A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

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Ford Focus cockpitI originally wrote this way back in 2008, but update it regularly. The topic keeps coming back because it is relevant to all learner drivers.

At the time of the original, DVSA 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 highlighted part was an addition, and prior to that DT1 had not mentioned the steering technique at all. In my area, none of the examiners had ever failed people for ‘crossing their hands’, anyway, and what DVSA was apparently doing was making sure that those around the country were clear on the subject (‘[ensuring] uniformity’). Reading between the lines, there had been a few complaints about some examiners faulting candidates unnecessarily.

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. It hasn’t mattered for a very long time – not officially, anyway – and DVSA’s addition to DT1 was a clarification and not a major change in policy.

I think the root cause of the issue is that a lot of examiners are ex-ADIs, and many ADIs (and PDIs) get massively hung up on the whole business of  ‘crossing your hands’ and holding the steering wheel ‘correctly’. This leads to more problems than it solves, especially if the person teaching it doesn’t understand what they are saying. Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) is the official syllabus that instructors should be working to, and at least two editions ago it 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.

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

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The only type of ‘crossing hands’ steering that has ever been 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. 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, and ADIs telling them to hold the steering wheel at ‘ten to two’ or ‘quarter to three’ without further explanation exacerbates any subsequent problems. Yet it is this which is the cause of the ‘don’t cross your hands’ nonsense that confuses learners.

The most recent editions of TES 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 versions before this. It is part of a dumbing down process, and far too many instructors are ready to interpret it as some sort of admission that the ‘pull-push’ method is wrong. It most definitely isn’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, but for most beginners, who have not yet developed a suitable technique, it should definitely be the starting point. 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 in training 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 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, and pull-push can help to address this.

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, especially when doing manoeuvres. However, it is bad general 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, and others who insist the car will spontaneously disintegrate if you do it. The reality is that you should simply avoid doing it needlessly.

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. However, 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 have been relatively few.

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

I agree, but it can usually be overcome. Having said that, as time has gone by, I have less of an issue with pupils dry steering when doing manoeuvres than I once did.

I can’t master ‘pull-push’ steering

If you can steer safely and in control, it doesn’t matter how you do it. However, being able to pull-push is a basic skill to have, even if you don’t use it once you have acquired it. You can easily practice it at home using a book or dinner plate as a dummy steering wheel.

Don’t overthink steering, and don’t dismiss not being able to do it the very first time you try as some sort of permanent problem, because it almost certainly isn’t.

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, and you’re probably confused about being told that by your own instructor. The examiner doesn’t care how you steer as long as you’re in control. Pull-push is just an extremely useful basic skill to have, especially at the start.

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 is the favoured method of people who are trying to cultivate an image. In all my years of driving, I have never felt that I need to use it, and have never tried to use it purposely. The only time I ever get close to it is when I am demonstrating something from the passenger seat and need to reach over and steer full lock one way or the other (something I learned when I was training and my tutor asked me to show him how to do a turn in the road from the passenger seat).

I often pick up pupils who use it, and I don’t immediately try to change them. However, if my guts flip even a small amount as a result of the change in momentum when turning a corner or bend then I’m right on it, and they will learn how to steer using pull-push.

Is it OK to teach learners to ‘palm’ the wheel?

As I have repeatedly said, if someone is in control when they steer, how they do it is irrelevant. But if instructors are purposely teaching this as the default method to beginners, you have to ask the question ‘in God’s name, why?’ 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.

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”!

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 – less than half a turn – their arms cross and they can’t steer any more, even though the corner probably needs at least another half turn of the wheel. That would be marked under steering control and could easily lead to failing a test.

The whole issue of not crossing hands comes from people who have misunderstood what their instructors told them, quite possibly because their instructor didn’t understand it, either.

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

It isn’t rocket science, so don’t lead your pupils to think it is. Teach them how to pull-push first, 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.

My pupil can’t steer in a straight line

This is usually because they are thinking way too hard about what their hands are doing. Some will even be looking at the car logo in the middle of the steering wheel as if that is going to help.

The important thing here is ‘let your hands follow your eyes’. The way I deal with it is like this. I find a big empty space – a car park at weekends or in the evening is usually a good bet. Then I point out a few landmarks, such as ‘that blue door’, ‘that chimney’, ‘the front of that lorry’, and so on. Then, I take control of the car using the dual controls and tell them to aim directly at whichever landmark I identify.

