A Driving Instructor's Blog

Training

I noticed on one forum someone has asked if it is OK for the ABS to kick in when you do the emergency stop on your test (and, I would imagine, in real life). Typically, opinions fall into two diametrically opposed camps.

It’s worth quoting what DT1 – the DSA’s Internal Guidance Document – has to say about the subject:

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. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.. 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

Now take a look in Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) and look at what it says 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 first.

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.

I’m sure if you looked hard enough you’d be able to find one manufacturer or one model or another who says to do it differently. But there is an obvious trend here, and few seem to advise anything particularly unusual.

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

Emergency StopOf course, there are those for whom obfuscation and the pointless pedantry associated with explaining that you “must be in control” is lifeblood. And let’s not forget the issue of braking and declutching at the same time to add to any obfuscation.

I doubt that many driving instructors are unaware of the need to remain in control, but it doesn’t stop others pointlessly trying to explain nonetheless.

Ironically, I the question was probably being asked with a deliberate hint that those instructors who teach that the ABS should do the work were wrong. In actual fact, it is fortunate for such people that the DSA’s examiners don’t play it by the book, because it would appear that those who teach that the ABS shouldn’t kick in are probably closer to being wrong about it.

Examiners – and anyone facing down a pratmobile hurtling towards them – just want to see a controlled stop. If that’s what they get then it’s a case of job done.

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 not consider it to be “controlled”. Not many people need to keep being told this.

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
  • just before you stop, put the clutch down
  • 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, then forces the brakes to do all the 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 the DSA guidelines say, doing so is not automatically a fault – but it depends on the car and the manufacturer’s recommendations.

To be honest, I haven’t found a handbook which says the clutch and brake “should be depressed simultaneously”. I’m not saying there aren’t cars in which the handbook does say this, but most appear not to. So you’re going to have to apply common sense over stopping in an emergency.

What does common sense say? Well, if you put the clutch down first, the car will surge forward – especially 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.

Driving shouldn’t be over-complicated. If you have to stop, then stop. Don’t get into a debate over it.

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.

Do you fail if the ABS kicks in?

No. The DSA 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 DSA way”?

No. To start with, there is no “DSA 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. TES is simply highlighting the best way.. The only ones who have problems with it are those with existing habits, and who are perhaps unable to accept they are wrong.

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 the DSA correctly points out) then it is the best method. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the method outlined in TES.

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 just 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. In any case, you really do want to avoid having to do a real emergency stop on a bend because it’s bloody dangerous.

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 is extremely high. There’s nothing anyone can do about that – it’s the laws of physics. The same is true if someone flings the wheel to try and avoid something.

Someone once said to me “you can’t test what would happen if someone let off a bomb by letting one off yourself – you have to simulate it”. Exactly the same applies to the emergency stop.

The DSA is deliberately vague about how to do an emergency stop.

Nonsense. TES 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?

If you’re an ADI taking this approach you can’t blame your lack of knowledge on TES not going into the exact detail that you want. If you want more you can easily find it on the internet.

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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Someone found the blog using the question “can the car roll back at the biting point?” If you understand what the biting point is then you already will know the answer. Volume ControlI’ve explained the biting point before. Here’s a summary.

If the car is in gear, the clutch acts like a volume control on a radio or mp3 player. When you push the pedal all the way down, the ‘volume’ is at 0, when you lift the clutch all the way up the ‘volume’ is at 10 (maximum). If the clutch is only part way up then the ‘volume’ is somewhere in between.

The “volume” in the case of the clutch is how much of the engine’s power is transferred to the wheels.

In reality, because of how the clutch is designed, the “volumes” we’re interested in occur over a very narrow range of pedal movement quite a way up from fully depressed – this is what we call the biting point. It is not a fixed point, but a range – how much bite depends on what you are trying to do, and where.

A ‘volume’ of 4 or 5 might get the car moving on the flat or perhaps a very gentle incline, but on a steeper upwards slope you might need a setting of 6 or 7 to avoid the car rolling back slightly. Similar considerations apply to moving off more quickly.

Precisely where the bite point occurs in the pedal travel depends on the car. It will be different in every car you drive. Even your own car will change its biting point as time goes by, as the clutch plates wear down. Knowing the basic principle is useful, but operating the clutch and finding the bite should be instinctive rather than coldly calculated every time you need to do it.

So yes, you can roll back at the biting point – if you haven’t got enough bite set.

Will the car roll back when you have the biting point?

By definition, no. However, if you haven’t got enough bite then it might – just as too much bite will make it move forward.

You have to try to understand what the biting point is – and how it is part way between no engine control of the wheels at all and total engine control of the wheels. The exact point of bite varies depending on the angle of incline.

