A Driving Instructor's Blog

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Logic For DummiesI only wrote this at the beginning of May, but it’s already worth an update.

At the time when I first published it, a lot of instructors were complaining about the waiting time for driving tests. Several of my own had had rearranged tests assigned which were in June-August. I managed to book another at Watnall for July, but since then there has been nothing.

As I write this update, the online booking service goes as far as 14 November, and there is not a single available test at any of the three Nottingham test centres, and it has been like that for weeks now. That’s a five and half month wait at the very least – which is already an increase of a couple of months compared to what it was in March (when I booked the Watnall test, there were a lot available, and July was just over four months away). I warned it would get worse, but I don’t think we’ve seen just how much worse yet.

That’s because there is another likely issue that ADIs haven’t cottoned on to. At the moment, most of those booking their tests were pretty much test-ready last March (or certainly, at the end of September/October 2020), and it is mainly they who are taking booking slots right now. But the thousands of new learners who have only recently started lessons are all going to become test-ready.

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

I had one of those ‘whatever reasons’ recently. His rearranged test had been set for June, but he got a cancellation for the following week sometime in April and went in his own car. He’d only done six hours with me last October, but was doing a lot of private practice with his mum. He failed, and was initially looking at September for his next test – though he got anther cancellation, this time for July. I’d warned him about cancellations likely being short notice, too, but he wouldn’t listen.

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

Ironically, instructors desperate to fill their diaries to overflowing are making it potentially worse – for themselves, as well as everyone else. They are rushing pupils through for their own financial benefit, but tests are virtually impossible to get and are typically nearly six months away if you manage one. Many ADIs are moaning about pupils and parents asking if they can book the test after the first lesson, and refusing to do it. What happens when those pupils reach test standard and then have a huge wait ahead of them for the test you eventually allowed them to book? They won’t be at all happy.

I am trying to plan ahead. I am advising even new starters with no experience to get their theory test done as soon as possible, and then we will book their practical test no matter what (if we can find one), because six months or more is plenty of time to learn how to drive for most people. I stress they will have to move it if they aren’t ready, and we are not going to pick a cancellation date if it is less than three months away. I am trying to help them make the best out of a bad situation. I have also made it absolutely clear that if they are near to test standard and their test is still months away, we will cut right back or even stop lessons altogether so they don’t spend more money than necessary.

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The blog article about How to do Roundabouts remains popular (and, judging from feedback I receive, very useful to many). One question which crops up again and again is to do with positioning on roundabouts. At the time I wrote this original article, it was being fuelled by nonsense from IAM, and and readily picked up by ADIs who have ideas above their station.The Highway Code roundabouts image

The Highway Code shows this picture (above) and the accompanying text says:

Rule 186

Signals and position. When taking the first exit to the left, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise

  • signal left and approach in the left-hand lane
  • keep to the left on the roundabout and continue signalling left to leave.When taking an exit to the right or going full circle, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
  • signal right and approach in the right-hand lane
  • keep to the right on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit the roundabout
  • signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.When taking any intermediate exit, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
  • select the appropriate lane on approach to and on the roundabout
  • you should not normally need to signal on approach
  • stay in this lane until you need to alter course to exit the roundabout
  • signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.When there are more than three lanes at the entrance to a roundabout, use the most appropriate lane on approach and through it.

The underlining is mine, for emphasis. The Highway Code – both image and text – is crystal clear about staying in lane on roundabouts. It says nothing about ‘straight-lining’ or advanced (imagined or otherwise) police pursuit techniques. That’s because 99.9% of drivers shouldn’t be trying those things on normal British roads (and I include every single member of IAM in that 99.9%).

Then we come to Driving: The Essential Skills (TES, latest edition). This is effectively the syllabus that all driving instructors should be teaching in accordance with, with no exceptions that I can immediately think of. It says:

Procedure when entering/leaving a roundabout

Adopt the following procedure unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.

Going left

  • Indicate left as you approach.
  • Approach in the left-hand lane.
  • Keep to that lane on the roundabout.
  • Maintain a left turn signal through the roundabout.

