from their turnover (the total amount of money they took in payment from their pupils). In the simplest case, if an ADI delivers 30 hours of lessons per week for 52 weeks of the year, and charges £23 per hour for lessons, their turnover will be £35,880. Overheads will be different for everyone (different cars, different amounts of fuel, different fuel costs, etc.), but a typical overall figure might be around £11,000 over a full year. Subtract those overheads from the turnover and you’re left with £24,880 gross profit. That would be a wage figure, before tax and National Insurance, which can be used to compare with other jobs.

What are examples of overheads?

As an ADI you will need a car. If you haven’t got one already you will need to buy or lease one, and what you pay is (or contributes towards) an overhead for your business. Fuel to run the car is an overhead, as are repair and maintenance costs. Insurance is an overhead. Phone and internet costs associated with your business are overheads, as are printer ink, paper, envelopes, and various other stationery items if they relate directly to your business. A car wash is an overhead. And so on.

An overhead which can make all the difference between success and failure for an ADI is advertising. If you are on a franchise this is less of an issue, but if you are independent then you will need to pay for your own advertising so that people who wouldn’t otherwise know that you’re there can contact you if they want lessons.

How much does a car cost?

You can easily find out how much it costs to buy a car – new or used – by looking on the internet, the media, or on garage forecourts. The price you pay for your car affects your gross profit over the entire period of time you own it. For example, if you spend £10,000 on one, keep it for 5 years, then sell it for £2,000 at the end of that period, that £8,000 difference works out to about £30 a week over the 5-year period – in other words, the car is effectively costing you £30 a week over the whole five years. It doesn’t matter how you word it for the tax man or anyone else, you are spending £8,000 as an overhead over 5 years, and that is definitely costing you the equivalent of at least £30 a week. Fitting dual controls, and taxing and insuring it, are extras which might amount to another £10 a week. Repairs could be anything from £0 and up (a single, and quite feasible, major repair could add another £10-£20 a week in any given financial year).

Alternatively, you could lease a car from one of the various main dealers, specialised ADI lease companies, and driving school franchise providers. Prices start at around £60 a week and often include tax and insurance as part of the price. Dual controls are usually standard items, or can sometimes be negotiated into dealer prices if that’s the route you choose. Top prices can be £200 or more per week (but read the rest of this article before you decide that £200 is “too much”).

How much does it cost to run a car?

The number of miles you get per litre of fuel varies from car to car, on how the car is being driven, and on the type and size of engine. For petrol vehicles, a 30 hour week petrol bill might typically amount to £90-£120. For diesel, it is about two-thirds of that figure. I don’t know about the other fuel types.

Note that if you’re thinking of going electric as some sort of unique selling point to try and corner the market, consider that the initial cost of a typical electric vehicle is at least double that of an equivalent standard-fuelled car. Also remember that the range (i.e. how many miles you get from a full charge) is only around 100-150 miles at best, and that it takes 30 minutes to charge up to 80% of that range (overnight if you want a full charge). I know from having asked pupils whose parents have electric cars that the real range is somewhat less than the official figure. Consider how much a new battery would cost, and how the range might decrease as it ages.

I’d go electric in the blink of an eye if I could have 400+ miles on a charge, and didn’t need to sell my house to buy one. Some days, I can do close to 200 miles, and current “affordable” models can’t hack that.

How many miles would I drive in a year?

This is an important question if you’re looking to source a car on some sort of lease, since these usually have mileage caps associated with them. Speaking personally, I do between 40,000-50,000 miles a year. When you lease a car, make damned sure you go for an option which covers your likely mileage – and don’t forget to include personal miles. It’s what’s on the dashboard display when you take it back which counts – not just your lesson mileage.

A typical driving test in Nottingham can cover 10-15 miles, so you could logically argue that on average your lessons would cover a similar distance at the very least. On a 30-hour week, that’s 300+ miles (16,000+ annually) just for lesson time. Add, say, 5 miles travelling between every lesson, and you have up to another 8,000 miles annually. If you get busy, it goes up further. And if – like me – you take pupils outside test routes, it goes up even more.

Don’t get bogged down trying to twist numbers to produce the lowest forecast annual mileage you can think of. Do that and you’ll end up altering your lesson quality to meet your mileage limits. You’re less than 12 months away from going back to salaried employment if you do that. At least part of the reason I’m so busy is that I don’t hold back on the miles, and pupils like that. And being busy easily compensates financially for driving a few extra miles.

How many hours would I need to work?

Everyone’s circumstances are different. At the very least you’ve got to cover your overheads – if you don’t do that you’ll go out of business. Work-life balance

Next, you’ve got to earn enough to be able to cover your personal commitments (i.e. to earn a living wage). If every hour you work nets you £23 of turnover, and your weekly overheads bill is £210, you will need to work for 9 hours to cover that (incidentally, let’s call these “dead hours” if I have to refer to them again). Every additional hour you work thereafter becomes your wage, and on paper an average of 30 lesson hours per week will give you an annualised wage of around £25,000 (more if fuel prices are low). However, you will almost certainly not get this amount of work straight away and you should allow for that in your plans.

As an example, when I started teaching I knew exactly how many lessons I needed to do in order to run my business and pay my personal bills as they stood at that time. I was covering my business overheads within a week, and my personal commitments within 5 weeks and, apart from a couple of Christmas weeks since then, I’ve never dropped below 20 hours. Your personal circumstances will be different to mine, so you can only use this as guidance. On the other hand, I see people on various forums still struggling to make 10 hours even after a year.

I keep repeating this, but new ADIs consistently overlook the fact that unless you are averaging 30 hours over a full 12-month period, you are not going to earn £25,000 over that same period.  A 40 hour week here or there might feel great, but if the rest of them are only 10-20 you’re looking at a wage of well under £20,000. Before you decide to become an ADI you need to carefully decide how much money you need to pay your bills, assess the personal risk of not achieving that every week, then work backwards from there. Be cautious almost to the point of pessimism when you’re working out what you might earn – those starting training these days tend to be overflowing with enthusiasm from the moment they announce they’re going to become instructors, but they are completely oblivious to the harsh realities of running a driving school. Simply dreaming of earning £30k is light years away from actually achieving it.

Can I really work whatever hours I want?

If you mean “can I work just few hours and still earn a lot of money” then the answer is definitely no. And it’s a double-no if you think you’ll survive if you try working short hours right from the start. Those adverts are dangerously misleading when they suggest that this is possible, because it always comes back to the number of hours you work if you need a sensible income.

You could fit 30 hours of lessons into five days if you work evenings. My favourite days (and weeks) are when I have three 2-hour lessons each day (seven days a week in my case) – each starting at approximately 10am, 2pm, and 6pm – but that doesn’t happen often these days, with more pupils wanting one-hour lessons. However, if you don’t work evenings, the only way you’d ever manage to fit in 30 hours of lessons into a 5-day week is if you started very early, rushed between lessons, were happy to take your pupils into morning and evening rush hour, and nothing held you up. You’d have to pray hard that the traffic didn’t make you late for your appointments, and that no one cancelled and messed up your rota. Even with only half an hour between lessons, six hours would run from 8am until about 3pm (or 9am until 4pm). It amazes me when I see instructors saying they only leave 15 minutes between sessions – the only way that could work reliably is if all their pupils lived in adjacent houses on the same street! And either the lesson debriefs must be very impersonal and rushed, or the pupil isn’t actually driving for anything like the duration of the lesson.

