A Driving Instructor's Blog

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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 (by this time, instructors could go out on tests, and 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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?

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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.

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Driving TestIn April, I reported that the driving test will change from 4 December 2017. I won’t go into the details again – you can read them in the earlier article – but DVSA has published the amended Show Me, Tell Me (SMTM) questions on the GOV.UK website that it plans to use from December (the questions which are currently in use are available here).

The only real difference to the SMTM questions is that, from December, some of them will be asked while the candidate is driving.

As an aside, I had someone on test recently, and the examiner asked him to show how he would clean the windscreen if it was dirty. My pupil duly operated the front washers, at which point the examiner added: “how about the back one?” Sneaky! He demonstrated it, but that’s one of the new questions.

Anyway, I have some misgivings about asking questions on the move, since they will require additional multitasking by the candidate. I’ve got more than a couple who have a job monotasking as it is. I think I mentioned this a while back, but one of my current lot has a ball stud in her upper lip, which she is wont to fiddle with while she’s driving (well, she doesn’t anymore, as a result of the story I’m about to relate). On one particular lesson, we were turning right at a mini-roundabout. Given that roundabouts are her main nemesis, and that she had applied almost full lock to turn right in this instance, you would think that, when the ball fell off her stud at the precise moment she needed to steer back into the target road, she would prioritise her steering and not, for example, a headlong dive into the foot well to try and catch the ball. I expected the first option. She chose the second. I think I screamed.

The one particular question that seems to be winding up a lot of instructors out there is the one about testing the horn. The current question, asked at the start of the test whilst stationary, is:

Show me how you would check that the horn is working

From December, it will be asked on the move, and will take the form:

When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you’d operate the horn?

This is getting a lot of ADIs into a tizzy, because they don’t understand the Highway Code or associated rules properly.

The Highway Code says:

Rule 112

The horn. Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

Law CUR reg 99

Let’s clarify what this means. This is the only part covered by the MUST NOT (i.e. there is an actual law):

You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

I’ve actually seen someone quote that section minus the two bullet point conditions, and proffer it as evidence that DVSA is wrong. They’re actually suggesting that it says “You MUST NOT use your horn except when another vehicle poses a danger”. Sometimes, I’m almost at a loss for words – then I remember the blog, and I’m not anymore. That is not what it says, and it is not what it means. And the rest of Rule 112 is completely advisory.

A private car park, your driveway, your garage, etc. are not “on the road”. The test centre car park is not “on the road”. If it was, how on earth could you ever legally test the damned thing to see if it was working?

Now, if you look up CUR reg 99, the prohibited time period of 11.30-07.00 specifically refers to being “in motion” and on a “restricted road” (i.e one which has anything other than NSL assigned to it). So you are not breaking any law if you sound the horn on your driveway, etc. during that time period (or if you’re on an NSL road). You’d be a complete arsehole if you did it needlessly, but you are not breaking this law or Rule 112. There is absolutely nothing in CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 which says you can’t test the horn while you are driving during the day, or if you’re on your driveway, in your garage, or in a private car park – at any time. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t do it if it going to confuse or annoy people, and although it is frowned upon to use the horn “aggressively”, even this does not go against CUR reg 99 or Rule 112 as far as any laws go.

What it boils down to is that examiners are not going to be doing anything wrong if they ask candidates to demonstrate the horn safely on their tests whilst driving along. The SMTM wording doesn’t state explicitly that the horn has to actually be sounded, either. It says “show me how” – and that could easily amount to a miming action, which most pupils seem to go for by default when asked, in my experience (even if they sound it, they do it as though it is going to bite them and it gets a brief “pap”). After 4 December, if someone tries to test it by giving it a 10-second burst, that would reflect very badly on their instructor in my opinion, as it already appears that some are preparing to make these changes as painful as possible to everyone concerned in order to register their protest.

All of mine are going to be taught as follows when we cover this:

If the examiner asks you to show him how you would test the horn, I want you to explain how you would do it and point to the bit of the steering wheel you would push. Ask him if he’d like you to actually do it. If he says yes, give it a quick toot if you think it’s safe to do it. DON’T do it on a bend, at a junction, or while there are pedestrians and other cars around.

And we will practice that during lessons, as we will the other on-the-move questions.

I think the problem with some ADIs out there is that they have been conditioned over many years of misunderstanding the rules to believe DVSA is breaking the law. Newer ADIs are naïve, eager to jump on the anti-DVSA bandwagon, and were probably trained by people who have these misunderstandings to start with, thus perpetuating the confusion. It would make life a whole lot simpler if they all just acknowledged their error and got on with the job instead of trying to defend the indefensible.

Remember the KISS principle. If it was absolutely forbidden to use the horn on the move, the rules would state this explicitly and unambiguously. They do not do so.

