A Driving Instructor's Blog

DVSA

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Original article published in 2008. Updated August 2016, and June 2018.

Ford Focus cockpit

The topic keeps coming back because it is relevant to all learner drivers. When I wrote the original story, DVSA – or DSA, as it was then – had just updated its Internal Guidance Document (DT1) to say:

To ensure uniformity, when conducting car or vocational tests and ADI qualifying examinations, only assess the candidate’s ability to control the vehicle and do not consider it as a fault if, for example, they do not hold the steering wheel at ten to two or quarter to three or if they cross their hands when turning the steering wheel. The assessment should be based on whether the steering is smooth, safe and under control.

The part I’ve highlighted was an addition, and in previous versions of DT1 the steering technique was not mentioned. Even so, no examiners round my way ever failed people for “crossing their hands”. You see, all DVSA was doing with this update was making sure that its examiners were clear on the subject (hence the phrase “[ensuring] uniformity”). Reading between the lines, it seems that there had been complaints about one or two examiners around the country who had been faulting candidates unnecessarily. Reading even deeper, I would surmise that these were ex-ADIs who had carried their ideas about “crossing hands” and “holding the steering wheel properly” across with them when they gave up teaching.

The bottom line is that as long as steering is under control it doesn’t matter how a pupil does it. They can steer with one hand, with their palm, use hand over hand… it simply doesn’t matter. And it hasn’t mattered – not officially, anyway – for a very long time. I emphasise again that the change to DT1 was a clarification and not a major change in policy.

A lot of ADIs and PDIs get hung up on this whole business of  “crossing your hands”. Two versions ago, Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) said:

Turning – When turning the steering wheel, avoid crossing your hands. Except at low speeds, this can reduce your control and can cause an accident. Feed the rim of the steering wheel through your hands. Vary your hand movements according to the amount of lock you want.

This is called the pull-push technique.

TES was not saying that you shouldn’t cross your hands. It just quite correctly pointed out that the rapid steering action that a hand-over-hand method can lead to might give rise to a loss of control at higher speeds. But there is a huge difference in the effect produced by whipping the steering round quickly as you’re turning into a road at 20-30mph compared with the same action at 5-10mph.

The only type of  “crossing hands” that ends up being wrong in almost all circumstances is the one where pupils grip the steering wheel tightly and turn from their shoulders, keeping their hands in a fixed place on the steering wheel. This nearly always results in insufficient lock to get round the corner, resulting in wide turns, or possibly over-steering if the pupil suddenly panics and shifts their grip to get the car round. Just about every learner does it like this on their first lesson.

The last two versions of TES (most recently, 2015) have merely said:

You should

  • place your hands on the steering wheel in a position that’s comfortable and which gives you full control
  • keep your movements steady and smooth
  • turn the steering wheel to turn a corner at the correct time

Personally, I rue the loss of the extra detail in the version before this. I see it as a dumbing down exercise, and far too many people are ready to believe that it’s some sort of admission that the “pull-push” method was bad, when it most definitely wasn’t. The pull-push technique – where steering is achieved by alternately pulling the wheel down with one hand, then changing grip and pushing it with the other – certainly isn’t the only way to steer, and people who can already drive shouldn’t be forced to use it. But for most beginners, who have not yet developed a suitable technique, it should definitely be a starting point for them. It requires hand coordination which, in turn, becomes a foundation for good car control.Playing "keepy-up"

A good analogy would be with a professional footballer. He can play “keepy up” for hours on end because it is an important basic control skill – but you will rarely see him do it on the field. However, the coordination required to do it enables him to do other things during matches that he would otherwise struggle with.

It’s the same with steering. Being able to use pull-push properly is an important foundation skill that drivers should possess, even if they end up rarely using it in favour of a more chav-like style. Once beginners can do pull-push, they can steer easily without going wide on bends and corners. They are less likely to over-steer into kerbs, and are more confident as a result, being able to adjust their steering in a controlled manner. A major drawback to hand-over-hand steering for beginners who know no other way is that they can easily panic and over steer.

