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This has to be the lowest form of behaviour ever demonstrated by a politician, and it’s been done so late that I doubt it will damage his chances of winning the election (I wonder if his spin doctors did it deliberately?). But it should do.

Listening to the radio between lessons, I heard that David Cameron is touring Notts Primary Schools in a last-minute canvassing exercise. I’m sure there must be some vote-winning motive, because even Cameron must know that primary school children can’t vote. But their parents and teachers can, of course.

I heard a soundbite of him talking to the kids. I can’t find it anywhere at the moment, but if I can I’ll post it.

In it, he was telling the kids what the election was all about. This involved likening Gordon Brown to their headteacher, with final snidey comment and chuckle.

Didn’t Hitler do this sort of thing with kids in Germany in the 1930s?

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Some people may remember that I used to keep a separate list of people who had behaved incredibly stupidly in front of me (and, mainly, my pupils during lessons) – a sort of name-and-shame. I stopped doing it because it was getting too big. The number of people behaving stupidly appears to be almost the majority of road users these days.

When teaching, I always educate my pupils in the ways of the real world, and not just the 30-40 minute snapshot that is their driving test (I had a pupil a few months ago pass his test in just under 30 minutes). For example:

  • weekend (or “Sunday”) drivers are a real and dangerous phenomenon
  • all Audi drivers are complete lunatics and just have to overtake you
  • boyracers in pratmobiles always behave like… prats
  • all white van drivers are just older boyracers
  • all taxi drivers are specially trained to behave in a manner which would get a normal driver pulled over in seconds, and yet they get away with it

Obviously, there are plenty more. But you get the idea.

I was driving with a pupil over Trent Bridge this morning, towards West Bridgford. We were in the left lane to turn into West Bridgford town centre. I heard a noise and noticed a green Land Rover Discovery with 4-inch twin prat-pipes fitted (reg no. P968 KCF ) go past at some speed in the outside lane. The lights at the Trent Bridge Inn were on red at the time, but they just changed as we approached – and the Land Rover suddenly cut across from the right lane… over the middle lane… over OUR lane (just in front of us), and into the left filter lane to go down Radcliffe Road. I haven’t a clue how he managed it, as there was traffic queued in all four lanes, but he did. I had to brake for the pupil, otherwise we’d have hit it.

Then, on another lesson today, at the traffic lights on Wilford Lane near Compton Acres heading towards Clifton, a dark FIAT Punto (reg no. N132 DWJ ) simply had to get past a car in front of me as the lanes merged back into one. The car in front braked sharply to avoid a collision. The driver of the Punto inevitably remained in the right hand lane as the road widened into two lanes again. All of this is not worthy of comment, since 80% of drivers behave that way. But as I passed I noticed it was a woman – typical chav, with scraped back hair and staring straight ahead because no one else mattered (also, not that unusual) – but, worryingly, she had a kid in the front seat who must have been about 4 or 5 years old, no child seat, no seat belt I could see (it wouldn’t have mattered anyway with his height), and hanging out of the window waving his arms.

Finally, driving through Hyson Green towards Nottingham this afternoon, I had to brake again for a pupil because a taxi driver decided to do a turn in the road (literally, a 3-point turn) about one car’s length from the traffic lights to head off towards Lenton while the lights were on green.

I wish the Police would do something about this instead of sitting in those bloody vans catching people doing a couple of miles over the limit. Sure, breaking the speed limit is wrong, but there is much worse behaviour that should be dealt with – which contributes to deteriorating standards on our roads. Almost no one uses bloody child seats, and the only time it is ever picked up seems to be on Road Wars or Police, Camera, Action. And anything which is customised to go (and sound) fast, does go fast.

But hey. Get the instructors to sit in on tests and it’ll all be fixed, right?

EDIT 01/05/2010: Last night I was driving along Wilford Lane in rush hour traffic (almost solid). I could see this miniature/pretend sports car behind me (a grey Daihatsu, reg no. AE58 DTX – I say “pretend” because it had pathetic little wheels; it was more like a 2CV with a custom body). At the lights by Compton Acres it accelerated with nowhere to go, and succeeded in just getting in front of me (I had to brake), and just not hitting the car in front (it accelerated to stop him). The spotty moron driving it refused to make any eye contact whatesoever, so he knew what a fool he had made of himself.

Also yesterday, a similar situation occurred at the Colwick/Netherfield lights. A Peugeot 107 (reg no. FL57 PDO), driven by a hatchet-faced little chav, forced its way through with nowhere to go while I was on a lesson with a pupil. She got stuck at the lights outside the Victoria Retail Park and – just like they all do – refuse to make any eye contact. My pupil commented on it, and I explained that you can always tell when they know what they’ve done just by how fixedly they stare ahead.

And on Monday, as I was driving along Radcliffe Road to turn right at the Lings Bar roundabout, a dark green car (reg no. R23 EHD) just pulled out in front of me from Gamston at the Water Sports Centre lights. He had done a U-turn where you are not supposed to do them. From what I could see the driver was quite possibly driving on an “international licence” (and all that that might imply, above and beyond the illegal U-turn and dangerous emerge into traffic).

