A Driving Instructor's Blog

DVSA

Driving Test SuccessI recently saw an ADI claim that theory test apps are no good because they “only cover 5%” of the possible questions. It’s yet more complete bollocks from so-called “professionals”, and is only true – and even then, only partially – if you (or your pupil) is an idiot.

The only app I recommend to all my pupils is Driving Test Success (DTS), which is published by Focus Multimedia. I have no affiliation with Focus whatsoever – though an agent of theirs did once contact me offering such a relationship, but I never heard from him again. The full version of DTS contains all the official DVSA revision materials, and unless they are telling lies, that means exactly what it says. They also do a free “taster” version, and that only contains about a third of the total questions in the official question bank (that’s about 30%, and not 5%).

Most of my pupils buy DTS if they haven’t already got something else – some will already have the DVSA one, which is perfectly OK, and which also contains all the relevant revision material. They all pass if they use either of these.

The important word in all this is “buy”. If you wanted to get hold of the raw bank of official questions from DVSA and use it or distribute it in any way, you’d have to pay. I know, because I have looked into it myself. You can register and get the question bank for free to play around with, but the moment you start giving anyone access to it you have to pay a licence fee per unit/user to the  to DVSA. If you wanted the Hazard Perception (HPT) clips, it’d cost you £800 up front just for those. You have to be approved to get the raw materials in the first place, and I asked if licensing charges would still apply if I only gave access to my own pupils. They said it would. So any official revision software would incur those same costs for the publisher.

Several years ago, I had advised a pupil to get DTS for his phone. I specifically said to get the one that cost £4.99, and not to download the free one, because it was just a trial version that didn’t have all the questions in it (at the time, it may well have contained only around 5% of the full question bank). He subsequently kept failing his theory test, and I was pulling my hair out as to why – I asked him about his school lessons, possible dyslexia and stuff, everything. He assured me there were no issues, and that he was getting 100% every time he did a mock test. After he failed for about the sixth time with a score that you could have bettered by guessing, something clicked, and I asked “how much did that app cost you?” He replied “oh, nothing. It was free”. I think my reply was something along the lines of “you prat! I told you that was a trial version”.

It turned out he’d been answering the same incomplete sample of questions over and over again (he said he wondered why he kept seeing the same ones). It was no wonder he was getting 100%. Once he bought the full version – with all the questions in it – he passed the next time.

ADIs who make stupid claims about apps only containing 5% of the questions must be of a similar mentality to that pupil. They expect free versions to be the full monty, and stupidly assume that when they aren’t then this must be true of all apps whether paid for or not. God only knows how they qualify as ADIs if they are so dumb. I figured out what “trial” meant the first time I saw it – particularly when there was the paid-for version sitting right next to it in the Android market, prompting the immediate question: why?

The only thing you need in order to pass the Theory Test is the DTS Bundle. It costs £4.99, and includes the Hazard Perception (HPT) clips. The official DVSA one is also fine and costs the same, though I haven’t used it in a long while.

There are some free ones which claim to contain all the questions, though those I’ve seen don’t have the HPT included. They contain advertising and “in-app purchases”. As I say, someone somewhere has to pay.

Frankly, for the sake of £4.99, and the risk failing the £23 Theory Test a few times because you didn’t have the right revision resources, you should stop pissing about and just buy it.

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Media manipulated test pass ratesA few days ago, the media was awash with reports about how the driving test pass rate had plummeted, and it was all because of the “new parallel parking manoeuvre” that had been introduced. It was a great opportunity for ADIs who have been against “it” from the start to give their two penn’orth.

Although the link above was from The Telegraph, the Daily Mail ran the same illiterate crap, and several others followed. Comic news site, Yahoo, even went so far as to blame the same “new” manoeuvre on a separate FOI request, which revealed one candidate took 21 tests in a single year.

It seems that in the world of newspapers, someone who has just been given their first job in journalism does one of these FOIs every year. I think it must be some sort of induction test to make sure they can fill in an online form properly. And every year, without fail, there is someone somewhere who has taken an ungodly number of tests before passing (and some of them still haven’t passed, even then). It is a separate statistic which is independent of how easy or hard the test is. It merely shows that just as some people are crap journalists, there are others who are crap drivers and perhaps ought never to be allowed to drive. Ever. But it is separate.

The really laughable part is the reference to this “new parallel parking manoeuvre” – all the more laughable since there are ADIs who have allowed themselves to be associated with the claims. Because there IS no new parallel parking manoeuvre! Even some joker representing a querulous organisation which, in a previous incarnation, specialised in stirring things, ranted about how “dangerous” it is without clarifying the glaring naming error (perhaps because he didn’t know himself).