If it still looks do-able to you when written down, believe me when I say that regimenting your lesson slots like that – especially if you’re new and desperate for work – is suicidal. The vast majority of pupils want lessons at times to suit them – and so they should, since they are paying you for a service. Beginners definitely don’t want to be driving around during rush hour, nor do they want you doing it for them as you wend your way somewhere that you think is quiet enough for them to get behind the wheel (no doubt you’ll be charging them, even though you are driving). Even if you did find a handful of pupils who could play your game, you won’t easily find others who can once the first lot are gone. Road works are a nightmare and can turn a 10 minute journey into a 40 minute one with ease (and that applies to travelling between lessons as well as the actual lesson itself). They have the habit of appearing with little obvious warning, and persisting for months or even years at a time (gas main replacement has been on a rolling plan for at least 5 years up this way). And God help you if there’s an accident and road closures, if there’s a water main burst (almost a weekly occurrence with Severn Trent), or if the level crossing barrier gets stuck (several times a year at Basford and Colwick in Nottingham). I guarantee that you will get one or two chances at best with most pupils, but if you insist on taking on the road works because of your restrictive rota and end up arriving late, and then dump them quickly to get to your next lesson at the end, they will go elsewhere, and they will not recommend you to anyone else if they do. I pick up quite a few who cite turning up late as a reason for switching away from their previous instructor.

Back in 2017, when I last updated this, I had one pupil who sometimes did 6.30pm with drop-off either at home or the University library, sometimes 9.15am with drop-off at school, sometimes 2.45pm with pick-up from school and drop-off either at home or school depending on what she was up to. She didn’t know weeks in advance, and I simply modified the lesson on the day. Another did regular 11am lessons mainly on Fridays with pick-up and drop-off at work. Another did 2.15pm from school on a Monday, 4pm from school on a Friday, or weekend daytime only if she wasn’t going anywhere and those other slots weren’t available. Another had a weird rolling shift pattern which meant he started later and later in the day each week, so his lessons moved accordingly. Another had a shift pattern where he worked for 7 days then got three days off, but the at-work period was shift-based and included nights – so we had to plan lessons around him getting some sleep either before or after his shifts. Another always did 5.15pm from work, unless it was a weekend lesson and he wasn’t traveling home to see his parents. Yet another was also shift-based (a week of “earlies” and a week of “lates”) and we had to fit his lessons in around that. Several could only do weekends – one, only Sunday mornings and another, only Saturday morning or Saturday evening. Nearly all the younger ones are restricted by exams at various points during the year, and that is worse come spring. Anyone who works for McDonalds is likely to be on zero hours, and will get screwed regularly by being called in at short notice. The majority of pupils are flexible, of course, but only to the extent that they will do any time when they’re free and I’ve got space in my diary. Weekends and evenings are most popular – but they are limited in number. My point is that you may as well plan on winning the lottery if you expect to be able to fit these kinds of people into a rigid schedule just to suit you. If I insisted on rigid lesson times with any of these I would lose most of them.

Then there are lesson durations. Although I push pupils towards 2 hour lessons (partly my preference, partly because they are better value for most pupils), many these days cannot do them for a variety of reasons. One is money, and if they can only afford 1 hour a week it is not for me to question that. What I do when we get nearer to their test is ask them to skip a week here and there and combine two 1 hour lessons into a single 2 hour one so we can travel further and take in road features we might not be able to get to in a single hour. Another valid reason why they sometimes can’t do 2 hours is down to their ability – some people just cannot concentrate for that long, and this seems to be a bigger problem now than it used to be (especially for those who find driving a difficult concept to grasp). Another valid reason for not doing 2 hour lessons is simply time – students just don’t have time for more than one hour with all their course work, and the lessons suffer if they try. This is more significant near exam time, when they want to keep driving but have a lot of work to submit. And some want 1½ hour lessons to try and work around one or more of those problems. Forcing them to do something I want, but that they don’t (or can’t), is not going to do me any favours.

The bottom line is that as long as you are prepared to turn money away you can work as few hours as you like.

How easy is it to get new pupils?

Pupils are your only source of income, so they are vital to your success. Unfortunately, every new ADI seems to be convinced that they will corner the entire pupil market and consistently be working 50-hour weeks inside a fortnight, even though no one in the history of the world has ever managed this feat before. Sales book

You can never guarantee how much work you will have – even in the good times – which is one of the main reasons why so many people went back to salaried employment after the last recruitment spike and recession. You may work 40 hours one week, but the next it could drop to 20 and stay there – for weeks or even months at a time. As I said earlier, I sometimes see newbies on the forums still struggling to get as many as 10 hours, even  after a year. You can’t survive long on that.

Right now, we’re still benefiting from the cull of the Register as a result of the recession, and work is certainly out there with fewer ADIs competing for it (if anything, there is more work than there are ADIs, certainly in Nottingham). But getting new pupils is never easy, and it’s even harder when you’re just starting out. For example, in my early days – and this was at a time when the market was buoyant – I spent £600 on a business card sized advert in Yellow Pages. This was the done thing in the days when YP was still the size of a breeze block, and yet I got exactly ZERO enquiries out of it, if you exclude the spam calls I was inundated with (and have been ever since), or the suspicious single enquiry that came in two days after I’d told YP I wasn’t renewing, and which would never have turned into a sale anyway. A while later, I tried placing a quarter page advert in one of those local free monthly magazines which claimed a “guaranteed circulation of over 10,000” at a cost of £300 over three months. Again, I didn’t get a single enquiry.

Now, some would suggest that I should have carried on spending £1,800 a year on advertising because people might not have seen my adverts the first time, and definitely wouldn’t see them if I stopped having them published. But this illustrates my point: advertising is a gamble, and the money you splash out on it is effectively risk capital. It might not deliver anything in return, and often it doesn’t. I decided that the return on my investment was unacceptable and didn’t pursue those particular avenues any further. If nothing else, it taught me what I already knew, and that was that learners were not going to be beating a path to my door just because I had become an ADI. I know you probably think that you’ll be different, but believe me, you won’t. So be careful. You are in competition with literally hundreds of other driving instructors in your area, most of whom are already well established, and you’re likely to be just one of dozens of other novice ADIs all vying for the same work.

Also be careful when existing instructors glibly tell you how to get pupils. In most cases they are established ADIs and they are a million miles away from being in the same position as someone who has just qualified. Even if what they say is true – and some will be anxious to “prove” to everyone (including themselves) that going independent was a good idea, even if they’re struggling – it is absolutely no guarantee that anyone else would also get work that easily. In fact, I can guarantee that most won’t.

How do you deal with unreliable pupils?

Reasons for unreliability are numerous. Some people have ongoing health issues (everyone gets ill at one time or another anyway), some have genuine bereavements, some have genuine and very important job interviews that they weren’t aware of when they arranged the lesson, some have money issues, and so on. Of course, some just couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.

My philosophy is very simple. I can tell what mood someone is in two seconds after they open the car door, and I build up a detailed picture of the kinds of people they are from the first moment I meet them. So I tend to know if their claim to having just shaken off a bout of malaria or having undergone a full internal organ transplant is true or not.

If I think they’re lying to me when they make their excuses, I’ll give them my “riot act” speech and allow them a couple more chances. If they do it again after that I stop teaching them. I have only got rid of a small number out of the many hundreds I’ve taught.

My “riot act” speech includes how much it costs me to run my business, how much I lose when people cancel, and the question of how they would feel if they lost that amount of money out of their wage packet. It also includes a bit about being honest, and how I am far more tolerant with someone who simply can’t afford the lesson and tells me so than I am with someone who can’t afford it, but instead claims they were hit by a meteorite or had food poisoning for the sixth time in two months. This usually does the trick.

