A Driving Instructor's Blog

DVSA

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Flip-flops - the most inappropriate driving shoesOriginally published in 2019, so references to ‘recent’ apply to 2019.

With the weather we’ve had recently, there’s a good chance you’ll have had pupils turn up half naked for their lessons ready to sweat all over your seats (one of mine has been bringing a towel to sit on after I ribbed him about wetting the seat). Then, five minutes later, they’re moaning about being too cold because you have the aircon turned on (assuming you’re not a tight-arse who refuses to turn it on to save fuel).

One issue which comes up regularly throughout the year, though, is what they have on their feet.

At the most basic level, a new driver has got to learn how to control the pedals, and especially the clutch. To do that, they’ve got to be able to feel it – which they can’t if they’re wearing big, clunky shoes. Running shoes are probably the worst for this, because they’re specifically designed to absorb shock (and therefore any light touch on the pedals), but any kind of shoe with a platform is going to make clutch control harder. This is especially true if the pupil hasn’t driven before, and even more so if they’re one of the types who is going to have problems in this area anyway.

I had a pupil a few years ago who was one of the jumpy kind. One day I picked her up directly from work, which meant she had ‘forgotten’ her driving shoes. She was wearing platformed Doc Martens – literally, with a four inch chunky heel and bulldozer tread underneath. I abandoned the lesson after less than ten minutes before someone was killed, and drove her home. In a similar vein, I remember once seeing a woman get out of a Mini Cooper wearing massive goth boots with wedge soles that were at least three inches thick (below the knee, she was a ringer for Karloff’s Frankenstein). You cannot drive safely in those. Period.

I always advise pupils to wear flat soled shoes with a thin profile. Anything thick is going to make life difficult, and it drives me crazy when one turns up for their very first lesson in designer running shoes, with the extra thick sole and a concealed wedge heel.

Speaking personally, I absolutely hate it when they want to drive barefoot. My reasoning behind this is that I know from direct experience that you can stub your toe or even cut your foot on the pedals if you hit them in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it bloody hurts. Car manufacturers don’t seem to put much effort into ensuring the undersides of the pedals free from burrs or sharp edges. Furthermore, there is no way most people can brake as hard barefoot as they could in shoes. And if it’s more than half an hour since the car was last valeted, the floor mat will have grit on it, and the last thing you want is to have to execute an emergency stop in your bare feet only to discover something sharp stuck on your sole.

Having said that, I had one pass recently who drove barefoot. I let her do it (after telling her off the first time for trying to stow her shoes in the footwell) after I’d done my usual test in this situation: the Emergency Stop. If they can execute an Emergency Stop barefoot to the standard I expect, then they can drive like that if they want (though I still don’t like it). And she could. However, at the same time she had referred a friend to me who was in the same Halls of Residence, and she couldn’t. One day a few months ago, she came out to a lesson wearing huge furry slip-on slippers (‘why’ was a long story which I’m not sure I fully understand even now). She immediately knew they were not good for driving and asked if she could drive barefoot.

I said that I didn’t mind (because her friend did it), but I was concerned about how well she would be able to operate the brake in bare feet. I asked her to brake firmly while we were stationary and to tell me how it felt. She said it hurt, and she didn’t think she’d be able to brake hard if she needed to on the lesson. Problem solved, and we rescheduled – with the additional light-hearted warning not to come out with the wrong shoes again.

I can think of loads of examples where pupils had previously worn sensible shoes, then come to lessons wearing different though not necessarily inappropriate ones, and had a stinker – just because the shoes are different! Small differences can have a huge effect on some people.

Pupils with larger feet also need to be careful. Anything much above size 9 or 10 doesn’t work well if their shoes have long toe caps, because they’re likely to start catching on the cowling above the pedals. Winkle pickers are a no-no if you have large feet in many normal cars, and since they often have absolutely no grip (just a thin, shiny sole), the risk of the wearer’s foot slipping is also greater.

Very wide- and loose-fitting shoes – Ugg boots spring to mind – are also potentially dangerous, because if you try to slam on the brakes there’s a good chance you’ll make contact with the brake and gas pedals at the same time. And it does happen – it happens sometimes even with small-footed people wearing sensible shoes, so throwing Uggs into the mix is just asking for trouble. The same is true when someone insists on wearing some sort of hobnailed boot two sizes too big as a fashion statement – they’re too bloody wide.