What there actually is is a piss-easy manoeuvre which involves checking your mirrors and looking ahead to make sure it’s clear, pulling over on the right-hand side of the road, then reversing back a couple of car lengths without ending up on the pavement or on the other side of the road again, and finally driving off and going back over on to the correct side safely. It’s the kind of thing any 17 year old is going to be doing 5 minutes after he passes when he sees one of his mates on the other side of the road.

The manoeuvre is referred to as “pulling up on the right”, “stopping on the right”, or similar phrases. And it is not a “parallel parking manoeuvre”.

It’s only dangerous if people haven’t been taught to do it properly. Mine have to do it on busy roads in Long Eaton and with oncoming/passing/parked lorries on a busy industrial estate in Colwick, and the only problem I’ve had was when someone decided for reasons not even known to himself to turn the wheel on to half lock as he reversed and veered outwards (and since he didn’t notice until I showed it to him on the dashcam, it was probably best he was caught early anyway). A disproportionate number of tests seem to include it, and I thought they’d pull back on it after the original introduction – where virtually every test did it – but they haven’t.

The media has claimed that the pass rate has plummeted. They base this ridiculous statement on something like the graph at the top of this article – which shows the national pass rate for the last three years. I have carefully adjusted the axes to make it look as bad as possible, just like pretty much every journalist does when they’re talking about numbers. Yet it is only a little over 1% decline over three years. If you ignore the fact that life has been going on for more than the last three years, it looks like the pass rate is on a downward slope into oblivion – even if it would take over 40 years to get to zero at the rate it is going.

However, if you look at pass rates since the introduction of the driving test in 1935, a completely different story emerges.Official pass rates since 1935

I cut these data down to one approximately every 5 years up until 2007, and from there on the data are yearly. Because of that, and also because I started the y-axis at 20% instead of 0%, they look a bit more dramatic than they are (i.e. the right half of the graph covers 19 years, whereas the left half covers 65 years – imagine the 1935-2000 part stretched out to three times wider).

Something odd happened between 1975 and 1990, and between 1990 and 2000 (a rise followed by a fall). But since 2000 the pass rate has been virtually flat – hovering between 44% and 47%. It is currently at about 46%, and there are no blips or drops worth a mention (i.e. any changes to the test have neither improved or worsened pass rates to any significant extent).

As I said, the top graph shows what you can do if you don’t represent data properly, and the message that comes across if you’re an ADI or journalist who doesn’t understand data is both confused and wrong.

The only time the pass rate has been significantly higher than it is now was in a different era. No internet, no smartphones, dial phones wired to the house, two postal deliveries a day (one of them before you got up), bottled milk on the doorstep, outside toilets, bin men who actually carried bins overflowing with filth and tipped them in the back of a truck, anything up to 1,000 times fewer cars on the road, no motorways, no roundabouts, and so on. DVSA does itself no favours harping on about training standards being the issue when the pass rate is hovering around 45%. It’s just the norm, and has been for almost 20 years – and up to more than 50 years if you allow a few percent extra variance.

One thing is certain. The pass rate has not fallen (or risen) significantly for the last 20 years. And the proper graph clearly shows its not likely to change much in the next 20 either – unless some idiot forces it to. I try not to say bad things about them, but I’m sure DVSA is disappointed that the 2019 data point isn’t joined by an almost vertical line up at 90%, and will likely blame this on poor training again.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention. The reason I wrote this is that DVSA has had to send out an email correcting the false media stories.

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Audi embedded in houseA DVSA alert came through yesterday informing us that they’re investigating the possibility of introducing graduated driver licences (or something along those lines). Again.

First of all, let’s look at the facts surrounding this news (i.e. what’s actually in it, and not what the media headlines are saying).

  1. They’re only exploring the possibility. It won’t happen anytime soon.
  2. There will be a consultation before – and if – any changes are made.
  3. They are talking about new drivers’ “first few months on the road”.
  4. They don’t know exactly what – if anything – will be introduced.
  5. “New drivers” means everyone, and not just 17 year olds.
  6. Any changes would be for future new drivers.
  7. The impetus for this comes from the Government, and not DVSA per se.

Don’t forget that it took over 40 years to get learners able to go on the motorway, and even in my time as an ADI there were numerous “nearly” moments within different governments. Even the final kickstart took over two years to implement.

So why is the issue of graduated licences coming up once again?

