A Driving Instructor's Blog

DVSA

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Pro Pod - map history viewOriginally published in 2014, but updated due to numerous recent enquiries.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people looking for test route information. Once upon a time, official test routes were published by DVSA (when it was still DSA) and available for download. They stopped publishing them in 2010, but that didn’t prevent people who had already downloaded them circulating them. In later years – even right now in 2021 – certain unscrupulous instructors and money-makers were even selling them at silly prices.

One major problem with test routes is that they change over time as DVSA adds new ones or removes others. They can even change on the day of the test for reasons such as roadworks or road closures. And unless they are being officially published you have no way of knowing if ones given to you are correct – or if someone has just cobbled together some old information into a crude list of road numbers and names and perhaps charged you a tenner for it. I can absolutely guarantee that many of those advertised on old-fashioned HTML websites are these original out-of-date lists. The other major problem is that deliberately trying to teach just test routes doesn’t get better pass results, but it does produce less able drivers.

You don’t really need to know the precise test routes used. All you need is a general awareness of key features where pupils might have problems.

It isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go on driving tests, even without using technology. They’re never going to travel more than about 20 minutes away from the test centre in any direction, so all the roads leading to the test centre are going to be involved (minus motorways in most cases). If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time during your lessons, so you now know they use that road or location. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests, and although this can produce more confusion than it does answers, you might be able to extract a bit of useful information. The examiner will often give you some details in the debrief, especially where faults were committed. And finally, you can sit in on tests (when there isn’t a pandemic) and actually watch where they go. You can quickly work out which specific areas to concentrate on by putting all of this together into your lesson plans.

The best way, though, is to use some sort of tracking device, which logs the precise route taken by the car. These days, most satnavs have a feature which allows you to do this. Personally, I don’t like that method because it tends to be tied in with the satnav software, be satnav-specific, and it can be a right pain trying to download it and manipulate it on standard mapping software. The other problem is that you’re unlikely to be able to leave it running while someone is out on test, because the examiner will be using theirs, and thinking back to my old satnav years ago, it didn’t always get a signal if it wasn’t stuck on the windscreen. I’m not saying they’re like that now, but they are designed to be used in that position – and not in the glove box. And the other weakness is that the satnav is the recorder, so you have to wait until the test is over and you can grab it before you know where it went.

Dashcams are another way. The better ones also record GPS data, though often – like satnavs – you can only manipulate this within the camera manufacturer’s specific software. And again, you only get to see it after the event.

A third option is to use one of any number of apps for smartphones. These log routes in a format that mapping software understands. I’ve tried them, and they do work – with a few limitations. Firstly, you would need to leave your phone in the car when it went out on a test, meaning you’d be phoneless for the duration. A spare phone would work, but obviously this feature uses data, so you’d need a separate phone account. And when I tried them, the free versions of apps tended to be restricted to sample rates of 20-30 seconds – and that could mean a route through a junction and roundabout system might show as a straight line across a field or lake. If you wanted a 5 second sampling rate, you had to subscribe.Pro Pod - Hybrid map and satellite history view

My solution was to use a dedicated tracker. I use a ProPod tracker from Trackershop. It’s a small device the size of a matchbox, which I keep in the car. The main feature for me, apart from logging accurate position and even postal locations, is that it broadcasts its location in real-time. This means that at the test centre, I can watch the car moving on a map overlay (either on my laptop or the Trackershop app on my phone). It also means that if a test were abandoned for some reason – and that hasn’t happened yet – I’d know exactly where to go to find my car and pupil.

The picture at the top of this article shows an old test route for Chilwell Test Centre (click on the image for a larger view). This is my tracker dashboard ‘history’ view, with a specific historical time period displayed (the duration of the test in question) on a map overlay. The picture just above (click it for a larger image) is the same route with the satellite view enabled. You can zoom in almost to the level where pedestrians would be visible.

The Trackershop cloud service keeps journey history permanently (as long as you have an active account), and you can download and edit data as necessary whenever you feel like it – you just need to to know the date and time of a past test, for example, then go and find that route in your dashboard. As I mentioned, you can view data in real time on whatever overlay you have chosen, and watch the pointer moving every 5 seconds while your pupil is out on test – I find this useful for knowing when they are due back.

Pro Pod - KML file in Google EarthThe cloud data can be easily exported and downloaded. As well as GPS coordinates it logs times, speeds, and postal addresses for every data point. The picture above (click it for a larger image) shows the same test route displayed as a KML file rendered in Google Earth (note that I had to physically extract the GPS data to create this, but it isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing).

As I have already indicated, you should not be doing your lessons across such precise routes. But they do give you an idea of where tests go.