Probably the most dangerous shoes for driving, though, are backless types. Mules, backless sandals, and flip-flops. It’s not necessarily anything to do with the heel thickness – though it can be if they’re platformed – but the fact that they can slip off. I mean, think about it. You can potter about as much as you like in summer wearing flip-flops or mules, but try to run and it’s 50-50 whether they will stay on, and 50-50 whether you end up flat on your face on the pavement or road. They present the same risks in the car if you have to move your foot suddenly to brake – with the additional chance that they will fall under the pedal and prevent you from depressing it fully. They could even get tangled up sufficiently to prevent you being able to brake at all. And don’t dismiss that out of hand – I once had a loop in a shoe lace double bow get itself completely over the clutch pedal (God knows how) so I couldn’t take my foot away or lift it high enough to declutch, and when I slipped the shoe off it swung under the pedal and stopped me declutching fully anyway. Shit happens, as the saying goes.

Strap-on sandals are not so bad, though the open toe arrangement still means you can catch your foot more easily if the sandals are particularly large and oversized (which many are these days).

And it goes without saying that trying to drive in high heels is just plain stupid. The heel messes up how you have to operate the pedals, and you cannot get anything like the same force if you really needed it. Many high heels have shiny soles with little grip, which makes matters even worse.

It isn’t illegal to drive barefoot, nor are any specific types of footwear banned or even mentioned in the Highway Code. The only reference is in Rule 97 (partial quote):

Before setting off. You should ensure that

  • clothing and footwear do not prevent you using the controls in the correct manner

However, DVSA has been quoted separately as follows:

Wear sensible clothing for driving, especially on a long journey. Suitable shoes are particularly important. We also would not recommend driving barefoot because you don’t have the same braking force with bare feet as you do with shoes.

My comments above are based purely on my own experience and knowledge, and they agree completely with this DVSA advice. And so do various other organisations.

I wear flip-flops and never had a problem

This stupid argument makes me angry – especially when it is coming from ADIs.

Everyone knows that if you have a set of expensive crystal glass goblets you shouldn’t drop them. If you do, they’re likely to smash. However, someone somewhere will undoubtedly have dropped one by accident one time, and it will have bounced on the carpet or the arm of a chair, and survived. This does not mean it is OK to drop or mishandle delicate glass goblets. It just means you were bloody lucky.

As I said above, if you try and run in flip-flops or mules, they’re easily likely to come off or send you sprawling (possibly both). The chances of that happening are roughly the same as they are of you getting away with it. If personal injury is one of the possible outcomes, then those odds are not good. If death for you or a passer-by were a possible outcome, they’re catastrophically bad.

There’s no evidence flip-flops are dangerous

You really shouldn’t just say what comes into your head before you’ve fact-checked it. Back in 2016 the insurance company, Sheila’s Wheels, did a survey – and it was of enough people to have statistical significance across the population –  which showed inappropriate footwear was responsible for as many as 1.4 million accidents a year in the UK. Of those surveyed, 60% admitted to driving in ‘inappropriate footwear’. A third said that this involved sandals and flip-flops. And a quarter said they still did it in spite of their previous mishap. About one twentieth to one tenth had actually had an accident as a result.

It doesn’t matter that more people have accidents opening a tin of beans, or taking a sheet of paper out of their printer. Those things have nothing whatsoever to do with driving a car. What matters is that flip-flops are demonstrably dangerous when worn for driving.

I drive in high heels and don’t have a problem

There is no way you can drive as safely in high heels as you can with sensible flat soles. Period. It is a simple scientific fact based on the change to the way you have to apply leverage to the pedals when a high heel is extending and deforming your foot length. Having to brake hard in an emergency situation is going to be a lottery if there is the chance of your four inch heel making contact with the floor before you’ve got the brake on hard enough, or if it snags on the mat.

Remember the example I gave above, of the woman in the goth boots? Three inches of plastic increasing her leg length by 10% and suppressing all feeling of the pedals? Driving in high heels is no different – possibly worse – and anyone who suggests otherwise is a complete idiot, even if they have “always done it”. That’s the risk you’re taking each time you drive in heels.

Pupils will drive in those shoes when they pass

That’s their problem. Your job is to try and educate them in what’s right and what’s stupid while they are with you – not to encourage them in dangerous practices.