Will I fail my test if I roll back?

It’s not automatic, but if you roll back a lot, or do it every time, then yes you could fail your test for it. I’ve written about it in detail in this article.

EDIT 20/2/2011: I’m still getting hits on questions like “how to find the biting point every time”.

Obviously, I can’t be certain what people are thinking, but the wording (and the fact there is clearly a problem) suggests people are perhaps being a little lazy in the way they approach driving.

You cannot just magically “find” the biting point at the outset unless you think hard about it. You have to “feel”, “look”, and “listen” for it (i.e. feel the car change its revs, listen for the engine slow down, and look for the slight movement as the bite takes). The more you do it then the quicker you’ll get to that magic point where you just find it and go without having to think.

Some people – not many in my own experience – have a serious coordination problem and find manual driving a huge challenge. If they switch to automatic then they never look back (although if you pass in an automatic you can’t drive manual without passing a test in a manual car). But these are exceptional cases.

Driving properly and safely requires thought. Learning requires even more.

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UPDATE: The DSA has now embarked on its implementation of coaching, so read this article posted in November 2012.

I was on a lesson with a pupil on Saturday, and we had just done a parallel park and were looking for another car to try it on. My pupil asked:

Why don’t we do them on that [the right hand] side of the road?

We pulled over, and the conversation then progressed like this:

Me: Well, there’s no real reason why you can’t sometimes do them on that side. Why do you ask?

She: I just wondered how you would do it.

Me: Well, it’s almost exactly the same as doing it on the left side except you steer the opposite way and look for traffic in the right places. How do you think you’d decide when you’re close enough to the kerb to bring the car in?

She: Errr… the [points to offside] mirror?

Me: That’s right. Or you could just look over your shoulder – you’re right by the kerb that side, aren’t you? What I’ll do next time we practice it on the left is find a quiet road so you can get out and see how far away from the kerb the car is, then you’ll know what to look for if you ever need to do it. We might even try it if we get time.

She: Would I have to do it on the test?

Me: No. But once you’ve passed you might.

At this point, I remembered a recent topic where someone had moaned about a non-driving forum where the members were having a go at a female-only driving school, with such comments as these (and I mentioned them to my pupil):

The first lesson involves the importance of arranging fluffy pink things on the parcel shelf, and attaching dangly things to your key-ring

second lesson is all about driving at 29mph in a 40mph zone hogging the white line in the centre of the road

one of the hours is spent sitting in your car fiddling around(after you’ve spent ages filling up and half and hour in the shop) while there’s a queue building up behind you at the petrol station.

There’s many a true word said in jest, and whether you like it or not the reason these sorts of comments come about is because they have an element of truth about them (just like with older drivers, people in 4x4s on the school run, Audi drivers, and so on).

So I joked:

Me: You know how it will be. You’ll be out shopping, see a parking space across the road, and decide to go for it. Then you’ll need to park on the other side. It’s a woman-thing.

She: [Laughs] Yeah, my mum does that all the time.

Me: And you’ll be able to do it safely. But can you see the point I’m making? Different people drive for different reasons – I drive because it’s my job. Why would you decide to drive somewhere?

She: Well, to go shopping, or to see my nan or my auntie. Or to go to work.

Me: What about other people? Why do they drive?

She: The same reasons?

Me: Well, perhaps. But what other things? Taking the dog somewhere for a walk? Taking their kids to or from school? What about rushing to the A&E at the hospital? What would you do if you were late for work and caught in traffic?

She: I’d take my time and drive safely.

Me: That’s good, but your concentration might be affected whether you like it or not because you know your boss is going to yell at you. What about those other people, though? If they’re in a hurry, will they drive safely?

She: Not all of them… well, no, in the morning none of them are driving safely when I go to work. They’re speeding, and they keep overtaking and cutting in.

Me: So you can see how it isn’t just what you do that makes you safe?

She: Yes. We even get it on our lessons, don’t we, with people trying to get past.

Me: Exactly! And going back to the parallel park, when you’re on the other side of the road you’re usually facing oncoming traffic which might be in a hurry and not expect you to be there.

She: So I shouldn’t do it?

Me: Well, it’s up to you. If the road is empty, why not? If you’re going to cause a hold-up, then that’s a different matter. But you could always find somewhere else or turn around and come in from the opposite side and do it the usual way.

She: I don’t think I will. It sounds dangerous.

Me: Well, there is one place where you’d have to do it – and it’d be quite safe – if you wanted to park and the parking spaces were only available on the right. Can you think where?

She: [Gives a few suggestions]

Me: Well, possibly, but those are not really what I’m thinking of. What kind of road definitely has no cars coming the opposite way?

