A Driving Instructor's Blog


I saw this in ADI News this month. Someone has reviewed a “free booklet” which is being given away by He-Man, titled: The Use and Abuse of Dual Controls. It’s written by some guy called Professor Peter Russell.

Dual Controls Use and Abuse

Although the ADI News review doesn’t say, the booklet can be downloaded from He-Man’s website using the link above. He-Man, of course, is a major supplier of dual controls for instructor cars. The reviewer cleverly takes issue with some of the author’s very specific claims and statements about dual controls, whilst trying to remain objective. Reading between the lines, it is clear he doesn’t agree.

My first impression was that the author is one of those people who, like Idi Amin in the 1970s, lives for titles and certificates. Amin gave himself the title “His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular” (he wasn’t VC, DSO, or MC). The author in this case lists “Master of Arts in Advanced Driver Education (1997); Doctor of Professional Studies in CPD in Education (2001); Fellow of the Institute of Master Tutors of Driving (1969-2011); Chief Examiner AEB /AQA Diploma in Driver Education (1983-2011); Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors (2003-2011); Tutor of NHS Counselling, Coaching and Mentoring Degree Courses (2002-11); Member of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (1980-2011)”. It appears that he WAS teaching in the 70s, so read into that what you will.

It’s worth pointing out that some people have A levels and degrees in “Critical Thinking”, “David Beckham Studies”, “General Studies”, “Celebrity Journalism”, “Drama Combined with Waste Management”, “International Football Business Management”, and so on. A lecturer in these subjects could easily become a “professor”.

I think you can see my point, here. So, anyway…

Much of the booklet is just information and statistics. But there are some outrageous statements in there. To start with:

…each case where the examiner takes action is a terrible indictment of the skills (or otherwise) of a relatively few ADIs.

Remember that, then. If you ever get an ETA for one of your pupils, it is a “terrible indictment” on your skills (or lack, thereof) as an ADI. He even reckons that the test SHOULD be abandoned at that point (so a walkback). This is an idiotic blanket statement, and is plain nonsense except in a small number of cases.


Any instructor may occasionally bring a pupil on test who suffers from nerves to such an extent they cannot cope. This may happen say once or twice a year…

That girl I once taught who took five tests before coming to me, and four with me before passing, and whom we had to stop for on test day for her to be physically sick, must be another “terrible indictment” on my skills as an instructor. The real facts are that about 80-90% of pupils are absolutely shitting themselves when they take their tests, and quite how this manifests itself out there with the examiner on the day is not going to be decided by some old geezer with an ego problem.

But this part is just utter nonsense:

First of all there is an absolute need to establish two basic teaching principles:

  • Dual controls are not an aid to teaching; they are a safeguard, only for use when learning needs are overcome by safety considerations
  • Instructors who make excessive use of dual controls, are obviously not suited to the job

That first one is just complete crap. If wearing full clown make-up and big clown shoes worked as a tool for teaching people, some fossil saying you should only wear a suit and tie would not alter that fact. Exactly the same is true here.

It is an absolute and definite fact that, if using the dual controls for teaching and demonstration purposes can be beneficial, then they should be used as necessary. The author of the booklet is totally wrong to state otherwise, and is expressing an opinion only.

The second point is, again, a poorly worded and badly expressed blanket statement. If an ADI is forever using the duals to prevent imaginary problems, then I agree that overuse in that case would be a problem – though I would stop short of such idiotic statements about his or her suitability for the job without knowing a lot more personal details.

It is clear that the author has some sort of historical love affair with BSM. Apparently it was THEY who had this nonsense in their training manual in 1980. So what the author is neglecting to mention and explain (or doesn’t understand) is that all we have is BSM’s bespoke internal training manual – not a Universal Law – that dates from more than 30 years ago! You can guess where he started out, can’t you?

As an aside, he bemoans the “sale” of BSM to the AA for a nominal “£1”. So, something else he doesn’t understand, either – the fact that that “nominal” sum effectively purchased a huge number of debts and liabilities.

You can make your own mind up about the rest of it. Some of it might actually turn out to be useful for some people, seeing that it is basically a “how to be an ADI” manual from someone with very old-fashioned (30-year+) views, and who apparently hates the profession as it stands today – but some of the crass opinions expressed as fact in it make it completely unreliable as a reference manual of any sort.


I was on a lesson last week and a pupil asked me when I get time off. I explained that I tend to consider cancellations as “time off”, or I might keep a day free now and again. I then added that when you do a job you enjoy, it isn’t actually like work – so it isn’t particularly stressful and you get relaxation, job satisfaction, and you get paid.

Job Satisfaction

He said that that was a great way to look at things.

Mind you, work isn’t all play and job satisfaction no matter how enjoyable it is overall. Some pupils really make you work for your money.

I’ve got one at the moment whose first language isn’t English. In fact, English might not feature in the top ten list of languages she’s even heard of! She’d had 10 lessons previously, but her last instructor had “gone away” and she’d wanted to carry on learning. Getting much more detail wasn’t easy.