Going ahead

  • No signal necessary on approach.
  • Approach in the left-hand lane. If you can’t use the left-hand lane (because, for example, it’s blocked), use the lane next to it.
  • Keep to the selected lane on the roundabout.
  • Check your mirrors, especially the nearside exterior mirror.
  • Indicate left after you’ve passed the exit just before the one you intend to take.

Going right or full-circle

  • Indicate right as you approach.
  • Approach in the right-hand lane
  • Keep to that lane and maintain the signal on the roundabout.
  • Check your mirrors, especially the nearside exterior mirror.
  • Indicate left after you’ve passed the exit just before the one you intend to take.

Again, the underlining is mine, for emphasis. TES is also crystal clear about what is expected of drivers using roundabouts. It also uses the same image found in the Highway Code.

Even if you open a copy of ‘Roadcraft – The Police Driver’s Handbook’ you will not find any explicit recommendation that this procedure is to be ignored and replaced by ‘straight-lining’. It’s only when you start searching various ‘advanced driving’ forums (where people have names like ‘Super Scooby’ as tribute to the fact that they drive a Subaru pratmobile) that the concept of ‘straight-lining’ roundabouts rears its head. The general attitude of the average piston head-cum-IAM-member is basically this (my translation):

Straight-lining is not recommended by any authority, and you will not find it written down anywhere. The police recommend using lane discipline at all times except when on an emergency call. HOWEVER… because we class ourselves as advanced drivers, if WE feel it is safe to straight-line a roundabout then that’s perfectly OK.

Seriously, that is exactly what it boils down to. At the time I first wrote this, IAM was simply up to one of its periodic self-promotion exercises.

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Is it OK to straight-line a roundabout?

If there are marked lanes, you should use the marked lanes! You have absolutely no reason to do it any other way, since following the lanes will be the safest line through – that’s why they’re there. You have no need whatsoever to gain a fraction of a second advantage by ‘straight-lining’ as opposed to following the lanes. At best, you will manage to overtake a couple of other drivers who will then laugh at you when they catch up at the next set of lights. And the set after. And so on.

If the roundabout itself is unmarked, then you should use implied lane markings as suggested in the Highway Code diagram shown above. For example, if you have a two-lane dual carriageway feeding a roundabout – and there are no lane markings suggesting otherwise – then that implies that the roundabout also has two lanes. Implied markings extend to most roundabouts where two cars can proceed on to them at the same time, even if there is only a single marked lane on approach. It also applies to most of those which are wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side. The implied markings are governed by the widest feed road (i.e. it doesn’t matter if you’re entering from a single-track road, if the roundabout also has a six-lane dual carriageway feeding it, then it will have six lanes at some point!)

Will I fail my test if I straight-line a roundabout?

If it is clearly marked with lanes and you go careering across several or them and then back over again, yes. If a lane is clearly marked A60, for example, and another A52, if you attempt to take either the A60 or the A52 using the wrong lane you will be nailed for it. And you deserve to be.

If the lanes are implied then examiners often use a little common sense. Remember that learners and new drivers are, by definition, not experienced. For some, even driving in a straight line and checking their mirrors at the same time can be a major challenge, and although most learners are not quite that bad (though they do exist), they are far from being perfect drivers and their awareness skills are not fully formed. Therefore, if a learner on test doesn’t stay in lane – whether marked or implied – on a roundabout, almost without exception it is because they didn’t realise they were doing it and it is a serious error. This is especially true if there’s another road user there, and the examiners will mark it accordingly.

I have listened in on several test debriefs where someone has failed for doing precisely this, and the explanation has gone roughly as follows:

You approached the [implied markings] roundabout in the left-hand lane [of a two-lane dual carriageway]. As you moved on to it, you moved across towards the centre – which is OK – but you didn’t check your mirror to see if there was anyone coming up behind or in your blind spot. So that’s why I’ve had to fail you.

Personally, I hate this explanation, because it implies that the driver did it on purpose and just didn’t check. But I know they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about (I had to show one of them the dashcam footage on at least one occasion so they understood both where and what had happened). It was lazy positioning and no road markings – not intentional ‘straight-lining’.