With the ones who are badly organised, I give them a paper diary and insist they bring it out with them every lesson. I often get their parents involved (it’s usually the younger ones who’re like this). Those with health issues will already have told me about it, and I just ask them to give me as much notice as possible if they are unwell. Sudden genuine illness can’t be helped, nor can sudden job interviews. If someone is sick, they can’t drive – and that includes me. If something personal comes up, that can’t be helped either – and that includes me, too.

The only time I claim for the lesson is if they are pissed, or are recovering from having been pissed (I stopped teaching one guy immediately ten years ago when I turned up for a lesson he’d booked in the mid-afternoon of a weekday – I met him coming up the garden path after I’d knocked at his door, and he was so drunk he didn’t know who I was). There are some pupils I won’t allow to book Saturday mornings because I know they go out Friday nights. If I know others are going anywhere where they might drink, I won’t let them book the next morning as a precaution. Many will already think of this themselves. And many – or their parents – will insist on paying anyway if they know they’re at fault.

Each pupil is worth an average of £850 to me. If I were to adopt a zero-tolerance approach I’d lose a lot of those pupils, so I do everything I can to fix the problem. It’s only the ones I can’t fix who I let go. I treat last-minute cancellations as holidays, not as lost income.

You have to accept, lesson cancellations will happen. But you also have to realise that £850 income is far more important than a few cancellations spaced over a few months. For me, with a 48-hour written cancellation policy (which I rarely uphold), alarm bells start ringing when cancellations reach about 10% of the likely income from a pupil. That happens very infrequently – and these days I can usually fill vacated lesson slots even with less than 24 hours notice.

How easy is the job?

You’ll spend most – if not all – of your time sitting on your backside, so in that sense it is very easy. However, sitting down all day means that unless you get some exercise outside of the job, you will put on weight. Since you might be getting home around 8.30pm, having left the house at 9am, a trip to the gym or a 30 minute jog might not seem quite so appealing then as it does right now while you’re brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of earning £30,000.Watch your figure

If you already suffer from back problems, go back and read that part about sitting down all day again. If you don’t suffer from back problems, be prepared to develop some.

You need to be on your guard at all times, watching both your pupils and other road users. It’s not that uncommon for a learner to be driving along the straightest of roads, only to suddenly decide that – for reasons you may never be able to get to the bottom of – they ought to take an immediate 90° turn into a dark field, instead of continuing smoothly along the straight and fully illuminated “A” road that everyone else is on. I once asked a pupil why he had attempted such a dramatic manoeuvre (directly towards a pavement, in this case) on a straight 60mph road, and he answered “I honestly don’t know”.

Almost every experienced instructor will have had the pupil who, when you’ve asked them to “turn right” at a roundabout, has tried exactly that – to go round it counter-clockwise – oblivious to the rush hour traffic going round it the proper way. Or the one who decides that “follow the road ahead” means go where the car is pointing at the instant their brain finally processes the instruction. Or the one who only hears you say “right” when you say “look to the right”, and instantaneously yanks the wheel in that direction after concluding that you’ve just asked them to turn right (this is even more likely if you also make any sort of hand gesture indicating a particular direction). Or the one, usually from a country where driving standards are poor and there is no such thing as “give way”, who executes an emergency stop every time another vehicle moves even vaguely towards them. Or the pupil who suddenly decides they shouldn’t have entered a roundabout or junction after all, and slams on the brakes in the middle of moving traffic (some also do this where pigeons or squirrels are involved). Or the one who, while driving along at a steady 50mph, decides to change gear needlessly – and then either finds 1st by mistake, or pulls on the handbrake lever. Or the one who, when moving out into (or driving in) busy traffic, accidentally hits the brake instead of the accelerator. And so it goes on. Some of it just happens. Other times, there’s an underlying medical issue such as dyspraxia involved (sometimes diagnosed, sometimes not – and sometimes if it is diagnosed, they haven’t told you about it).

Then there are pedestrians and – sigh – cyclists, who will think nothing of moving directly into your path, and who appear to have zero knowledge of the Highway Code, and zero regard for it even if they do, providing ample triggers for jumpy pupils to stamp on the brakes or fling the wheel towards parked cars.

Having to concentrate on all this leads to tiredness, usually at the end of a busy day when it’s also dark, thus adding to the overall risk. It all comes down to how well you can handle such problems, but the bottom line is that the job is both physically and mentally challenging if you’re not used to it.

Is the job stressful?

The first time you encounter any of the above behaviours you will shit yourself – I know I did. But I got used to it, and these days I’m ready for it (though pupils never completely lose the ability to spring surprises on you). As I’ve said elsewhere, this blog is one of my ways of relieving the stress.Stress ball

The only part of the job I still find genuinely alarming is when a pupil kicks off over something unexpectedly.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s a real downer. Believe me, there are some very strange people out there – perhaps due to undiagnosed issues again – and when you inevitably end up teaching one of them you have to be careful how you handle things. Young people these days simply aren’t used to having their faults picked up on, much less discussed, and a few of them can overreact to the most innocuous comment or action (often translated to “you’re shouting at me”). It is their defence mechanism, and no matter how you approach the situation some will just blow their lids. And it doesn’t have to be a visible blown lid, either – it can appear as an unpleasant undercurrent to the lessons. When it happens, it is virtually impossible to smooth it out short-term, and you may even find that things are never the same between the two of you again. I’m pretty certain that, no matter what façade of pleasantness is put in place for the remaining lessons, some will still hold it against you once they pass their tests, because at the back of their minds their defence mechanism is still telling them they were right.

Some years ago, I had a pupil fail her test. She’d stopped on a slip road to join a one-way system in the city centre, but had over-steered slightly and couldn’t see oncoming traffic properly from her left side. Her solution to this was to put her head down, accelerate into the traffic, and hope for the best. Not surprisingly, the examiner used the dual controls. When I asked her about it afterwards, she said that the examiner’s head (his “big juff”, in her words) and central pillar were in the way and she couldn’t see, and had no choice but to go! I pointed out that she had positioned herself incorrectly, and in any case she could have asked the examiner to move his head, or perhaps even have leaned forward more – but blindly driving into moving traffic was definitely not an acceptable solution. She argued vehemently, and to this day – I speak to her occasionally since she passed her second test – she still resolutely maintains that there was nothing else she could have done and the examiner shouldn’t have failed her. It’s this sort of defensive inverted logic you will sometimes find yourself dealing with.Dilbert - Which?

To make matters worse, the examples I’ve given above refer to relatively normal people! God help you if you get a real lunatic. Fortunately, I’ve only ever had three of those in my entire career as an ADI, but they frighten the hell out of me. The worst one of them all has to be the woman who had told me she thought she was being stalked. When the police investigated the “suspect” it turned out to be a false alarm. I don’t think her accusation was overtly malicious – she’d just got the wrong end of the stick – but with hindsight, she apparently had issues in this area and was able to get the wrong end of this sort of stick with alarming ease. I didn’t realise that at the time and took what she told me at face value. However, a few weeks later she dumped me for “a female instructor”. When I phoned to ask what was wrong she told me that I “made her feel uncomfortable”. To say I was mortified is an understatement – this has always been a bit of a phobia on my part – and my skin crawls even now when I think of what accusations she could have levelled against me. God only knows what she told her new instructor.

And then there’s your pass rate. No matter what some instructors might claim, it DOES matter, and having to manage people with “issues” (not uncommon); those who perhaps can’t afford the lessons (very common); those who are slow learners but see themselves otherwise, and have booked their tests already just “to have a go” because they might get lucky, even though they haven’t a cat in hell’s chance of passing (also very common), and who openly resent you suggesting that they should cancel it or move it back (sometimes accusing you of trying to extract money from them)… well, you’re going to end up stressed however you deal with it.