Data show that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident within the first 12 months of passing their test, and it is that statistic which is being addressed. However, if we look at separate data, which has been reported many times previously, there is an enormous blip in the accident statistics where the following points are identified from individual cases of those involved:

  • 17-25 year old
  • male
  • rural road
  • on a bend
  • at night
  • more than one occupant in the same age group
  • excessive speed involved
  • no other vehicle involved

If you translate this data, it basically means young show-offs with little experience driving too fast for their skill set, distracted by their mates, and whipping the wheel round to take a bend they only saw as they entered it, then spinning off into a tree or field. Frequently, at least one passenger is fatally injured. Although males feature highly in these figures, females are still represented, where the distraction is often slightly different but equally stupid. This whole scenario is why insurance is so high for that age group.

It comes down to inexperience. Inexperience of driving, and inexperience of self-preservation. And whether you like it or not, it applies to more 17 year olds than it does 40 year olds – a) because there’s more of them, and b) 17 year olds are more likely to exhibit behaviours which compound their inexperience. The whole issue is about actual accidents and actual deaths. It’s not some random game to moan about because you think your son or daughter is an angel and shouldn’t be treated in a manner that you consider to be unfair.

I’ve mentioned this before, but many years ago I had what was then my best ever pupil. He was a smart lad, from a wealthy (-ish) family, high-achiever at school, pleasant (as was the whole family), and a quick learner. He was an excellent driver when he passed his test first time after only 23 hours of lessons. And he promised me he’d drive safely.

His mum wanted him to do Pass Plus, because she was concerned at his lack of experience – a sentiment I readily agreed with because he’d passed so quickly. Six weeks later – during which time he’d been driving in the beaten-up little Fiesta his mum had bought him – I was amazed at how far he’d drifted away from what I’d taught him. He was cornering too fast and taking chances when crossing the path of other traffic. I pulled him back during the Pass Plus and left him with some words of wisdom once it was completed.

Sometime after, I began teaching his then girlfriend, who his mum had referred to me. The girlfriend told me that he had already damaged his car by hitting a kerb cornering too fast (he hadn’t told me that), and that when he was out with his mates he would drive very fast, sometimes over 70mph in 30mph zones (he didn’t tell me that, either). I was concerned for her, but she said he’d never do it with her or with his mum in the car, because his mum would kill him if she knew. And I can promise you that he was in no way unique. Some of those I’ve taught since have made it absolutely clear how they’re going to drive when they pass. And they do.

And that’s why something has to be done. Far too many young people behave like this as a matter of course. They know full well they are in the wrong (which is why they hide it), but they do it nonetheless because it gives them street cred with the other monkeys in the jungle, and is the next best thing to sex for a 17 year old. Being inexperienced doesn’t enter the equation as far as they’re concerned. It’s no use pretending that your little darling doesn’t do it, because he or she almost certainly does to some extent. I even saw an ADI making this claim. Quite frankly, if a teenager is in rebellion mode – as many are – being the offspring of an ADI might even increase the likelihood of them behaving like prats.

So although I think DVSA isn’t addressing the root of the problem, it is at least trying to deal with the possible outcomes of that problem. Any restrictions placed on new drivers would at least give them time to gain some experience before they’re let off the leash, and the testosterone (or oestrogen) is able to kick in fully.

Not all young people are dangerous

Potentially, yes they are. They are inexperienced, and that alone is enough to lead to errors of judgment. Bad behaviour just compounds it.

When I was younger, going skiing every year was risky and fun, and resulted in a broken collar bone the first time I did it through going too fast when I was still crap. I discovered that snow-ploughing at speed (i.e. as fast as possible) over moguls on a glacier in Verbier with almost no surface snow down a black run is actually not as good an idea as I had originally thought. At the time, having the entire lift system shut down so mountain rescue could get me off the glacier and to the hospital, then being temporarily disabled and off work for a few weeks when I got back was a badge of honour. These days (and as soon as the following year, in fact), I would see it as bloody dangerous and wouldn’t be that stupid again – even though I’m a much better skier. Being unable to drive and off work now would be a royal pain in the ass, and enormously embarrassing. That’s what maturity and experience does to you.

It’s unfair to penalise only young people

They’re not. They are talking of penalising all new drivers. The fact that younger drivers would be most affected is a statistical thing, as is the fact that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident in their first year of driving.

I see older drivers driving more dangerously

That’s a separate issue. The one being addressed here is lack of experience.