The new wording in TES could actually be taken as a mandate for teaching poor steering methods by some instructors, because it’s easier for them and easier for their pupils. Some people are already under the mistaken impression that it’s “coaching” to let people develop bad habits in preference to teaching them properly.

Incidentally, when someone pull-pushes the steering in one direction, the natural return action frequently involves push-pull. They’re not two separate methods like some people seem to believe. It doesn’t matter whether you pull first, or push.

Why shouldn’t I turn (dry steer) the wheel when the car isn’t moving?

Moving the wheel when the car is stationary is called “dry steering”. There’s no rule or law which says you mustn’t do it, and examiners do not mark you on it. I have much less of an issue with it than I once did when doing manoeuvres. However, it can bad practice for several reasons:

  • it can damage your tyres
  • it can damage your steering mechanism
  • it can damage the road surface

Scrunching your tyres over gravel instead of rolling over the road surface leads to more wear. Doing it on glass or nails can give you a puncture. The extra strain involved when dry steering leads to more wear in the steering mechanism of your car. And scrunching your tyres on tarmac in hot weather can chew up the surface, which holds water in winter, and which can cause cracks if the water freezes – leading finally to potholes. You’ll get some smart arses telling you they’ve never come across an example where dry steering has caused actual damage, but the reality is that every time someone has to replace a tyre, dry steering could have contributed to its overall wear and tear.

Replacing a tyre is going to cost you a few tens of pounds at the very least. Fixing worn out steering will cost hundreds of pounds. Potholes can cause hundred of pounds worth of damage to your car – plus you pay taxes for them to be (eventually) filled in, so it makes sense not to contribute to their formation. However, your car is not going to spontaneously fall apart in the middle of the road if you dry steer occasionally, so don’t worry about it too much.

Except where pupils have a genuine problem and need to dry steer, as the default steering method in all situations it is an excuse for laziness and bad driving practices. Dry steering should be discouraged for most drivers, most of the time.

I find that many pupils can’t control the car and steer at the same time, and they need to dry-steer

That’s fair enough, but make sure you’re not just looking for an easy way out. In all the years I have been teaching, the number of pupils who couldn’t be taught to control the car at low-speed and steer pull-push at the same time, and so have had to resort to dry steering, have been relatively few. The vast majority of learners have initial problems with just about every aspect of driving, but that doesn’t mean they should be taught a dumbed down approach at the first opportunity. In my own experience, based on the observed skills of pupils I’ve picked up from other instructors, that is exactly what seems to be happening. Dry steering is seen as an easy way out.

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

Yes, I agree, but it can usually be overcome. Having said that, as time has gone by, I have less of an issue with dry steering than I once did during manoeuvres. The real problem  for most is to do with multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking doesn’t mean doing two things at the same time. The human brain can’t handle that. What it does mean is carrying out several tasks concurrently. I know that sounds confusing, but let me explain.A plate spinning act

Think of a plate-spinning act – the thing where some guy spins plates on the ends of sticks and keeps them all going without any falling off. He starts with one plate, sets it spinning, then uses the time before it starts to wind down to set another going. Now, he goes back to the first and gives it a boost, then he sets a third plate going. He can now go back and boost the second, and maybe the first again. Then he spins up a fourth plate. And so on, until he has many plates all spinning. All he has to do is give each plate a boost as necessary. This is proper multi-tasking – the plate spinner does one thing at a time, following a sequence.

Let’s apply all this to the turn in the road (TIR). In the worst case, a pupil will start moving without having a clue what they’re going to do next – and the car just moves off along the kerb as their brain tries to figure out what’s going on, and what they should do next. Not quite as bad, but still very messy, is the case where the pupil tries to get the car moving, control the speed, and steer all at once. What usually happens is that the car lurches (perhaps stalls), which distracts them from steering. Then, if they try to steer, their foot comes up off the clutch and the car accelerates, which distracts them again and the steering stops. By this time, they’re almost at the opposite kerbside with very little steering applied.

