A Driving Instructor's Blog

Training

Driving Test SuccessI recently saw an ADI claim that theory test apps are no good because they “only cover 5%” of the possible questions. It’s yet more complete bollocks from so-called “professionals”, and is only true – and even then, only partially – if you (or your pupil) is an idiot.

The only app I recommend to all my pupils is Driving Test Success (DTS), which is published by Focus Multimedia. I have no affiliation with Focus whatsoever – though an agent of theirs did once contact me offering such a relationship, but I never heard from him again. The full version of DTS contains all the official DVSA revision materials, and unless they are telling lies, that means exactly what it says. They also do a free “taster” version, and that only contains about a third of the total questions in the official question bank (that’s about 30%, and not 5%).

Most of my pupils buy DTS if they haven’t already got something else – some will already have the DVSA one, which is perfectly OK, and which also contains all the relevant revision material. They all pass if they use either of these.

The important word in all this is “buy”. If you wanted to get hold of the raw bank of official questions from DVSA and use it or distribute it in any way, you’d have to pay. I know, because I have looked into it myself. You can register and get the question bank for free to play around with, but the moment you start giving anyone access to it you have to pay a licence fee per unit/user to the  to DVSA. If you wanted the Hazard Perception (HPT) clips, it’d cost you £800 up front just for those. You have to be approved to get the raw materials in the first place, and I asked if licensing charges would still apply if I only gave access to my own pupils. They said it would. So any official revision software would incur those same costs for the publisher.

Several years ago, I had advised a pupil to get DTS for his phone. I specifically said to get the one that cost £4.99, and not to download the free one, because it was just a trial version that didn’t have all the questions in it (at the time, it may well have contained only around 5% of the full question bank). He subsequently kept failing his theory test, and I was pulling my hair out as to why – I asked him about his school lessons, possible dyslexia and stuff, everything. He assured me there were no issues, and that he was getting 100% every time he did a mock test. After he failed for about the sixth time with a score that you could have bettered by guessing, something clicked, and I asked “how much did that app cost you?” He replied “oh, nothing. It was free”. I think my reply was something along the lines of “you prat! I told you that was a trial version”.

It turned out he’d been answering the same incomplete sample of questions over and over again (he said he wondered why he kept seeing the same ones). It was no wonder he was getting 100%. Once he bought the full version – with all the questions in it – he passed the next time.

ADIs who make stupid claims about apps only containing 5% of the questions must be of a similar mentality to that pupil. They expect free versions to be the full monty, and stupidly assume that when they aren’t then this must be true of all apps whether paid for or not. God only knows how they qualify as ADIs if they are so dumb. I figured out what “trial” meant the first time I saw it – particularly when there was the paid-for version sitting right next to it in the Android market, prompting the immediate question: why?

The only thing you need in order to pass the Theory Test is the DTS Bundle. It costs £4.99, and includes the Hazard Perception (HPT) clips. The official DVSA one is also fine and costs the same, though I haven’t used it in a long while.

There are some free ones which claim to contain all the questions, though those I’ve seen don’t have the HPT included. They contain advertising and “in-app purchases”. As I say, someone somewhere has to pay.

Frankly, for the sake of £4.99, and the risk failing the £23 Theory Test a few times because you didn’t have the right revision resources, you should stop pissing about and just buy it.

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Disc and Drum brakesThis often crops up with my pupils, especially when mum or dad is involved in their driving practice.

Back in the day, the standard way new drivers were taught to slow down was to change down through the gears sequentially, using the engine to slow the car down after each change, then completing the stop using the brakes. One of the main reasons it was done like this was because of ‘brake fade’ – a phenomenon whereby the brakes worked less effectively as they got hotter, which happened if prolonged (especially downhill) or harsh braking occurred.

In those days, most brakes were drum brakes. In these, the brake shoes are semi-enclosed and not easily cooled by air flow. Nowadays, most cars have disc brakes at the front, which have an open design and so are readily cooled by air passing over them. Furthermore, technology has improved significantly, and the materials used to make brakes and brake pads are much less prone to the problem of brake fade than their counterparts from the latter half of the last century were.

To do sequential changing properly requires good anticipation and forward planning. The whole point is that with each gear change down, the clutch needs to come up to allow the engine to slow the car down. And here lies the problem – mum and dad only know about 4-3-2-1, but don’t understand why, so little Johnny is taught to simply de-clutch about 200m away from the approaching traffic lights, and carefully move the gear lever from 4, to 3, to 2, then to 1st gear while coasting the whole distance.

It seems to have escaped a lot of people’s notice, but we are now well into the 21st century and, as such, Driving: The Essential Skills (TES), says:

As a general rule, use the brakes to reduce speed before changing down to the most suitable gear for the lower speed.

In the early stages of learning to drive, it may help you to become familiar with the gearbox if you change down through each of the gears in turn. Be guided by your instructor.

It also adds:

Missing out gears at the appropriate time will give you more time to concentrate on the road ahead and allow you to keep both hands on the steering wheel for longer.

Changing down

As a general rule, it’s preferable and safer to brake to the desired speed and then change down into the appropriate gear. It might be necessary to maintain a light pressure on the footbrake while changing down.