My son (or daughter) doesn’t drive like that

This makes me laugh. Yes they bloody well do! Inexperience, by definition, applies to all new drivers. Furthermore, unless you are with them every time they drive, you haven’t got a clue what they get up to. I’ve lost count of the times some prat (often with “P” plates on) has pulled out in front of me or cut me up, and the only reason there hasn’t been an accident is because of my anticipation and reactions (both as a driver, and as an ADI using the dual controls). Those drivers could easily be your son or daughter. You have no knowledge of it and no control over it whatsoever. In my opinion, coming out with this statement is one of the contributing factors as to why there is a problem in the first place (along with letting them have an Audi or BMW as their first car).

Actually, that’s another thing. The only reason anyone buys an Audi (or BMW) is to drive fast, so a new driver who gets one is not going to be sticking to the speed limit or driving cautiously. The only time you’re likely to be stuck behind one being driven slowly is when the driver is texting or pissing about with the stereo. The rest of the time, they’ll be trying to get in front. You can argue as much as you want about that, but it is a simple fact. I see it every day.

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TomTom Screen GrabThis article was first published in January 2018, then updated in November of the same year. However, I noticed someone asking on a forum recently what model of TomTom was used. He was given a lot of inaccurate and misleading information.

It was announced mid-2017 – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the DVSA introduced satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

After briefly considering buying one, I decided against it. I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. Even the latest ones are just too bulky to sit anywhere unobtrusively.

In the more recent past, if I’ve ever needed to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. In the weeks leading up to 4 December 2017, I tried using it with pupils. It works (if you know what you’re doing), but its choice of route can be creative to say the least. And it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Worse still is the inability to save pre-determined routes – and that’s essential for a driving instructor.

More recently still, I tried using the built-in satnav in my Focus on lessons. For me, it works. But the graphics are in Super Mario territory, and it also can be rather creative with its suggested routes. It can’t save pre-determined routes, and the erratic split-screen thing it does at unfathomable times is confusing to pupils. And I think the most recent map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus, because they don’t include road features installed within the last couple of years.

The more I thought about these issues as they pertain to pupils, the more I realised that the only realistic way forward was to use a TomTom in order that pupils wouldn’t be intimidated by a different looking map, different instructions, or different voices. I asked TomTom if there were any plans for an approved app that would run on Ford’s software. It seems that they did have an arrangement with Ford to develop such an app at one point, but that fell through for some reason.

Then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android. It turns your phone into a fully-blown TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display (see the screen capture, above). TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons, so it is useless. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited world maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav all the time. A standalone one would cost ten times as much and be out of date within a year or so, as far as the base unit is concerned.

A massive additional benefit of using a TomTom (other than pupils hearing the same voice and instruction approach they’ll get on test) is that by logging into your TomTom account on your PC or laptop you can create entire routes using a drag-and-drop map and save them. They sync automatically to all your devices through your account, and so appear in your list of saved routes. This is how DVSA has created the routes it uses. The benefit of these pre-determined routes is that you can force a specific journey around specific roundabouts or road features, rather than have the satnav try and re-route you through a shorter route to a specific destination. Of course, you can also save favourite places – like test centres or retail parks – and just set one of those as a destination and let the pupil follow whatever route the satnav comes up with. It’s all extremely flexible.

The TomTom GO app speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link (if you set it up that way).

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

At the time I started teaching it for the test, some of those I expected to have problems took to it remarkably well. A year down the line, I don’t even think about that anymore. It’s just part of what I have to teach them.

How much training does it take?

Very little, actually. The vast majority of pupils find the satnav easier to follow.

When I first started teaching it, I was planning to do it a lot. However, I now find that I bring it in nearer to their test and don’t worry about it before then. As I say, most take to it like ducks to water, so there’s no point me behaving as though ducks can’t swim.

You don’t need a TomTom

True. However, like it or not, my job is to get pupils ready for their tests, and I do that by focusing on road layout in Nottingham and not those in, say, Birmingham or Glasgow. To that end, it also makes sense to use a TomTom instead of something cheaper or just what I happen to own at the time.

It doesn’t matter what satnav pupils use

Also true – for most of them. Like I say, most take to it easily – but a few don’t. I just like to remove that variable from the equation. A significant number, for example, already have problems with roundabouts in a lesson and driving test context, so why risk them freaking out on test with unfamiliar instructions from a satnav they haven’t used before?

An example of that is the screen position and layout of the advance warning a satnav gives.  If it is different on the one they are using on lessons compared to the TomTom one used on tests, they may get confused.

Like it or not, many of our pupils reach test standard by the skin of their teeth. Unlike instructors (if they were taking the test), pupils approach it from the bottom up because they are beginners. That’s why I prefer to keep directional instructions as close to those they will experience on test as possible.

You might see things differently, and that’s fine. I see it my way and teach accordingly.