She: Oh. A one-way street. There’s one of those near the shops and you can only park that side.

It can’t be bad, can it? Sexism, a driving lesson, and even “the higher levels of the GDE Matrix” in one seven minute session.

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UPDATE: The DSA has now embarked on its implementation of coaching, so read this article posted in November 2012.

Dog cocking its legThe forums have been aglow over recent months on the subject of coaching. It’s quite funny how people think just substituting a word in their waffle suddenly makes them brilliant coaches. Suddenly “I teach people to drive” has become “I coach people to drive”. The irony is that many of them probably don’t do either very well, but it doesn’t stop them using the “C” word in every other sentence.

Some of them might actually be coaching very well, but for most I doubt that they’d  recognise coaching if it came and cocked its leg against them.

If anyone asks me what I do, I tell them:

  • I’m a driving instructor
  • I teach people to drive

I refuse point blank to use the C word. I had a skinful of it when I was working in the rat race, and it makes my skin crawl now when I hear it. But am I right to feel that way?

A huge part of the problem seems to be that the same kind of people who used to make me hurl when I was in the rat race have started hijacking the coaching issue as it pertains to driving instruction. To that end, they are running around telling everyone what coaching is and what it involves:

  • communication skills
  • interpersonal skills
  • building relationships
  • create connections
  • psychological techniques
  • promoting change
  • expand contacts
  • clean language
  • emergent knowledge
  • unconscious resources
  • negative/positive self-belief
  • personality types
  • life coaching
  • performance coaching
  • self-marketing
  • body language
  • inner confidence

This just goes on and on, depending on who you listen to. Phrases like inner confidence and life coaching make me shudder. They’re pure bullshit.

EDIT 24/7/2012: I just want to add something I read recently where a trainer claims – in answer to the question about how to develop a lesson structure – that the following are essential for assessing how a pupil learns:

  • V.A.K.
  • Behaviourism i.e. Classical Conditioning
  • Constructivism – Piaget, Vygotsky
  • Humanism – Hierarchy of needs (Maslow)
  • Kolbs learning cycle
  • Co-operative learning
  • Cognitive acceleration

I’ve mentioned the rat race a few times. This is exactly the kind of total and utter bullshit we had to deal with. And make no mistake about it – that’s exactly what it is. It’s the equivalent of charging people to breath air. When someone starts spouting this nonsense, their true colours are suddenly and painfully exposed.

The person who quoted these cannot give any real world examples of their use. and application. Merely listing them is supposed to initiate the sharp intake of admiring breaths from those who read it. Or not, as the case may be.

The DSA hasn’t actually said what it expects by way of coaching, and all these ADIs who are allegedly “doing it all the time” – even when they’re in a coma – seem very reluctant to give examples of precisely how they coach when pressed to do so. The reason for that is simple: they haven’t got a clue what coaching is.

They also forget that the DSA is going to take the most direct route possible, and it isn’t likely to require ADIS to gain aromatherapy and crystallography diplomas from the local Clown College in order to remain on the register.

GDE Matrix PDF File

It goes without saying that the GDE Matrix is involved in this – purely because the Clown College life skills department has got hold of it, looked at the table in the back, and seen a way of making shedloads of money out of it. it. But does the Matrix actually agree with those Cuckoo Club Coaches, who seem to believe that levitation, time-travel, and healing hands are mandatory skills for someone who teaches – sorry, coaches – people to drive?

Well, the GDE Matrix Report everyone is referring to (download it by clicking the links above) says that driver behaviour follows this “hierarchical model” – or in plain English, when someone goes out driving their overall performance is governed by these things in order:

  1. car control ability (speed, direction, position, etc.)
  2. handling real situations (junctions, other cars, etc.)
  3. purpose and nature of the journey
  4. general attitudes towards driving and life in general

Just about any ADI will be handling the first three with every pupil they teach. If they aren’t, they shouldn’t be on the Register. We teach them how to handle the car, how to handle road layouts and various traffic conditions, and things which might cause distraction or increase the risk of an accident. Any ADI who isn’t covering these things simply isn’t doing their job properly.

Addressing the 4th item is the one which apparently needs a Clown College diploma in something which mankind has not managed to solve in all of recorded history, and which it is unlikely to solve anytime in the future. In plain English, it is the way the average person behaves generally in their life, and how this carries over into how he or she drives.

As an example, if you have someone who spent their entire time at school pretending to be black in spite of being a pasty white colour (i.e. wearing a stupid baseball cap), plus a shell suit or Burberry clobber, cheap bling, BMX bike, no taste in music, their whole evenings hanging around outside the chip shop smoking, spitting, and swearing at people who walk past, and who was known to the police from about 10 minutes after he was born because of who his parents were, well, that person just might be tempted to drive in an inappropriate manner when he passes his test and buys a Corsa with 4-inch exhaust pipe and blacked out windows. His whole life to that point has conditioned him.