It would be far simpler (and safer) just to learn to bloody stay in lane and keep out of harm’s way.

One final point. You might get away with lazy positioning once or twice if you’re lucky. Keep doing it and you will be marked down, because it is a fault.

Where can I read up on straight-lining?

You can’t – not unless you just want inaccurate and unofficial nonsense from middle-aged boy racers. The whole concept of ‘straight-lining’ is completely absent from any authoritative published material. DVSA expects good lane discipline on roundabouts.

I was taught to straight-line in the police/military

The only real purpose for ‘straight-lining’ is to gain advantage – either getting past someone, or saving fractions of a second. For the police on a call, that makes sense. I’m not convinced on the reasons for the military teaching it unless it, too, was for pursuit or reasons of timing (or possibly so the cargo doesn’t tip over). There is absolutely no reason for a normal driver (even if they are an ADI) doing it except to show off or be different.

I teach my pupils to straight-line if it’s safe

Then you’re not teaching them properly, because it isn’t what DVSA is expecting you to do. You are expected to teach them lane discipline, not some smart-arsed ideas from an online driving group that thinks it is ‘advanced’.

Learners (and new drivers) do not have the experience to be able to reliably check that it is safe to ‘straight-line’ and deal with everything else that might be going on. If they get it wrong when they’re out on their own it would be a disaster. Many of them can’t follow lanes because they don’t even know the lanes are there, and they should be taught how to do it properly first. When they’ve passed, it’s then up to them whether or not they turn into smart-arse know-it-alls, but they shouldn’t be taught to be smart-arse know-it-alls when they don’t even know the basics.

Straight-lining is an advanced driving skill that it is useful for learners to know

No it isn’t. It’s only an ‘advanced skill’ to a small number of anoraks, and apart from making the statement ‘look what a prat I am’ it serves absolutely no useful purpose for normal drivers. It is used to overtake where you shouldn’t, or to gain pointless milliseconds that are lost at the next set of traffic lights.

On a larger roundabout, your road position is likely to be misleading if you’re ‘straight-lining’, and that means others could enter it as you swerve back over. The police get away with it because they have a siren and flashing blue lights – and even they occasionally have accidents because of it.

Learners should be taught to slow down and check properly at roundabouts, not to take risks.

How would the examiner view straight-lining?

It depends on the examiner. In the example I gave above, they often seem to assume it was deliberate but without the mirror checks. However, I know full well that it was because they hadn’t got a clue that there were lane positions to follow. On the other hand, I am pretty certain that if the roundabout had clearly marked and signed lanes, attempting to ‘straight-line’ one of those is not going to be seen as a positive unless you got very, very lucky. In most cases, even if the pupil managed to get into the correct lane eventually, it would go down as a ‘road signs/road markings’ fault for not choosing the correct lane. But add ‘observations’ on top when they do it and a serious fault is almost guaranteed.

Just don’t do it.

Teaching pupils to stay in lane isn’t teaching them safe driving for life

I’m afraid that it is. Learners are not experienced – experience is something they have to gain for themselves after they pass their tests. They need to have the safest basic skills on which to build that experience, and learning how to stay in lane and avoid conflicts is one of the best examples of that. New drivers who ‘straight-line’ nearly always do so because they either don’t know how to stay in lane, or simply want to go faster than everyone else. Those who ‘straight-line’ are usually also speeding.

I am a ‘safe driver’. I’ve been driving my whole adult life. And I use good lane discipline. The only time I usually have to take any sort of evasive action is when other people don’t use good lane discipline.

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DVSA logoThis was originally published way back when the blog was still new. It has been updated several times since.

As of 2019, DVSA no longer uses a paper test report (the DL25 form). It is all done using an iPad, and an email copy of the test result is sent instead. It means that there is no longer a maintained copy of the DL25 on the GOV.UK website, and that further means that there is no longer an explanatory sheet given. This article deals with that explanatory sheet when it still existed.

However, DVSA now provides an online explanation of what is required. It is effectively the old test report in a new format, and it is very informative.

The benefit of the new format is that it refers to the existing test manoeuvres, whereas the paper DL25 was never fully updated when the new manoeuvres were introduced in 2017, and so didn’t detail possible faults with those.