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ADI Green Badge montageThis article was originally written in 2010, and things have changed a bit since then. This article now refers to the current (2018) procedure – with a 2019 amendment for the bit about what date your driving licence was issued.

My ADI badge was due for renewal in October 2018. I got the initial alert that my DBS check (formerly the CRB check) needed to be renewed in early April – 6 months before my badge expired. This alert came from DVSA via email.

I applied for my DBS immediately online. DVSA supplies you with a PIN number and a secret word. You apply via an online form.

Once you have completed your DBS application, you take a printout of the completed form along with the necessary documents to a Post Office branch that does identity/document checks (you can find a branch at GOV.UK). Note that your local Post Office will almost certainly not have this facility – you will need to go to one likely to be situated in the middle of a large city, with no easy parking, and with queues of people with prams and other annoying things, doing what people who use Post Office branches in the first place usually do. In other words, be prepared for a long wait.

Be careful with your initial DBS application. I am paperless, so had to go to my bank separately to get an official bank statement printed out as one of my check documents. You have to physically put the date of the statement on your application form – even though it is clearly printed on the actual statement. The problem is that you can only use a date in the past, so get the statement first, then fill the form in the next day. Trust me: if the statement date is today or in the future, the online system won’t let you proceed, and if you try to post date it, the Post Office will reject it because the dates won’t match.

When I did mine in October last year, I used my driving licence as a check document (and you probably will be, too). At that time, the date you had to physically enter on the form was the date you passed your test. It was NOT, as you might reasonably expect (as I did), the “valid from” date on the front of your licence (i.e. when you last did your photo update). It was totally f—ing stupid, but that’s how it is, and it isn’t explained anywhere that I could find (nor was it such an issue any of the previous times I had a CRB/DBS check done). The woman at the Post Office told me it catches a lot of other people out , too. Basically, if you don’t remember the exact date you passed your test (and I bloody well didn’t), you have to infer the date from the list of entitlements on the back of it.

As an update to the date on your licence thing, a reader emailed me recently (May 2019) and told me that he had used his pass date, as I outlined above, and the idiots had rejected it and wanted his “valid from” date from the front of the licence. He tells me he was shown the document dated January 2019, so it seems the morons have moved the goalposts and not told anyone. Just be aware of this if yours is due – it looks like the required date is now the one on the front of the licence, which it definitely wasn’t when I did it (though it should have been)!

It’s a stupid system, because the dates on bank statements and driving licences are integral to those documents, and all you are effectively being checked on is whether they caught you out when asking you to write them down on a separate form. It’s even more stupid when you get it wrong, and the Post Office worker shows you how to fill it in properly with the correct figures, so you go away (you have to generate another form) and make the corrections. There is no security aspect to it whatsoever.

I used my passport, my driving licence, and a bank statement as my check documents. I had recently had to apply for a new passport and used this instead of my birth certificate (which has to be an original, and not a copy like mine is).

My DBS certificate came through about seven days after the document check was completed (the check at the Post Office triggers your application process). It costs £6.00 for the service.

Now we come to the actual renewal of your Green Badge. There is no warning later in the year from DVSA – it’s up to you to keep track of your application.

Every Green Badge expires on the last day of whatever month you originally registered in. You apply to renew as soon as possible in the month in question. In my case, with my badge expiring on 31 October, I had to apply any time from 1 October (I would not have been allowed to do it on 30 September).

You simply log into the IRDT system – which every instructor should have access to – and make your application. You will need to provide the number on your DBS certificate, which DVSA will have a copy of/access to. You need a means to make payment (credit or debit card). It costs £300. I applied for mine on 1 October, and it was issued and is now current since 2 October. It arrived in the post 5 October, and has an expiry date of 31 October 2022. All set for another 4 years, now.

To summarise. Assuming you have a credit or debit card, and are not still holding out against technology and the internet, the times taken to actually get both the DBS and your new badge are very short. The documentation and chasing around required for the DBS application is a right pain in the arse, so plan ahead. Application for the Green Badge is simple.

On the other hand, if you insist on using paper money or cheques, won’t use the internet, or want to kick up a stink about which photo you want on your badge… good luck with that. I have no idea what to do in those circumstances.

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I wrote this article way back in 2012. At the time, DVSA had just launched a new facility where you could find your Theory Test Certificate (TTC) number online if you’d lost the paper sheet. Here’s the link to the feature on GOV.UK.

You need the number if you’re going to book your practical test – and note that I said the number, not the certificate itself.