[Some idiot from Manchester has taken issue with this analogy, and thinks it is offensive to black people. It’s supposed to be a swipe at young white people! Slightly built, pasty white youths who dress like rap stars and have rubbish music blaring out of their stereos and who behave antisocially are already a long way away from likely being influenced by a bit of coaching from an instructor. Anyone who has to pretend to be something they aren’t (hence, a white person pretending to be black, when the cap just doesn’t fit) has already got issues. And like it or not, they exist in large numbers out there, which is why I used this example.]

Doesn’t that make you slap your head and go “Of course! It all makes sense now!”

But it gets better, because apparently the one thing that’s been missing from the equation – and which could prevent this unfortunate situation arising – is the role of the Driving Instructor!

Let’s get rid of the Clown College mystique a moment and  remind ourselves that “GDE” stands for Goals for Driver Education. The following table is what many people refer to as “The GDE Matrix” or, as it calls itself, “The GDE Framework”. It is basically just a more complicated version of the 4 items listed above, using university-speak to make itself look important. Oh, yes! And it’s upside-down.

Knowledge and Skill Risk Increasing Aspects Self-assessment
Goals for life, skills for driving Lifestyle, age, group norms, motives, self-control, values Sensation seeking, group norms, complying with peer pressure Risky tendencies, own preconditions, impulse control
Goals and context of driving Modal choice, choice of time, trip goals, social pressure Alcohol, fatigue, purpose of driving, rush hours, competing Planning skills, typical goals, typical risky motives
Traffic situations Traffic rules, observation, driving path, communication Disobeying rules, information overload, unsuitable speed Awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses
Vehicle manoeuvring Control of direction, position, tyre grip, physical laws Unsuitable speed, insufficient automatism, difficult conditions Calibration and awareness of car control skill

A typical young driver who is being taught properly – and that isn’t just by his ADI, but through his schooling and via his parents and friends – will gradually progress across this, starting at the bottom left and finishing top right, but taking in all the other things along the way. Remember that at this stage of the report, all that this table is doing is telling you how someone who is being taught properly learns. It’s telling you something most people already know but which they never had to think about. It’s really just stating the obvious.

The report then goes on to make some recommendations:

An Integrated Driver Education Approach (IDEA) is recommended, where structured professional methods are combined with accompanied practicing.

Translation: We suggest that people should be taught by driving instructors and also get private practice to supplement what they are taught.

Training should start in a structured way from the lowest levels of the driving hierarchy and then continue to allow drivers to learn these skills automatic with an accompanying person.

Translation: We suggest that training should start with the basics, and then people can practice these basics privately with an accompanying driver.

Integrated approach is especially important for the youngest learner drivers before allowing them independent access to traffic.

Translation: Young drivers are at greatest risk.

Integrated approach increases the demands for professional instructors and thus, training of traffic instructors should be improved.

This is where it starts to get scary – and it’s the one the Clown College graduates have gotten hold of. It goes on:

  • Knowledge on motivational and social aspects of driving (not only technical skill)
  • Skills for dealing with lay-supervisors
  • Guiding lay-supervisors in efficient teaching

Translation: Driving Instructors should involve the supervising drivers.

Accompanied driving should include a minimum amount of driving and also a structure and methods to control it.

Translation: Private practice shouldn’t be pointless and allow bad habits to develop.

Interventions of professionals after the accompanied driving phase should support risk awareness and self-evaluation, rather than being technically oriented.

Translation: It’s attitude that leads to accidents.

The process of the integrated driver education approach does not necessarily have to exceed two years for example.

This is where that media story which has taken various forms over the last 5 years about the minimum driving age being raised came from.

Professional driver education should be available to persons who do not have the possibility to follow the integrated approach.

Translation: If someone can’t do private practice, ignore all the stuff we just said and just take lessons with an instructor.

Giving more structure to the training could effectively reduce unnecessary examinations.

Translation: Better training might result in better pass rates.

Although it comes close to the subject – worryingly close if you don’t understand it – it definitely stops short of suggesting that driving instructors should aim to repair inadequate parenting or schooling by turning hooligans into saints.

In fact, the only things the definitive GDE Matrix report does say are just blindingly obvious! It makes it sound all high-falutin’, but it is just stating the obvious.

The DSA is currently running a Learning To Drive study, where they are trialing a new syllabus for possible implementation in the next few years. Undoubtedly there will be some elements of coaching in it, but I suspect the main thrust will be the content. It isn’t going to require that instructors become psychoanalysts – that’s just the stupid interpretation that some have given to the GDE Matrix table.