To start with, she isn’t a natural driver, and as we progressed – after yet another failed attempt to mount a pavement and cull some pedestrians – a thought suddenly occurred to me. I pulled her over and, with much wording and rewording, discovered that she didn’t know what was meant by the following words and phrases (and I mean in the literal sense):

  • kerb
  • mind the kerb
  • pavement
  • pedestrian
  • roundabout
  • prepare
  • plan
  • plan ahead
  • coasting
  • clutch
  • gas
  • accelerator

The list goes on and on, and I am absolutely convinced that whenever I say anything to her – be it a question, a statement, or an instruction – all she hears is “mwah-mwah-mwah-MWAH-mwah” (watch The Simpsons, Episode 216 to understand that). It would certainly explain why I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with her.

Santa's Little Helper - Simpsons Ep. 216

On lessons, I have to stop and rack my brain finding ways of conveying even the simplest of instruction. Her mind just can’t take it in on the move. I’ll perhaps say “ease off the gas”, and I end up with whiplash from the resulting emergency stop. Or I’ll say “off the brake, off the brake” (frequently in a higher pitch than usual as I grab the wheel and seek to avoid a pedestrian or cyclist) as we steer sharply and unnecessarily away from a lorry or bus she has reacted to three lanes away travelling in the opposite direction. Almost every time I say “check your mirrors” it will immediately result in a randomly chosen indicator – in fact, even when she really should indicate the actual direction appears to be a random choice. If we approach any junction, her hand will go down for the handbrake, then the gears, then the handbrake again, then she’ll slam on the footbrake, declutch, then bring the clutch up while the footbrake is still on and we’re nearly stopped, resulting in a stall.

The whole situation is made all the more frustrating by the fact that she wants to pass quickly, and so is trying to book lessons just about every day. I don’t have too much of a problem with that, except that she recently filled up all my prime daytime slots, then got ill and cancelled them for five days – all at short notice. Last week, she didn’t tell me that she was taking her theory test at the same time as a lesson (she swears she did, but I have absolutely no recollection of any conversation that amounted to a cancellation), so I turned up and she didn’t show. When I tried to explain that it causes me to lose money and to think about that next time – which took the characteristic age to get across – she didn’t appear to have a clue (or concern) what I was talking about.

Ironically, she turned up for that first theory test without her licence counterpart, so she couldn’t take it.

Then, on her last lesson – that would be the one where she emerged from a side road and “forgot” that she needed to straighten the wheels after a sharp turn and not hit the gas, so we ended up partially on the pavement and narrowly missing (I used the duals) hitting one of those YOUR SPEED IS signs – she asked (and this is the translation I arrived at after careful questioning) “if I pass my theory test next week can I book my practical?”

I just said “No. You’re nowhere near ready.”


Things never change, do they?

On a forum (frequented by learners and young people), a lot of ridiculous advice is bandied about. The latest has to do with which gear to choose when turning left or right into junctions:

You should only go into 1st if you reach a complete stop. Otherwise 2nd is the correct gear.

Even better, the person who wrote this has got SIX thumbs up for it – even though it is totally wrong, and utterly misleading for new drivers out there. What makes it even more worrying is that judging from some of the replies, a lot of learners are being taught precisely this by their instructors!

It is wrong!

The same genius who wrote the above advice responds like this when it is pointed out that going too slow (but not stopped) in 2nd gear could lead to a stutter or stall, or “runaway” if the brake is released on the turn:

What the hell car do you drive? I’ve never heard of a car with such a high 2nd gear that it can’t handle speeds all the way down to 1mph, unless you’re on the kind of extremely steep incline only found in national parks.

A car that can do 1mph in 2nd? Another poster states clearly:

My car is a 1.4 and it struggles in second if I go below 8mph.

Of course, this factual information is wasted on the genius who thinks he know it all. My Focus will also start to rumble if you pull it below about 10mph in 2nd, and the same applies to most other cars. The genius backs his advice up with the comment:

Anyway, google it. You will find 100 people repeating my advice for everyone who says that 1st is the appropriate gear for rolling through junctions. Or look in a roadcraft manual.

There’s a strange irony going on here. Someone who is so ill-informed that he considers 100 people on a Google search is proof that he is correct also mentions Roadcraft. I’m not sure if “oxymoron” is strictly correct for describing this, but it’s definitely something like that.

It always makes me laugh how there are facts, and then there are people who believe something else. Like The Flat Earth Society, or people who believe in aliens or ghosts or something. Crackpots.

You DO NOT only use 1st gear when you are stopped. You learn the characteristics of the car you’re driving, learn to read the road layout and any gradients, and then choose the appropriate gear for the speed you are doing, and the situation you are in.

For example, when pulling away, you can do it in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd. You’d use 2nd if you were starting off downhill, and 2nd or 3rd if you were moving off on sheet ice or snow and were encountering wheel spins. Most of the time, of course, you’d use 1st.