I have to point out that a lot of this behaviour is simply because the car I drive has L plates on it. My learners do not drive slowly when I take them out on these roads. L plates are an inducement to drive dangerously in many other drivers.

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I first heard this on the news this morning on my way to a lesson and didn’t think much of it. After all, it is common during the British summer to go out early and find the car covered in crap which – if it isn’t from those bloody sparrows sitting on the phone wire above – is frequently dust whipped up out of the Sahara and precipitated with the morning dew.

But it appears that the cloud of volcanic ash blowing towards us from Iceland, following an eruption which has caused a few problems over there, too, is a much more serious problem than you might think. I love the name of the Eyjafjallajoekull glacier, by the way. I simply must listen to the news on TV tonight and see how they get out of that one.

Apparently, the ash can damage aircraft engines (it is acidic and abrasive).

It is so severe that all flights in Northern Europe have been cancelled. There are apparently no planes flying in British airspace at all today.

What was really funny was a soundbite Smooth Radio played – an American woman was complaining that the airports ought to have a contingency for Acts Of God!

They have. They ground flights.

Apparently the link to this soundbite is on their website, but I can’t find it – and when I tried to play the Sky News feed they have on there it kept cutting out after a few seconds. So the website is as reliable as the actual Smooth Radio broadcast.

EDIT 16/04/2010: According to The Mail the dispruption could last six months, but it also reckons we could be in for some colourful sunsets (and crappy cars).

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I had to check that it wasn’t April 1st again when I saw this in the Telegraph.

The RAC has said in a report that:

…more than half of people aged over 70 in Britain currently holds a driving licence and the number of elderly drivers will increase over the coming decade.

…The Foundation says larger lettering should be used on safety-critical signs including directions, and those telling motorists to stop and give way, so that elderly motorists can read them more easily.

OK. So what we’re saying is that the solution to older drivers and their failing faculties is… encourage them to drive by making signs and road markings bigger? How very eco-friendly. How safe for everyone else.

Hollywood

Hollywood

It’s funny, but on a Pass Plus lesson last week I started thinking how large the signs and lettering are on motorway signs.

But it appears that a 1 metre high letter ‘A’ isn’t big enough for someone who has failing eyesight, if the RAC is to be believed.

So how big should the letters be? Two metres? Twenty? Perhaps the answer the RAC is looking for lies across the pond? Can you imagine huge letters mounted in fields and on hillsides?

Somehow, “Accrington” and “Milton Keynes” don’t have the same ring as “Hollywood”. But the report goes on to say:

Fatal accidents involving older drivers generally occur in daylight, at junctions and at low speeds. Interacting with other traffic at junctions is the main risk for older drivers, particularly when turning right across traffic.

I’m sorry, but this is laughable – or would be if it wasn’t so sad. The automatic conclusion to be drawn is not larger road signs.

If they want to increase the lettering size for everyone, that’s a different matter. But just increasing it for people who can’t see… I’m sorry, but someone somewhere isn’t thinking straight.

How people drive is what counts (whether through age or something else). An older person unable to negotiate junctions at low speed is as bad – if not worse – than a chav doing it at high speed. Especially if it kills someone.

EDIT 15/04/2010:  As if to prove what the real problem is, I was driving along the A453 today – near to the Crusader island – where it’s a 40mph limit with busy, but free-flowing, traffic. A silver VW Polo (reg. no. FL09 BXK) pulled out from the petrol station to turn right, right in front of me and into a gap that was the safe limit for me. He forced me to brake sharply – a lot of other people wouldn’t have reacted in time. Half a mile later he stopped – again, in the free-flowing traffic – to flash someone to turn into the Trent University campus. And yes, it was an old driver.

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You really do have to keep a straight face sometimes.

I keep hearing from one particular instructor that he is “ready to pack it in”, waiting for calls because “the phone has gone dead”, furious that pupils have cancelled a lesson (and that it happens all the time and they are unreliable), struggling to pay bills because “work has dried up”, and so on. But now he is claiming that he is happy doing “40 hours a week tuition Monday to Friday”. I wish he’d make his bloody mind up, because two weeks ago he was moaning about not having any work.

You hear this kind of bilge all the time at the test centre. In this particular case, even if he is doing 2 hour lessons with 15 minutes in between (so all his pupils are living within a few miles of each other), that tots up to being out of the house for at least 10 hours a day without any break whatsoever (or longer if he does have a break). Factor in pupils who do 1 or 1½ hour lessons and you can add another hour a day at least.

More to the point, assuming his pupils are happy to be told exactly when their lesson times begin (which is bound to put some of them off, and which simply doesn’t happen in this job if you want to be successful at it), having to cut lessons right on time all the time is also going to be a turn off for many of them (particularly when there are traffic problems and other hold ups). Most of this guy’s lesson time must be spent working out how to finish bang on schedule! I don’t see how you can possibly give value for money with such constraints. I mean, just imagine first of all trying to reliably fit lessons in with only 15 minutes in between them. Then imagine how tired you’d be doing so many continuous hours. It just isn’t going to happen like that.

It simply doesn’t make sense, and it would certainly explain some of the other claims you see from people about having no work and being ready to throw in the towel if it is true.

