A Driving Instructor's Blog

DVSA

1 2 3 9

TomTom Screen GrabIt was announced last year – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the driving test began using satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

I toyed briefly with the idea of buying one, but I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. These days, if I ever need to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. So I decide to give that a go in the weeks leading up to 4 December. Google was OK, but its choice of route can be somewhat creative, and it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Plus, since it isn’t a full-blown navigation tool as such, storing routes is fiddly at best.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android – this turns your phone into a  virtually complete TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display. TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav for up to ten years for the same price as a standalone that would be out-of-date within a year.

As I pointed out in my article about the first month of the new test, the satnav can exacerbate any underlying issues learners might have with roundabouts and large junctions. Here’s why I think that is.

The voice instruction from the satnav for the route shown in the image above would be:

Go around the roundabout, third exit, Hucknall Road

Without the satnav, the instruction might be:

At the roundabout, turn right, third exit

The phrase “turn right” is the critical part. With a satnav you have to create that instruction yourself by referring to the on-screen map and/or road signs. I’d never thought about it before, but looking back, pupils were simply not using road signs to any great extent because they never had to. Even with the original independent driving section, following signs to “somewhere” specific is much simpler than having to use the signs to work out where that “somewhere” is. And any problems are multiplied by the fact that every twist and turn of the satnav route involves a new “somewhere”. It’s a new pressure for the pupil to handle.

Any instructor will be aware that learners often struggle with roundabouts – sometimes, right up to their tests. One of the most common reasons for messing up on them is lane discipline. The examiner will usually mark it under “observation/use of mirrors”, but the real problem is that the learner has simply straight-lined. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t check their mirrors if they weren’t aware they’d switched lanes in the first place. Often, they can do the roundabout perfectly on lessons, but every now and then you’ll get one who botches it on test because of test pressure.

Someone whose ability to deal with roundabouts is this close to the edge in the first place is going to be under significant additional pressure if they have to follow a satnav route around them, and especially so if they have to deal with ones they’re not familiar with.

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

Some of those I have expected to have problems have taken to it remarkably well. The biggest problem so far is with those pupils who only listen to the instructions and try to follow them blindly. However, they’re not test-ready, so it is a work in progress.

How should you use the satnav?

Look at the picture above. The main window shows the immediate route you are following. In the case of the roundabout shown here, that would appear in the main window about 300 yards before you reach it. The first satnav voice instruction occurs at that point, so you’d lose maybe another 100 yards while that is being given. That wouldn’t give you much time to get ready to deal with it unless you were really confident of where you were going.

The information bars at the top and bottom are the really important features. The bottom one tells you what road you’re on, and the top one tells you what you’re going to be asked to do next, how far away that is (it can be anything up to several miles), and the new road’s name and number. In this case, the satnav top bar will inform you that the next thing you’re going to have to deal with is a roundabout, and that it is a right turn. I think this one was about half a mile away initially. The distance counts down until the voice instruction is given, usually at about 300 yards (it can be 500 yards or 200 yards depending on the speed of the road). The road number is usually what will be painted on the road surface in the lane you need on large roundabouts, and it will also appear on the various road signs. The satnav repeats the instructions several times as you get closer.

You have to use that top bar to be able to plan ahead, especially if you’re not confident. You have to give yourself time.

So, why do people have a problem with that?

I have observed that some people can do every roundabout I ask them to do perfectly when I am giving verbal instructions, but the instant they try to follow a satnav route with those same roundabouts, there are problems. These problems occur to greater or lesser extents depending on the pupil, the roundabout, their confidence at complex junctions in the first place, and what is happening around them at the time. Having to do things independently, with more formal instructions from the satnav, is simply shining a light on underlying issues.

Doesn’t this mean that maybe not all those who passed their tests previously are fully competent with roundabouts?

Unfortunately, yes. Even with the best will in the world, instructors and DVSA have been producing candidates/new drivers who – in some cases – have to do roundabouts in what you might call a “robotic” way. And we’re only talking about certain roundabouts, even then. This would easily tie in with what we see on the roads, where a large proportion of the general, full driving licence-holding public doesn’t seem to have a clue on roundabouts.

Share

Anyone due to take their first driving test in the new format, a bit of advice.