Like most things in this industry, what some ADIs believe (or want to believe) will be light years away from what really happens.

In the meantime, the Life Coaches are having a ball persuading vulnerable instructors to attend pointless and expensive Clown courses.

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For the cerebrally out there, this is an old, old, OLD story from 2010. BSM is now owned by the AA.


Well, I watched the segment which dealt with the BSM complaints – and I should also point out that the hits to the stories on this blog concerning BSM have gone into orbit!

It was a total non-event in the end. It was simply three complaints by three people about the service they’d received from BSM (with the distinct impression that certain details had been suppressed to keep the story as juicy as possible). Of course, those people had valid points on the surface of it all, but if BSM is teaching around 10,000 to 20,000 people at any single time (or 120,000 a year, as BSM claims) then three complaints is absolutely insignificant.

You can watch the segment by clicking the Watchdog image above, then by viewing the latest programme (11/11/2010, available for 7 days). The BSM bit starts at 27:53 into the show. [The video expired years ago.]

It begins by introducing BSM as the largest driving school in the country, nearly 100 years old, 120,000 pupils a year, higher-than-average pass rates, and so on. Then it does some contrived stuff about hill starts and parking. Finally, it starts on the complaints:

  • one guy paid £1,700 for 70 hours of lessons and absolutely wanted and needed to pass.

So, you immediately think that this is going to be about people not being trained properly. However, at no point is his training questioned. It turns out that the car’s tax was out of date when he turned up at the test centre and the test couldn’t go ahead. Cue: a didactic lecture from the presenter about the law regarding road tax, and indignation (“shock and disbelief”) from the candidate for the camera about how you don’t expect this.

At the end of that complaint the presenter makes the comment about BSM “at least sending a car to the test centre on the day” (i.e. everything got sorted out). This led on to the next complaint, where the candidate apparently had to turn up at the test centre on their own.

  • A young lad had a test booked (by his mum) and when he turned up there was no instructor or car.

The guy called his girlfriend, took the test in her car, and passed. BSM said that the instructor had texted to say he couldn’t make it and that another car would be there instead. The programme does not pursue this in any way whatsoever. Instead, it goes on about his mum, who apparently “had a hard time” getting her money back (she did get it back, albeit with an administration fee charged).

After a few wise words from his mum about BSM not caring and being arrogant, we are then informed that “many drivers don’t actually work for [BSM]” and that maybe this is why BSM “refuse to take responsibility”.

They suggest this may be why they have received other complaints – like the next one.

  • A woman had had three instructors.

She argued that this was a problem because “he needed to understand her, and she needed to understand him” and that there were “breaks in her learning”. Her husband sits alongside nodding sagely as she talks about styles of learning.

This then leads on to the claim BSM made on its website that someone passes “every 6 seconds” with them – something they have already admitted was a mistake and is not correct. That doesn’t prevent Watchdog from calling in a fully qualified mathematician and whiteboard to prove that this claim is impossible (I say again: BSM had already acknowledged that fact). In any case, the mathematics the “expert” used was flawed on a number of fronts – not least because BSM might be the biggest single school, but it only represents about 6% (at best) of the total number of ADIs out there. Pushing that to one side though, even if BSM represented 100% of all ADIs then the claim was shown to be impossible (one more time: BSM had already admitted that this claim was in error).

At the end of the segment, it appeared that the first guy took his test – with BSM – and he passed. BSM said that they do dispute some of the details of the other claims made. I’ll bet they do. What with Watchdog geeing people up for the cameras.

BSM certainly isn’t perfect, but no one else is either. It is not uncommon for ADIs (whether they are independent or franchised) to screw up. The car breaks down, they have an accident, a family member is ill or dies, they wrote something incorrectly into their diary… it happens to anyone and everyone at some stage.

Car tax out of date? It was a mistake, and one I’m sure BSM doesn’t do deliberately – or regularly.

Having pupils turn up to test separately is unforgiveable – unless that’s what the pupil wanted, or if the pupil booked the test against the instructor’s wishes. I had one once who wanted to turn up at the test centre because he couldn’t afford the extra hour before his test! And more than once I have had pupils book tests against my advice, and then find themselves looking for another instructor. I wonder what they’d say if Watchdog got on to them?