That’s quite clear. Current practice is to use the brakes to slow the car down, then change into whatever gear you need for the new speed (although sequential changing is still perfectly OK if it’s done properly). Since many modern cars have 5 or 6 gears, it is quite feasible to slow down in 6th from 70mph and just de-clutch near the end to a stop (actually, you might be pushing your luck a little if you do this from 6th, and may have to drop it down a gear or two part way through, but it will certainly do it from 4th or 5th). You will also note that TES says you can brake at the same time you’re changing gears – if you end up with an instructor who insists on teaching you how to be a police pursuit driver because he’s got a copy of Roadcraft, and who won’t let you brake at the same time you’re changing gears, find another one quickly!

Missing out gears is referred to as ‘selective’ or ‘block changing’. It is absolutely OK to do it – in fact, it is the preferred method, and it is certainly a lot easier to do than sequential changing (but I stress again, sequential changing is fine if it’s done right). You have far less to worry about, which is good for learner drivers.

Unless you are due to take part in the next British Grand Prix, or somehow get access to a time machine and decide to go and live in the 60s, forget about brake fade – you’re not going to experience it except in the most extreme of circumstances.


As an aside, I saw someone post on a forum some highly misleading information about brake fade, and everyone immediately believed him. Brake fade of the kind normal people experience does not cause irreversible damage to your brake pads. Brake fade is usually reversible, and is simply a result of them overheating – going away once they cool down.

I mean, if it was really as terminal as this guy suggested, every car on the roads in the 60s and 70s was pretty much unstoppable by the driver.


As another aside, I recently saw someone comment how they had given refresher lessons to an older driver and had “had to stop them changing sequentially”. This is totally unnecessary – sequential changing is perfectly acceptable if it is done properly, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to change someone’s driving style if that’s how they were originally taught.

A few years ago, I taught a woman in her late 40s who had ridden a motorbike her whole life, but who wanted to switch to a car now she was older. She’d taken lessons 30 years ago, and had apparently got to pretty much test standard. Best of all, it came back to her quickly (though she was nervous). She changed gears sequentially, and she did it beautifully – I didn’t make even the slightest attempt to stop her because she did it so well. She passed first time with a couple of driver faults – which were nothing to do with the gears.

Sequential gear changing is perfectly OK.

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TomTom Screen GrabThis article was first published in January 2018, then updated in November of the same year. However, I noticed someone asking on a forum recently what model of TomTom was used. He was given a lot of inaccurate and misleading information.

It was announced mid-2017 – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the DVSA introduced satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

After briefly considering buying one, I decided against it. I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. Even the latest ones are just too bulky to sit anywhere unobtrusively.

In the more recent past, if I’ve ever needed to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. In the weeks leading up to 4 December 2017, I tried using it with pupils. It works (if you know what you’re doing), but its choice of route can be creative to say the least. And it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Worse still is the inability to save pre-determined routes – and that’s essential for a driving instructor.

More recently still, I tried using the built-in satnav in my Focus on lessons. For me, it works. But the graphics are in Super Mario territory, and it also can be rather creative with its suggested routes. It can’t save pre-determined routes, and the erratic split-screen thing it does at unfathomable times is confusing to pupils. And I think the most recent map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus, because they don’t include road features installed within the last couple of years.

The more I thought about these issues as they pertain to pupils, the more I realised that the only realistic way forward was to use a TomTom in order that pupils wouldn’t be intimidated by a different looking map, different instructions, or different voices. I asked TomTom if there were any plans for an approved app that would run on Ford’s software. It seems that they did have an arrangement with Ford to develop such an app at one point, but that fell through for some reason.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android. It turns your phone into a fully-blown TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display (see the screen capture, above). TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons, so it is useless. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited world maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav all the time. A standalone one would cost ten times as much and be out of date within a year or so, as far as the base unit is concerned.

A massive additional benefit of using a TomTom (other than pupils hearing the same voice and instruction approach they’ll get on test) is that by logging into your TomTom account on your PC or laptop you can create entire routes using a drag-and-drop map and save them. They sync automatically to all your devices through your account, and so appear in your list of saved routes. This is how DVSA has created the routes it uses. The benefit of these pre-determined routes is that you can force a specific journey around specific roundabouts or road features, rather than have the satnav try and re-route you through a shorter route to a specific destination. Of course, you can also save favourite places – like test centres or retail parks – and just set one of those as a destination and let the pupil follow whatever route the satnav comes up with. It’s all extremely flexible.

The TomTom GO app speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link (if you set it up that way).

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

At the time I started teaching it for the test, some of those I expected to have problems took to it remarkably well. A year down the line, I don’t even think about that anymore. It’s just part of what I have to teach them.

How much training does it take?

Very little, actually. The vast majority of pupils find the satnav easier to follow.

When I first started teaching it, I was planning to do it a lot. However, I now find that I bring it in nearer to their test and don’t worry about it before then. As I say, most take to it like ducks to water, so there’s no point me behaving as though ducks can’t swim.

You don’t need a TomTom

True. However, like it or not, my job is to get pupils ready for their tests, and I do that by focusing on road layout in Nottingham and not those in, say, Birmingham or Glasgow. To that end, it also makes sense to use a TomTom instead of something cheaper or just what I happen to own at the time.

It doesn’t matter what satnav pupils use

Also true – for most of them. Like I say, most take to it easily – but a few don’t. I just like to remove that variable from the equation. A significant number, for example, already have problems with roundabouts in a lesson and driving test context, so why risk them freaking out on test with unfamiliar instructions from a satnav they haven’t used before?