Some of the road using public is so stupid that you seriously have to wonder how they passed their tests in the first place, let alone how they keep hold of their licences. To them, L plates mean that the Highway Code is suspended, and they will exercise their God-given right to pull out or overtake dangerously at every opportunity. They will tailgate you (sometimes on purpose, sometimes just because they’re genuinely crap drivers); sit behind you at traffic lights ready to sound the horn the instant the lights change whether your pupil moves off promptly or not (older female drivers are worst for this); force their way past on narrow roads, even driving on the pavement to do it (van drivers – especially couriers and postal drivers – are the worst); openly start texting at traffic lights, even delaying moving off to finish the tweet they were engaged in (especially young females); and speed limits are obviously something only learners have to stick to.

Elderly homeowners in middle class areas apparently spend the better part of their retirement hiding behind their curtains, ready to race out (it’s amazing how fast old people can move when they want to) and aggressively claim ownership of a road or corner the moment a learner car stops there. Some will park dangerously close to corners so that learners can’t reverse around them (red Fiesta, end house, Normanby Drive in Bramcote, take note). They will drive up and stop centimetres away from your bumper to stop you reversing (that even happened once on a pupil’s test – the examiner’s verdict of “stupid cow” was very apt).  On the rougher estates – the ones where they’re all related, have one big eyebrow or scrunched up hair which pulls their eyes into slits, and funny numbers of chromosomes – be prepared for things to be thrown at the car. A few years ago someone chucked a bag of something at my windscreen in Broxtowe as I drove past a bus stop and whatever it was smeared like hell and would not come off (it may have been Superglue dispersed in some solvent – these retards actually research these things). Once, in Clifton, one of the local troglodytes prostrated himself on the road in front of the car (we were actually reversing – they’re not too smart in Clifton). Once, in Lenton, someone threw something with all his might at the windscreen as we drove past. I actually saw him jump in the air to get a good swing, though fortunately he hit the door pillar with whatever it was he threw and not the glass (he was lucky I didn’t catch him after I chased him, but it was obvious what he was trying to do). Once, a Forest match had finished and an ugly fat guy (which doesn’t narrow it down much when it comes to Forest supporters) thought it would be clever to throw a full portion of chips with curry sauce over the car as we drove past. And I had three punctures in the three weeks after one Christmas as a result of the suspiciously high number of screws and nails which sporadically appear on corners used by learners (there’s no way they are all there accidentally).

Finally, there are other instructors. You’ll pull up on a half-mile long deserted street on a deserted industrial estate some time late on a Sunday afternoon to do a turn in the road, only to have some idiot ADI appear moments later and stop within three or four car lengths of you to do the same thing. A couple of years ago a woman in an Elliott’s Driving School car actually stopped directly opposite on an otherwise clear road, preventing us from doing anything except drive off, and creating a needless bottleneck with which to annoy other road users. Another time, I was in a small deserted car park (8 bays one side, 6 on the other) on an industrial estate in Colwick one Sunday evening practising bay parking, only to have a retard ADI drive in and position himself to do one, thus blocking us in. Admittedly, he didn’t stay after I got out and explained a few things, but he would have done if I hadn’t. And don’t even get me started on those instructors who insist on driving into the test centre car park to practice bay parking while tests are coming and going, or the ones who form a queue to use whatever road feature you’re using – sometimes even moving in when you’re part way through (they, too, go away after I explain a few things to them).

So stress is there in bucket loads, and you can’t avoid most of it. It comes looking for you. It’s how you handle it inside that matters – as I said earlier, I have my blog and I can vent my spleen here!

Can you do too many lessons?

People choose to become ADIs for the money. The best ones also do it because it’s something they actually want to do to, but money is always the bottom line. It’s only a job, after all. So it is natural to want to be busy.Work overload

The problem is that if you are too busy, the quality of your lessons will suffer. If nothing else you will be tired and stressed, and if your pupils have crap lessons when they’re tired, what makes you think you’re any different? Your learners will pick up on poor quality lessons immediately, even if you don’t, so it’s vital that you know your own limits (I know mine). Being too busy can easily affect your ability to retain pupils, which negatively impacts your reputation and recruitment of more work, thus increasing your stress even further.

Unfortunately, many new ADIs will already have calculated their future dream earnings based on the assumption that they’ll be working 50 hours a week right from the start, and nothing seems to change that view until the harsh realities set in. The truth is that if they could get anywhere near that amount of work it would – if it didn’t kill them first – negatively impact their performance and health, and set in motion a downward spiral for their future earnings. Instructors who are genuinely able to work very long hours and maintain the quality of their work are in the minority in the first place, and are invariably those with more experience. Even fewer can do it week in, week out (I deliberately build in slack weeks here and there so I can have a rest). Newly-qualified ADIs do not fit into either group.

So, yes. You can do too many lessons.

Is it legal to work long hours?

ADIs’ hours are not restricted in the same way as (for example) an HGV driver’s are, so yes, it’s legal for them to work long hours. However, the conditions attached to the green badge mean that an instructor mustn’t provide dangerous tuition or engage in illegal or unprofessional activities. If you are tired or stressed there is a very real danger that you might miss dangerous situations or even fall asleep – and that would have very serious legal implications. At best, you’d lose pupils and not get new work coming in. At worst, you could lose your licence to teach or even end up in jail.

What amounts to “long hours” is different for everyone. Some may struggle to do any more than 20-25 hours, whereas others might easily cope with 40. In my case, it was doing 40-hour weeks with one peaking at over 50 that made me decide to build in slack ones.

Can I make more profit if I reduce my overheads?

Of course you can. The real question is which overheads, and by how much? Driving instruction is a mature business, and any trick or USP which is likely to increase work has already been tried, evaluated, and built into the costing model. As a result, what you charge, spend, and earn as profit falls into a fairly narrow pre-defined range. You can’t just go out and charge £40 an hour when everyone else is doing it for £23 and expect to stay in business. If fuel costs the rest of the country £1.20 per litre then that’s approximately what you’re going to have to pay for it; and if a typical instructor drives 10-20 miles per lesson, someone who tries halving that without a bloody good reason will find themselves back stacking shelves at Tesco in no time at all. All you can do is find the best balance between enough work and minimising your expenses within this mature framework. This is the basis of a simple, successful business.

Can I cut my fuel consumption to reduce my overheads?

Up to a point, yes. Fuel is the largest overhead that you actually have much control over. However, a lot of ADIs haven’t got a clue how their business works, and inevitably get it into their one-dimensional minds that they would make shed loads more money if they used shed loads less fuel. They do not understand that a successful ADI has to deliver a specific syllabus with a practical test at the end of it, and is therefore committed to covering at least some road miles in order to achieve that. As I pointed out earlier, a typical driving test covers about 10 miles, and if instructors aren’t covering a similar distance on most of their lessons then something’s wrong.Fuel costs

In other words, you can’t just cut your fuel consumption to nothing by parking up by the side of the road talking. You’re guaranteed to lose pupils that way and not get any more. Some instructors still try it, though. Even one of the lesser national schools offers a “free” lesson, financed by the ADI, and which almost invariably involves sitting parked for a full hour. I pick up loads of pupils who have switched instructors for precisely this reason, and they’re not all telling lies when they report that they spent too much time talking, and too little driving. Instructors who engage in this behaviour seem incapable of understanding that every lost pupil loses them an average of about £700-£800 of income and eliminates any chance of new work coming from referrals by that pupil The park-and-prattle method might save an instructor £1,500 a year in fuel overheads at best, but two lost pupils cancels it out and sets in motion a downward spiral for the future of their business.