I get them to turn their heads and keep their eyes fixed on whatever I have pointed out to aim for, and not to look at their hands. We might stop to do a quick pull-push refresher using my diary as a steering wheel, then maybe practice it at very low speed, but we get back to aiming at the various targets. We might start by purposely driving in a figure-of-eight pattern, but that quickly becomes a rote action, so I then randomly start naming targets so they have to steer in directions – and to degrees – they decide for themselves.

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?

This one gets a lot of hits. 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 had a car where it was nearly 2 whole turns. The easiest way of finding out is to try it – but don’t get hung up on it, because you need to steer enough to make the car go where it needs to go, and not worry about numbers.

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

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?

You need to steer enough to make the car go where you want it to go, and not to hit things you want to avoid. 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.

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 major in just one of them. It’s their ‘thing’.

Whatever fault they are experiencing, it is important to identify the precise cause. It’s usually because of where they’re looking, or what they’re thinking about when it happens (fiddling with indicators is a classic example, or struggling with the gears).

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. Learners tend to look just in front of the car, and react to things with jerky actions. An experienced driver will be looking well ahead, making minor steering corrections all the time to maintain a straight line. Since learners don’t see as far ahead to start with, they tend to drift closer to kerbs and centre lines, and only realise this later and so react in a jerky way. Trust me, if you ask your pupil to stare at something in the far distance – ‘that big tree’, ‘that bollard’, ‘the back of that lorry’, and so on – their steering nearly always becomes silky smooth immediately. Make sure you explain to them what just happened, and how to use it, otherwise some are likely to think that just staring at the back of any lorry is the solution to everything!

This is often where I park up and do my ‘perspective’ session. I sketch a horizon line, and build up a drawing of a road with buildings and pavements all meeting at the ‘vanishing point’. I explain that if they always aim for the vanishing point, they can’t possibly hit any of the buildings or pavements. There’s more explanation to it than this, but that’s the basics.

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 overthink 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. For many, it’s a bit like those wooden Chinese puzzles you get, where once you know the secret you can do it with your eyes shut. Once they get the hand movements for pull-push once, they’ve cracked it.

In the past, I’ve had pupils who have practiced at home using a dinner plate, and one even used the toy steering wheel one of her kids had. Years ago, one of my pupils used to practice parallel parking at home on the bed using a dinner plate (when I asked, she said she didn’t make the engine noises to go along with it).  As long as you lock yourself in somewhere with the curtains drawn no one will laugh at you!

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logsheetThis story has been doing the rounds since yesterday. You might remember that last year DVSA was looking into the introduction of graduated driver licences for the umpteenth time, and there was a large (and expensive) consultation over it. The subject comes up on a regular basis, usually once every 1-2 years.

I said back then that they were only ‘looking into it’ and it wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Well, it seems that – also for the umpteenth time – it’s not going to happen at all, again. Well, not until some future repetition of the whole ‘study’, anyway.

‘Looking into it’ came around this time because statistics show that 20% of new drivers have a significant accident (often involving someone being significantly dead as a result) in their first 12 months of passing the test. And the statistics also show that it is most frequently young people showing off skills they don’t actually have who are involved. This was what the government wanted to address. Last year, anyway. And it put DVSA on the case.

Of course, a lot has happened since last year. For one thing, we now know that this government values livelihoods (which equates to votes) above lives. Anyway, keeping that ethic on a roll:

Roads minister Baroness Vere told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee that the Department for Transport was abandoning work on graduated driving licences (GDL), partly due to concerns about the potential impact of restrictions on employment opportunities.

That’s bad enough. All that time and money wasted just to end up making a decision they could have made last year, since it has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome or content of the consultation. The more worrying part as far as I’m concerned, however, is as follows:

She said that the DfT had asked the Driving Instructors Association to develop a new modular curriculum for learners to cover issues such as driving in adverse weather, at high speed, on rural roads, and how to handle distractions while driving. She also said the department was considering a logbook system to prove learners had undertaken all the necessary modules.

Brrrr. Flashbacks to the rat race will keep me awake tonight!

You see, I already cover all of those things on my lessons. The only thing often lacking is driving on snow, which isn’t exactly something you can dial up on demand in this country. More than 99% of my pupils get to drive in the dark – when I think about it, I’ve had far more trouble getting some of them to drive during the day if they’re learning between November-March and only do evening lessons. I’ve even worked as late as midnight on two occasions just to give two who’d learnt during summer the experience. The only harsh weather I won’t do lessons in at all is when it is snowing heavily and the advice is not to travel (basically, if I wouldn’t go out in it, my pupils aren’t). We wait until it stops, then the lying snow becomes a useful tool. They all go on the motorway, and they all get to drive on rural roads, including single-track ones. And whatever road we’re on, if it is safe to do so, they will drive near to the speed limit and learn to think well ahead.