  • make sure you can handle roundabouts and multi-lane junctions competently when following satnav instructions
  • make sure you can do it on roundabouts and junctions you may not have driven on before

The satnav gives instructions differently from the verbal instructions your instructor or an examiner might have previously given. Whereas you might previously have been asked to “turn right, third exit, follow the signs towards Nottingham [or whatever], the satnav will say something like “go around the roundabout, third exit, A52 [or whatever]”.

Although the examiner might give some limited guidance in some situations, you need to be able to use the satnav display and any road signs to work out where you want to go. In a way, you have got to construct the old-style instruction in your head from the new-style one.

All the manoeuvres can now be done away from the test centre, and that means the test can travel further before having to head back. Some of the routes are MUCH longer than any of the ones from pre-December 2016. Consequently, if your instructor doesn’t know about them, you may not have driven on many of the roads and roundabouts.

The new test is actually easier than the old one if you look at it objectively. However, the details above mean that SOME people will inevitably find it harder.

I’m going to do another article about the satnav, and I’ll add a link to it on this one once I’ve written it.

Share

Fossil fishVarious alerts from DVSA over the last week. These are summarised here. Not so much a “strike” but a “work to rule”.

It’s the same advice as usual. Not all examiners are union members, and not all those who are will necessarily be involved. Turn up for your test as normal, get a free rearranged date if it doesn’t go ahead. They also include advice to consider changing your test now to avoid problems – which sounds more ominous.

The action is scheduled to start 23 November 2017 and no end date is given.

From what DVSA has said, the action is primarily a continuation of that we experienced over a year ago, but with the added complication of the new driving test due to become active on 4 December. The union is apparently “trying to link the dispute with health and safety risks” associated with the new test.

As I have written elsewhere, I have no issue with the additions to the new test per se. However, I have huge issues with the removal of the turn in the road and corner reverse manoeuvres. The new manoeuvres are so simple that my cat could do them, and they in no way represent a like-for-like replacement. But they are not dangerous.

As I’ve said before, the PCS union is a fossil, and thank God that only a small number of examiners are thick enough to belong to it.

Share

This is an old article from 2010, but it’s had a run of hits recently, and I have updated it.

Someone has found the blog several times on the search term “abandoned tests”. I’m not exactly sure what they were looking for, but here’s a bit of information that is probably relevant.

I’ve had several abandoned tests in my career as an ADI. No matter how you look at it, they are embarrassing for you and traumatic for your pupil. One of them was around 2006 – the candidate tried to drive into a No Entry street leading off a roundabout after being told to “follow the road”.

When I discussed it with him afterwards he said that all that was going through his mind was “go straight ahead unless told otherwise” and that he’d seen the signs, but that instruction just ended up taking precedence in his head. He had been one of those learners who takes things in very slowly, even though he was a very intelligent lad (very good at Maths, and went on to study it at University). Once he’d made the error, he just lost it and the examiner pulled him over and abandoned the test. I had to walk about ¾ mile to find him where the examiner had stopped the car. He passed his test soon afterwards.

Another one was in 2008. That pupil was extremely slow, and although he was up to test standard, I don’t think his mind was ever going to be able to stay there. He got the Bay Park exercise right at the start of his test, and finished just on the line (which isn’t an automatic fail). He leaned out the door and said to the examiner “have I failed?”, and the examiner replied “I’ll tell you at the end”. Unfortunately, his mind was so one-tracked he was still thinking about the Bay Park when he attempted to drive into the gate at the end of the Test Centre driveway. The examiner abandoned it there and then, less than 5 minutes in, and about 5 metres outside the test centre. I vividly remember the examiner asking “is he on anything?”

In another example from 2013, a very nervous pupil made a simple mistake – and one which might not have been a test fail in the first place – but then cracked up and couldn’t continue. She was hysterical from what the examiner told me. She passed easily the 2nd time (which I had expected her to do the 1st).

And my most recent one was earlier this year, with another nervous pupil who had found learning difficult. The test hit her so badly that she pretty much forgot how to drive (I was sitting in on that one). She’s taking lessons with me again right now.

Although you always blame yourself, you can’t control what a candidate does when they are out there with the examiner. It all depends on what kind of people they are. All the you can do is teach them as well as you possibly can.