Wise management of your resources can certainly minimise your fuel costs, but you can only go so far – and it isn’t very far if you were providing a half-decent service to start with – before your business begins to suffer. The best way of reducing fuel costs is to get a more economical car. If you already have such a car – and if you are already covering less than about 10-20 miles per hour of lessons on average – you need to accept that you probably can’t reduce your fuel overhead much further. I acknowledge that in some areas – very large cities – you might get away with less mileage than this, but the principle is the same. You have to face the fact that you need fuel to deliver decent lessons.

Can I get a cheap car to reduce my overheads?

It makes me laugh when I hear instructors claiming that their car “costs [them] nothing”. Unless they won it in a raffle, and had no maintenance costs resulting from age and day-today-use such as punctures, broken windscreens, new wiper blades, etc., then their car costs them money just like everyone else. Nissan Cube

In the real world a car has to be purchased or leased by the vast majority of instructors. Once you have it, it has to be replaced periodically and have regular services that 99.9% of instructors couldn’t possibly do themselves. It needs oil top-ups and replacement parts that wear out or get damaged. And that’s before you even consider serious breakdowns and repair costs – which happen to everyone sooner or later. If it’s off the road you lose money from not being able to do lessons, or spend more money arranging for a replacement if it isn’t part of a lease agreement (and if it is, the hassle will still result in at least some lost work). Even if you paid £10,000 for your car five years ago and mentally wrote off the whole ten grand back then, the reality is that that your total profit throughout the entire period of ownership is reduced due to the capital you invested. Irrespective of what you tell everyone (including the tax man), and perhaps even believe, it isn’t costing you “nothing” – it’s costing about £30-£40 a week over 5 years, plus any of those additional costs I’ve just mentioned.

One viable way of acquiring a “cheap” car is to choose one of those rectangular things produced in a faraway place you’ve never heard of, with a name you can’t pronounce without looking it up on Google (I’ve used a picture of the ugliest car on the planet, the Nissan Cube, for which pronunciation only becomes an issue when you try to describe it). Dealers are often desperate to shift these things and therefore offer very tempting deals. Each to their own, of course, but you should consider the fact that there is zero probability that anyone under 45 would ever consider buying one when they pass their test, and although some pupils are attracted to “cute” or oddball cars (and even they draw the line somewhere), many aren’t. Obviously, not all cheaper cars are ugly, but you need to consider if, as a new ADI desperate for the best possible start, such a car would be a good choice. What about in a recession, when pupil numbers begin to fall? There are quite a few of these cars favoured by other ADIs that I can hardly squeeze into, or which I find extremely uncomfortable, and if I was learning to drive I most certainly would not go to an instructor who had one.

My advice is not to just get the cheapest car you can find without considering how its looks might affect your business first.

Can I use an older car?

I’ve noticed that more and more trainee and newly-qualified ADIs are opting for significantly older used cars – often, the car they already owned before they decided to become instructors.Old Corsa or new?

You can still operate a driving school in one of these, but no matter what those who own them might claim the age and appearance of the vehicle you drive has a significant effect on the work you attract. The majority of pupils like new (or new-ish) cars and there’s no escaping the fact that a ten-year old Corsa looks exactly like what it is: a ten-year old Corsa! You have to ask how much additional work you’d attract if you had a newer car instead of a banger – work that could mean the difference between success and failure for a new instructor.

What can I charge for lessons?

The average lesson price in the UK is around £23-£26 per hour. I hear that in some areas they can charge £30-£35 an hour, but if I tried that here in Nottingham I guarantee my diary would empty overnight. So I effectively have an upper price I can (or dare) charge.Money to burn

Back in 2010, the tactic of price-cutting took off as desperate instructors sought to attract work which wasn’t there at the expense of other instructors doing exactly the same thing. Although the upper limit to your available price range is governed by what people are prepared to pay, the lower limit isn’t, and in theory if you drop your price to a lower figure than everyone else you will get all the work you want. If only it were that simple, though.

As I pointed out earlier, this is a mature industry and profit margins are not great. If just one ADI dropped his prices by £1 then he might well enjoy an increase in enquiries – if he could get the message across through advertising, which would cost money, of course. But when dozens of instructors are doing it, every lower price becomes the new baseline, and the price-cutting ADI will simply find himself in exactly the same situation as before – little work – but with a lower income. His only option is to cut prices still further, and the low margin situation means that he is now into an uncontrollable downward spiral to oblivion. To succeed, you’ve got to keep the highest profit margin you can get away with for your area.

Between 2010 and 2014 you would see cars advertising lessons for as little as £15 an hour. You don’t work for that price unless you’re desperate, so it isn’t hard to guess what they were up to. They aren’t around anymore – and neither will you be this time next year if you try it.


Working as an ADI

Should I start with a franchise?

My advice on this is simple. Yes, you should. And be very careful when people advise you to go independent, particularly if that advice is to do it straight after you qualify.

The vast majority of new ADIs haven’t got a chance in hell of filling their diaries quickly enough to start earning a living without major advertising which, as I have already mentioned, might not work. Franchises – especially the larger ones – are geared up to do this, and although there are never any guarantees, there is a bloody good chance that a franchise will be a hundred times better than you would be at getting work, particularly if you choose a national school or a good local one.

In my opinion, anyone who goes independent right from the start is crazy. Why spend all that money training for the green badge, only to go and gamble on having to give it all up? You need the best start you can get, not an ego trip in a sign-written car with your own name plastered all over it.

Should I start out independent?

If you ask this on the forums you’ll be swamped with “go indie” advice from everyone. The problem is that those offering the advice are established ADIs who haven’t a clue what your financial needs are. Many of them don’t have mortgages or are semi-retired from high-paying jobs and have substantial pension backup, and they do the job for pocket money. And in quite a few cases, when they started out, they did it with a franchise – and yet they readily trot out this misguided advice about the only way being the indie way.

If you need to establish yourself and get work quickly, doing it as an independent instructor is likely to be more difficult than it would be under a franchise brand. I’m sure that there are some independents who genuinely hit the ground running when they made their choice, but there are a lot more ex-ADIs who didn’t.

Something I don’t think I will ever fathom is how you’ll get someone who is trying to qualify on a shoestring because they either can’t afford it or are as tight as a duck’s arse, and who then decide that the only way immediately after qualifying is independent – solely on the grounds that you don’t pay a franchise fee. I suppose the saving grace there is that there’s a good chance they won’t be earning much, either, so that cancels out the extra money they’d be paying to a franchiser.

Is it cheaper being independent compared to working on a franchise?

There’s no doubt that if you had a guaranteed 30 hours (or any other amount) of work per week already in your diary, you’d be better off as an independent instructor. This is quite simply because you’d have lower overheads. However, the difference is not as great as some people would have you believe.

An franchised instructor might be paying £200 a week for his car, but if he is independent he does not have £200 more profit. The independent still has to finance a car which, as I have already pointed out, is likely to cost at least £40 – and probably closer to £60-£80 ON AVERAGE. Add around £10 for insurance, then whatever he has to pay for advertising, and he will be paying over £100 a week to get what is covered by the franchise. Yes, it’s still cheaper, but it all comes down to the one thing you simply cannot get across to the typical newly-qualified ADI: YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE WORK, OTHERWISE NO AMOUNT OF LOWER OVERHEADS WILL PREVENT YOU GOING OUT OF BUSINESS. And the franchise is more likely to be able to provide that work.