The original article follows.


A lot of people find this site using search terms like ‘driving test report explained’ or ‘what are S and D on the test report’. I’ve explained everything below. This is taken from the sheet you get [prior to 2019] whether you pass or fail your test, which is officially known as the DL25. The explanation sheet you receive tells you what the examiner was looking for, and why he or she marked you as they did.

I always give out copies to – or at least run through certain sections with – my pupils.

1(a). Eyesight Test

At the start of the test the examiner asked you to read a vehicle registration number. If you do not meet the eyesight standard then your test will not go ahead. If you need glasses or contact lenses to make sure you can read the number you must wear them whenever you drive or ride.

If you can’t read the number plate of a car the driving examiner (DE) chooses outside the test centre then you can’t take the test, i.e. you ‘fail’ immediately.

2. Controlled Stop

You may have been asked to show you were able to stop your vehicle in good time and under full control, as if in an emergency situation. Remember, when driving in wet or icy weather conditions, it will take you longer to stop safely.

One in every three tests gets a full-blown emergency stop, and you will need to be able to do it the way your instructor taught you. In addition, the DE will ask you to pull over and move off again several times during your test, and at least one of these may involve stopping behind another parked vehicle or obstruction, and then moving off again.

3, 4, 5 and 6 Reversing and turn in road exercises

Depending on the test you took, you may have been asked to complete one or more slow speed manoeuvring exercises. You needed to show you were able to keep control of your vehicle. This needed to be done whilst taking effective observations and acting correctly on what you saw.

This covers all of the manoeuvres, although you will only be asked to do one of them during a normal test. The manoeuvres are:

  • turn in the road (not tested since December 2017)
  • left corner reverse (not tested since December 2017)
  • right corner reverse ((not tested since December 2017)
  • stop/reverse/move away from the right (since December 2017)
  • forward bay park/reverse out (since December 2017)
  • reverse bay park
  • parallel park

It is/was very rare for someone taking the test in a car to be asked to do the right corner reverse (it is/was usually vans which get that one) – but  you could have been asked to do it (that came straight from my local test centre manager). Likewise, some test centres don’t have parking bays and therefore don’t usually ask candidates to reverse bay park, but that doesn’t mean they never will (forward bay park is done away from the test centre in a supermarket or council car park). Your instructor should have at least run through any questionable manoeuvres with you because you’ll need to know how to do them once you’re driving on your own.

For all the manoeuvres you must be in control of the car (e.g. no stalling, not too fast or too slow, and not too jumpy). You must also be safe (e.g. looking for other road users before and during movement, and dealing with them appropriately).

7. Vehicle Checks

It is important that the vehicle is in good working order before you start the engine. The examiner asked you some safety questions of a ‘show me / tell me’ nature. You needed to show a basic knowledge of the checks you should make on a regular basis. These include checks on oil and water levels and tyre pressure and tread depth.

This refers to the show-me-tell-me questions. Make sure you can answer them for the car you take your test in – for example, knowing how to check the oil using the dipstick is one thing, but being able to identify where it is another matter entirely.

Note that from 4 December 2017 one of the questions will be asked while you are actually driving. I’ll update this article nearer the time.

11 Precautions

These checks are simple but important. Before you started the engine, you needed to make sure that your seat was adjusted correctly to allow you to reach all your driving controls with ease. This is because an incorrect seat position can affect your ability to take observations and keep proper control of the vehicle.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a pupil who was asked to go through the cockpit drill on their test. However, I have heard stories of candidates being asked to do it, so make sure you know how to adjust your seat and mirrors properly.

12 Control

Throughout the test you needed to show you can use all the controls smoothly and at the correct time. This means less wear and tear on your vehicle and a smoother ride for your passengers.

This covers use of the clutch, brake, and gas pedals as well as the steering and other controls. Make sure you can use them properly.

13 Move off

You needed to show that you can move away on the level, on a slope and at an angle safely, under full control, taking effective observation. Move off only when it is safe to do so.