I advise all of mine to keep a pair of driving shoes in the car when they pass and not to risk it with heels. Beyond that, it’s up to them.

It’s not against the Law to wear flip-flops

Well, you’d probably still be arguing the toss even if it was. But the fact that it isn’t specifically against the Law doesn’t mean it is the sensible or right thing to do. That it isn’t specifically against the Law means that you doing it is your problem as you struggle with simple common sense. But if you’re encouraging others to do it, then you have become the problem.

But you let people drive barefoot

And I don’t like it. I only give in if they can prove to me that they can do an Emergency Stop properly. As it is, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number who have done it out of many hundreds I have taught. Quite frankly, I wish they would make it illegal to drive barefoot or in inappropriate shoes.

What shoes do your wear?

Deck shoes. I suggest to my male pupils they drive in something similar if they have any issues on lessons. I suggest to the females that ballet pumps with a firm sole are worth a try. It’s surprising how many times I explain – diplomatically – that a driving lesson isn’t a fashion shoot, and people should be comfortable ahead of looking like they’re going to an opera.

Why shouldn’t you put your shoes or bag in the footwell?

If you brake, whatever is down there will move forward. The only place for it to go is under the pedals. So if a kid on a bike rides out in front of you and your bag has moved under the brake or clutch, one of you will be in hospital (or worse) and the other will be up on a careless driving charge (or worse) and about 99% of the way towards becoming an ex-ADI.

Putting your shoes or bag in the footwell isn’t a problem

I have a tidy bag on the back seat of my car for a good reason. On more than one occasion during my driving lifetime, sharp braking has resulted in a bottle or book sliding under the seat and straight under the pedals. The design of the car footwell and the universal laws of physics guarantee that loose objects will end up there if you brake hard. Shit happens.

Storing anything in the footwell is dangerous. I regularly get people wanting to put their shoes, handbags, and even an umbrella (surprisingly common) down there. I simply won’t let them. Because I know from experience how dangerous it is.

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COVID SOM imageJust saw this in the news. Driving lessons can recommence from 4 July 2020.

I’m now going to have to let most of my pupils go, since I cannot start immediately as I am still isolating to protect my elderly parents. And it’s too soon, anyway (we can’t socially distance, and far too many new cases of the virus are still occurring daily).

On the plus side, there will be no more idiotic social media posts about ‘when can we go back’ and ‘well, technically, we never had to stop’.

And the official DVSA email has now come through.

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I received an email alert from DVSA today (as should most other instructors have done). Basically – and except for key workers – all tests are off until further notice. The essential part is reproduced here:

Driving instruction and driving tests

Other than emergency training and tests for critical workers, driving instruction and driving tests have not yet been able to restart because the risk of transmission of the virus in vehicles is higher.

In his statement on 10 June, the Prime Minister reiterated that the government will remain cautious and measure the effect of the changes it makes. The Prime Minister explained this means moving slower than we’d have liked in some areas.

Driving instruction and tests will only restart when the government is confident that the assessment of risk warrants it, subject to the 5 tests and further detailed scientific advice.

In the meantime, I want to re-emphasise that you should continue to limit driving lessons to critical workers who are preparing for an emergency driving test.

Once again, I would like to thank those of you who have been able to offer driving lessons to critical workers during these unprecedented times.

We will, of course, share more information with you as soon as it’s available – including the dates that driving instruction and driving tests can restart.

Any change to this is wholly dependent on what COVID-19 does next, and what the government decides as a result. That is unlikely to occur before July at the earliest, and I have texted all my pupils this afternoon indicating that we are unlikely to be doing lessons before August at the earliest.

One of my pupils has already received a cancellation email – and it is a cancellation, not a rescheduled date. That ought to be telling you something.

I have highlighted in bold the part DVSA emphasises in its email. For anyone too stupid to understand it, it says you should only be giving lessons to key workers who are preparing for a driving test.

I am awaiting the usual clowns arguing ‘yes, but it says should, not MUST’ (a reference to the terminology used in the Highway Code, where the difference is between advice or Law). I’d point out to these idiots that even going against advice can often lead you towards the hard legal aspects. Quite easily. In this case, by working when you shouldn’t you’re probably making the delay for everybody else longer, as you help COVID-19 spread.