As I said earlier, I have misgivings about these SMTM changes just because I know that some of my pupils – past and present – would likely try to drive into a field as they shifted their entire focus from the road to the switch, dial, or button in question (some of them even try that when they see another vehicle, a dog or cat, a pigeon, or some other distraction for too long). I’m worried – perhaps needlessly – that some are potentially flaky enough to fall back to that when under pressure (and I’ve been proven wrong on many occasions, so it’s probably me). On the other hand, it provides a valuable teaching topic on lessons to make them able to do it properly.

Looking at it pragmatically, if someone can’t drive and operate the very controls they will need in the circumstances they will likely encounter when they pass their tests, they shouldn’t be on the roads. If they can’t do it safely on their tests after December, they won’t be. And that’s good.

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TearsI saw a discussion about this on a forum. It was to do with terminated tests and “what happens next?”

On more than one occasion since I became an instructor, a pupil has done something which they know has resulted in a fail. And on more than one occasion, the examiner has persuaded them to continue with their test – even though the pupil wanted to stop – and carefully routed them back to the test centre. Also on more than one occasion, they haven’t actually failed (or if they have, it was for something else, and not what they originally thought).

Quite recently, a pupil of mine who is an excellent driver – but who is as mad as a bag of cats a lot of the time due to personal issues – had a meltdown and suddenly couldn’t even make the car move (she’s apparently taken her test six times previously).The examiner calmed her down, got her moving, and they came back to the test centre after about 20-25 minutes. I knew something was up, because when I’m at the test centre reading stuff online, I also monitor where the car is using my tracker, and I wondered why they were heading back so soon.

As an aside, that same pupil has recently exercised her mad as a bag of cats side by not turning up to a lesson she had arranged and confirmed, and not responded to my texts, or provided me with one of her immense range of carefully catalogued and indexed excuses. I suppose there’s only so many times you can lose your phone, or have it mysteriously not receive texts, or fall down the stairs, or off a chair, or into a hedge, and still have people believe you. She is now an ex-pupil, even though she doesn’t know it yet.

But back to the main thread. I do not give a flying f*** what the examiner writes on the test sheet in these cases. I don’t care if they tick the wrong box, apply the “incorrect” amount of pressure to their pen strokes, forget to flick their wrists properly as they mark a fault, add up the faults incorrectly, and so on. Some other instructors do, though, even where they acknowledge that the pupil was correctly failed.

Although examiners who abandon tests are supposed to stop the car, inform the candidate, then leave the car and make their way back to the test centre, many of them are human beings. This is especially true in Nottingham, and they will try as hard as possible to take the test to its natural conclusion back in the test centre car park. And yes, sometimes this may even happen if the test is effectively not completed for some reason.

I like it that way, and don’t need any arseholes trying to interfere with it.

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Another story from the newsfeeds a few weeks ago now. Apparently, DVSA is “threatening” to publish ADI pass rates because the national pass rate is “so low”, and they blame this on sub-standard tuition. Note that throughout this article, when I say “DVSA”, I mean the top end nearest to government, and not the examiners.

In 2015, I wrote about the “shake up” that was planned for the driving test that year (there’s one approximately every year, and they never get further than being reported in the tabloids). DVSA was coming out with the same crap back then, and I explained why it was a load of bollocks. This graph shows the trend in national pass rates between 2002 and 2015.Historical pass rates It’s currently at around 47%.

Test pass data from before 2002 aren’t easily available. However, you can build up a picture if you know where to look. Sketchy information taken from disparate sources reveals that even among the 246,000 people who took the very first test back in 1935 the pass rate then was only  63%. In 1935, the test was 30 minutes long, the Highway Code was no thicker than the instruction manual for a pencil, it included hand signals used by horse-drawn carriage riders, there were about six different road signs in use, and just under 2 million cars on the roads.

In 1950, the national pass rate was reported as 50%. It appears to have been also around 50% in the 1960s according to the BBC. As I said above, it’s about 47% now (with around 40 million cars on the road). So what’s the freaking problem? It’s been as low as 43%, peaked at 63%, and has wobbled around 50% most of the time in between.

What DVSA fails completely to understand is this. If you had a parallel universe, and selected a country of the same size and population as Britain, but which didn’t yet have a driving test system in place, the moment you introduced one you would have a pass rate somewhere around 50%. Even if you had a million perfect ADIs, then unless the population was also perfect, around half of them would still fail the driving test. It’s the natural balance, and the only way you could get a significantly higher figure would be to make the test easier.

The root of the issue is similar to the one involved in the annual school exam results fiasco. People are getting dumber as a result of declining educational standards, and yet pass rates are going up because the exams are being made easier. Well, as we now know, unless it sees sense before December, DVSA is currently in the middle of doing exactly the same thing to the driving test, by removing tricky manoeuvres and replacing them with ones my cat could do.