TIR (assuming we’re doing it as a three-point turn) can be broken into three identical stages, each looking a bit like this:

  • select gear
  • find the bite
  • look around
  • release hand brake
  • control speed
  • get full lock on
  • control speed again
  • look around
  • control speed
  • watch the kerb
  • control the speed
  • stop

If we apply the plate spinner approach, where controlling the speed is the same as giving a plate a boost, we have a nice structure that can be followed in a steady sequence. As long as the car’s speed is kept low, everything else just happens.

My instructor is teaching me to dry steer

As I said earlier, you won’t fail for doing it on your test, and I now have much less of an issue with dry steering on manoeuvres than I used to. However, it is bad practice to do it when you definitely don’t need to. It can damage your tyres and other things and it is something you need to avoid whenever you can. If you’re parked in a tight space, the only way you’re ever going to get out is by dry steering.

I can’t master “pull-push” steering

If you can steer safely and in control, it doesn’t matter how you do it. Even using the palm of one hand and driving like the chavs do is perfectly acceptable… as long as you’re in control. However, if you are a beginner and you don’t already have a suitable way of steering, pull-push is a good technique to master. You can easily practice it at home using a book or dinner plate as a dummy steering wheel.

If you want to steer left, move your left hand to the top of the wheel (or dinner plate), grip, and pull the wheel down until your hand is at the bottom. Move your right hand to the bottom, grip, let go with your left hand, then push the wheel/plate up. To continue steering, move your left hand to the top again, change grip, and repeat – although you’ll probably have full-lock on before you complete the third movement.

To steer right, start by moving your right hand to the top of the wheel and pull down, etc.

Using pull-push means you always have more steering available to you. Using big turns is good for getting full-lock quickly, but you can use small shuffles for more precise steering as needed.

Get the dinner plate out and make sure you can do it.

Do you have to use “push-pull”?

It’s actually called pull-push, but whatever you call it the answer is “no”. As far as I am aware, you have never HAD to do it that way – you’re probably confused about being told that by your own instructor, or by someone else whose instructor told them. The examiner doesn’t care how you steer as long as you’re in control.

That’s not to say that you can literally steer anyway you like, though. Pull-push (or something very similar to it) done properly is definitely the best way – especially for learners.

What about “palming”?

This is what I refer to as “chav steering” – it’s where someone uses the palm of one hand to rotate the wheel, and it is the favoured method of people who are trying to cultivate an image.

I often pick up pupils who use it, and I don’t immediately try to change them unless there is a problem with control. I’m perfectly happy for them to use it when they’re doing manoeuvres because of the low speeds involved. However, if they try it when turning into a road or round a sharp bend, if my guts flip even a small amount as a result of the change in momentum then I’m right on it, and they will learn how to steer using pull-push.

Palming to steer at normal speeds and in normal situations is pretty much pointless because you simply don’t need to steer that quickly. Beyond that, it comes back to that thing about image again – which is fine for an established driver (where you’d call it a habit), but not for an inexperienced beginner who just wants to look “cool”. Steering too quickly adds an additional sideways component to the forces acting on the car, and that increases the risk of a skid or spin-out, and palming can easily lead to that. And remember that this kind of accident is common among younger inexperienced drivers.

Is it OK to teach learners to “palm” the wheel?

Well, if they remain in control when they are steering then there is no fault for the examiner to mark. However, if they steer too quickly when turning left or right into side roads or bends then there most definitely is a control issue and the examiner might well mark it. With an inexperienced driver, showing them how to palm the wheel is a pointless additional risk.

A decent instructor should not be teaching palming as a preferred steering method for beginners. There’s too much that can go wrong with it. For established drivers the risks need to be assessed and dealt with honestly. Quite simply, too many ADIs steer like that themselves and this is why they teach it. It is bad practice, though – much like dry steering.