Just remember. Apart from the money-grabbing aspect, there is absolutely no point teaching people at the moment if they cannot book a test. Try as you might to sound philanthropical about it, you’re doing it for you, not them. And it shines through like a beacon. Even if you do go ahead and work – and it cracks me up to see all these people who’ve been saying we can, and they’re going to start again ‘on Monday’ every week without fail (but haven’t) – what will you do once your pupils reach test standard? It’s likely there’ll be no tests until September – maybe longer if the shit hits the fan again, which you working is likely to help happen – and that’s three months away. By then you’ll possibly have blown your chances with SEISS (Part 2) and run out of people to teach. And that’s even assuming you can run a full diary right now (with most pupils not being as clueless as you and staying safe), and having to sanitise the car with a gallon of sanitizer every hour.

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Mr VirusIf you’re sitting comfortably, a little story. Once upon a time not that long ago, Mr Virus appeared. There is no vaccine to deal with him right now. Mr Virus tends to kill quite a few of the people he visits – at the time of writing he has more than doubled the normal weekly death rate from all causes in the UK even compared with a ‘bad flu’ season. Until there is a vaccine for him, he is still out there, doing his virusy thing. He cares not for country borders or skin colour and, being about 45,000 times less wide than a French fry, he cares not for physical barriers, either. Not unless they are very special or very solid ones. He can drift in the air, and he can remain ‘live’ on surfaces for some time. Although he tends to hit those with ‘underlying conditions’ hardest, he has shown quite clearly that he can hit anyone. People with ‘conditions’ tend not to be born with a neon sign on their forehead proclaiming the fact in the first place (though it is a personal choice for the individual to decide if they want one retro-fitting at a later date), but Mr Virus cares not for specific vulnerabilities in any case – he just infects anyone he meets and leaves it up to them whether they survive his visit or not. Many of those he visits might not even know they have a ‘condition’, but these people – including older ones – are not throwaway members of society, and have the same rights as everyone else. But I stress again, Mr Virus’s visit can kill healthy people too. Although his visit seems to have an effect which is proportional to the age of his host, he doesn’t just wait until someone’s birthday or anything, since he cares not for birthdays any more than he cares for borders, barriers, and ‘conditions’. As if to demonstrate this, his visit has recently claimed a 3-day old baby, whereas on the other hand several centenarians have survived it. And finally, Mr Virus is a two-way visitor – he can come visit you, but you can send him to visit others.

The moral of this story is that if you have even a shred of humanity in you, you’ll realise that the Mr Virus problem (aka COVID-19 pandemic) isn’t just about you. Other people are involved – all of them, actually.

In spite of all this, if Uncle Boris lifted the lockdown tomorrow, a huge number of driving instructors would wet themselves rushing out to work. All the dire news about Mr Virus in the media, and the first thing they say is ‘can I work or not?’ They say this repeatedly – and I mean at least once a day – even though nothing will have changed for Mr Virus if the lockdown is eased or lifted. Placing yourself before him will carry they same risks tomorrow, or next week, as it did yesterday, or a month ago.

Misleading (or very unclear) government advice, combined with non-scientific (and even conspiracy-oriented) understanding, doesn’t help. It means that many of these instructors are prepared to teach in face masks – even full-face visors – and nitrile gloves, with all the car windows fully open, and everywhere coated in a double layer of hand sanitizer the moment Uncle Boris says it’s OK. In spite of being short of money, they are apparently going to use a couple of bottles of sanitizer a day between lessons to make sure their car is ‘safe’ (even though Mr Virus is fairly mercenary, and cares not for attempts to eradicate him if you miss a bit, or get any of him on you without realising). They’re also planning to hand out face masks and gloves to their pupils (or insist pupils bring their own). Hand sanitizer of the kind that actually works is running at about £20 for half a litre. Face masks of the cheapest kind are around 50p each (and are single-use and need to be changed every 20 minutes). Gloves are about 25p each (50p a pair).