Now, I have no problem with my pass rate being published in principle. However, reality is a different matter.

I do not think for a moment that DVSA’s pass rate figures are accurate. Even if the ones they have pertaining to me are, I’m absolutely certain that those for some other ADIs won’t be. Quite apart from the inevitable errors in the DVSA’s own logging and reporting, there is the far more unsavoury matter of ADIs influencing results by not displaying their badges when submitting pupils to test, and therefore avoiding negative rep.

My badge is always (and always has been) displayed during the pre-test and when I have provided any tuition to a candidate going to their test, but this is not true of some other ADIs. Pass rates are so important to them that when they submit someone they think might fail, they take their badge out, but when a more able candidate is going, they leave it in. It means that higher pass rates may be recorded for weaker ADIs who have been hiding their badges, whereas honest ones who haven’t, and who are actually decent instructors, may well have lower recorded pass rates.

Then there’s the issue of “intensive courses”. These are big money-spinners, and their aim is to get someone to pass the test in as short a time as possible, usually for a premium price. For most drivers, there is no way they can learn to drive properly in a very short period of time – all they can do is learn to pass the test. Most of them will not be safe drivers if they pass. And yet intensives given to the right sort of person can have a higher rate of success than normal lessons given to typical learner. If you measure success in terms of “pass rate”.

It’s somewhat ironic, therefore, that DVSA’s clever plan to steer learners away from “sub-standard” instructors is likely to steer them straight towards them instead, and result in less-able drivers out there on the roads. Such irony is lost on DVSA, and you start having nightmares when you think of the likely effect on someone’s career if DVSA publishes erroneous figures. Getting hold of your own pass rate as held by DVSA is a task requiring the same sort of effort that’d be needed to, say, climb Everest wearing just your underpants. If you found an error in the data, getting it corrected would be like that again, but with the added problem of frostbite on your dangly bits, since DVSA typically takes 10 days to respond to any email – if they respond at all.

Most ADIs keep a log of their own pass rates. I can absolutely guarantee that DVSA will have more than a few “official” rates which are grossly different. By the time they fixed them – if they ever did, since they’d need proof first – false numbers could easily have damaged someone’s reputation and business irretrievably.

My favourite pupil is one who learns quickly and who is confident and capable. My least favourite is one who is nervous, spatially challenged, and who has the attention span of a goldfish. I will teach them all, but that is definitely not true of other instructors out there. Difficult pupils will be dropped, and I often pick up those who tell me their previous instructor stopped answering their calls and texts, or couldn’t fit them into his diary. Others jump ship themselves, saying that they didn’t feel as if they were getting anywhere. This has a double-whammy effect on people like me – firstly, the number of “difficult” pupils on the market is disproportionately high, and that increases the chances of test failures for natural reasons; secondly, the other instructor has cherry-picked the more able pupils, meaning there is a higher chance of test success for him.

One look at some of the people on our roads and the reason that the pass rate isn’t 100% becomes clear. Many drivers don’t know what day of the week it is, and just getting the car moving is like advanced calculus to them. They don’t understand road signs (but they passed their theory test), they don’t understand roundabouts (but they passed their practical test), and they shit themselves every time they get behind the wheel. No matter how many times they have driven the identical school run or Tesco shop, the next time is like their first time. They make the same mistakes at the same junctions every time they encounter them, and they will happily approach a four-lane roundabout in the left lane when wanting to turn right every single time they go to work. They never learn, because they aren’t aware that they’re wrong. It is nigh on impossible for them to ever learn, because it’s just the way they are. They quite possibly see nothing wrong with doing it their way, because they feel safer in the left-hand lane and that is justification enough for the ensuing chaos as they signal to move across three other lanes at the last moment. Every. Bloody. Morning. They come to a standstill when negotiating speed bumps, signal when they shouldn’t, and don’t signal when they should. They stop for random reasons. They can’t park properly, and they don’t understand road markings, so yellow lines and school gates are fair game. They drive at a steady 40-50mph no matter what the speed limit is at the time, and they can be seen leaning forward, noses pressed to the windscreen, staring straight ahead, and hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life. If they’re female, they seem to attach more importance to flicking cigarette ash out of a tiny crack in the window than they do to driving in a straight line, and their rear view mirror is frequently angled down so that they can see themselves (you can tell when you can see their neck and chest instead of their eyes). When they stop at traffic lights the first thing they do is reach up and tousle their hair or flip the sun visor down to rub their faces using the vanity mirror. These types of people represent a significant proportion of all drivers on the roads today, and you have to wonder how the bloody hell they ever passed their tests.

DVSA needs to try to understand why the natural pass rate is “only” around 50%, and to stop keep meddling to try and increase it.

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