Where can I download test routes?

You can’t download them from DVSA. The sites that offer them are provided by people trying to earn money from something that is otherwise simple to do yourself. Given that test routes change over time, it is probably cheaper to record your own.

Why don’t you provide your test route data?

A point of principle. DVSA stopped publishing them because instructors were trying to teach only the test routes, and I know full well that that’s why people want the information now. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons and never have, but I want to know where the routes are so I can deal with any weird stuff.

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if someone is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is going against that. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway, and you would never know if they changed unless you kept on buying them every month or so.

How do I know the routes I’ve bought are correct and up to date?

You don’t, and they’re probably not. In fact, unless a local group of ADIs is giving you daily copies, they couldn’t possibly be reliable. In the worst case, they could be totally imaginary and simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes. Judging by some of the ancient-looking sites that list them, they’re quite likely to be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010. As I said above, routes change with time.

Is it possible to record test routes?

Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same (I use a Pro Pod tracker). If you use a phone app as a logger, you have to leave a phone in the car.

You can also record routes using dashcams. As well as using my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. On more than one occasion I have been able to show a pupil exactly where and why they failed, even though they had no idea what the examiner was talking about in the debrief.

Do I need to know the test routes for my test?

Absolutely not. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow the satnav or road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them well before your test.

How many test routes are there?

It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. When they were still published by DVSA (while it was still DSA), one Nottingham test centre had 38 if I remember correctly. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them even if you knew them all. Being brutally honest, many learners on test might not recognise their own streets when out on test, so how can they be expected to ‘remember’ multiple routes?

Can I use my tablet to log routes?

Potentially, yes. If it has a GPS chip inside, it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the internet or a phone network to log GPS positional data, though it would if you wanted to use it as a satnav or monitor it in real-time. However, you’d need some software that could make use of the chip. It would also depend on your device’s specification as to how accurate the data were, but you’d still be able to get decent route maps – they just wouldn’t always be necessarily precisely lined up with the roads on maps you laid them on to. I understand they are accurate to around 6 metres or better.

From what I know of Apple iPads, only the more expensive ones with phone connectivity have GPS chips in them. The WiFi only ones don’t.

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Logic For DummiesA lot of instructors are complaining about the waiting time for driving tests. Several of my own, who had tests cancelled back in March 2020, subsequently had to retake their theory tests. Rearranged tests are coming in for June/July. But ones I had to rebook came in at July/August. Worse still – and as of the start of May – those booking them cold are looking at September/October.

But there is another likely upcoming issue that ADIs haven’t cottoned on to yet.

At the moment, all those booking their tests were pretty much test-ready last March (or certainly, at the end of September/October 2020). But what about the thousands of learners who haven’t been able to start their lessons until recently? Over the next few months, they will all become test-ready too. And there is a whole year of mainly 17-year olds involved in that.

I might end up being wrong, but logically we will end up with all those new learners wanting to be booking tests at roughly the same time. My guess (prediction) is that that is going to send the waiting time through the roof. And don’t forget that this is on top of all those who have failed their rearranged tests since. Heck, the pass rate will still be about 50:50 at best, so they’re going to have to book further re-tests.

I had one of those the other day. His rearranged test had been set for June, but he got a cancellation for this week and went in his own car. He failed, and is now looking at September – though he’s after another cancellation. The annoying thing is that a few weeks ago I had said that the cancellation checker he had signed up to was fine, but they tend to be short-notice and he might not want to get one for like ‘next week’, because we needed to polish a few things that had cropped up through driving extensively with his parents. But he ended up doing precisely that and getting a short-notice cancellation. And this is what happens. He won’t be the only one.

DVSA has put on extra tests and examiners, and that will obviously help a little. But they would need hundreds of tests and examiners to manage what is going to happen in a few months time.

Ironically, instructors desperate to fill their diaries to overflowing are making it potentially worse – for themselves, as well as everyone else. They are rushing pupils through for their own financial benefit. But many are moaning about pupils and parents asking if they can book the test after the first lesson, and refusing to do it. What happens when those pupils reach test standard and then have a five month wait ahead of them for the test you eventually allowed them to book?

I am trying to plan ahead. I’ve had four new pupils in the last three days. Those who have already passed the theory I have advised to book their tests (on the understanding we will move it if they’re not ready), since they are already looking at September/October, and realistically six months is a good period of time in which to get to test standard for the average learner with no experience. Those who haven’t taken the theory I have advised to get on it urgently so we can get the practical booked for the same reasons. I point out that if booking now is September/October, then if they add one month from now for the passing the theory, November/December is a likely date for the practical – with the worry that by then thousands of new learners from last year will also be test-ready.