As for the windows being down – and let’s not complicate the issue by mentioning that it could be 5°C outside – a few years ago I was caught in a sudden thunderstorm on a lesson. The window was open a crack and rain was coming in, which caused the pupil to swerve slightly. I told her to stay calm, gently held the wheel, and asked her to close it. She pushed the wrong button and opened it instead, and got drenched (I was in full control of the steering by now). In addition, you can’t communicate effectively with someone when driving much above 30mph with the windows down because of road and wind noise – and that’s even when you haven’t got your face behind a mask, and possibly a visor, as well. And as numerous people who’ve been planning for it and testing it whilst sat on their driveways have now discovered, if you wear glasses and a face mask, unless it is very tight-fitting – and therefore very uncomfortable – your glasses fog up (as does the visor if you’ve got one on). And that’s before we get any warm weather, which will make it a hundred times worse. And people haven’t even discovered the joys of mask-related zits yet. Or hand dermatitis from wearing sweat-filled gloves for hours at a time. Even worse, masks don’t actually stop the virus. They just reduce the risk. A bit. Probably. And no one knows by how much (‘up to’ 75% minimisation of risk has been touted), even if they do.

One sector other than ours which has been badly affected by COVID-19 is the taxi industry. Taxis didn’t have to stop work, as they were considered essential. Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that behind security staff, taxi drivers have recorded the most deaths across the various sectors – even more than care staff (but only just). Mr Virus certainly took advantage of the situation there. But instructors have been constantly whining that ‘taxi drivers are allowed to work, so why can’t we?’ Even when confronted with the ONS report in the media, the whining has become ‘it isn’t fair that taxi drivers can still work and we can’t’. Clueless doesn’t come into it, and Mr Virus is sitting there rubbing his hands in eager anticipation.

Incidentally. although it has been below the radar throughout the pandemic, you might be aware that Mr Virus tends to be somewhat more malevolent towards males than he is to females. Data suggest he is up to twice as likely to kill men compared with women. I do wonder how much more central on the radar screen this ‘minor’ detail would have been had the situation been the other way round, but I console myself somewhat with the fact that I am instead now far more knowledgeable concerning shortages of sanitary products, the demand for female-specific surgical gowns, women’s mental health issues, and what it’s like to be non-binary during the lockdown. Nevertheless, this statistical skew has prompted some female instructors for whom it hasn’t passed unnoticed to suggest that they should be allowed back to work because they reckon 2:1 is ‘low risk’. Clueless.

But back to taxis. Hackney Cabs already have Perspex screens separating the driver from the passenger compartment in back. Consequently, several companies have developed similar screens for normal taxis – even ones which separate the driver from the front passenger. This is a reasonable idea for taxis, primarily because the driver is the only occupant of his cubicle for the whole day, and because he is the only one responsible for driving the vehicle. But it will come as little surprise to discover some ADIs are over it like a rash. At least two I’ve seen online have even had the modifications carried out!

As I already said, a taxi driver is solely responsible for legal control of his vehicle. A learner is not – the instructor is – and to that end, the instructor has to be able to reach the steering wheel from the passenger side. A Perspex screen prevents that. But that’s apparently not a problem if you’re a super-ADI desperately wanting to go out before it’s safe, because it seems that such an instructor can teach verbally and through the sheer force of their will, and does not need to touch the controls at all (you can see where the article title came from). Alternatively, it has been suggested a hole could be cut to allow access to the steering wheel!

Such a screen would almost certainly void your instructor insurance. For a start off, here on Planet Earth, we mere Earthling instructors have real world experience, and we know that we can have pupils who will attempt to take a roundabout the wrong way, or who see a cat or squirrel run across the road 200 metres ahead and instantly try to take the doors off parked cars along the kerb. We know that telling them – even coaching them – not to isn’t very effective in the heat of the moment, and even if it was we can’t take the risk in the split second involved in avoiding 3rd party contact. So being able to grab the wheel is critical, and if you can’t, you don’t have control.

If this screen had a hole in it, allowing access to the steering wheel, then it would first of all be less effective for its original purpose. But what happens if your hand is through it and a collision still occurs? The jolt alone could snap your arm like a twig if it hit the edge of the screen. But what if the collision were serious enough to compress the car? What does Perspex do when it breaks? It certainly doesn’t shatter into safe little cubes like safety glass, but instead snaps. The broken edges are sharp, the fragments can be pointed, and your arm is through the hole trying to prevent whatever it is that’s happening. It’d be like a scene from a horror movie, and chances are you’d not be having any more piano lessons afterwards.