This covers moving off in control (e.g. without stalling) and safely (e.g. looking all around, including your blind spots, and signalling if necessary). Examiners tend to be quite relaxed about signalling when it isn’t strictly necessary, but they will pick up on not checking your mirrors and blind spots – so even if you signal correctly, if you don’t check properly you could be faulted for it. This is a common cause of failing the test.

14 Use of mirrors – rear observation

You should have used the mirrors safely and effectively acting correctly upon what you saw. Where mirrors are not enough, for example to cover ‘blind spots’, then you must take effective rear observation. You must always check this carefully before signalling, changing direction or changing speed. You needed to demonstrate you can use the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine effectively.

This relates to using the mirror-signal-manoeuvre (MSM) routine properly in all situations. It is another common reason for failing your test – particularly if you encroach on the lane next to you at multi-lane junctions and on roundabouts.

Check your mirrors (and blind spots, if relevant) before you change lanes or position (e.g. when passing parked cars or other obstructions). Make sure you look properly and don’t just go through a robotic routine – it is surprising how many times I see learners apparently look somewhere and yet fail to actually see the lorry or car coming straight towards us.

15 Signals

You should only use the signals shown in the Highway Code. On test you should have signalled clearly to let others know what you intend to do. This is particularly important if it would help other road users or pedestrians. You should have always signalled in good time and ensured that the signal had been switched off after the manoeuvre had been completed. You should not beckon to pedestrians to cross the road.

Forgetting to signal is a common fault – especially during the independent driving section of the test. Forgetting to cancel a signal is also common. Make sure you don’t signal too early or too late, and don’t signal to overtake every obstruction.

16 Clearance

You should have given parked vehicles and other obstructions enough space to pass safely. You needed to watch out for changing situations such as pedestrians walking out from between parked cars, doors opening and vehicles trying to move off. You should have been prepared to slow down or stop if needed.

Although it seems to vary depending on where you are, most DEs are very strict when it comes to passing parked vehicles. One common problem is when the candidate slows down for an obstruction on their side to let an oncoming vehicle through, and gets too close to the obstruction. As they steer out they often “shave” the obstruction (i.e. get close to it). Going too fast for the situation is also marked quite harshly.

Response to signs and signals

You needed to show that you can react correctly to all traffic signs, road markings, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings. You should have obeyed signals given by police officers, traffic wardens, Highways Agency officers and school crossing patrols. You should watch out for signals given by other road users and carry on only when you are happy it is safe.

Be ready for traffic lights changing if they have been on one phase for a long time (going through an amber when there was time to stop is a common fault). Watch out for pedestrian crossings, and look for pedestrians standing near them – they will have pushed the button, so the lights could change at any moment. Look for school crossing patrols (be aware of the time of day), and don’t miss speed limit changes or other relevant signs. Read the road ahead by seeing what is happening and predicting what might happen next.

18 Use of speed

You should have made safe and reasonable progress along the road. You needed to keep in mind the road, traffic and weather conditions, road signs and speed limits. You needed to show confidence based on sound judgement. Remember, at all times you should have been able to stop within the distance you can see to be clear.

Don’t go too fast, and don’t go too slow. Don’t take chances. Plan ahead.

19. Following distance

You should have always kept a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front. You should be able to stop safely, well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave extra distance in wet or slippery conditions. Leave enough space when you are stopped in traffic queues.

A lot of people are caught out by getting too close to the car in front – either when driving or when stopping at lights.

20. Maintain progress

On test you needed to show that you can drive at a realistic speed appropriate to the road and traffic conditions. You needed to approach all hazards at a safe, controlled speed, without being over cautious or slowing or stopping other road users. You should always be ready to move away from junctions as soon as it is safe and correct to do so. Driving too slowly can frustrate other drivers which creates danger for yourself and others.

I once had a pupil who was a great driver, but who collapsed mentally whenever she took her test. One day, just as we were going off to a test, her mum came out to give her a pep talk: ‘Now don’t forget what we told you, Jane. Drive everywhere slowly’. I could have screamed. Less than 90 seconds after driving away she tried to merge with a busy 50mph dual carriageway (where most people do 60mph) at just under 30mph!

Don’t hold other people up, and don’t drive differently to the way you do on your lessons.