So there’s a bit of advice to any prospective instructors: you provide a service to the pupil, not the other way round.

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I think it’s back up again now, but the DSA’s new test booking system went down last week.

The Militant Tendency wasted no time in attacking the DSA and deriding the new system.

In actual fact, the breakdown was due to fire and flooding at a BT telephone exchange which cut the link between the DSA’s system and the banking side of things.

Oh, wait. The DSA must be telling porkies.

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I saw this story on the BBC News website yesterday. At first, the date made me think ‘yeah, right’ – but the BBC has used some examples which would put the whole story in very poor taste if it turned out to be an April 1st prank.

Potholes Sign

Potholes Sign

Some old bloke in Ashford, Kent (Ted Relf) has apparently been told to take a sign down that he erected himself warning of potholes on the road outside his property.

But it made me wonder if a real sign warning for potholes ought to be created and erected. After all, the local councils have spent all their money on ridiculously wasteful new pedestrian islands and road layouts (if Nottingham’s City and County councils are anything to go by), so they aren’t going to be fixing the extremely serious pothole problem anytime soon.

So all they would have to do is put a few of these up and it’d save them doing anything meaningful at all for years. OK, I know that’s not much different to the way it is now, but you get the idea. They could save millions, which they could then waste on routes for cyclists and new pedestrian islands in areas where the pedestrians are too stupid to use crossings at all.

If the BBC story is true, I suspect the man in question probably did do something wrong – so much as we might smile at his antics, it is quite likely he is somehow making a political statement. People usually are when they do stuff like this.

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Spring has definitely arrived!

The clocks went forward this morning on to British Summer Time (BST), and the weather – as usual – hasn’t followed the path the Met Office said it was going to yesterday (“it will get much colder and lots of places will have snow “). It’s been sunny and warm.

The nice weather, combined with it also being a weekend, has brought the chavs and other bad drivers out in force. And I’ve seen quite a few flocks of prattus spandexius out and about, carefully avoiding the cycle lanes and ignoring red traffic lights, and making a general nuisance of themselves on the busy roads.

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I got this in an email alert on Tuesday:

Chief driving examiner welcomes the publication of scientific study

Chief driving examiner and director for safer driving Trevor Wedge has welcomed the publication of a new scientific study into how driving instructors can develop their coaching skills.

The EU-funded ‘High Impact approach for Enhancing Road safety through More Effective communication Skills for driving instructors’ (HERMES) project began in March 2007 and was completed in February 2010.

Its main aim was to create a short training course for driving instructors to allow them to develop their communication and coaching skills.

In addition, a number of coaching scenarios have been developed to enable instructors to coach in on-road training, track training and the classroom, and to meet arange of goals in the driver education process.

Since the successful 2008 consultation ‘Learning to Drive’, the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) has been working hard on modernising driver training.

Trevor Wedge said: “DSA has followed the work of HERMES closely over the past three years, and we welcome the publication of its findings.

“Coaching offers the potential to develop self-responsibility and awareness in learner drivers at a very early stage during training.”

Details of the project, and the full report, can be found at http://alles-fuehrerschein.at/HERMES/ 

I suppose they have to say this, don’t they? If they’re going to say anything at all, of course.

But the fact that they did say something means they really mean it. And that has me very, very worried.

Coaching is the best way to train people, but I’m worried that the coaching they are talking about here isn’t the kind you might think of from football or other sports. My biggest worry is that it turns out to be something I’ve met head on before  during my days in industry.

In that case, you could always rest assured that whatever you were doing, however you taught, it was always absolutely and totally wrong until you had paid for and taken expensive courses in how to coach (and these involved role-play scenarios and all kinds of childish activities more suited to a nursery school).

I am totally in support of modernising driver training – if it improves driving skills.

I am totally in support of CPD – if it improves the standard of instruction out there (and gets rid of poor instructors).

I am totally opposed to anything which thinks it can change the way a chavvy little thug (or thugette) chooses to drive when he (she) passes his (her) test, by putting the onus on the driving instructor.

The DSA really does have to return to Earth over this, and acknowledge that lunatic thugs in souped-up chavmobiles are not created by ADIs, nor are ADIs going to be able to prevent them in future. Society creates them.

ADIs have access to these people for less than 50 hours over of a period of 3000 hours of their lives (i.e. 4 months of training). No amount of “coaching” is going to stop them driving like maniacs into trees on country roads.

There is much more needs to be done.

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Another email alert from the DSA:

The online booking system for practical driving tests is moving to Directgov. That means from 9.00 am on Monday 21 March from you’ll need to visit direct.gov.uk/drivingtest to book, check, change or cancel your practical driving test.

The move means our existing system will be unavailable from 2.00 pm on Sunday 21 March. We’re sorry for any inconvenience.

You can find out more about the practical driving test at direct.gov.uk/practicaltest, or by visiting the Driving Standards Agency’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/dsagov and watching ‘Are you ready?: a guide for learners’.

This is where you should be doing your test booking – do not use any other site, or you may find yourself paying more. You could even find yourself paying and not getting anything except a compromised credit card.

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