Pupils having more than one instructor? Well, the woman in the Watchdog showobviously considered herself an expert in the training field and wasn’t ashamed to say so. It is common to find serial instructor-hopping pupils who fail to see that the problem is with them, not the ADI. Occasionally, a pupil just won’t gel with you and they’ll go elsewhere – they often can’t handle not being perfect and look to blame their instructor for their own weaknesses. You wouldn’t believe some of the tales you hear from them about “my last instructor”, but very few identify themselves as the issue. The woman in that clip would probably find herself looking for instructor #4 if she was one of mine. She’d have driven me mad. I reserve the right not to have to put up with complete arseholes, and if I get a pupil who repeatedly thinks they know better than me, and if I can’t stop them doing it (and believe me, I can be blunt), then they’ll find themselves looking for another instructor!

I think the “6 second” claim was pathetic. BSM admitted it was wrong before the show aired, and Watchdog gloated “but it took us to point it out”.

None of the complaints were absolutely specific to BSM. They could (and do) potentially happen to any ADI. Mistakes, mistaken claims, lying pupils, know-it-alls… all of them.

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I’ve had several people find the blog on the search term “can I fail my driving test for rolling back?”

The short answer is yes, you can fail for rolling back – but not automatically. It all depends on how far you roll, the circumstances, and who else is around. For example:

  • if you roll back a few centimetres you’re unlikely to fail
  • if you roll back a few centimetres and there is a pedestrian walking behind you, you’re more likely to fail
  • if you roll back significantly – and by that I am thinking of ¼ metre or more – you could very easily fail
  • if you do it every time you try to move away you could very easily fail

It all comes down to the examiner’s interpretation of the actual situation, so it’s impossible to state what will and will not result in a fail.

Take a look at the post Your Driving Test Report Explained. Under the section on Moving Off, it says:

Do not allow the vehicle to roll back.

It’s as simple as that, so don’t do it and you won’t have anything to worry about! Any roll back is wrong, but examiners are usually reasonable and don’t always fail people for a single minor fault. In most cases a small backward roll of a few centimetres is not even recorded, and is usually a minor issue at most on your test. However, at some point a “small” roll becomes a “moderate” one, and the precise point at which that change occurs is easily influenced by pedestrians walking behind you. You could hurt them if you rolled into them, and the examiner will note that.

You need to learn to look around, assess situations, and use the handbrake when it is necessary. As I said above, the ideal scenario is that you move off without rolling back at all.

There is no reason why you should be worried about it on your test. It isn’t rocket science to be able to move off properly on a hill or gradient rather than worrying about being allowed to get away with doing it badly.

One final thing: although some examiners might (usually) accept a small roll, what is acceptable to one might not be acceptable to another. And the flip-side to that is that what you see as  “small” roll might be seen as a bigger one by the examiner – and the examiner’s decision is final.

Can I fail if I roll back on my driving test?

Yes. It isn’t a guaranteed fail, but if you roll back too much – or if someone is behind you when you do it – it can be. Don’t do it and you won’t have anything to worry about. Make sure you can find the bite reliably and it is much less likely to happen.

How much do I have to roll back to fail my test?

You shouldn’t roll back at all. However, examiners are usually very reasonable over small amounts of roll back, so stay calm and deal with it properly. If you begin to roll back, apply the foot brake and, if necessary, the handbrake. Then try again to move off properly. There is no set distance that the examiner is working to, and it all depends on the situation at the time, and how you deal with it. It also depends on how much you do it, who or what is behind you, and how often it happens – rolling back every time you move off is asking for trouble. For example, one of my pupils forgot to put the car in gear when asked to drive off right at the start of his test in the test centre car park. The car park is on an incline, and he rolled back almost a metre. The examiner marked it as a driver fault because she knew he was nervous. If he’d have done that out on the road with cars behind, though, it would almost certainly have been a serious fault.

Why did I roll back?

You didn’t have enough bite. That can occur if you don’t lift the clutch pedal far enough, or if you aren’t in gear in the first place. Make sure you check that you have the correct gear selected before trying to move off again.

What should I do if I roll back?

Stop the car rolling immediately by finding the bite or by applying the foot brake and – if necessary – the handbrake. Restart the engine if you stalled, check that you have the correct gear selected, then set the gas and find the biting point. Make sure you know how to find the bite.

Why is rolling back wrong?

If you roll back, then you’re not in control of the car. Not being in control is enough to get you a serious fault on your driving test. In reality, a very small roll back is likely to go unmarked on the test, though if it happens repeatedly or at the wrong time, it may get picked up.

The problem is that the car could weigh in the region of 2 tonnes, and if that sort of weight pushes against the knee of, say, a pedestrian walking behind you, it could cripple them. If it were a child, it might easily kill them. Of course, many people do roll back a little quite frequently. Some people roll back a long way, though, and since I started driving many moons ago I’ve had people roll back into me more than once. These days, if someone is rolling towards me – and I keep my distance nowadays – I sound my horn to let them know I’m there.