21. Junctions including roundabouts

The examiner would have looked for correct use of the Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre MSM procedure. The examiner was also looking for correct positioning and approach speed at junctions and roundabouts. This is because these skills are essential for dealing with these hazards safely. Turning right across busy roads/dual carriageways is particularly dangerous. To drive safely and pass your test you must be confident that you can judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic safely. You also need to look out for other road users emerging and turning at junctions and be ready to alter your course or stop. Be extra watchful in poor light or bad weather conditions for the more vulnerable road user, such as cyclists and motorcyclists.

This is self-explanatory. Inappropriate speed is the learner driver’s worst enemy in many situations – if you can’t do the damned things at the best of times, why should attempting a junction at Mach 3 make it go any better? Think and plan ahead – and make sure you know how to handle situations in the first place before you take your test.

22. Judgement

Your examiner will have assessed your judgment skills throughout the test. You will have needed to show sound judgment when overtaking, meeting or crossing the path of other road users. You should have only done this when it was safe and legal. You should have made your intentions clear and been sure that you understood the intentions of other road users.

Again, speed comes into this for many learners. If you see a car coming towards you and there is a narrow gap that only one of you can get through, do not try and plough through – even if you technically have right of way (i.e. the obstruction is on the other side of the road). The Golden Rule as far as I’m concerned is don’t trust anyone else out there (and especially not if you’re in a car with L plates on it). Check your mirrors, slow down, and watch the other driver carefully… and remember that for most people who mess this up, it isn’t that they have deliberately decided to take the other car on – it’s just that they haven’t thought anything at all!

23. Positioning

You should have positioned your car in a safe position; normally this would be keeping well to the left of the road. You needed to keep clear of parked vehicles and be positioned correctly for the direction that you intend to take. You needed to look for and be guided by road signs and markings. Other road users may judge your intentions by where you are positioned so be aware of where you are at all times.

Don’t weave all over the road, and stay in lane (unless you are deliberately changing lanes for some reason). And watch the kerb, especially on bends (and when looking at the speedometer, and when checking mirrors, and when changing gear, and… you get the idea). Don’t get distracted by looking at or dealing with one thing for too long.

24. Pedestrian crossings

You should have been able to identify the different types of pedestrian crossing and take the correct action. You needed to monitor your speed and time your approach to crossings so that you can stop safely if you need to do so. You should have paid
particular attention where crossings were partly hidden by queuing or parked vehicles. You should also show consideration for elderly or infirm pedestrians who are trying to cross the road.

Self-explanatory. Look and plan well ahead and watch for pedestrians pushing buttons.

25 Position / normal stops

You should have chosen a safe, legal and convenient place to stop, close to the edge of the road, where you will not block the road and create a hazard. You should know how and where to stop without causing inconvenience or danger to other road users.

Self-explanatory. Don’t stop in driveways, opposite junctions, too far from the kerb, and so on. The examiner will ask you to pull over and drive off again several times, and they will be looking for mirror checks, signals, and your choice of location.

26. Awareness and planning

You must be aware of other road users at all times. Your examiner is looking to see that you plan ahead to judge what other road users are going to do. This will allow you to predict how their actions will affect you and react in good time. You needed to anticipate road and traffic conditions, and act in good time, rather than reacting to them at the last moment. You should have taken particular care to consider the actions of the more vulnerable groups of road users such as pedestrians, cyclists, other motorcyclists and horse riders.

Look and plan ahead and always assume the worst. Cyclists in particular are likely to change position or direction without warning.

27. Ancillary controls

You needed to show that you can operate all of your vehicle’s controls safely and effectively. The examiner was looking to see that whilst on the move you kept proper control of your vehicle whilst using secondary controls. These include demisters, heating controls, indicators and windscreen wipers.

If it rains, make sure you know how to use the wipers and washers. If it’s cold, make sure you know how to demist the windows inside. If it gets dark, make sure you know how (and when) to turn on the lights.