So the prospect of having the DIA telling me to do it differently does not exactly fill me with buckets of enthusiasm.

The next worrying part is other instructors. To start with, not everyone has easy access to all the road types mentioned, and some instructors in rural locations might have to drive for literally hours to get anywhere near a motorway or dual carriageway, whereas others in cities will likely have the same problem finding rural routes. I also note that there are already numerous dissenting voices from those instructors who only work during daylight hours now complaining about the night-time driving bit. And even if whatever they do eventually come up with gets past the permanent dissenters, the issue of a ‘log book’ rears its ugly head.

The Pass Plus Scheme was a great idea. When someone passed their test, they did Pass Plus to gain experience of all road types and driving conditions. By completing it, insurance companies offered discounts to new drivers. But it was abused systematically by many ADIs throughout its lifetime. Rather than waste time and fuel on actually delivering the relevant modules (note that word used by the government yesterday), they would simply take payment and sign off the course as completed. The student got the certificate and the insurance discount, and the ADI got some money (up to £200) just for filling in a form. Consequently, insurance companies stopped offering the discounts, and that in turn killed Pass Plus – which wasn’t improving driving skills at all as a result of how it was being ‘delivered’. And history has a habit of repeating itself.

This proposed log book scheme would simply end up as ‘Pass-not-quite-Plus’, or ‘Pass Plus Lite’. It would be open to precisely the same kind of abuse, and I would lay odds that it would be abused pretty much from day one. It’s absolutely guaranteed to be. There are a lot of people out there who only work between school runs and don’t go anywhere near night-time driving even now, and they’re not likely to change. Furthermore, if the lockdown has shown anything, it’s that the number of militant ADIs who hate DVSA with a passion is substantial, and I’d wager a fair few of these would suddenly decide not to teach in the dark anymore just to be contrarian, or show ‘solidarity’ with those who ‘can’t’.

Passing responsibility to ADIs over something like this is a bad, bad idea. Not because we’re all idiots, but because far too many are. Mind you, on the plus side, since the DIA is effectively run by such types, the chances of them coming up with something that the government will agree on is as likely as Hell freezing over. All the same, whatever they do come up with – and, God forbid, if it were ever approved – will simply end up being change for change’s sake. I mean, if ADIs completing log books wasn’t a big enough risk by itself, the DIA will inevitably – and they will, if this goes ahead – recommend allowing mummy and daddy to sign off parts of the log book to overcome some of the issues created (night-time and all-weather driving, for example) as they try to ‘represent their members’. The government will never back that, because mummy and daddy are bigger liars than those ADIs who used to say people had done Pass Plus modules when they hadn’t when it involves their little darlings and the prospect of them taking fewer paid lessons.

There is nothing wrong with the syllabus as it stands. It’s written down clearly in ‘Driving: The Essential Skills’. The only problems are with how much of it gets taught by some instructors, and CCL was supposed to address that a few years ago. Once you start pissing about with what instructors are doing – again – you’ve moved just about as far as it is possible to go from the original issue of 20% of new drivers having serious accidents within their first year because of their attitude.

Only graduated licences stand any chance of dealing with that core problem.

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I thought I’d update this article yet again as I’m currently getting a lot of hits from people looking for ‘overall stopping distance’ and ‘stopping on ice’. I also get quite a few people looking for motorbike stopping distances.

This diagram shows stopping distances in metres (which are easier to remember).Stopping Distances

First of all, for motorbikes, all the Highway Code (HC) says:

126

Stopping Distances

Drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should

  • leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops. The safe rule is never to get closer than the overall stopping distance (see Typical Stopping Distances [chart above])
  • allow at least a two-second gap between you and the vehicle in front on roads carrying faster-moving traffic and in tunnels where visibility is reduced. The gap should be at least doubled on wet roads and increased still further on icy roads
  • remember, large vehicles and motorcycles need a greater distance to stop. If driving a large vehicle in a tunnel, you should allow a four-second gap between you and the vehicle in front

If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.

There are no official stopping distances specifically for motorcycles that I’m aware of. The Highway Code just says motorbikes need to allow a greater distance to stop. In any case, stopping distances are theoretical and depend on various external factors. Any chart is only for guidance, and these stopping distances from the HC are based on a well-maintained vehicle with good brakes and fitted with tyres having plenty of tread.