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

It isn’t rocket science, so don’t let your pupils think it is. Remember that as long as they are in control it doesn’t matter how they steer. Having said that, if they have not driven properly before it is a good idea to teach them how to use the pull-push method first (and to avoid dry-steering), and then let them develop their own style from there. Pull-push requires fundamental skills that they can use in their own style. Let them practice with a large book or diary – if you have a dummy steering wheel, so much the better.

Once they know the principle of steering, the next step is putting it into practice. For most new drivers that’s not a problem and just getting out on the road is enough for them to hone their skills. However, some new drivers need a bit of extra help with knowing how much to steer and when, and finding an empty car park which is big enough to drive around in a figure of eight pattern is great for practising this.

How do I correct someone’s steering while they’re driving?

This is an actual search term used to find the blog. It might be necessary for an instructor to position the car correctly for a learner simply by holding the steering wheel and steering slightly from the passenger seat. The pupil can then zero in on their position relative to the kerb or white lines and learn from that.

How many turns is full lock?

It varies from car to car. In my Ford Focus it is currently just over 1¼ turns either way, but in the previous model it was just under 1½ turns. One of my pupils has a car where it is nearly 2 whole turns.

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

Read the previous answer. Full lock is when the steering wheel won’t turn any further. It will go “clunk” against the end stop.

One turn is one turn. If full lock is more than one turn, then no, full lock and one turn are not the same.

How much do I need to steer?

Don’t get bogged down counting quarters or halves of turns of the wheel (except perhaps during some manoeuvres). Steer as much as you need to by watching where you’re going and making the car go there.

If you get muddled when it comes to straightening the wheels after having turned to full lock, it can sometimes be useful to count your hand movements needed to get full lock in the first place, then count the same number of hand movements back. Obviously this depends on having a reliable technique – it won’t work if you use hand-over-hand one way, and tiny little shuffles going the other.

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

In my experience, the following are all high on the list:

  • looking at the steering wheel
  • looking too close to the front of the car
  • looking at the kerb
  • not looking ahead
  • being distracted by other things
  • gripping the wheel too tightly
  • not moving their hands when steering
  • steering too much or too quickly
  • steering too little or too slowly

The list is really endless, but not all learners make all these mistakes. Most pupils who have problems tend to specialise in one particular fault.

Remember that it is important to identify the precise cause of the fault. Someone might not steer enough going round a corner, but it could be simply that they were trying to change gear or cancel the indicator. In some cases, though, question them and you may well find it was because they were thinking about a mistake they made earlier. The trick is to dig the real fault out.

My pupil keeps moving the steering wheel all the time, even on straight roads

It’s probably because they’re not looking far enough ahead. Think about it: your hands will follow your eyes without you being aware of it, and this means that if you watched a video of yourself driving on a straight road, your hands would be making small corrections the whole time. Learners tend to look much closer to the front of the car, and as a result their adjustments are more frequent, and of greater magnitude. Get them to look a couple of hundred metres further on – point out various things for them to look at – and there’s a good chance their steering will become very smooth.

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

If they’re in control it doesn’t matter. They should try to keep two hands on the wheel, but dropping to one hand now and then isn’t a problem. It can even be a good exercise to get them to steer with one hand – their road position often improves dramatically, because they are concentrating more.

How can I practice steering?

Well, first of all, don’t over think the subject. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a pupil who couldn’t steer within a few minutes – and certainly not within 20 minutes or so – so you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Occasionally, I do get people who have an initial problem with pull-push steering if they’ve never done it before. What I do in those cases is whip out my diary, which is A4-sized, and get them to pull-push-pull one way, then the other. I demonstrate it first, of course. Once they’ve done the correct hand movements once, it’s no problem after that (it’s a bit like those Chinese puzzles you get, where once you know the secret you can do it with your eyes shut). In the past, I’ve had pupils who have practiced at home using a dinner plate (and even one of those kiddies toy steering wheels would do it – as long as you lock yourself in somewhere with the curtains drawn so no one will laugh at you!)