What if I hit someone when I roll back?

I’ve noticed a small blip in traffic to this article from a cycling website, where a driver rolled back into a cyclist (no harm done to either party). The cycling fraternity viewpoint is that the motorist was absolutely in the wrong. The motorist appears to have been of the opinion that the cyclist was in the wrong.

Actually, they both were to some extent. Fortunately, no one was hurt, so it might best serve as a lesson to be learned. Motorists shouldn’t roll back – but in the real world, some do. Cyclists shouldn’t put themselves in a position where they are more likely to get hurt if it happens – but in the real world, some do. Sure, the motorist will most probably be the one who is prosecuted if someone is hurt – and in this case, the motorist appears to have been a complete prat anyway – but you need your head looking at if you think that that would somehow compensate for having both your legs crushed along with your bike.

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This old post is experiencing a renaissance. Also have a look at Coaching + Having A Laugh and The Driving Test Marking Sheet. Oh, and Coaching And The Driving Instructor .

UPDATE: The DSA has now embarked on its implementation of coaching, so read this article posted in November 2012.

There’s a debate/argument going on on one of the forums (the one where the crazy people all go) about the GDE Matrix and “coaching”.

In a nutshell, you have one group who believe that no ADI currently instructs properly unless they have been trained to “coach” using the GDE Matrix, and another group who believes that the GDE Matrix is anything from a complete waste of time all the way up to just putting into a lot of words what they already do.

One poster has said:

Imagine a 18 year old, who in training are great but how will their behaviour change going to meet a friend with 3 of his mates in the car. What is his main goals for this journey? Well, almost certainly to get there safely, but what other goals are there here? Perhaps showing his mates what a good driver he is? What could this mean in practice? Possibly driving quickly? And what happens if these goal causes a misjudgement – crash!

Behaviour is related to context, encouraging a driver to recognise this and to develop coping strategies is what level 3, is about, as well as the environmental issues outlined above. Of course the next question is how do your raise this awareness and get past the ‘Oh no I would never do anything like that, I will always drive exactly how you taught me’ response? Well one approach is coaching.

Tonight, after my last lesson, I was nipping to the local Asda. As I came down Loughborough Road, past the fire station where the speed limit drops from 40mph to 30, I noticed a silver Corsa (blacked out windows, of course) come flying up behind me. He came right up to tailgate me, then decided to overtake – which meant he had to go around one of those pedestrian islands – right outside West Bridgford school – on the opposite side of the road. There was a car coming the opposite way.

As usual, the little moron got away with it. But I bet mummy and daddy don’t know he drives like that. But if they did know, would they care? They’re probably out telling everyone how good he is.

You see, this is where the problem lies. It isn’t the driving instructor’s fault that little Johnny or Laurie drive like prats. It’s the parents who are to blame – for never having said “no”, and for buying their little darlings pratmobiles to try and kill themselves in.

You see it time and time again. There is no way some greasy-faced little chav can afford a brand new Corsa (certainly not as many of them as you see driving the damned things). It’s mummy and daddy again. It’s also mummy and daddy who are to blame for letting little Johnny get the sports model, fit a noisy exhaust, stick blue LEDs all over it, get a dodgy licence plate, and get the windows blacked out. In fact, all the things that say “I’m going to drive this like I’m at the Monaco Grand Prix, even though the ink is still wet on my licence”.

I recently got the urge (again) to get my motorcycle licence. I remember when I was 17, my dad told me that if I ever got a motorbike he’d kick me out of the house. When I told him I was planning to do it this time, he said if I did it while he was still alive he’d disown me. He meant it, too.

My, how things have changed.

But back to this crap about “coaching” people. The implication is always that by coaching someone on driving lessons, you can turn a pot-smoking hoodie into a prime minister. This is total bollocks.

As the example from tonight shows (and this is something I see every day – it isn’t just a one-off), these prats drive the way they want to . The only input an ADI can have is to make sure they at least know how to drive properly. That they have been given the right tools and taught to use them.

But whether they choose to use them is not going to be influenced by their driving instructor, with whom they spend around 40 hours in total. Over the 20 weeks or so that they have those 40 hours of driving lessons, they spend another 3,300 hours with mummy and daddy and their idiot friends. That’s 1% of their time on lessons, 99% with mummy and daddy and primates similar to themselves.

It isn’t hard to see where the responsibility for them driving like prats really lies.

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EDIT: Please use the blog search function to look for more recent posts on independent driving. This one was posted months ahead of the launch.

From 4th October 2010 a new stage will be included in the driving test, where the candidate is expected to drive to a specific destination as directed by the examiner. The new stage will only last about 10 minutes, so we’re not talking about finding your way from Lands End to John O’Groats or anything. It will be quite simple and over with quickly.