If you need to be earning sensible money to pay for your personal life (i.e. earn a living wage), going independent immediately after you qualify is a huge risk.

Can a franchise guarantee that you have work?

The answer to this isn’t anywhere near as clear cut as you might think. As I said earlier, this industry is fickle, and you cannot be certain of being busy all the time no matter how well-established you are. This is especially true when the economy is struggling, or if the ADI Register is overloaded. However, at the time of writing, there are pupils by the truck load in most areas, and many instructors left the Register during the last recession after having failed in the business. So if a franchise or local school is “guaranteeing” work it will almost certainly be because they have enough enquiries to justify making such a claim at this time. You have to consider a few things, though:

  • they’re probably not guaranteeing a completely full diary
  • the Register is likely to fill up again over the next few years
  • another recession would change the game considerably
  • what you consider to be “enough work” might be more than the franchise can provide
  • no one can guarantee work forever
  • Brexit

I’ve not seen this guarantee being made by the larger national schools, and it seems to be mostly the smaller local ones who do it. Don’t dismiss them out of hand – they might provide you with work you couldn’t get on your own while you establish yourself.

Which franchise do you recommend?

I don’t recommend anyone. You have to make your own choices because there will be risk involved whatever way you proceed. Be wary of anyone who advises you to stay away from large schools or franchises per se. Many have a grudge or are simply repeating what they hear from others.

A good example is RED Driving School. During the last recruitment spike, RED was a favourite hate target of established ADIs because they were one of the main blanket advertisers who were pushing the “earn £30,000” mantra. I’m not saying that RED were perfect, but the ads attracted a lot of highly unsuitable people who subsequently either failed the tests or – in quite a few cases – decided they didn’t want to become instructors after all and wanted to get their money back. This RED actually went bankrupt in 2009 and was bought out by a venture capital company. The current RED is not the same company anymore. Unfortunately, most ADIs aren’t aware of this – or conveniently forget it – and they still persist with attitudes based on the old company’s reputation.

One thing I do know is that RED has the highest lesson rates around of any of the franchises (£25 an hour and up in Nottingham). If you got a full diary out of them you’d be earning over £3,000 a year more than those independents telling you not to go near them. There are a few RED cars around this way, and they always seem busy.

Should I choose a local or a national franchise?

It’s up to you. Many newly-qualified ADIs baulk at signing to “big names” (I think they’re frightened of them), and choose local schools instead. Many years ago, I knew of someone who chose a franchise simply on the grounds that he could remove their artwork from his car (leased through them) when he wasn’t working (read into that what you will).  It doesn’t matter what the school name is though. All that matters is they provide you with pupils – and in my opinion, the national schools might be better at it because they can invest more in advertising.

Something else to consider is lesson price. A local franchise (and some of the lesser nationals) might be “guaranteeing work” because they’re advertising low lesson rates or silly deals to attract pupils. Referring once more to the maturity of this industry, you cannot afford to drop your prices much below the local average before your profits are wiped out. Consider that a 30-hour week of lessons at £23 per hour will give you a wage of around £25,000. A similar week of £20 per hour lessons pulls that wage down to around £20,000 – meaning that you need another 5 hours of work per week just to maintain £25k. That requirement would put even an experienced ADI close to work overload.

Franchises are too expensive!

As I’ve already explained, independent ADIs usually imply that that they pay £200 less per week than an instructor whose franchise costs that. It’s rubbish. The difference is less than £100 – much less, in most cases.

Consider this. Would you prefer to be independent paying (let’s say) £60 a week for your car and £60 for fuel, and doing maybe 15 hours of lessons? Or would you prefer a franchise at £200 a week plus £120 for fuel, with 30 hours of work? In the first example your annual wage would equate to about £12,000 (without advertising costs), whereas the second it’d be around £20,000 (and I have assumed the same premium lesson price in both examples, which you might not be able to charge as a new independent instructor).

It’s a bit of a no-brainer if you look at the actual numbers instead of just listening to nonsense from people who don’t like (and don’t understand) franchises. Independent is only cheaper IF YOU HAVE THE WORK!

But you have to work a lot of hours for nothing to pay the franchise!

You have to work “for nothing” to pay your overheads no matter how you do it. I’ve explained several times that, no matter what you might otherwise think, as an independent you have to pay a definite amount for your car, plus fuel, insurance, advertising, etc. before you earn any profit. Yes, your overall overhead figure on a franchise is greater than the independent equivalent figure, but only by a maximum of 2-3 hours worth of work.

It amazes me that so-called “experienced” ADIs can still go around telling newly-qualified instructors that being independent means they’ll be better off by the whole amount of a franchise fee. They won’t. And in pretty much every single case, franchised ADIs with plenty of work through the franchise will be much better off than independent ones struggling to find pupils on their own.

Only franchised ADIs work weekends – because they have to

That’s rubbish. All ADIs have to work several hours a week to pay off their overheads, as I have already explained. In most cases franchised instructors work weekends because they can. I made that point earlier – a franchiser may get work for you, whereas on your own you’re struggling.

I work weekends a) because I can, and b) because by doing so I can earn between £250 and £400 more than I would do if I didn’t.

Franchised instructors have to work half the week to pay off their franchise

This is misleading nonsense. A typical franchisee working 30 hours would have to do maybe 12-14 hours of lessons to cover all their overheads. It sounds terrible if you purposely imply that an independent can pocket all the money for himself. The fact is that an independent ADI also working 30 hours would have to do around 8-10 hours (assuming no advertising costs and charging a premium lesson price) to cover their own overheads. It’s a only a difference of around 4 hours in the first place, but – and as I’ve already made clear – the newly-qualified independent may not be able to charge a premium lesson price. That would take his “dead” hours to maybe 9-12 hours, and if he advertised at £25 a week, that would add at least another hour.

Not quite as one-sided as people have been telling you, is it?

Franchises are no good if you want to work part-time

You can get a headboard-only franchise for £30-£40, which would be covered by just two hours of work per week. Everything else you’d have to pay for anyway – part-time or full-time.

Independent ADIs can charge more

It sounds good when you say it. However, in most cases indies charge about £1 less per hour – certainly compared with the larger schools – for their standard hours. If they don’t, they might claim they charge top prices, but one look at their price lists shows an ever-more bizarre array of block-booking discounts – I’ve seen schools currently advertising £25 per hour lessons, with block booking discounts equivalent to £17 per hour. Crazy.

The only offer I make is that anyone block booking ten lessons gets one extra hour free (that free hour is the last one to be taken and has no monetary value – i.e. any refunds would be based on ten hours and not eleven). It means I can scale the offer as I increase my prices periodically.

The bottom line is that any special offer is lost revenue, and big discounts need to have huge paybacks, otherwise you’re just throwing money down the drain.

Should I start part time after I qualify?

In theory, starting off part time makes a lot of sense, since it gives you the opportunity to gradually build up work until you can switch to it full time. It’s a nice theory and if you became an instructor because you’re retired, at a loose end now the kids have left home, or just want some pocket money to spend, it probably holds up quite well. For those doing it as a main source of income, though, they have to get enough work to quickly start paying their bills.

For someone in that latter position, the trouble starts with the first enquiries. What will you do if the pupil can only do lessons at times when you can’t? Turning pupils away when you’re trying to build a career is suicidal. Even if they can fit into your free time, what if working late into the evening (or early in the morning) makes you tired for your other job? How will you take pupil enquiries when you’re on the other job? Is your boss understanding enough to let you do it? Have you told him what you’re up to? The truth is that holding down two jobs throws up all manner of logistical problems that don’t exist on paper. It’s only when you start doing it you find out what it pain it can be, and how often one job (or you) has to suffer to accommodate the other.