Exactly the same is true of turning left or right into roads. If you can keep moving much above a brisk walking pace then you can get away 2nd gear easily (and sometimes, even 3rd if the turn is a wide one). Any slower and you need to consider something else. Of course, 1st is the obvious choice below 2nd – but is there any other option?

In fact, there is. Imagine driving along a straight road and coming up to a queue of cars – maybe due to traffic lights or someone turning right and causing a temporary tailback. You’d slow down, and you may actually be getting ready to stop – but then the traffic starts moving and you don’t have to. Depending on how slow you were going governs which gear you are in, but it could easily be 2nd gear. Think about what you’d do.

As you aim to come to a stop you’d put the clutch down (you’re going slowly, remember)… but then you change your mind and use gas/bite – yes, in 2nd gear – to start moving again. Another “expert” on the forum I mentioned states:

Who taught you to drive?

You never slip the clutch in a car unless you’re in first gear and in slow moving traffic. The only occasion you’d do what you were suggesting is if you were on a motorbike where it is common practice to slip the clutch.

There’s no limit to their ignorance, it seems! For my part, I am trying hard to imagine the problems that you’d have driving in accordance with these guys’ principles. I mean, imagine only using 1st gear when you’re stopped and never de-clutching/finding the bite while still rolling in 2nd. Imagine, for example, driving along slowly in heavy stop-start traffic during rush hour using their principles. It would be chaos – you’d be forever changing gear and annoying the crap out of cars behind keep stopping dead!

So applying all this to a corner – one that is sharper than most, for example, but not so sharp that you obviously must do it in 1st – you have two options:

  • put it into 1st gear – this means that you’ll have to change up to 2nd quite soon after the turn, or even be tempted to do it during the turn if the car is screaming at you. And, of course, you’ll still be moving – which could involve the car jumping if you change down a little too soon.
  • put it (or keep it) in 2nd gear, slow right down, declutch and adjust the speed as necessary, then slowly raise the clutch as you start to turn. Raise it smoothly throughout so you are ready to accelerate away as necessary once you’ve completed it.

It isn’t coasting, because the engine is driving the car. It is making full use of the gears and the handling characteristics of the car. It isn’t dangerous. And it has advantages over 1st gear in that the gear ratio is such that losing traction in adverse conditions is less likely due to engine surge (either from the EMS or from touching the gas pedal).

Either way works. The second option is much smoother, though.

Remember that if you go round a corner with the clutch all the way down, you will get a fault (at least) on your test. If you use the 2nd gear method I have described… well, it never attracts a fault at either of my test centres.

Just as a final comment, you must use the appropriate gear for the speed you are doing. You can’t just opt for a fixed method for all situations, because all corners are different and road conditions can vary throughout the year.


Insensitive Driving School

I saw this cartoon and it made me laugh.

Funnily enough, though, I sometimes use that line with my pupils! When I know I can get away with it, of course.

But it’s even better when I ask them how they thought something went – when it didn’t – and they say it themselves.

On a slightly different note, I was out with a pupil yesterday. He is classic “that was crap” territory – everything he does is “absolute shit” unless it is 100% right in his eyes. Even when what he’s done is perfectly OK, he’ll decide it isn’t and go into a sulk over it.

One of his more irritating habits is his defensiveness, which often manifests itself as having an answer for everything. I may have mentioned before the time when I was trying to get him to tell me why getting too close to the kerb with the risk of hitting it is dangerous and expensive. I’d managed to get to the part about the damage it can do to the tyre, and asked rhetorically who he thought had to pay for it. He came back with “Me! I’ll pay for it, obviously.”

I just said “look. Let’s get this straight. You are NOT going to drive into the kerb”.

Anyway, he was off on another of his bizarre thought process excursions yesterday. He’d stalled at a roundabout by trying to move off too quickly in the wrong gear. He was annoyed that he’d done it, so it snowballed for a few hundred metres (with him forgetting to get in lane for a right turn, not checking his mirrors or signalling, and so on) until I could pull him over.

Now, the reason he’d messed up on the roundabout was dead simple. He’d intended not to stop, was going too fast as a result, had to stop for a car which appeared after he’d made his initial decision to go, then rushed moving off without having changed gear.

His explanation was far more entertaining, though. He started with:

Well, let me just stop you there. I can tell you exactly why that happened. About 40 seconds ago further down the road…


At this point, my “You’re Talking Total Bollocks-o-meter” had maxed out… he continued with some stuff about another car, and how it had distracted him by pulling out. I listened patiently until he’d finished. I just said “I’m sorry, but that’s a load of bollocks, Dave!”

I went on to question why something that happened 40 seconds ago should in any way justify a dangerous attempt to pull out without checking properly and the subsequent need to brake harshly. I questioned why the same event had apparently led to dangerous omissions from that point onward.

I asked him if it would be OK to drive into a brick wall at 70mph, just because another car had caused some sort of distraction.

He had to admit that it wouldn’t.

From there, we had a chance to discuss the importance of planning ahead and not backwards.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.