An example of that is the screen position and layout of the advance warning a satnav gives.  If it is different on the one they are using on lessons compared to the TomTom one used on tests, they may get confused.

Like it or not, many of our pupils reach test standard by the skin of their teeth. Unlike instructors (if they were taking the test), pupils approach it from the bottom up because they are beginners. That’s why I prefer to keep directional instructions as close to those they will experience on test as possible.

You might see things differently, and that’s fine. I see it my way and teach accordingly.

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Ramadan MubarakI originally wrote this back in 2010, but it gets a new raft of hits each year, usually around the start of Ramadan – which is today, in 2019 (well, last night).

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

Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims. During it, participants abstain from eating and drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Technically, those fasting are not even supposed to drink water (there are exceptions for pregnant women or those with specific illnesses), and some participants take it more literally than others. At least one reader has had concerns that Ramadan has affected their driving, and in 2016 it was unusually long at 32 days. In 2017, it ran from 26 May to 24 June, and in 2018 it spanned 17 May to 15 June. In 2019, it runs from 5 May until 4 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. Indeed, in 2019, I have a pupil who is very nervous and jumpy in the car, and we were both worried Ramadan might affect her. So we have agreed to do her lessons later in the evening (that was my idea), and although I will admit I thought sunset was a little earlier than it really is when I suggested it, we’re doing lessons at 9.30pm once a week so she can keep driving.

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 or late evening (if your instructor will do it), and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. It also 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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CalendarSomeone found the blog on the search term “what are the chances of passing your test in three months?”

The short answer: DVSA statistics show that the average UK learner takes 46 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice. Without getting into any arguments over that just yet, let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that you will need 46 hours.

If you take a single one hour lesson a week, it’s going to take you 46 weeks to get to test standard. If you take two hours of lessons a week, it’ll take 23 weeks. If you take four hours of lessons a week, it’ll take you about 13 weeks. That’s around a year, six months, or three months respectively.

The longer answer:  For all sorts of reasons, an individual could end up taking far fewer or many more than 46 hours to get to the required standard. That DVSA figure is an average measured from real people taking real tests. It’s not a forecast, though it can be useful as a rough pointer.

Over the years, I’ve had two pupils manage passes in well under 20 hours, many who have done it with between 20-35 hours, and several who have taken well over 60. I can recall two who took 140 hours and 160 hours, and a recent one who did 120 hours spread over more than three years. I also know one who took 100 hours in a manual car with me, then a further 100 hours or more in an automatic, before finally passing on her seventh attempt (she’s since given up driving because she crashed the car almost every time she left her driveway – three times in the first fortnight after she got it).

I explain all this to my pupils who have never driven before, and suggest they think in terms of 30 hours plus to start with, then see how things go. I also point out that if they are typical, it will probably take around 4 months if they’re doing an average of two hours of lessons a week. I explain clearly that this is not a prediction or target, but merely a guideline based on past experience, and if it turns out they can do it it 10 hours, I’ll be as happy as they are about it.

Now, 30 hours – taking two hours of lessons per week – would just about squeeze into a three month window with a bit of tweaking here and there. If it was going to take 40 hours, you can add another month to that time frame. On the other hand, if you’re in the 30 hour bracket and did three of four hours a week, passing within six weeks would be feasible.

The reality: You simply don’t know how many hours you’re going to need until you’ve taken them. However, once you start lessons you can usually get a good idea of where you are on the curve within a couple of hours. Obviously, if you have previously taken lessons – possibly even getting close to test standard – then you’ll probably already be a long way towards your goal. On the flipside of that, If you’ve only got previous experience driving overseas, you may find that you are only marginally ahead of a beginner when you start in the UK.

If you’re on the wrong side of the curve – for whatever reason – you’ll need more hours than someone who isn’t. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – it’s just the way it is.

You can’t be a Marvel Superhero just because you want to be, so picking a preferred number of hours and expecting to pass if your learning ability points to a higher number being required isn’t going to work. I had one early last year who declared after his tenth hour that he was now test ready. I asked him if he’d always only ever planned to take just ten lessons, and he said yes. He’d never told me that, and we parted company at that point. He was nowhere near test standard, and the last I heard was that six months later his mum was still teaching him.

People in general seem to have major problems understanding averages, distributions, and how biology works. So I stress again that DVSA’s statistics show that the majority of people take about 46 hours of lessons with an instructor. It doesn’t matter that your best mate Kyle was taught by his mum, or that he told you he passed “after 8 hours”. He was almost certainly lying or very confused over that figure (I’ve had them before where they are already good drivers, but the skills were picked up in stolen cars or driving illegally, and they don’t include that in their public declarations of Superheroism). And in any case, you are not Kyle and are probably not being taught by his mum.

Just remember: the average learner in the UK takes around 46 hours and some private practice to get to test standard. Some take a lot less, and some take a lot more, thanks to Mother Nature.

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I wrote this article in 2013 after I’d seen someone desperately trying to complicate the subject by claiming that the Emergency Stop isn’t in DT1 (the examiners’ internal guidance document). Just for the record, that document contains the following section:

1.31 EMERGENCY STOP

An emergency stop should be carried out on one third of tests chosen at random. It can normally be carried out at any time during the test; but the emergency stop exercise MUST be carried out safely where road and traffic conditions are suitable. If an emergency has already arisen naturally during the test this special exercise is not required; in such cases the candidate should be told and a note made on the DL25.