And then there’s the sanitisation issue. A taxi driver is the only one on his side all day. An instructor spends time on both sides. How much sanitizer or alcohol is going to be needed to clean the entire surface of both sides of the screen? If you have four lessons a day, you’ve got to clean your side (at least) in the morning, both sides before the first lesson, your side (at least) after the lesson, both sides before the next lesson, and so on. That’s between twelve and fifteen complete wipe downs for four lessons! How much sanitizer will that get through? And what if you miss a bit and Mr Virus is lurking on that bit? It’s hard enough to get hair and dust out of the gaps between the seats at the best of times, but how easy will it be when there’s less than half the usual space – and as well as the hair and dust, Mr Virus is possibly lurking? Absolutely clueless.

The next argument that keeps coming up is dates from DVSA. When the lockdown began, DVSA initially cancelled tests for two days, and then a week. Anyone with intelligence above that of a peanut knew – absolutely knew – that it wasn’t going to be just for two days, and then a week. I mean, for f***’s sake, even my neighbour’s cat could work that one out. But not most driving instructors.

As the situation progressed during that first week (March), tests were further cancelled and moved to late May and June. Again, my neighbour’s cat was aware that this was just in line with what the government was saying at the time and that it was not a definite statement of when we would be able to start working as if nothing had happened again. My neighbour’s cat knew that the dates would move back again. And yet every single time someone’s pupil gets an email telling them their test has been moved, out come these people with ‘looks like we’ll be back on 3rd June’. Clueless.

Next, we have the idiotic government ‘guidelines’. It stands to reason that while Mr Virus is hanging around, the best way of stopping him visiting is to keep the metaphorical doors (and windows) shut. And doing that has helped a lot – though it would have helped a lot more if the UK population didn’t include so many Neanderthals who think the rules don’t apply to them, and if the UK government had… well, that’s a different topic, and much too expansive to go into here. But instead of sticking with ‘Stay at Home’, Uncle Boris has morphed it into something along the lines of ‘hey, man, chill. Stay cool. Go out, but be careful’. Translation: ‘If you’re a Neanderthal, you can now do what you were probably doing anyway, and now you can officially do it anywhere and the police can’t do anything about it’.

For driving instructors, the first question to come out of this is ‘so, can we go back to work?’ The obvious and crystal clear answer to this, so my neighbour’s cat tells me, is ‘no’. Standard response from instructors? ‘But we are now allowed to car share, so that means we can work’! Clueless.

And it goes on, and on, and on, and on.

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I received an email today from DVSA. This one has no web link, and since it is addressed and worded to me personally (as in, all ADIs ought to have received similar), I won’t reproduce the entire thing here.

It refers to the suspension of driving tests (except for key workers) – which we all know about along with advice on how to deal with any key workers we might be teaching, and suitable sanitisation procedures.

There’s a bit about how they are working with the political wing of this industry (‘the associations’) to keep people informed.

There’s reference to the forthcoming grant for the majority of instructors – if anyone didn’t know, those eligible will be contacted by mid-May(ish) and payments will be made early June(ish).

Then, a couple of interesting bits, which I will reproduce. Firstly:

If your ADI registration expires by the end of June

If your ADI registration is due to expire by the end of June 2020, you can choose not to renew it right now.

You then have up to 12 months to re-register without having to take the qualifying tests again. However, you will not be able to charge money (or monies worth) for instruction while your registration has lapsed.

To my mind, this suggests that no one is realistically expecting life to get back to normal anytime soon.

Secondly – and even more telling:

If you renewed your ADI registration in March

If you renewed your ADI registration in March 2020 and have stopped working, you can apply for a refund of your registration fee.

Email padi@dvsa.gov.uk with your name, ADI registration number, date of birth and postcode to apply.

You’ll then need to cut up your ADI certificate (badge). You will not be able to charge for instruction after you do this, but you can re-register as an ADI up to the end of March 2021 and start work again without retaking the qualifying test.

So, anyone who got their latest badge in March can apply to get a full refund. I honestly don’t think they’d be doing that if they were realistically expecting tests – and, therefore, lessons – to be starting up in the foreseeable future. No figures or dates are given, but if anyone was expecting the lockdown for driving instructors to last less than 4-6 months, would DVSA be offering refunds? I would doubt it.

All I can go on is what I see, and what I understand. Frankly, there is no realistic end in sight to not being able to give driving lessons just based on the passing of time, or people ‘getting fed up with it’.

All of this is still developing by the day. It’s as serious now as it was when the lockdown first came into force, but there is a growing number of people who, even if they belatedly realised the seriousness before, are falsely trying to play it down now. I’m seeing an increasing number for whom ‘I’ve got to get back to work’ is becoming a mantra.