Start out part time by all means – but make sure you fully consider the feasibility of this before you go ahead.

Which advice should I listen to?

Use your own common sense as much as you can. You know approximately how much lessons are, and you can easily find out how much a car will cost, and how much you will have to pay for insurance, so for God’s sake stop keep asking other people how much you will earn! They don’t know – but most of them will have a fine old time telling you nonetheless, usually with some very dodgy calculations confusing turnover with profit.

If you’re going to go looking for online advice, be wary of sites with information dating from more than 3-4 years ago (and especially if it is from 2008-2011). Those will usually have been written by bitter people sticking the boot in on the big advertisers of the time – most notably RED Driving School, which was active up until that point (before it went bust and was resurrected as a completely different company) – and suffering from the effects of the recession.

Your main concern is to get work – and no one can tell you if you’ll succeed or not. It is the risk you take if you decide to enter this industry. For that reason, you need to choose the route that is most likely to provide that work.


Training to Become an ADI

How do I become an ADI?

There is a guide on the GOV.UK website which will help. You need to be over 21 and to have held a full car driving licence for at least three years. There are certain situations which could prevent you becoming an instructor – in a nutshell, unless you have a totally clean driving licence and absolutely no criminal convictions or pending court cases you may be refused entry on to the Register. If you have any sex- or violence-related offences on your record, you may as well forget it. As far as the middle ground goes, the acceptance criteria have been dumbed down since I qualified, so who knows?

Firstly, you will need to have a criminal records check (now the DBS – Data Barring Service) carried out. At the original time of writing this costs £6 – but my advice is not to bother if you clearly will not be accepted on to the Register, or unless you’re prepared to lose the £6 if you end up being refused (some people still apply even if they have horrendous criminal records or stupid numbers of points on their driving licences, then complain when they are rejected). When you have your CRC you can apply to join the Register, and once you’re on it you can start your training (though I can’t see why you couldn’t start training before – you just wouldn’t be able to take any of the exams, and if you were refused then it would be money wasted).

What Is Involved?

You will need to pass three exams:

  • Part 1: The theory and hazard perception test
  • Part 2: The test of your driving ability
  • Part 3: The test of your instructional abilities.

The national pass rate for Part 2 in 2014/15 was 54.4%, and for Part 3 in 2013/14 it was 32.3%. The Part 1 pass rate is about 50%. These data come from different official documents, hence the different years, but they still provide suitable guidance.

Let’s do a bit of maths using these numbers. If 100 people joined the Register as PDIs, according to the statistics only 50 would pass Part 1 and move on to Part 2. Of that 50, only 27 would pass and move on to Part 3. Finally, of those 27 only 9 people would pass Part 3 and qualify as ADIs. That’s an overall success rate of less than 10%.

I must stress that the maths isn’t quite as simple as this, since you can take Part 1 an unlimited number of times (you’re bound to pass eventually), and the other two parts up to three times each within a two-year period (and you’re not bound to pass those). The point is that becoming an ADI is not a foregone conclusion (nor is it cheap), and failing the tests is more likely than passing them – even if the overall probability of passing is not quite as low as 10%.

Why are ADI pass rates so low?

I certainly wonder that, especially about Part 1. Someone who is even partly suited to the job should get 100% every time, so a 50% failure rate strongly suggests that a lot candidates are massively out of their depth. Parts 2 and 3 are much harder, but it is inevitable that some unsuitable candidates will get further along the training path and even qualify as ADIs.

Do only good instructors pass the tests?

Unfortunately, no. Remember that the main reason for many to (try) to become instructors is the money. Actually wanting to teach people to drive often comes way down the list. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of newbies struggle then give up because they simply can’t handle the job – yet they could have anticipated all the problems if they’d have been able to see beyond the £££ signs right at the beginning. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing you can never be particularly good at it (don’t kid yourself: you can’t), and your pupils will pick up on that immediately. And that kills your chances of success.

A complaint I often hear when I take on new pupils is that their last instructor would take a block booking payment from them (over £200 in banknotes), and then repeatedly cancel lessons, be “double booked”, or be “unavailable” (ignoring texts and phone calls). The instructors who do this are not intending to defraud – not on purpose, anyway. The reason they do it is because they’re struggling for work, have offered some sort of deal which has snared the pupil, and the block-booking cash goes straight into their bank account to fill some holes. As far as the instructor is concerned, all future bookings made by that pupil are now non-paying, and when the pupil tries to book subsequent lessons the ADI would much rather fill the slot with someone who was handing over cash on the day, and not someone who was – in their mind – doing a free lesson.

I am acutely aware of the effect block bookings have on my own cash flow, and how it feels to have no “current income” from lessons, so I can easily imagine how those with less scruples might handle it. It might sound cynical, but what I’ve described above is exactly why (and how) it happens. And it’s ironic that those who do it might actually be “good” as far as teaching is concerned – but being so “bad” at business completely wipes that out.

The issue seems to arise mainly with independent ADIs (sorry, but it does), followed by local franchises (sorry again). I’ve recently taken on a new pupil whose mother has explained that they have lost money to a local school when an instructor “retired” still owing lessons, yet the school says it’s not their problem since the ADI is no longer with them. The larger franchises appear to take such behaviour quite seriously and this deters instructors from engaging in it (though it does happen occasionally, from my experience). The behaviour is purely a function of the ADI(s) involved, and not the franchise (though these people sometimes don’t help themselves with their attitudes when it happens).

So, is it easy to qualify?

It depends how you look at it. If you’re cut out to be an instructor, then training and passing the tests might well prove to be very easy indeed (of course, it might not). Likewise, if hell ought to freeze over before you even try to become an ADI, you’re likely to struggle with the training and tests (and, of course, you might not).

Another way of looking at it is the pass rates, which I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this article. Your chance of failing is higher than your chance of passing. Don’t be misled by the recommendation of certain high-profile instructor trainers who claim to guarantee getting you through. If you’re not cut out for it you should not even try (and quite frankly, these trainers shouldn’t be trying to make you do so, though they are in it for the money like everyone else, so you can’t really accuse them of any wrongdoing).

How much does it cost to become an ADI?

It will vary from person to person. There are two main ways to go about the training.

If you do it by yourself (referred to as “pay-as-you-go”, or PAYG), Part 1 is something you can do in your spare time, and apart from the cost of the exam (£81 at the time of writing) and suitable training materials (say, around £30) it won’t cost much. Part 2 will almost certainly need professional tuition, which typically costs £30 or more per hour, and ten hours would cost around £300 plus the exam (£111). Finally, Part 3 is likely to require at least 40 hours of professional tuition (£1,200) plus the exam (£111). All that adds up to about £1,800 – though realistically, most people will require more training than what I’ve mentioned here, and will most likely need more than one attempt at one or more of the exams. A worst case scenario might see you paying closer to £3,000 on training – perhaps even more – and this PAYG approach is supposedly the cheaper way of doing it.

Alternatively, you can pay for a complete training package from a training company. This was how I did it many moons ago, and I have no real complaints other than for the fact that smaller training companies (as most were at the time) appear to have average lifespans similar to Mayflies (i.e. they often go out of business, like my original one did near the end of my training, and like dozens of others have since). These days, full packages typically cost around £2,500-£3,500. And don’t forget that however you train, if you qualify you’ll have to apply for your Green Badge, which currently costs £300.

Can you do it without paying any money except for the exams?

Unfortunately, yes, though it is a high risk path, since you’re even more likely to fail. However, some desperate people – very few, I might add – manage it.