With the vehicle at rest the examiner should explain to the candidate that they will shortly be tested in stopping the vehicle in an emergency, as quickly and safely as possible.

The warning to stop the vehicle will be the audible signal “Stop!” together with a simultaneous visual signal given by the examiner raising the right hand to face level, or in the case of a left hand drive vehicle, raising the left hand. This should be demonstrated.

The examiner should explain to the candidate that they will be looking over their shoulder to make sure it is safe to carry out the exercise, and that they should not pre-empt the signal by suddenly stopping when the examiner looks round, but should wait for the proper signal to be given. To minimise the risk of premature braking, examiners are advised to ask the candidate if they understand the ES instructions.

The emergency stop must not be given on a busy road or where danger to following or other traffic may arise.

It is essential that examiners take direct rear observation to ensure that it is perfectly safe to carry out the exercise. They must not rely on the mirrors.

If the exercise cannot be given within a reasonable time the candidate should be asked to pull up, care being taken to choose the right moment as the candidate will have been expecting the emergency stop signal and may react accordingly. They should then be advised that the exercise will be given later and that they will be warned again beforehand. Alternatively, if conditions ahead are expected to be favourable, they should be reminded that the exercise will be given shortly, and the instructions repeated if necessary.

If a candidate asks whether they should give an arm signal, they should be told that the command to stop will be given only when it appears that no danger will arise as a result of a sudden stop, but that they should assume that an extreme emergency has arisen and demonstrate the action they would take in such a case.

The emergency stop exercise must not be used to avoid a dangerous situation.

It’s worth pointing out a few things that worry learners, all of which are mentioned above or in the rest of DT1:

  • you will not be asked to do it on a busy road
  • the examiner will check behind first, so you don’t have to
  • having to do it in a real situation could count as having done it on the test – the examiner will tell you
  • it will not be done as part of Independent Driving

Furthermore, DT1 adds:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DVSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

I’ve mentioned ABS and the Emergency Stop before because of people trying to complicate it simply as a result of their own lack of understanding. I’ll repeat what I said in that article: when it says to press the brake and clutch at the same time, it doesn’t specifically mean that both feet must go down as if they were glued together at the ankles. The thing you have to remember is that the clutch will begin to release as soon as you start to press the pedal, and the brakes will start to bite as soon as you start to press them. Neither are digital switches – they are analogue devices, which means that there is significant travel of the pedals to achieve varying amounts of the relevant effect. So if the clutch releases more than the brakes are braking, the car will take longer to stop because the effect of engine braking is removed. For that reason, you really want to be braking hard first, then depressing the clutch a fraction of a second later when executing an emergency stop. The whole process happens in less than a couple of seconds anyway.

It still amounts to pressing both pedals “at the same time”, but this distinction relates back to the older method of cadence braking (on non-ABS cars), where you had to pump the brakes and slow down in stages, THEN put the clutch down right at the end to avoid stalling. In this case, you were not pressing both pedals at the same time, and doing so would most likely have been a serious fault on someone’s test.

Trust me, if your mum walks out in front of you and you need to do an emergency stop to avoid hitting her by a hair’s breadth, not utilising engine braking properly could make all the difference between a big sigh of relief or a trip to the hospital.

It doesn’t matter if the ABS kicks in (and makes a noise outside, with vibration on the brake pedal inside) during the exercise. As long as the driver is in control and stops the car promptly then the Emergency Stop will have been completed satisfactorily.

The Emergency Stop will nearly always be carried out as a totally separate exercise on the test, though if you have had to do one in a real situation (possible but highly unlikely for most candidates) then the examiner may count that as having done the exercise if you were one of one in three who gets it. For the exercise proper, the examiner will ask you to pull over and he will then explain as follows (again, taken from DT1):

Pull up on the left please (either specify location or use normal stop wordings) Shortly I shall ask you to carry out an emergency stop. When I give this signal, (simultaneously demonstrate, and say) ‘Stop’, I’d like you to stop as quickly and as safely as possible. Before giving the signal I shall look round to make sure it is safe, but please wait for my signal before doing the exercise.

Do you understand the instructions?

Once you have completed your Emergency Stop, he will say something along the lines of:

Thank you. I will not ask you to do that exercise again. Drive on when you are ready.

It’s that simple. And the decision over what is and isn’t acceptable lies with the examiner.

What would be a minor (driver) or serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The procedure as I teach it is as follows (immediately after the STOP command):

  • brake firmly
  • declutch just after
  • keep both hands on the steering wheel
  • once stopped, apply handbrake
  • put into neutral
  • look all around
  • relax

Then, once the instruction to drive on is given:

  • put into gear
  • gas/bite ready
  • look all around
  • if safe, release handbrake and drive off

Possible driver (minor) faults might include stalling, going for the gear lever or handbrake before the car stops, or not looking all around properly after you’ve stopped (though that last one is rare).

Possible serious faults might include getting into a mess/panic if you stall, not stopping quickly enough, putting the clutch down before the brake, or not looking all around at all before you move off (this is more common).