In a nutshell, when an examiner abandons a test, he/she will leave the pupil with the car and inform you of the location when they get back to the centre. Sometimes (from what I’ve been told), he will walk back with the pupil and have a chat. If you’re sitting in, you can take the examiner back to the test centre. The examiner cannot supervise a learner due to insurance cover, which is why he cannot bring them back once the test is terminated and the candidate becomes a learner again. Having said that, the examiners up here will make every effort to take the test to its conclusion back at the centre, and they will even dissuade candidates from terminating tests as long as there is no danger to them or the public.

Share

OktoberfestA few years ago, on a now-defunct forum, one of the resident fossils took issue with comments I had made on the page where I provide the PST marking sheets for download. It was around the time DVSA (or DSA, as it then was) introduced CCL (client-centred learning) as part of the expected skills of an ADI. I had pointed out that since the Standards Check was going to be looking for evidence of CCL, and since learners were being taught using it, at some point the same approach would have to be used for ADI qualification on the Part2 and 3 tests.

My only point at the time was to indicate that once I had access to the necessary marking sheets for the new test, then I would make them available.

DVSA announced in 2016 that the Part 3 test would indeed be changing – an outcome so obvious that I can take no credit whatsoever for predicting it several years earlier. However, DVSA is not renowned for its efficiency or constancy, and although I cannot now recall the precise sequence of events (i.e. delays) to the change since its announcement, this latest email indicates that they still haven’t got the necessary Parliamentary approval, and the proposed start date of “late October” has been put back yet again.

No dates are given, but since any ADI with a test booked needs to be aware of what is happening, it would be logical to assume that the best-estimate start date for the new test has got to be at least as far away as the current longest waiting time between booking and taking a test. In other words, several months – and that’s several months from the date Parliamentary approval is gained, which may not be for several months in itself!

In short, don’t expect the new Part 3 testing regime to come into effect until 2018 (that’s my estimate). At least 2018 (that’s my cynicism).

Fair enough, I could be wrong, and they might get approval tomorrow, but I doubt it. Taking the Part 3 is stressful enough for people as it is. Knowing that the test was changing will have meant they will have been trained specifically for it, so to be told that it’s old-style PSTs is really going to screw them up.

On the one hand, it’s all the government’s fault for being so inefficient. But on the other hand, DVSA should not have announced a semi-specific start date before Parliamentary approval had been gained. It was obvious that it simply wasn’t going to happen to a fixed timescale.

It also makes me wonder when learners will finally be allowed on motorways. That also needs Parliamentary approval, and back in August it was expected “in 2018” (the ‘first half’ being implied). At this rate we’ll be lucky if it happens during the current government, which takes us right back to where we were before.

And these are the same twats trying to take us out of Europe. Make up a suitable sentence using the words “piss”, “up”, and “brewery”.

Share

White ElephantAn email alert from DVSA says that they are creating:

…a new team of dedicated Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) examiners, who’ll be conducting ADI qualifying tests and standards checks 5 days a week.

No dates or timings, no names, no locations. Just this email.

I’m not sure what to make of it just yet. Most of the stuff this “team” is going to do I could already obtain from my test centre if I simply phoned up (or went in) and asked. I don’t like being cynical towards DVSA, but this has all-cost-and-no-gain written all over it. And it uses the word “team”, which is never good.

We shall see.

Share

Horse's rear endI originally wrote this way back in 2010, and it was only a simple couple of paragraphs thrown out following a search term used to find the blog. Since then, I get periodic hits on the same search term: driving examiners are arseholes. I had another today.

Assuming that it’s a candidate who is searching, the lack of a question format suggests they are seeking like-minded people to rant with, rather than to actually ask if examiners are arseholes. The person using the term probably thinks they’ve been hard done by on their test after having failed, and is seeking to blame the examiner – quite possibly, in my own experience, in spite of ample evidence from their drive that the examiner was right.

On the other hand, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that it is an instructor who has taken exception to one of his pupils failing their test. I’ve seen more than one take to a forum to vent their anger at a test fail they disagreed with (at least two in the last month).

Examiners are not arseholes.

The purpose of the driving test is to ensure that a candidate meets the bare minimum requirement to be allowed out on the roads unsupervised. The pass ‘mark’ is actually quite low, which means that anything below it is going to result in a fail. That’s the way it is, and nothing the candidate or instructor can do is going to change it.