A lot of pupils get worried that they need to take the actual TTC to their practical test, though. By that time, many will have lost or misplaced it (quite a few of mine have, and we usually only find out the night before or on the day, which allows me to wind them up a little). Indeed, the booking confirmation you get when you book your practical says you should take your licence and TTC along with you.

In all the years I have been an instructor, I can think of only one or two occasions where the examiner has asked to see it – and those were at least ten years ago. More recently, when a pupil has offered the TTC along with their licence, the examiner isn’t interested. They only want to see the licence.

If you think about it, you wouldn’t be able to book your practical if you hadn’t passed the theory, so it’s obvious you have done when you turn up on test day.

When any of my pupils starts to fret over not being able to find their TTC – and after I’m finished winding them up – I tell them the examiner won’t ask for it, and even if he or she does, just say that you didn’t get one or that the printer at the testing station was broken when you were there. None of them have ever had to do that, though, because the examiners simply don’t ask for it.

If you still have your TTC, take it along with you by all means. But don’t worry if you’ve lost it, because unless there is some problem with your booking, I cannot see any reason why they would demand to see it.

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CalendarSomeone found the blog on the search term “what are the chances of passing your test in three months?”

The short answer: DVSA statistics show that the average UK learner takes 46 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice. Without getting into any arguments over that just yet, let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that you will need 46 hours.

If you take a single one hour lesson a week, it’s going to take you 46 weeks to get to test standard. If you take two hours of lessons a week, it’ll take 23 weeks. If you take four hours of lessons a week, it’ll take you about 13 weeks. That’s around a year, six months, or three months respectively.

The longer answer:  For all sorts of reasons, an individual could end up taking far fewer or many more than 46 hours to get to the required standard. That DVSA figure is an average measured from real people taking real tests. It’s not a forecast, though it can be useful as a rough pointer.

Over the years, I’ve had two pupils manage passes in well under 20 hours, many who have done it with between 20-35 hours, and several who have taken well over 60. I can recall two who took 140 hours and 160 hours, and a recent one who did 120 hours spread over more than three years. I also know one who took 100 hours in a manual car with me, then a further 100 hours or more in an automatic, before finally passing on her seventh attempt (she’s since given up driving because she crashed the car almost every time she left her driveway – three times in the first fortnight after she got it).

I explain all this to my pupils who have never driven before, and suggest they think in terms of 30 hours plus to start with, then see how things go. I also point out that if they are typical, it will probably take around 4 months if they’re doing an average of two hours of lessons a week. I explain clearly that this is not a prediction or target, but merely a guideline based on past experience, and if it turns out they can do it it 10 hours, I’ll be as happy as they are about it.

Now, 30 hours – taking two hours of lessons per week – would just about squeeze into a three month window with a bit of tweaking here and there. If it was going to take 40 hours, you can add another month to that time frame. On the other hand, if you’re in the 30 hour bracket and did three of four hours a week, passing within six weeks would be feasible.

The reality: You simply don’t know how many hours you’re going to need until you’ve taken them. However, once you start lessons you can usually get a good idea of where you are on the curve within a couple of hours. Obviously, if you have previously taken lessons – possibly even getting close to test standard – then you’ll probably already be a long way towards your goal. On the flipside of that, If you’ve only got previous experience driving overseas, you may find that you are only marginally ahead of a beginner when you start in the UK.

If you’re on the wrong side of the curve – for whatever reason – you’ll need more hours than someone who isn’t. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – it’s just the way it is.

You can’t be a Marvel Superhero just because you want to be, so picking a preferred number of hours and expecting to pass if your learning ability points to a higher number being required isn’t going to work. I had one early last year who declared after his tenth hour that he was now test ready. I asked him if he’d always only ever planned to take just ten lessons, and he said yes. He’d never told me that, and we parted company at that point. He was nowhere near test standard, and the last I heard was that six months later his mum was still teaching him.

People in general seem to have major problems understanding averages, distributions, and how biology works. So I stress again that DVSA’s statistics show that the majority of people take about 46 hours of lessons with an instructor. It doesn’t matter that your best mate Kyle was taught by his mum, or that he told you he passed “after 8 hours”. He was almost certainly lying or very confused over that figure (I’ve had them before where they are already good drivers, but the skills were picked up in stolen cars or driving illegally, and they don’t include that in their public declarations of Superheroism). And in any case, you are not Kyle and are probably not being taught by his mum.

Just remember: the average learner in the UK takes around 46 hours and some private practice to get to test standard. Some take a lot less, and some take a lot more, thanks to Mother Nature.