Some faults might be only minor in some cases, but become serious if other traffic is around. For example, stalling before you move off and not checking all around again. Or if stalling/panicking causes a hold up for traffic. Or moving off before you’ve looked around properly and someone is overtaking you. The examiner’s decision is what counts because every situation is different.

If you do it right – or even close to being right – on your lessons you’re almost certainly not going to fail your test over it. I’ve never had anyone fail for it. So make sure that you can do it right on your lessons.

Will I fail if I stall on the emergency stop?

No, you shouldn’t if you react appropriately by making the car safe, then get it started again promptly. It will usually be marked as a driver fault. However, you are on test and you might panic and do something else wrong which could result in you failing.

Do I have to pull over when I do the emergency stop?

No. That would defeat the purpose. The idea is to stop as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining control and safety. If you waste time trying to pull over you’ll travel further, and so won’t stop quickly enough.

Imagine your brother or sister (or pet dog or cat) runs out a few metres in front of you while you’re driving along. That’s why you want to stop as quickly as possible, and to hell with what’s going on behind you (the examiner will check to make sure it’s safe by looking behind – you don’t have to).

Once the exercise is complete, you will drive on normally unless the examiner specifically asks you to pull over – which he might, since pulling over then driving off again is a separate thing that is being assessed on your test.

Should I signal when I move off after an emergency stop?

In most cases it isn’t necessary, and you certainly don’t want to be doing it before you’ve looked to see if anyone might benefit. However, if you look around and decide that you should signal – for a pedestrian perhaps, or if someone is coming towards you from either direction – then do it (make sure you signal right and not left).

Why shouldn’t I use the handbrake to stop?

Depending on how old you are, you may remember from certain action movies that the characters involved in car chases sometimes brake, skid the car around, then drive off the other way. What they are doing is called “a handbrake turn”.

The handbrake usually only operates on the rear wheels, and if you are driving along and pull it sharply it can lock the wheels, and that causes them to skid. Since only the back wheels lock, the rear of the car spins around because for all practical purposes the rear wheels are not gripping the road surface.

It’s all well and good if you’re doing a stunt for a movie shoot, but on roads where there are other road users it is incredibly dangerous. Imagine an emergency situation, where you need to stop as quickly as possible, and usually in a straight line. You aren’t going to achieve that if the rear wheels spin out and are not gripping the road surface. At best, you’ll stop over a much longer distance because the handbrake isn’t designed to stop the car in the first place. At the worst, the car will spin out of control and you might hit something or someone – or even roll it.

On top of that, the ABS on modern vehicles functions via the footbrake (which is hydraulically controlled through the car’s on-board computer), not via the handbrake. In a handbrake stop you have no ABS functionality (the electronic handbrakes in modern cars usually won’t operate when you’re moving anyway).

If you apply the handbrake before the car has stopped in the Emergency Stop exercise you’re almost certainly going to get a serious fault for it.

Can you stop using the handbrake in any other situation?

The classic example is if your normal brakes fail for some reason – you press the footbrake and nothing happens. Your only option is to slow down and stop using the handbrake (noting the comment above about electronic handbrakes not working when you’re moving).

It happened to me many years ago when I’d flushed my brake system, but left an air lock in it somewhere. I came to a T-junction and the car wouldn’t stop, so I used the handbrake to slow it down. Fortunately no one was coming, because I couldn’t stop in time for the junction, but I did prevent the car ending up in someone’s living room!

I’m an ADI. How should I teach the Emergency Stop?

You really ought to know this. It isn’t rocket science. What I do is run through skids and how to deal with them, the factors likely to cause them, and so on. I have a few stories about when unexpected things have happened to me (like the time I was in a column of traffic driving at 60mph in the Cotswolds and a herd of deer ran out about 5 metres in front of the van at the front, who slammed into them because he couldn’t do anything). Then I explain the Emergency Stop procedure, which is basically as follows:

  • I give the signal
  • You brake hard, then put the clutch down – IN THAT ORDER
  • Put the handbrake on and put it in neutral
  • Look all around

When I (or the examiner) says to drive on:

  • Put it in gear and get ready to move off
  • Look all around
  • If it’s clear, release the handbrake and drive off

Looking all around – and that includes both blind spots – before you move off is critical because traffic or pedestrians could be passing either side of you. If you just glance in your mirrors after you’ve stopped you tend to get away with it, but if you try that as you drive off then it’s pretty much a fail. No guarantees, of course, but if you look properly it won’t be an issue.

I like to feel as though the ABS is about to kick in when a pupil stops. If the ABS does kick in a little, even better. But I don’t want them stamping hard on the pedal.

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This article was originally written in 2011 after someone asked if it is OK for the ABS to kick in when you do the emergency stop on your test (and in real life).

DT1 – DVSA’s Internal Guidance Document – says:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DVSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says this concerning ABS systems:

…You should refer to the owner’s handbook for details of the manufacturer’s recommended method of use…

More on what TES says about emergency braking later. Let’s take a look at some typical (and common) owner’s handbooks.

Vauxhall Corsa

For optimum braking, keep the brake pedal fully depressed throughout the braking process, despite the fact that the pedal is pulsating. Do not reduce the pressure on the pedal.

Do not let this special safety feature tempt you into taking risks when driving.

Traffic safety can only be achieved by adopting a responsible driving style.

Vauxhall Astra

Antilock brake system (ABS) prevents the wheels from locking.