Because of my background, I know full well the only way out of this is a vaccine. The good news is that Oxford University’s candidate – which they have already said they’re 80% certain will work, and hope to have ready as at least a million doses ‘by the Autumn’ if it does – begins human trials tomorrow. Imperial College has one that will begin its human trials in June. Labs in Germany, China, and USA are also ready to commence (or already have) human trials.

I’m following this news above all else. Because only it will get us out of this in any way which doesn’t lead to even more COVID-19 fatalities.

Update: If you’re on Facebook, ignore any f**kwits telling you either you can’t get a refund, or – possibly worse – that you shouldn’t. In the unlikely event that we can  officially work at any point in the next three months, ask yourself seriously if you really want to.

If you get infected, you will pass it to all the people you meet, and all the people you live with. The virus isn’t going to go from full throttle to engine off overnight on June 12th or any other date some prat has heard one of their pupils has had a test moved to.

If you’re a brand new ADI, you got this far without having to take people on lessons, so why risk never getting the chance in future?

You can get a refund.

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An email alert from DVSA states that all theory tests booked from 20 April are off until Friday 8 May.

Key worker tests will still be conducted. All those affected are being contacted.

I’m sure the rumours will start imminently, but 8 May is just a current future point. Depending on what happens over the next few weeks will govern whether or the lockdown is extended again, so further cancellations are still possible after that.

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ITV: Secrets of the Driving TestThis is a new series on ITV, where cameras were allowed ‘unprecedented access’ to the driving test and test centres, and each week (if it sticks to the same format), follows three candidates with a bit of background information about them, and footage of their performance during their tests. You can still watch it on ITV’s catch-up service.

Going from the first episode – and the ‘next time’ bit at the end (which I haven’t watched, yet) – it’s clear that their choice of which candidates to show is diversity-driven. And I mean ‘diversity’ in the broadest possible sense, with knobs on. I suppose just showing good drivers who pass easily would be boring, so you can maybe see why they did it this way. Obviously, there’s a lot of editing going on to get three tests condensed into a 30-minute slot, so it focuses on mistakes rather than the good bits, which fairly obviously makes it more watchable.

The narration is a bit annoying in my opinion, both in terms of the actual voiceover – it’s a bit grating – but also in what he is saying and how he says it (that grates, too). The funniest part, though, is seeing other instructors’ reactions to it. Not content with complaining about their own pupils’ results, now they can do it by proxy and whinge about other pupils’ results.

Nothing that was shown in the programme contradicts what I have experienced with my own test candidates. I always tell (or teach, or coach) mine that driving onto a footpath is bad and that they shouldn’t do it. And to assume a fail if they do. Because purposely driving onto a footpath and thinking it’s OK is not good by any stretch of the imagination.

Doing it for an instant, by accident – and who hasn’t clipped a kerb at some point (even when they’re super-perfect ADIs who hold court on social media)? – is in a grey area. Clip a kerb that’s half a meter high, and tear off the front of the car – fine. Fail, with knobs on. But brush a normal one (or clip a dropped kerb) at low speed? The examiner’s decision based on the rest of the drive.

In the 1st programme, one pupil had effectively passed minutes before returning to the test centre. Then he stalled repeatedly for trying to move off at a roundabout in 3rd gear. He’d just taken a wrong turn – which isn’t a fail in itself – but he knew he’d gone wrong and became stressed by it, resulting in the stalls. If he’d have realised after the 1st or 2nd stall he was in 3rd he’d probably have passed. As soon as the examiner had to tell him he was in the wrong gear – that’s ETA (V) on the test sheet – he’d failed. So close, but definitely a fail.

The second candidate had also passed minutes before the end. But then she sat waiting to turn right at a junction when it was clear that all the traffic ahead of her had stopped. I can’t recall from the programme if a filter light came on (I don’t think they showed that), but we have a similar junction in Nottingham, and more than one candidate has failed for sitting back. Definitely a fail.

It reminds me of a pupil I had about 12 years ago, As he drove back into the test centre, he had two driver faults on his sheet. The examiner asked him to drive forward into a bay (and back then it didn’t matter how you did it, or how many bays you used). So he braked late and hit the barrier. Only slightly, but he hit it. Fail. Driving into a bay is one thing, driving into a wall at the back of it is something else. Fair enough, the examiner could have passed him (and I’d have accepted that), but he didn’t (and I accepted that). Because it isn’t my call. It’s the examiner’s.