As I said previously, once people have the ability to do pull-push, I let them develop their own method from it.

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A motorwayI’ve said it before, but this is about 50 years late. But better late than never.

As of today, 4 June 2018, learner drivers will be allowed on motorways as long as they’re with a fully-qualified instructor and in a car with dual controls fitted.

The Highway Code has also changed with effect from today. Specifically, Rule 253. This paragraph has been added:

From 4 June 2018 provisional licence holders may drive on the motorway if they are accompanied by an approved driving instructor and are driving a car displaying red L plates (D plates in Wales), that’s fitted with dual controls.

Apparently, learners are still not allowed on certain roads – designated “special roads”. Motorways were specifically designated “special roads” until today, but the Law has changed on that. So the big question has to be: what other “special roads are there?”

I have to be honest and say that until I saw this email from DVSA, I had no idea that there was a third category of non-private carriageway beyond normal roads and motorways. After looking it up, it would appear that I wasn’t alone, and a FOI enquiry was made on the subject in 2016 by someone.

It would seem that there is only one “special road” in the whole of the UK. Highways England – and even they had to look into it – responded to the FOI request with:

From the information that we hold, the only non-motorway special road that has been identified is the A282 in Essex and Kent, between M25 junction 30 and south of M25 junction 1b. This section of road includes the Dartford – Thurrock River Crossing.

Why does this country have to be so f—ing stupid? But anyway, the fact remains that as of today (4 June), learners can be taken on any road in the whole of the UK – except for the f—ing A282 in Essex and Kent (unless another one crawls out of the woodwork).

Jesus H Christ.

Update: A reader informs me that there is a stretch of the A55 in North Wales which is also classed as a “special road” (and maybe part of the A1 ‘oop north’). I’ve actually driven on that when visiting Llandudno one time before I became an instructor.

Ahhh. Llandudno. Every other shop is a Mobility shop. And (some) people drive around with wheelchairs on the rhino horns on the back of their cars. I’m not making that up. Much. And you’ll get tarred and feathered if you pronounce “Llandudno” the way it’s spelled while you’re there.

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This article was originally published in February 2014. Updated in 2015, November 2016, March 2017, and June 2018.A Clifton Test Route

I get frequent hits on the blog from people looking for test route information. Test routes are no longer published for Nottingham, or anywhere else – they stopped publishing them in 2010!

If you’re an instructor, it isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go. To begin with, anywhere near the test centre is bound to be on most of the routes. If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time as you conduct your lessons, so you can add that location to your memory bank. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests – some of them will be able to give you some details, though many won’t. If they fail their test, find out where the mistakes occurred – the examiner will be more than happy to tell you – and if it crops up more than once, modify your lesson structure and deal with it going forward. Finally, if you’re desperate to know the exact routes you can sit in on tests and learn that way. If you know what you’re doing you can even log the routes for reference – the picture above shows one of the test routes for the now-closed Clifton Test Centre (the orange dot), which I recorded myself. Click on it for a larger image.

Conducting your lessons only on test routes is rather foolish. Apart from the fact that you’re cheating your pupils by not teaching them to drive properly, examiners can change routes or mix and match from several routes any time they need to. Pupils who try to memorise test routes are far more likely to fail because they’re prioritising the wrong things – worrying about forgetting the route instead of thinking about driving properly. Considering that there are dozens of official routes at any large test centre, it would require a considerable feat of memory to store all of them, and then to be able to recall just one as needed. Based on my own experience, many pupils have difficulty recognising a street we’ve been on a hundred times before, so memorising 20 or more complete routes is even less possible for them.