ABS starts to regulate brake pressure as soon as a wheel shows a tendency to lock. The vehicle remains steerable, even during hard braking.

ABS control is made apparent through a pulse in the brake pedal and the noise of the regulation process.

For optimum braking, keep the brake pedal fully depressed throughout the braking process, despite the fact that the pedal is pulsating. Do not reduce the pressure on the pedal.

Ford Focus

Using ABS

When hard braking is required, apply continuous force on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brake pedal since this will reduce the effectiveness of the ABS and will increase your vehicle’s stopping distance. The ABS will be activated immediately, allowing you to retain steering control during hard braking and on slippery surfaces. However, the ABS does not decrease stopping distance.

Ford Fiesta

Using ABS

When hard braking is required, apply continuous force on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brake pedal since this will reduce the effectiveness of the ABS and will increase your vehicle’s stopping distance. The ABS will be activated immediately, allowing you to retain steering control during hard braking and on slippery surfaces. However, the ABS does not decrease stopping distance.

The message is quite clear: LET ABS DO THE WORK, AND DON’T TRY TO OVERRIDE IT.

Whether the ABS kicks in or not is down to many factors. A controlled stop that won’t engage the ABS in dry conditions on a clean and level surface will almost certainly engage it in the wet on a slight declination. Even on the flat, a bit of dust or gravel will change the physics completely. And on snow or ice, the ABS will kick in as soon as you touch the brake whether you want it to or not. It’s up to the examiner at the time to decide if the stop was prompt enough to be labelled as satisfactory.

If the test candidate stamps on the brake with all their might, causes the examiner to head butt the roof, and scuds to a halt over less than a metre from speed of 30mph, then the examiner just might consider it to be “not controlled”. But the ABS kicking in short of this is not a fault in any way.

TES goes into more detail after having advised checking the car’s owner’s manual. It deals with the issue on the premise that the ABS should be allowed to do the work.

How do you do the emergency stop?

At the prompt (when the examiner says “STOP” and raises his hand; or when in real life – for example – that woman with the pushchair walks out in front of you):

  • brake firmly and progressively (i.e. apply more and more pressure) to stop in the shortest distance safely
  • put the clutch down just after you brake
  • keep your bloody hands on the steering wheel up to this point!
  • once you’ve stopped, apply the handbrake and put it in neutral
  • take a look around and rest your feet

In reality, you’ll brake hard and declutch very soon afterwards – almost (but not quite) simultaneously. There’s no messing about with stopwatches and stuff! You just do it. But what things are classed as potentially serious faults during the stop?

  • responding too slowly
  • putting the clutch down before the brake
  • putting the handbrake on before you’ve stopped
  • skidding out of control
  • missing the brake pedal
  • taking your hands off the steering wheel

Notice how “stalling” isn’t on there. As long as you put the handbrake on and put it in neutral if you stall, then restart the engine, you shouldn’t worry – but obviously, don’t stall deliberately. Learn to do it properly.

Putting the clutch down too soon can cause the car to surge forward if you’re going downhill (on the level, it’ll simply not slow down), then the brakes have to do more work. This results in longer stopping distances. Make sure your method allows the brakes to engage before the clutch is disengaged.

When moving off – when told to do so by the examiner – get it in gear, get ready, and look all around. That’s over BOTH SHOULDERS and the mirrors. You can fail for not looking around properly before driving away.

Just to summarise one more time, though:

  • when that woman with the baby in the pushchair walks out in front of you after you pass your test, you will hit the brakes as hard as possible to avoid hitting her
  • you won’t give a flying toss whether the ABS kicks in or not – because you don’t need to
  • you want to stop over the shortest distance, so don’t put the clutch down before the brake
  • on your test, the examiner wants to see you demonstrate this simple skill by stopping quickly and in control when he tells you to
  • there is a big difference between doing it on test and doing in real life (e.g. to avoid the woman with the pushchair)
  • if your car has ABS, it is there to help you. Let it!
  • the DSA says you should do it this way
  • your vehicle handbook almost certainly says to do it this way (check!)
  • if someone is telling you otherwise, they are telling you wrong

Does ABS kick in if you hit the brake hard?

Not automatically – or rather, not as an immediate result of hitting the brake pedal. ABS kicks in when the wheels are locked, and allows them to move slightly. By hitting the brakes hard, if the wheels lock – and the car starts to skid – then ABS will kick in. However, if you hit the brakes just as hard and the car stops without skidding then the ABS will not kick in.

It is locked wheels which trigger the ABS, not the act of braking by itself.

Should I put the clutch down at the same time as the brake?

The blog has been getting hits from www.pistonheads.com (hi guys) as a result of a thread asking precisely this. As DVSA guidelines say, doing so is not automatically a fault – but it depends.

The problem with wording stems from the older method of cadence braking (on non-ABS vehicles), where you had to pump the brake pedal and slow down in stages, then put the clutch down at the end to avoid stalling. In this older situation, you did not “press both pedals at the same time”. The thing you have to remember is that the clutch will begin to release as soon as you start to press the pedal, and the brakes will start to bite as soon as you start to press them. Neither are digital switches – they are analogue devices, which means that there is significant travel of the pedals to achieve varying amounts of the relevant effect. So if the clutch releases more than the brakes are braking, the car will take longer to stop because the effect of engine braking is removed. For that reason, you really want to be braking hard first, then depressing the clutch a fraction of a second later when executing an emergency stop in a car which has ABS.