That’s what can happen.

When it comes to tests, I do my job, and I let the examiners do theirs.

Edit: Episode 2 – yep! ITV’s primary objective when conceiving this series was definitely ‘diversity’ among anyone appearing on screen.

The examiners are still definitely doing their jobs properly, though, and come across professionally. Mind you, the older woman from Cardiff’s test would more likely have been abandoned – or at least diverted back to the test centre early – around here. The candidates are clearly (mostly) hand-picked. Rich and Yolana were the only token candidates who were test ready, with Rich – as the older driver – making probably the most typical mistake people who can ‘already drive’ make when they go on test. The clips of his lessons showed him to be a decent driver overall. You could see Yolana was going to pass from the short clips of her lessons – she was good. Mind you, she’d have got a bollocking from me if she was mine after I’d watched the dashcam footage later, for choosing a bay next to a kerb to park in when the whole bloody row was free.

I’ve got a pupil at the moment who is in his late 40s, and who has years’ of experience driving in another country. He can genuinely drive, but getting him to understand the importance of blind spot checks, then getting him to actually check them, has been a nightmare. He failed his first test for it, and that was after around 25 hours of lessons. I’d got him to check properly on lessons, but he was only doing it as an artificial exercise and was not taking it seriously. So he fell back to driving like he has for the last 30-odd years in Africa.

ITV’s apparent desire to get mistakes on screen does show, though, that not taking proper training is not a good idea for the majority of people.

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Virus sepiaPeople keep asking (or criticising) DVSA over concerns about their badges. The ADI’s ‘badge’ – often called the ‘green badge’ – is their licence to teach. It costs £300, which has to be paid every 4 years in order to remain on the Register. I had one such query this morning.

Understandably – up to a point, and usually until it becomes offensive, which with some ADIs it does after about two seconds – during the COVID-19 Pandemic people are asking if they will get an extension to their ADI registration.

The situation we are in is extraordinary. Nothing like it has ever happened before. And it is a Brand New Situation. It’s only been in progress for barely more than two months, and in that time extraordinary actions have been taken – such as the plan to pay people 80% of their income out of government coffers. I would also point out that the number of people who have died (and who are likely to die) is also rather extraordinary, but this seems to keep falling on deaf ears for many.

Right now, there is no clear light at the end of the tunnel, and no one can be certain about when this will all be over and we can return to work.

ADI registration is, I believe, a situation that is governed in Law. It isn’t something DVSA can just change whenever it feels like it, because it doesn’t have that power – only the Law does. Therefore, in order to extend registrations, the Law would need to be amended. Right now, there are far more important things we need to worry about.

Phoning up DVSA is not going to get you anywhere, except angry (if you’re one of the kind who refuses to understand the situation, and blames DVSA for everything). All they can possibly say is what I have said above: that registration lasts for a fixed four years and cannot be extended.

However, the longer this situation continues, the more of an issue it is likely to become. DVSA itself will almost certainly be thinking the same thing, even now. And from what I can see, they are already being lobbied by professional groups of angry people who blame DVSA for everything to look at extensions. If you are really concerned, maybe you could join one of these groups and add your voice.

So just bear that in mind. My own opinion is that if this does go beyond three months, an emergency amendment to the Law to extend ADI licences at some point is likely. Or a partial refund, maybe. Or a discount on the next renewal. I’m only guessing, and have no inside information. The only thing I am certain of is that whatever they do, someone somewhere will still be unhappy about it.

I’m just being realistic instead of angry.

But what about learners and their theory tests?

The same still applies. It’s the Law. Right now, DVSA can only tell you what the Law is, and they have no power to decide differently. And they don’t, no matter how angry you are.

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First message on GOV.UK test bookingRegarding the three-month driving test suspension, be aware that the rearranged dates in June cannot be changed right now.

One of my pupils texted me tonight and said the time on the new date she’s been given isn’t convenient, but she couldn’t change it. I asked her for the booking reference so I could have a look and even on the first page the message above makes it clear you cannot do anything right now. If you do try to proceed further, you get this message.

GOV.UK main messageIt’s fairly clear. The entire DVSA is effectively closed as far as test bookings etc. go.

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