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COVID Lateral Flow Test StripAn email alert from DVSA is encouraging people to take lateral flow tests on a regular basis. I should stress that this is currently only targeted at Wales – and I have no idea why that is.

I have been ordering free test kits from the NHS, and run one twice a week. Each kit contains seven tests, and each test consists of a swab, a small pod of buffer solution, a sample tube, and a test strip/cartridge in a sealed pouch. You break the buffer pod and squeeze it into the sample tube. You open the test strip and lay it on a flat surface. Then you wipe the swab around your tonsils and up your nose. Dip the swab into the buffer for 15 seconds, squeeze it out as you remove it, and then clip the lid of the tube shut. It has a small hole in it, and you place two drops of the liquid on to the test strip. Wait 30 minutes, and your result is indicated in a window on the strip. You also get seven Ziploc disposal bags to bin everything neatly. Full instructions are provided, and there are online videos to show you how to do it.

Test kits can be ordered on the GOV.UK website. I did it on the basis that I am working with young people who might be infected. You can order one kit pack per day, and they typically arrive next day (my last one was ordered Sunday and arrived Monday). You can also collect them at various pharmacies, or get tested at a testing site.

While others can carry on arguing about whether COVID is real or not, whether it’s legal to ask people to wear masks, and threatening to appeal to the Court of Human Rights over the mere suggestion you might not be allowed to go on piss up to Magaluf unless you’ve been vaccinated or can prove a negative test result, I will carry on taking it seriously and trying to stop anyone else catching it.

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DVSA LogoA DVSA alert clarifies once and for all that theory test certificates will not be extended for road safety reasons.

The government has further considered the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the validity period of theory test certificates.

After careful consideration and in response to a recent petition the government has decided not to extend theory test certificates for road safety reasons.

This is the government’s decision – not DVSA – so I’d advise a lot of people to think of that before venting on social media.

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA came through today. In it, they outline measures for handling the increased demand for tests.

I wrote recently that only specific key workers can still get tests. This email doesn’t make it clear in regards the time frames based on the key worker situation, but I am assuming that it means once we can all start working again. To that end, they are running a recruitment campaign for driving examiners.

So if the last 12 months has put you off being self-employed, that might be something to consider.

One key point in the email is that DVSA says:

How to reduce waiting times

We also need support from you, your pupils and our examiners to help us reduce driving test waiting times…

It is vital that your pupils are test-ready when rearranging their tests, as tests could be at short notice.

I know it will fall on a lot of deaf ears, but since most pupils – even those who were test ready – haven’t driven since March 2020, there’s just an incey-wincey chance that booking a test for them as soon as you can get one is going to backfire, because they won’t still be test ready.

I guess the upside to that (for some people) will be that if their little darlings fail, they can then blame DVSA about the length of time for the next test, the reason they failed, and so on.

Plus ça change…

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DVSA LogoAn email alert from DVSA advises that they are introducing a limited theory and practical test service for emergency workers. The key details:

This will be available to:

  • NHS health and social care workers
  • the emergency services
  • local councils

Who need to both:

  • drive as part of their job
  • respond to ‘threats to life’ as part of their job

Because of the current COVID restrictions, we are not able to offer a mobile emergency worker test service in Scotland.

Teaching someone with a confirmed test booking

You can teach mobile emergency workers who have a confirmed test booking even if current local or national restrictions do not allow driving and riding tests.

You must not teach anyone who only has a routine driving test booked – even if they are an NHS health and social care worker, emergency service worker or local council worker.

They seem to have already tried to address the loopholes that certain instructors will immediately have looked for based on the last year. I’m now waiting to see what other complaints they come up with.

Read the full email, as there are a few other things you will need to be aware of – in particular, being able to prove that the pupil has an emergency test booked if you are stopped.

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DVSA logoSocial media has been in meltdown all day because of the usual idiots and their ‘can we work or can’t we work’ nonsense. The answer was obvious to anyone smarter than a chimp, but DVSA has now confirmed it in an email for those who weren’t.

Driving lessons

The Government has confirmed that driving lessons must not take place in areas in Tier 4 from 20 December until the restrictions are lifted.

Driving tests

The Government has also confirmed that all car driving tests will be suspended in areas in Tier 4 from 20 December until the restrictions are lifted. This includes ADI part 2 and 3 tests and standards checks.

There’s more detail, so click the link.

My only concern is that this should also apply to Tier 3 right now. I mean, let’s face facts here. We have the new variant spreading like wildfire, people who will ignore the restrictions in place over Christmas… we’re going to Tier 4 whether we like it or not.