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This article was originally published in February 2014. I’ve updated it several times because it gets a lot of hits.Pro Pod - map history view

I often get visitors to the blog who are looking for test route information. Test routes are no longer published for Nottingham, or anywhere else – they stopped publishing them in 2010!

If you’re an instructor, it isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go. To begin with, anywhere near the test centre is bound to be on most of the routes. If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time as you conduct your lessons, so you can add that location to your memory bank. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests – some of them will be able to give you some details, though many won’t. If they fail their test, find out where the mistakes occurred – the examiner will be more than happy to tell you – and if it crops up more than once, modify your lesson structure and deal with it going forward. If you’re desperate to know the exact routes you can sit in on tests and learn that way. If you know what you’re doing, you can log the routes for reference using a tracking device.Pro Pod - Hybrid map and satellite history view

I currently use a ProPod tracker from Trackershop). It’s a small device the size of a matchbox, which I keep in the car, and I can use my phone, a laptop/PC, or a tablet to both watch where the pupil is when they’re on test (so I know when they’re nearly back), and to log test routes so I know where they’ve been. If I ever had to find a pupil after an abandoned test, I’d know exactly where they were (that’s not happened yet). Click on any of these three images to see a bigger one.

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. The main console lets you view real time position (the pointer moves as often as every 5 seconds depending on what you set it to), and history data for any range you choose. You can download an Excel file, which contains map coordinates and addresses of locations, and a KML file which can be viewed in Google Earth or any other navigation software which recognises that tracking file format.Pro Pod - KML file in Google Earth

Of course, you can get apps for your phone which will log routes, but that means leaving your phone in the car.

Finally, there’s the good old dashcam, which lets you see routes, and – if it’s a decent dashcam – the supplied software will log and plot GPS data on a map (NextBase dashcams do this if you use their software).

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

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

I remember when I first became an ADI. Back then, test routes were published as tables in Word format, and I downloaded them all – 18 just for West Bridgford, if I remember correctly. The list of directions were cryptic unless you knew all the roads roads by name and/or number, which I didn’t at that time. I made a single half-hearted attempt to plot a route for a lesson before giving up – there just wasn’t time – and I quickly realised that it was pointless anyway. These days, my pupils get to drive all over – sometimes on test route roads, sometimes not.

Hanging around test areas like a bad smell also gets you a bad reputation. You get in the way of real tests, and you end up struggling with all the other morons trying to do the same (I’ve noticed it’s often the cheapo instructors who do it, and they don’t give a damn about anyone else).

Where can I download test routes?

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

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. I know full well that that’s why people want the information, and I’m not going to go against DVSA. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons, 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 some smart aleck is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is behaving in an unprofessional manner. If you buy into that then you’re not much better. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway.

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

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

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

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, you have to leave your phone in the car, which raises various problems if it is paired with your in-car audio system, plus you can’t play Angry Birds at the test centre if you’re not sitting in.

Sometimes, it can be surprising how many times you do the same roundabout in a single day – or even on the same lesson if a pupil is struggling with it and you need to keep trying it.

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

You can also record routes using dashcams. As well as my tracker, I also have a dashcam recording all the time. 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?

No. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow the satnav or road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – then your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them well before your test.

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

How many test routes are there?

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

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

Ford Focus cockpit

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is called the pull-push technique.

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

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

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

You should

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My instructor is teaching me to dry steer

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

I can’t master “pull-push” steering

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have to use “push-pull”?

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

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

What about “palming”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

They used to fail people for “crossing hands” when steering

I’m going to stick my neck out here. But…

No. They. Bloody. Well. Didn ‘t.

Stop keep repeating things you heard as if they were fact without knowing what you’re talking about. Crossing hands has not been an issue in itself for the 40 years I’ve been driving. The only time it is a problem is when the learner grips the wheel and turns from the shoulders. At some point, the arms cross and they can’t steer any more – even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That will be marked under steering control.

Hand over hand steering – where the hands do cross over each other – is perfectly OK. It’s actually better in some cases. This has always been the case.

If crossing the hands has ever been worthy of a fail in its own right, it must date from so long ago that the people who keep going on about it probably weren’t even born, so it’s about as relevant as marauding dinosaurs. I mean, they used to have more rules for horse-drawn carriages than self-propelled ones in the Highway Code, but no one worries about what the sign of waving a whip over your head means.

The whole issue of “not crossing hands” comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them. Indeed, some instructors so obviously misunderstand the issue even now that it is easy to see how this nonsense is perpetuated.

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

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

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

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

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

How many turns is full lock?

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

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

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

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

How much do I need to steer?

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

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

I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?

The clue is in the question. Too much of anything is likely to be wrong.