Independent Driving - Example 1

According to the DSA, the directions could be given in a number of ways (and the following is paraphrased from an official document).

In one case, the examiner might ask the candidate to drive to a specific place using traffic signs.  Or, the examiner could give a series of verbal instructions to get to a specific location.  Or it could be using a combination of both the above methods.  The purpose of this exercise is to allow the candidate to demonstrate to the examiner how they will drive when they are out on their own – which is exactly what they will have to do when they have passed their test and no one is there to prompt them.

The DSA is currently putting together appropriate test routes for this part of the driving test. I can imagine that this isn’t as easy as it sounds, because they aren’t going to produce routes akin to Hampton Court Maze or choose ones where there are missing road traffic signs.

Independent Driving - Example 2

When it comes to this part of the driving test the examiner will have diagrams like simplified route maps to support the verbal instructions they give to candidates. These diagrams will be similar to the two shown here – though the DSA points out the final design isn’t yet agreed.

Much is being made of this change by the usual crowd of agitators.

It is actually very simple, although to listen to some people you’d think it was advanced calculus or something. The examiner will merely ask the candidate to drive from the current location (let’s say the road outside the Colwick Test Centre in Nottingham) to (let’s say) West Bridgford, using the road signs (and before anyone says anything, I don’t know if West Bridgford is signposted from that location without looking – but it doesn’t matter: it’s just an example). It’s a journey of about 3½ miles, and one which is covered by existing test routes. It involves two roundabouts and some traffic lights, and most candidates will have done the route plenty of times during their lessons anyway. The examiner may show a simplified road map like the ones here of the route, and the candidate can refer to it as many times as they like (safely, of course).

Personally, I think this is a great idea. I also believe that if someone cannot complete what is essentially an extremely simple exercise then they have no right to be on the road, as they are a danger to themselves and everyone else. I believe this applies to anyone who drives on the roads. And that means anyone.

Direction At Junctions

I should point out that I have always taught my pupils to drive properly, not just to pass the test. I was out on such a lesson this afternoon, and I took my pupil (who is close to test standard) on a long drive using roads she’s not been on before.

I asked her to navigate using road signs – first of all to Mansfield via one route, then back to Nottingham via another. She immediately interrupted me and said that she couldn’t possibly look at the signs and drive at the same time!

After we got round that little situation, it did become clear that some signs just didn’t make sense to her at all – the ones on junctions being a particular problem.

She understands them now, but if all she had ever done is drive round and round near the test centre we would never have picked up the problem. And when she passed her test, she’d go straight out on her own without knowing how to drive on anything other than memorised routes. She is no different to most of my other pupils.

Anyone who is worried about this change shouldn’t be. I’ve seen websites (and blogs) where ADIs are advising people to do their tests quickly to avoid the change – this is appalling and alarmist behaviour, and rushing people to test who may not be ready also raises questions about the professionalism of these people.

The bottom line is that you will have to drive like this once you’ve passed your test, so learn how to do it properly now! You couldn’t drive a car at all before you started taking lessons, so a little bit of navigating won’t hurt you. In any case, if your mates arrange to meet you somewhere you’d probably have no trouble finding it on your bike – it’s not much different in a car.

But one last thing to remember: it is a driving test, and you can fail it. If you can’t navigate using the simple method proposed then there is a good chance you will fail the test.

EDIT 1/1/2012: There is an updated article here – you don’t need actual DSA diagrams to teach independent driving to pupils!

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I hear that BSM has recently changed its policy with regards to bad weather (EDIT: This is an old story – The AA now owns BSM).

BSM LogoApparently, it was in the contract that if the local Test Centre didn’t do tests for a certain period then the franchise fee was adjusted. But recently, BSM has taken this clause out of the contract.

I don’t know (yet) what BSM franchisees are saying about this, but I can guess. Maybe some of them could let me know via the contact form?

The one thing to remember is that the weather is not in anyone’s control and all other instructors have to manage bad patches themselves. It is surprising BSM had this clause in anyway, although the franchise fee is somewhat higher than most others and I guess franchisees need something to show for the extra outlay.

Having said that, BSM franchisees ought to consider the financial impact paying out could have had on BSM as a whole if the clause had remained. Instead of just not getting a discount, they might have been not having a franchise to work for!

With the weather the way it has been no franchisee would have been paying anything from since before Christmas. BSM wouldn’t have survived.

On the other hand, franchisees can still teach – its only tests which are cancelled, which made the original deal a little unfair anyway.

EDIT 12/1/2010: On the flip side, look at this story.

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