If you don’t check your mirrors a few times when you should have, you will accrue faults, but miss them one time too many and you will fail. You will fail if you miss the check even once if there is someone behind or alongside you. The same is true of blind spot checks, and observations at junctions. You will get away with poor checks up to a point, but if it’s obvious you have a problem in this area you will get a serious fault (and if there’s someone behind or coming towards you, you will fail immediately).

You’re expected to stop at amber or red traffic lights. If you could have done safely, but don’t, you will fail. Furthermore, you’re expected to understand how traffic lights work – green filter arrows, etc. – and if you sit there holding up traffic when you should be moving off, then you’ll fail for that, too. If you completely miss traffic lights, or drive in such a way that it looks like you have, you will fail.

If you don’t stay in lane – demonstrate good “lane discipline” – you will accrue faults. If you weave across lanes when someone is behind you, you will fail. If you don’t realise you are doing it – and let’s face facts here, if you knew, you wouldn’t be – you will fail. If you change lanes without checking your mirrors first, and signalling if necessary, you will fail.

If you pull out in front of someone, you will fail. If you did it because you thought you “could make it”, you have no excuse whatsoever. If you stall you will accrue faults, and one stall too many will result in a fail. If you cause a hold up by stalling even once, you will almost certainly fail for that alone.

If the speed limit is 30mph, it doesn’t mean you can drive at 40 and expect to get away with it. Anything illegal is a fail. And if the speed limit is 60mph and the road is clear, doing 30 is causing a hold up and you’ll fail for driving like that. You need to see the road signs, and be confident enough to drive according to what they tell you.

If you drive too fast for given situations, you are going to accrue faults. If you approach a junction or a bend too fast, or slow down too late, if the examiner uses the brake because you haven’t, you will fail. Even if you think you were going to brake, if you were too late you will fail. Harsh braking will accrue faults, and one time too many will get you a fail. Do it in front of someone and you’ll fail immediately.

If you don’t stop at a STOP junction – and I mean stop absolutely dead – you will fail. It is illegal not to stop at these, and slowing to a crawl, no matter how slow it is, is NOT stopping.

If you mangle the gears every time you change them, you will accrue faults. If you use the wrong gear you will accrue faults. Do it one time to many and you will fail. Do it once at the wrong time – going into 1st when you wanted 3rd in moving traffic, for example – and you will fail.

This list is by no means complete. But the bottom line is that if you do any of those things and fail your test, it is because of your poor driving skills – not because the examiner is an arsehole.

Share

Driver Location SignsI originally wrote this back in 2012, but it has had a run of hits lately so I thought I’d update it.

Although the official line suggests otherwise, I’m sure these signs were around long before I became a driving instructor, and their exact purpose was always a bit of a mystery to me.

You’ve probably seen them. You get them mainly on motorways and they consist of a rectangular sign with yellow writing. There is the name of the motorway, a letter (A, B, J, K, L, or M), and a number. On the M1, for example, if you’re heading one way the letter will be ‘B’, whereas heading the other way it will be ‘A’. The numbers change by 0.5 between each sign.

I had guessed that they had something to do with being able to pinpoint precise locations, and that the signs were 500m apart so the number therefore represented a distance in kilometres. I hadn’t seen them explained anywhere, but it wasn’t until I started teaching people to drive – especially on Pass Plus motorway lessons – that I bothered to find out more.  The trigger was a pupil who knew someone who was a paramedic, and who had been told that these signs “marked the distance to the end of the hard shoulder”.

That explanation didn’t make any sense. It was obviously wrong, since the signs appear even when there is no hard shoulder, and the numbers had no connection whatsoever with the end of it when there was.

Part of the difficulty in finding out what they were for was not knowing what they were called. They don’t appear in the current Highway Code, and Googling for “signs with yellow writing on motorways” or something similar didn’t help (certainly not at the time I became interested , anyway). I emailed the local Police traffic department and that was where I discovered they were called Driver Location Signs.

It turns out that they are “new signs on motorways” as of 2008. That still bugs me, because I’m damned sure they’ve been around longer than that, but maybe I’m imagining it. The Highways Agency has confirmed to me that they were “trialled as early as 2003”, but my memory says they were around even in the 90s. But that doesn’t matter.

Wikipedia covers them in more detail. The AA in slightly less detail. And this one is probably the most detailed.