If you steer “too much” on bends you are liable to clip the kerb or put too much sideways force on the car, which could lead to you spinning out or losing control (among other possible bad outcomes). So, yes. It is dangerous – and wrong.

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

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

How can I practice steering?

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

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

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

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Normal DistributionThis question crops up repeatedly. It’s often the first question a pupil asks when they get in the car for the first time.

The official DVSA statistics say that the typical learner takes around 45 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice before they pass their test. As soon as this is mentioned, people who haven’t got a clue what statistics are start trotting out the usual crap and accuse DVSA of interfering in their job.

Look. There was a study a few years ago which asked a lot of new drivers how many hours they had had, and the result was an average of 45 hours plus at least 20 hours of private practice. You can’t alter the fact that that’s what happened: those drivers did have an average of 45 hours plus 20 hours of private practice prior to passing. Just because the word “statistics” is used, and you don’t understand them, doesn’t change that. It’s what did happen.

Try to understand what the word “average” means. If you have 100 people, and each one of them took between 20 and 100 hours to pass their tests, if you add up all the hours then divide by 100 you get “an average” number of hours. It doesn’t mean that every person took “the average”. It just means that was the middle-ish amount of hours taken. In the case of the DVSA study, that average number of hours turned out to be 45. This is a lot more reliable than saying how long it took your last pupil, who did it in less.

Of course, if each one of those hundred people took a different number of hours, ranging from 1 to 100, then the average wouldn’t tell you much. However, the likelihood – indeed, the reality – is that the majority of people would be clustered somewhere in the middle, with only outliers stretching off towards the extremities. It would be called “a distribution” – in statistical terms, a “normal distribution” – and if you plotted the numbers on a graph it would look something like the one shown above. This is a powerful and very useful tool, and it remains such even if you haven’t got a clue what it means. The DVSA study showed that 45 hours was the average that most people were clustered around.

When a new pupil gets in the car and asks how many hours they’ll need before you’ve even seen them drive, you need your head examining if you quote them a specific figure, and especially if it is from your last model pupil. However, explaining the above statistic in suitable terms will give them a rough idea, and illustrate clearly that they’re almost certainly not going to be ready by next Friday if they’ve never driven before.

I’ve mentioned before that the fastest learner I ever had went from zero to pass in 14½ hours over a couple of months. He was exceptional, though, and it is worth also noting that he must have done at least five times that number of hours as private practice. I rarely come across anyone as dedicated as he was. Some years before him, another pupil managed the same in 17½ hours. She, too, did a lot of private practice when she went home between terms, though she took over a year to learn. Then there was another one, who did it in 23 hours. He was unusual inasmuch as he didn’t do any private practice at all. I’ve had a fair number manage it between 25 and 30 hours, and a huge number between 30 and 50 hours. These are first time passes I’m referring to, and some did private practice, whereas some didn’t.

At the other end of the scale, I taught one woman for over 100 hours until I finally persuaded her to switch to automatic (I’d been trying that since around the 40 hour mark). She never had a test with me, and she then took at least another 100 hours of automatic lessons, and finally passed on her seventh attempt. She’s since given up driving, after wrecking her car bit by bit over the course of the first fortnight she had it.

Another took 160 hours and three attempts before passing (his brother tells me he has had numerous minor bumps). More recently, another passed on his fourth attempt after 133 hours over more than three years. I’ve had a few I can recall with around 60 or 70 hours, and not all of them had issues like those others. One in particular nearly passed with a single driver fault on his first test – until he nudged the barrier at the Colwick Test Centre when he parked at the end – and then took a further 7 attempts (if I recall) to pass, with regular lessons in between. He was a good driver, but the number of hours he took was disproportionately high.

I’ve never bothered to sit down and work it out properly, but my average is somewhere between 25 and 45 hours. That’s the range most of my pupils are in. The overall skew is towards the lower end of the range, since those taking a large number of lessons are fewer than those who manage the much shorter numbers. It’s statistics again.

With all that in mind, when anyone asks, I simply tell them that the national average is apparently 45 hours with as much private practice as possible, but that I’ve had people do it in as little as under 20 hours, and as much as 200 – though those were exceptional cases. I explain that everyone is different, and you only know how many hours it will take after you’ve taken them. I explain that it is best to think in the 30-40 hour range to begin with – but if we can do it quicker, we will. I tell them that it is impossible to predict how many hours they will need at the outset, but we’ll get a better idea as their lessons progress.

If they don’t like that they can go elsewhere. Only a few ever have, but they were exclusively non-UK drivers who wanted to take a test immediately.

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