Eco Safe Driving

You should drive in an ‘eco friendly manner’, considering your impact on the environment. Plan well ahead and choose appropriate gears, avoid heavy braking and over revving of the engine, particularly when stopped or moving off. If you have to stop for a long period such as at road works or railway crossings, consider stopping the engine to reduce pollution and save fuel. The examiner will assess this on your test; however this assessment will not affect the overall result of the test. If there are areas that need improvement you will receive appropriate feedback at the end of the test.

As it says, you can’t fail for this (not yet, anyway), but driving in an eco-friendly way will save you money in the long run.

So how does the examiner mark you? If you look at the driving test report itself, you can see columns with ‘S’ and ‘D’ over them – that’s for ‘serious’ and ‘dangerous’ faults (often referred to as ‘major’ faults), and you are not allowed to get any of those (you’ll notice that the eyesight check only has a box under ‘S’ – if you can’t read the number plate the DE points out to you then the test doesn’t go ahead and you effectively fail there and then).

You can get up to 15 driver faults (often called ‘minors’) and still pass – but you need to understand that there is no way any DE is going to let someone get all 15 in a single category. So if you stall the car once when moving off, you might get a single driver fault. Do it two or three times when you move off and you are sailing close to the wind. Do it more times than that and it will more than likely become a ‘serious’. However, it is quite possible to stall just once – in the wrong place at the wrong time – and end up with a ‘serious’ or ‘dangerous’ fault for it. Likewise, you could stall several times, each time in a different situation, and get away with much more.

What is the difference between a driver fault, a ‘serious’ fault, and a ‘dangerous’ fault? There’s no definitive answer, but an example would be moving away safely: if you don’t check over your right shoulder and no one is there (and you only do it once), that might be a driver fault. If you don’t do it and someone is coming (or if you do it repeatedly), that would be ‘serious’. And if you don’t do it but whoever is coming is close enough for you to cause a problem, that would be ‘dangerous’.

It is amazing how many people go to test without knowing the basics, and yet are fully clued up on how many faults they can ‘get away’ with! Don’t rush going to test. Failing is not nice. Passing first time is – and it gives you great street cred!

What do the ‘S’ and ‘D/C’ boxes mean at the top of the form?

I believe that the ‘S’ box is ticked if the car used for the test is a driving school car (as opposed to a private vehicle), and the ‘D/C’ box is ticked if the car has dual controls fitted.

What does ‘DF’ mean?

It stands for ‘driver fault’. A driver fault is what most people refer to as a ‘minor’ fault. You can get up to 15 driver faults, but no ‘serious’ (S) or ‘dangerous’ (D) faults (often referred to as ‘major’ faults).

What do ‘R’ and ‘C’ mean under Reverse Parking?

‘R’ means you did it on a road somewhere (i.e. it was a parallel park), and ‘C’ means it was done in a car park (i.e. you reversed into a bay).

Where is ‘dry steering’ marked?

It isn’t. Dry steering isn’t marked anywhere because it isn’t a fault. As long as you’re in control you can steer pretty much any way you want.

What does ETA mean?

It means ‘examiner took action’ and it can be marked under V (‘verbal’, meaning the examiner said something like ‘STOP’) or P (‘physical’, meaning the examiner used the dual controls or grabbed the steering wheel). You can assume that this is always a serious fault.

When marked – for example, if the examiner used the dual controls – many learners argue that they were ‘going to stop, but the examiner got there first’. My explanation to them is always that if the examiner had to do it, then they were too late and so they don’t have a valid argument. The examiner is not going to wait and see if you cause a pile-up before deciding you were at fault. He will let the situation go so far, then he will step in whether you like it or not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can I download test routes?

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

Why don’t you provide your test route data?

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

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

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

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

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

Is it possible to record test routes?

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

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

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

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

How many test routes are there?

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

Can I use my tablet to log routes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One key point in the email is that DVSA says:

How to reduce waiting times

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

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

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

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

Plus ça change…

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

This will be available to:

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

Who need to both:

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

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

Teaching someone with a confirmed test booking

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

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

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

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

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

Driving lessons

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

Driving tests

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

There’s more detail, so click the link.

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

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

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

In summary, it says:

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

Driving lessons in England

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

What this means for driving tests

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

Critical workers tests and lessons

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

Waiting rooms in England

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

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

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

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

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

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