If you put the clutch down first, the car will free-wheel (or surge forward if going downhill), and the brakes will subsequently have to do all the work (and a lot more of it!). At the very least, you’ll stop over a longer distance, and that is no good for the woman with the pushchair you were reacting to. We can easily say that you must not de-clutch first.

If you hit the clutch and brake at exactly the same time it is highly likely that you will release the clutch plates before the brakes have started to grip significantly – and it will vary from car to car depending on clutch wear and pedal adjustment. In a panic situation this could easily lead to a longer stop.

So, common sense would suggest that you brake first, and then de-clutch (as per the advice in TES). This makes sure the brakes are starting to act before engine braking is lost by separating the clutch plates. Unless your vehicle handbook says otherwise, leave de-clutching for as long as possible to increase the amount of engine braking available during the braking phase.

The simple solution as far as training new drivers goes is to teach them to brake firmly, then put the clutch down. During an actual stop the two operations happen so quickly that they are virtually simultaneous anyway – but not so simultaneous that de-clutching affects the braking operation.

As long as the brakes have purchase, de-clutching will not attract a fault from an examiner if a satisfactory controlled stop is effected.

It’s easier for pupils to press both pedals simultaneously

I don’t teach my own pupils necessarily what’s “easiest” for them. I teach them what’s “best” or “safest”. Every single one of them has been able to do it the way I want them to after a few tries. Every single one. It is not a complicated process.

If you think “easiest” is better than “safest”, you need to have a word with yourself.

Do you fail if the ABS kicks in?

No. DVSA doesn’t say that anywhere. They will not fail someone just because the ABS engages during a controlled stop.

Do learners find the emergency stop difficult when taught “the DVSA way”?

No. To start with, there is no “DVSA way”. It makes perfect sense to brake first then de-clutch a fraction of a second later, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for most people to learn. DVSA’s TES is simply highlighting the best way.

Why not teach people to brake and de-clutch at the same time?

The method in TES says to brake first and de-clutch later. As long as this doesn’t go against the manufacturer’s recommendations (as DVSA correctly points out) then it is the best method. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the method outlined in TES. Furthermore, I have yet to see any manufacturer advise simultaneous braking/de-clutching – when they say to press the pedals at the same time, they just mean not to use the old cadence braking method.

The biggest danger of simultaneous pedal-dipping is that the clutch gets released before the brakes take hold. Obviously, this is extremely dangerous to the point of being potentially fatal if it causes you to stop over a longer distance.

How do you engage the ABS in an emergency stop?

The ABS is something that engages when it needs to. You don’t set out to make it operate. It will kick in if the wheels start to lock making it possible to maintain some steering control during the stop. When stopping in an emergency you simply brake as hard as you need to and if that causes the ABS to kick in then you just let it do its job.

The driving test only tests stopping in a straight line, but that’s not like the real world.

So what? The driving test emergency stop is making sure you can hit the brakes hard enough to stop, and do it in such a way that you stop in the shortest distance. It’s not testing you on every imaginable situation.

The bottom line is that if someone runs out just in front of you you’re going to hit the brakes and try as hard as possible to not hit them. On a bend, the risk of spinning off the road when braking hard at speed is extremely high. There’s nothing anyone can do about that – it’s the laws of physics.

DVSA is deliberately vague about how to do an emergency stop.

Nonsense. TES is a DVSA publication and it has two full pages of information about stopping in an emergency ,covering defensive driving and avoidance, ABS, and the basic routine itself. What exactly do you expect them to say?

What happens when the ABS kicks in?

Once the electronics under the bonnet detect the wheels have locked (i.e. that you’re skidding), they will release-brake-release very rapidly for you. The footbrake pedal will vibrate and you may hear a noise that sounds like you’re skidding on gravel. Just let the ABS do its job and don’t release the pressure on the brake (unless it is to help you recover from a serious skid, where the car is starting to swing out dangerously).

Is it safe to drive my [insert car name] when the ABS warning light is on?

Someone found the blog with “Ford Fiesta” inserted into the blank spaces.

At the very least, if the ABS isn’t working, then it won’t kick in if you have to stop suddenly, and that could result in someone dying where they might otherwise have been unharmed, since you’re more likely to skid and lose control. More relevant is the fact that since your car would fail the MoT test if the ABS is faulty, so if you were involved in an accident there is a strong possibility that your vehicle would be assessed as unroadworthy, and you could get in serious trouble.

If ABS is fitted to your car, it must work. If it doesn’t, then technically you’re breaking the Law. A faulty ABS means the brakes will still work, but the ABS won’t. So no, it isn’t “safe”.

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Colwick roundabout - smallOne of the most common reasons pupils fail their tests is by not maintaining lane discipline on roundabouts.

I’ve noticed over the years that – from time to time – you get instructors who have read a few pages out of Roadcraft, and who have subsequently decided they’re going to teach their pupils to drive like police pursuit drivers from now on. It quickly develops into the inevitable boasting about how they get theirs to straight-line roundabouts.

Frankly, it’s a stupid idea to do that with 17-year old novices. When they’re under pressure, most of them are barely aware that there even any lanes there when they enter a roundabout, and even the normal observations and control are likely to suffer. With the additional checks needed if you’re going to skip lanes, the chances of something going wrong just increase. Furthermore, straight-lining is intended to allow police drivers to maintain speed, and that’s pretty much the last thing you should be encouraging 17-year olds to do.