Doing it this way says a lot about someone’s motivation and reasons for wanting to be an ADI. After all, if they are so short of money they can’t afford the training, becoming an instructor is hardly a proven way of fixing a cash flow issue.

Should I train with a franchise or independently?

The choice is yours. There is absolutely no reason why a large driving school offering a training package should be any better or worse than an independent individual or small company doing the same, or one charging pay-as-you-go.

There most definitely are some cowboys around, and they can be solo trainers as much as the training schools. The worst culprits seem to be outfits you’ve never heard of before, or solo trainers who have seen what they think is a way to make money by charging more to train ADIs than they could when they were teaching learners. An outfit offering ADI training whose cars you never see on the road should be given a wide berth (in my opinion) – if they haven’t got a lot of cars then they won’t be making much money, and they’re likely to disappear as soon as they came (or be reluctant to give you what you paid for in favour of taking on someone else with cash in their hand).

Large schools like RED, BSM, and The AA are not cowboy outfits – be very careful listening to people who tell you otherwise, since their “advice” tends to be tainted by their own experiences, which are usually a little biased. Becoming an ADI isn’t easy, and many people struggle with the exams. The last person they will ever blame is themselves – just for not being good enough – so they target their trainers instead. Since training packages tend to based around a set number of hours, struggling PDIs often find they need many more hours than originally intended by that package operator.

Do you get trained in how to be self-employed?

It depends on who you train with, and whether or not they include this as part of the package. I don’t know what it is like now, but based on my knowledge and understanding of the past, some do, but most don’t. And the ones who do cover it quickly – it’s not “training” as such, just the transfer of basic information.

Do I need to use an ORDIT-registered trainer?

No, not at the time of writing. You don’t actually have to use any trainer at all. I think that the only condition is that whoever trains you must be an ADI if they are taking payment from you.

ORDIT stands for Official Register of Driving Instructor Training. It is fair to say that if your trainer is ORDIT-registered, then there is an increased likelihood that the training he or she delivers is of a high standard. However, it is absolutely no guarantee. Just as poor-quality ADIs can pass their tests and remain on the register of driving instructors, the same is true of instructor trainers on ORDIT.

DVSA hopes to make ORDIT registration compulsory in the future.

I’m not against ORDIT – it’s just that when I read the official DVSA guidelines I get flashbacks to my time in the rat race. You’d be forgiven for thinking that an ORDIT-registered trainer needs a building the size of a football field to store all the documentation he has to produce to get on – and stay on – the register in the first place. And since ORDIT cannot guarantee quality… well, it’s a bit of a case of the tail wagging the dog.

How did YOU do it?

After I lost my job, and decided that I was never going to work for anyone again, I started looking into teaching – something I’d been attracted to since I left school. As a chemist, science teachers were in very short supply, and it seemed like a possible way forward. However, it would have involved working “for” someone, and quite frankly I don’t think I could have handled modern day kids. Furthermore, it became apparent that teaching involves more bureaucracy than my previous job ever did, and since it was that bureaucracy that cost me my job to start with… I thought “no way”.

Then, I saw an advert in my local newspaper for becoming a driving instructor. I have always enjoyed driving, and the idea of being able to teach it was very appealing. I had an interview, signed up, and went from there. The company I trained with used to get a lot of bad press, but I only ever had one problem with them – when they went bust (as many do)! I finished off my training privately using the instructors who had been put out of work by the bankruptcy, and qualified about two years after I’d started.

I was fortunate. While I was training I was working as a consultant. For a short time, I was also a director of a company I set up with someone I used to work with through my old company to investigate a particular aspect of the work we were doing. When that finished, I did a stint in technical support for Dixons/PC World until I passed Part 3. This meant I could keep the wolves from the door.

So, I used a pay-up-front training package to become an ADI.

Training Packages are a rip-off

No they’re not. Some can be, but that’s true of many things. You have to remember that becoming an ADI is quite difficult, and as we’ve already seen, many trainees are really vastly out of their depth. The fact that they are struggling to learn is not automatically the fault of the trainer, and in such cases the trainee is likely to require (or want) much more training than they had originally hoped for. You are paying for the chance to become an instructor – it is a long, long way from being an automatic process of qualification, and failure is more likely than success.

Packages tend to be based on fixed numbers of training hours spaced out over a period of time, whereas the typical PDI (i.e trainee instructor) is likely to have it in their head that they want to qualify in a much shorter period than is being offered. Furthermore, just as people who fail their driving tests are more likely to blame the examiner or their instructor than themselves, so a PDI who isn’t getting what they want will usually blame their trainer or the school he is working for. And since they’ve usually invested their savings on the course, they are very vocal about it.

The quality of the tuition you receive is directly down to the instructor providing it – not the company he is working for. You can get good and bad instructors – or ones you just don’t work well with – whether they are delivering a full package through a school, or PAYG training on an independent basis. The school they are associated with is completely irrelevant under normal circumstances.

Complete training packages don’t work

Yes they do. Any problems are much more likely to be down to the candidate’s weaknesses than they are the trainer’s.

When I was training, my lessons were a mixture of one to one and two to one sessions. A one to one session might last between 2 and 4 hours, and a two to one would last 4 hours – two with me in the hot seat, and two with me watching someone else in it. Interaction between all parties was encouraged, so the times when you were watching were still part of the lesson. However, I remember at the time being struck by how unsuited some people obviously were – and it definitely wasn’t because the trainers were doing a bad job. They’d cancel lessons or just not turn up, and then start whining about how poor the company was when it couldn’t fit them in for another week or two.

Should I train with a local trainer on a PAYG basis?

There’s no inherent reason why you shouldn’t – it is as viable an option as the pay-up-front route I mentioned above. It isn’t something I have direct experience of myself, though I do know that you should be wary of those telling you it is cheaper than a full package. There’s a very good chance that it won’t be – it’s only cheaper if you qualify in the shortest amount of time and pass all your exams first try. Many don’t, and then the PAYG costs start to ramp up, whereas the pay-up-front package was probably all-inclusive.

How do I know if I would be suitable?

Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the idea of the training with potentially tricky exams to pass, and a periodic check test/standards check (which is effectively an “exam” you have to pass regularly in order to remain as an ADI), don’t like driving, or if you are nervous working face-to-face with people (to give just a few examples), there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy being an ADI – and that’s well over half way towards failing in the business once you get going. Don’t let the dream of earning big bucks cloud your judgement, because if you aren’t suitable – and yet still qualify – you’ll be lucky to earn £3,000 a year, let alone £30,000. All that money spent on training will be wasted.

One fairly common issue is that people fail Part 3 and then try to blame their trainer. I recently saw someone who was apparently on their 2nd attempt on their second pass through the qualifying process blaming their failure on their previous THREE trainers.  To me, this sounds a bit like following a recipe from a cook book – where everyone else who tries it gets it right – and arguing that the book must be wrong because every time you do it it goes tits up.

Some people – the vast majority of the population, in fact – are not cut out to be instructors. You should face the fact that you might be one of them.

Is now a good time to become an ADI?

In 2018? Yes. We’ve recently emerged from a recession and the Register has been thinned out due to people going out of business as a result of that. As I said earlier, there are more pupils than there are instructors who can take them on. But make sure you read what I said about how hard it is to get work – just because there is work available doesn’t mean that you will be able to get it.

Also remember that more new ADIs qualify every day. At some point they will have mopped up all the surplus pupils looking for lessons, and then we’ll start the next price-cutting cycle and people will start going out of business again. There is also the significant prospect that we might return to a Brexit-induced recession.

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