They consist of three lines of text. The top line is the route name (e.g. M1, M6, M25, etc.). The second line is the carriageway identifier, A or B, and in spite of what The AA says they’re not necessarily London-centric (i.e. just think in terms of ‘A’ being the carriageway going in one direction, and ‘B’ the opposite carriageway going the other). If there are parallel but physically separated carriageways, those running with A are labelled ‘C’, and those running with B are labelled ‘D’. The letter ‘J’ denotes a slip road OFF carriageway A, and ‘K’ a slip road ON TO it. The letter ‘L’ is the slip road OFF carriageway B, and ‘M’ is the slip road ON TO it. Other letters can apparently be used at complex junctions. Finally, the third line shows the distance in kilometres from a known point (usually the start of the road), and is called “the chainage”.

The signs can only be a maximum distance of 500m apart, which is what they normally are, but if there is an obstruction they can be 400m or 300m apart (this explains why they don’t all end in 0.5 km). And they CAN be seen on some newer and very long dual carriageways. There’s a lot more to their placement, but this is a basic summary.

The AA likes to have them quoted when people report breakdowns. I have always assumed that they’re most useful to the emergency services.

There is a Highways Agency leaflet which explains them in simple terms, available to download from Greater Manchester Police.

Knowing what they are and how they work – and being able to explain it – is going to be important when we are eventually allowed to take learners on to motorways (in 2018, if that comes to pass).

Share

I will Google it before asking dumb questionsIt often amuses me the kinds of questions that get asked in Q&A columns in the media. Apart from the stupid ones along the lines of “does anyone else have a surname that rhymes with ‘spanner’, like mine does?” there are the ones that a child could answer simply by typing one sentence into Google – and yet the asker has wasted money on a stamp (there’s no way they’d have used email) and got themselves into print.

Readers who have been following the blog for a while will know that I am sometimes scathing with my comments about other instructors – the dickheads who try to do a manoeuvre 3 metres behind me on a 500 metre stretch of empty road, or who turn up in a small car park I’m using and take over with their own manoeuvre (until I explain a few things to them) get frequent mentions. I’ve not gone off on one for a while, but flicking through this month’s Intelligent Instructor magazine I had to shake my head when I read the Readers’ Questions section.

If you’re an ADI, there is absolutely no excuse for not knowing that the driving test is changing in December. Likewise, there’s no excuse for not being subscribed to DVSA announcements, nor of being aware of new posts to Despatch (DVSA’s blog).

So I was surprised to see someone asking what the changes to the Show Me/Tell Me questions are going to be.

For God’s sake! DVSA sent an email alert back in July explaining the changes in detail. They did a Despatch blog article covering the test changes, including the questions back in August, covering the wording the examiners will use. The Show Me/Tell Me questions are given in black and white in both of those. If you Google “show me tell me december 2017” four of the top seven hits are DVSA pages either as mentioned above, or informational videos on YouTube (I’m the seventh). Then there are dozens and dozens of other instructor sites which talk about it, and link to the DVSA articles. And DVSA even sent out a booklet to all instructors last month with all this in it.

I was similarly surprised to see someone else ask how the examiner will word the instruction to pull up on the right (one of the new “manoeuvres”).

DVSA covered that in August with their Despatch blog post. They also produced a YouTube video explaining it. And it was in the booklet, I think.

It’s funny, but sometimes when you’re on a lesson and your pupil comes to, say, a roundabout (which they’ve been struggling with). They’ll go through all the motions and negotiate it perfectly. You think you’ve cracked it, and you’ll say something encouraging like “that was great. Well done. I liked how you checked there was enough room to go with that car coming towards you.” And they say “what car?”

I can’t help get the same feeling when ADIs ask dumb questions like this. I mean, what the hell are they doing on their lessons if they don’t know this basic stuff?

Share

Celebratory fireworks displayAbout bloody time. An email alert from DVSA advises that learners will be allowed on motorways – with an instructor and dual controls fitted to the car – from 2018.

This change will only apply to cars – not motorcycles. Only ADIs will be allowed to do motorway lessons – not trainee instructors. Mum and Dad (or best mate) will not be allowed to take anyone on the motorway.

Motorway driving will not be included on the driving test. Motorway lessons will be voluntary.

The exact date hasn’t been decided yet, and until it has, it is still illegal for learners to go on the motorway with anyone.

Share
1 2 3 9