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DVSA logoUpdated again: A further DVSA email in mid-November ‘clarified’ the restart date. Another update today (see the end of this article) clarified it back to where it was the first time. I can’t be arsed to rewrite the whole article, so let’s leave it as a testament to how well the COVID pandemic is being managed.

DVSA has just sent out an email, which I suspect is intended to clarify things for those in this industry who find things more difficult to understand than most. I can’t see any other reason for it, since there’s nothing new in it.

In summary, it says:

The Government has announced new national restrictions will be in place in England from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December (inclusive) to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Driving lessons in England

The Government has announced that during these dates, driving lessons should not take place in England.

What this means for driving tests

Further to the announcement from the Government, all driving tests in England will be suspended from Thursday 5 November and restart on Wednesday 2 December Thursday 3 December.

Critical workers tests and lessons

Given the short period of time the new restrictions will be in place, we will not be offering a critical worker priority service. We will keep this under review.

Waiting rooms in England

During the national restrictions in England we will also be pausing our plans to open up other waiting rooms in England until after 2 December.

There’s more words in the email, and a bit more information, so read the full message in the link at the start of this article. But this is the crux of it here. The strikethrough is the ‘clarification’ in the first update email.

Now let’s see what social media manages to pick out of this one to argue with. My money will be on that last one.

Update 1 December 2020: OK, I give up on this one. Another email has come through and apparently lessons CAN start again from 2nd December, unless you’re in Tier 3, where it is still the 3rd. Unlike most ADIs, I’m not blaming DVSA for this confusion. They originally said 2nd December, but the government ‘clarified’ it and it became 3rd December. Then we got the ‘tiers’ just to ‘clarify the situation even more’. Now we’re back to the 2nd. Or the 3rd.

It doesn’t affect me, anyway. I’m still holding out for either/both of a) the vaccine or b) infection rates similar to what we had during summer. With infections as they are right now, going out into the thick of it is only going to have one result – likely to end in another lockdown.

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I rarely book theory tests for my pupils. However, one of my current lot had a practical test booked at the end of March and it was cancelled. We all know how the year panned out after that, and his theory certificate subsequently expired in June.

He doesn’t have internet access at home, and to cut a long story short as to why he hadn’t booked it himself, two weeks ago I booked his new theory test for him. The original date was 8 November – and you can probably see where this is heading.

Anyway, I got an email from Pearson VUE today, which says:

The Government has announced that England will be put under national restrictions from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Due to this, your theory test cannot go ahead.

You now need to reschedule your theory test at:

[link to booking]

When you sign in, you’ll see that there is a date and time for your test. This is not the actual date of your new test, this is just a placeholder, and you must change this to be able to take your theory test. You will need your driving licence number to do this.

Yours sincerely,
Chief Executive

When you click the link you have to log in with the candidate name, licence number, and date of birth,

As the email says, you will see a date given – it is not valid, so do not just leave it thinking you have a new date and time. You don’t. What you have to do is change the test centre, because that isn’t valid either. If you don’t, it will look like there are no available dates, but once you select the appropriate test centre available times and dates appear.

When I logged in, the dummy date given was 11 December and the test centre was identified as ‘NOTTINGHAM GBR’ with no actual address. The calendar widget showed no available test slots for the entire three month window. I selected the appropriate Nottingham test centre, and the address information was then given and available dates/times appeared on the calendar widget. The earliest was 23 December – there were available slots on only three days in December, then it was January.

Why is there no test centre mentioned on the rearranged date?

Groan! Something else to kick up a stink about. Look, the email tells you the date is a ‘placeholder’. If you log in and it says some time in December, it doesn’t mean you have a test in December – it states that clearly. What you have to do is select the appropriate test centre, then choose from whatever dates are available. And what dates are available will depend on who got there before you.

And you still need to be ready to go through all this again if the lockdown gets extended. If it does, it isn’t DVSA’s or Pearson VUE’s fault, anymore than having to cancel this time, or all the times before, have been. It is what it is.

No dates are available when I log in

Change the test centre. Then you should have dates to choose from.

The available dates are in January

Then book one and stop moaning. It is what it is, and complaining isn’t going to claw back lost time.

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DVSA LogoAs if it wasn’t already obvious – and it wasn’t to many ADIs out there – DVSA has issued a statement that theory tests are cancelled between 5 November and 2 December. They’ve clarified that with:

These measures mean all theory tests in England will be suspended from 5 November and restart on Wednesday 2 December.

An update on 13 November indicates that these dates are inclusive now, so tests restart on 3rd.

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