I vividly remember an end-of-test debrief some years ago for a pupil who had failed with one serious fault. It occurred on the Virgin roundabout in Colwick, which basically has a two-lane dual carriageway going in, and two lanes coming out (therefore, two lanes on it, even though it is unmarked, and on the return to the test centre these are narrow). The examiner’s words were as follows:

I asked you to follow the road ahead at the roundabout. You approached it in the left-hand lane, and you straight-lined it – which is perfectly OK – but you didn’t check your mirrors to see if there was anyone in the lane to your right.

I have never forgotten that, and I use it on my lessons frequently. However, the pupil in question (and many others since when we’ve been dealing with roundabouts) didn’t have a clue what the examiner was talking about. At the precise moment it happened, he was thinking of a hundred other things. He knew, of course, that there were lanes, but when it came to do it – with the pressure of the test and all the stuff that happens inside people’s heads when they’re on a roundabout in that situation – he didn’t. That’s how it is for most learners, and if instructors are skimming over that to play with the big boys’ toys in Roadcraft, they’re doing those pupils a disservice.Colwick roundabout approach - lane structure

I teach all of mine that staying in lane is the best policy, and they can play at being smart arses once they’ve passed and gained more experience around the nutcases infesting the roads these days. If nothing else, learning to stay in lane is a solid foundation on which to build your later skills – it’s a stepping stone to driving like a smart arse, if you like. If you’ve never been taught to maintain good lane discipline, but you have been shown advanced (and often pointless, for normal drivers) techniques that develop out of it, sooner or later you’re going to have trouble. And your driving test is an excellent place for that trouble to make itself known.Colwick roundabout approach - options towards City

How an instructor teaches roundabout lane discipline varies from pupil to pupil. Some will pick it up quickly with no problems at all, but getting it over to others can be a huge challenge.

I have a big notebook of plain paper, and I frequently do sketches of roundabouts (and other things) to get the point I’m trying to make across. Sometimes, you get pupils who simply don’t get diagrams, and you have to resort to words and analogies with things they are familiar with (which can be a pain these days, as an increasing number of them appear to have absolutely no outside interests you can draw upon).

I also use graphics I have produced and laminated, like the ones above. The arrow diagrams show how the lanes on the approach from one direction to the main Colwick roundabout work, and which ones you’d use depending on where you are going. The one at the top is an accurate representation of the same roundabout with lane markings (click it to see the full sized version), and I have these for all the tricky roundabouts – not just the test ones. It means we can pull over and discuss what happened, and what ought to have happened.

As I have explained in the article about roundabouts, they nearly all work along the same basic principles, no matter how big and apparently complex they are. Even the largest can be broken down into a series of smaller parts that work exactly the same way as they do on smaller ones. Knowing how to do the smaller parts allows you to piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle when applying them on different roundabouts.

When it comes down to it, any large problem is just a collection of smaller ones. So as you learn, you learn to solve each small problem on its own, and over time put the pieces together so that you end up with an overall solution.

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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.

They used to fail people for “crossing hands” when steering

I’m going to stick my neck out here. But…

No. They. Bloody. Well. Didn ‘t.

Stop keep repeating things you heard as if they were fact without knowing what you’re talking about. Crossing hands has not been an issue in itself for the 40 years I’ve been driving. The only time it is a problem is when the learner grips the wheel and turns from the shoulders. At some point, the arms cross and they can’t steer any more – even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That will be marked under steering control.

Hand over hand steering – where the hands do cross over each other – is perfectly OK. It’s actually better in some cases. This has always been the case.

If crossing the hands has ever been worthy of a fail in its own right, it must date from so long ago that the people who keep going on about it probably weren’t even born, so it’s about as relevant as marauding dinosaurs. I mean, they used to have more rules for horse-drawn carriages than self-propelled ones in the Highway Code, but no one worries about what the sign of waving a whip over your head means.

The whole issue of “not crossing hands” comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them. Indeed, some instructors so obviously misunderstand the issue even now that it is easy to see how this nonsense is perpetuated.

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.

I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?

The clue is in the question. Too much of anything is likely to be wrong.

If you steer “too much” on bends you are liable to clip the kerb or put too much sideways force on the car, which could lead to you spinning out or losing control (among other possible bad outcomes). So, yes. It is dangerous – and wrong.

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

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

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

The list is really endless, but not all learners make all these mistakes. Most pupils who have problems tend to 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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You’ve got to laugh.

A PDI (trainee instructor) asks for advice on whether it’s best to go it alone in his Part 3 training, or use a franchise to go on a pink licence.

He gets a reply that franchises are a waste of money and he should go it alone using Facebook. Except that the person who left that reply started out with a franchise themselves and left after becoming established.

Apart from the overlap of situations (a PDI aiming for Part 3 is a completely different situation to a new ADI who’s just passed Part 3), it’s like if Andy Murray started advising people to enter Wimbledon when they’ve only just taken up tennis on the basis that he’s won it in the past.

Actually, given the aforementioned overlap of situations, it’s more like Andy Murray advising someone who’s only just taken up cricket to enter the World Snooker Championship because he’s won Wimbledon before.

Anything to have a dig at franchises.

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