Having said that, it is important for an ADI to have some knowledge of the test routes so that special features can be covered. Every town or test centre has these – the tricky roundabout with the one-way street and No Entry sign, the unusually steep hill that can only be negotiated in second gear (and which may require a hill start if some jackass in a van doesn’t give way coming down it), the STOP junction immediately after an emerge on to a busy road with a bend, and so on. It doesn’t matter how good someone is at dealing with roundabouts, if they come face to face with ones like the Nottingham Knight or Nuthall roundabouts up my way, without prior practice there’s a high probability they’ll get it wrong. Someone’s first practical experience of such a roundabout shouldn’t be on their driving test.

I remember when I first became an ADI, and religiously downloading all the routes provided by DVSA (then, DSA). The documents consisted of tables of directions which were cryptic unless you knew roads by name and/or number, which I didn’t at that time. I made a single half-hearted attempt to plot a route before giving up – there just wasn’t time – and I quickly realised that it was pointless anyway. These days, I’d probably be able to interpret those route plans quite easily, but these days my pupils get to drive all over – sometimes on test route roads, sometimes not.

Hanging around test areas like a bad smell also gets you a bad reputation. You get in the way of real tests, if nothing else. But you’ll also end up struggling with all the other morons trying to do the same as you.

Where can I download test routes?

You can’t. Not unless some ADI has recorded them and is publishing them independently.

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if some smart aleck is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is behaving in an unprofessional manner. If you buy into that then you’re not much better. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway.

A desire to obtain detailed test routes for use on lessons seems to be something newly-qualified ADIs attach high importance to. Trust me: don’t waste your money. If you really want them, record them yourself.

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 tracker – if you use a phone app, you have to leave your phone in the car, which raises various problems if it is paired with your in-car audio system, plus you can’t use it at the test centre if you’re not sitting in  – and I know where every pupil goes on their test. I can see where they are while I’m at the test centre in real time, so I know when they are coming back. This is purely for my own information, and publishing my logged routes would be completely against DVSA’s original reason for stopping publication. If it wasn’t already apparent from the rest of this blog, I have absolutely no inclination or desire to go against DVSA.

I have provided an old Clifton test route in the image at the start of this article (Clifton is now closed). This one is overlaid on a satellite image from Google Earth, but you can overlay the .kml data on maps or whatever. Sometimes, it can be surprising how many times you do the same roundabout in a single day – or even on the same lesson if a pupil is struggling with it and you need to keep trying it.

Raw tracker data from a typical dayWhat is interesting from my logged routes is how they change over time. Sometimes, tests follow precisely the same route as previous ones, but other times new sub-sections of route are added (I suspect this happens when existing routes get clogged with instructors). Knowing where a pupil went on their specific test is useful if they fail and you need to identify exactly what went wrong, and where.

You can also record routes using dashcams. As well as my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. A couple of years ago, I showed a pupil where she’d failed after the examiner explained it in the debrief. She didn’t know what he was talking about (if she had, she wouldn’t have done what she did), but I placed the video online privately for her to look at less than an hour later, and then she understood.

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

You don’t – and they’re probably not. They might be totally imaginary, or simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes in order that the unprofessional person selling them has some justification for the price they charged you. They may even just be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010 and which are almost certainly out of date. As I said above, routes change with time.

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

No. 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 – then your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them.

People fail tests because they can’t drive properly far more frequently than they do because they couldn’t recall a memorised route. However, not driving properly becomes much more likely when your brain is scrambling around thinking “now, what is it I have to do here?”

How many test routes are there?

It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them – and to be honest, even if you drove down your own street on your test the chances are that you might not notice! You will be nervous, and you will be concentrating. The last thing you want is to have to try and remember a detailed list of directions, then to start fretting if you think you might have forgotten something.

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Doing the theory testI must admit that wasn’t aware this was being looked into, but from today the Theory Test is changing slightly to make it “more accessible”.

Apparently, words like “increased” and “decreased” are considered to be “long and complicated”, so they have been replaced with “bigger” and “smaller” instead. I’ll take their word for it that this solution has addressed an actual problem, and look forward to future changes where “bigger” and “smaller” are replaced with “↑” and “↓” on the grounds that written words are too complicated.

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StairsLast December (2017), the driving test was changed to include use of a satnav, and two of the harder manoeuvres were replaced with two that my cat could do. From June 2018, learners will – at long last – be allowed to take lessons on motorways (with an instructor, and not with mum, dad, or best mate Kyle/Kylie).

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a new pupil if they knew about the changes, and they came out with something about “graduated licences”. I pointed out that graduated licences (GLs) have been talked about for almost as long as learners being allowed on motorways has (30 years at least), and although they are a good idea, their introduction is not going to happen in the near future.

I picked up this month’s copy of Intelligent Instructor and saw that Northern Ireland is to introduce such a scheme, and DfT is going to monitor the success of this with a view to introducing a scheme for the rest of the UK. It is worth pointing out that the scheme in NI is set for launch “in 2019/20”. Allowing for a suitable monitoring period, followed by consultation, then the likely changes in the Law, any similar scheme in the UK is unlikely to be seen before 2025. And even that is if there’s a highly favourable following wind (i.e. the same government and no other unrelated problems rearing their heads).

For a start off, IAM is involved, and it is already opposed to night-time curfews – which would be one of the most obvious things to include in any GL system). Then there is some nonsense about post-test training involving parents, when the parents are some of the worst offenders out there. And Theresa May’s hold on power is tenuous at best, so she’s unlikely to risk bringing in anything that loses votes.

The learners-on-motorways saga picked up steam almost ten years ago, but it’s taken until now – with several government changes and other delays along the way – to come to anything. Now, we have Brexit hanging over us like a skip load of manure ready to fall.

Don’t hold your breath.

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A SquirrelThe media is having a hissy-fit over the possibility that new drivers could face restrictions after they pass their tests.

Possibilities include:

  • night-time curfews
  • speed limit restrictions
  • restrictions on number and age of passengers
  • lower drink-drive limits
  • restrictions on engine sizes

No one should worry just yet. With such organisations as the RAC and Brake poking their oars in, each with its own preferred set of restrictions, any changes are unlikely to happen at all – let alone quickly. Add to that the fact that this was raised in Prime Minister’s Questions, and all that Theresa May has said is she’ll “look into it”, and the likely date of implementation is well over the horizon.

If it happens, Theresa May won’t still be PM. That you can be certain of.

I don’t have an issue with some form of graduated licence. If it were up to me, no one would be allowed to drive an Audi or BMW (ever), any car with any sort of modification, or when wearing a baseball cap or hoodie until they’re at least 30 and have taken an IQ test to show that they’re smarter than, say, a squirrel.

Anyone who is learning to drive now can forget about it affecting them. Remember that some time this year, learners are supposedly going to be allowed on motorways with ADIs (driving instructors). This was announced officially in August 2017, following “government proposals” in January 2017. There was a consultation circulated in December 2016. But this was the fulfilment of something that started back in 2011, which announced that learners were going to be allowed on motorways in 2012. A total of well over 7 years.

And we still don’t know when in 2018 it will happen. It requires an Act of Parliament to implement, and there is no sign of this happening. The government managed to get itself voted into a minority at the last election, Brexit is causing more and more headaches for an increasingly aged-looking May (the worst of these being Boris Johnson), and autonomous electric vehicles will apparently be the norm from sometime next summer (if you believe some of the crap that gets written).

Graduated licences are probably way off.

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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 decided 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

(Edit: I am reliably informed that the DVSA satnavs now give an exit number and a direction – I’ll be damned if I can make my TomTom GO app do that, though.)

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. This is still true, even if the satnav gives identical instructions to what a human would (see edited comment above).

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.

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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 (edit: a reader points out that the reverse bay park is still done only at the test centre) 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. Here it is.

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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.

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