RoSPA carried out some tests in 2005 and measured stopping distances versus different tyre tread depths (at a fixed speed).Tread Depth vs Stopping Distance

They found that overall stopping distance increases dramatically when tread is less than 3mm and recommend that tyres be changed at this point.

Obviously, tyres cost money. For that reason many people avoid replacing them until it is absolutely necessary. However, I would suggest that many bumps and even some more serious accidents might have been avoided if people had had their tyres replaced sooner.

Remember that if you are stopped by the police and found to have defective tyres then you could lose your licence – especially if you’re a new driver on the two-year probationary period who perhaps already has points. Remember, too, that someone who lets their tyres go below the legal minimum of 1.6mm is likely to have let other things slip as well, and the police will almost certainly check for other defects if they find your tyres are bald.

What is the legal minimum tread depth?

The specification is that tyres should have a minimum of 1.6mm of tread across the middle three-quarters of the tyre’s surface, and this should apply for the whole circumference.

How can I measure my tread depth?

Use a proper tyre tread tool, available for a few pounds from a motorists’ store. Alternatively, the little ring of dots on 10p coins (newer coins don’t have them) is about 1.6mm from the edge of the coin. If your tread is anywhere near 1.6mm, get your tyres replaced urgently.

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How can I remember stopping distances?

First of all, you can try and use your memory. It’s easy to remember the different speeds from 20mph up to 70mph. Similarly, the “thinking distance” starts at 6m and goes up by 3m for each 10mph step. All you have to do then is memorise the overall distances, which allows you to calculate the “braking distance”.

There is also a way to calculate overall stopping distance in feet using a little mental arithmetic. All you do is square the speed you’re doing in mph, divide by 20, then add the mph you had at the start to get the answer. For example:

  • At 20mph: 20 x 20 = 400; divide by 20 = 20; add 20 = 40 feet
  • At 70mph: 70 x 70 = 4,900; divide by 20 = 245; add 70 = 315 feet

You can convert this to approximate metres by multiplying by 3, then dividing by 10, so:

  • For 40 feet: 40 x 3 = 120; divide by 10 = 12 metres
  • For 315 feet: 315 x 3 = 945; divide by 10 = 94.5 metres

It’s only approximate, but it is close enough to get the answer when you’re doing your Theory Test.

Is it vital to know stopping distances?

Well, in order to pass your Theory Test (assuming a question comes up, and assuming you want to get it right), yes.

Personally, I don’t think that knowing the actual numbers is of any direct benefit for seasoned drivers. The main thing is to understand how the distances increase the faster you’re going, which means you should allow for this when you’re driving. Learning the stopping distances when you first start your lessons helps you develop that understanding.

If you assume that a typical car is 4m long, a stopping distance of 96m (315 feet) is equivalent to about 24 car lengths – or approximately 150 paces for someone of average height. That’s a long way.

The 2-second rule is of far greater practical application in day-to-day driving.

What is the stopping distance when it’s wet?

There are no tabulated figures, because the term “wet” can mean anything from a bit damp to under several inches of water! The stopping distance chart applies to good tyres on a good surface under good conditions – and even then you cannot possibly know how close you are to all those “good” conditions.

The HC advises that you allow for a following distance of at least 2 seconds (‘the 2 second rule’) in good conditions, and to at least double that (4 seconds) in the wet. Note that the HC doesn’t say how long it will take to stop when it’s icy – it just says it will take a lot more than a 2 or 4 second gap will allow for.

Maintaining a safe distance like this gives you time to react and stop – and that’s where your overall stopping distance fits in.

The whole point of the stopping distance chart is that you recognise the overall distances involved – not that you quickly do a load of maths in your head every time you brake, or attempt to drive as close as you can to someone in front. After a bit of experience you will be capable of recognising what amounts to “too close”.

What is the stopping distance on ice or snow?

There isn’t one. Trust me, if you’re going too fast on even the gentlest downward slope in snow or on black ice and you brake, there is every chance that you won’t stop until you collide with something. Some sources say it can take up to ten times the normal stopping distance, but that’s far too specific for something that is virtually impossible to measure accurately.

How quickly you stop on ice or snow (or mud, or leaves, or oil) depends on the temperature, the type of slippy stuff you’re on, how thick it is, how compact it is, and many other factors.

I’ve already mentioned the gradient, which has a dramatic effect – skid uphill and you’ll stop thanks to gravity, skid downhill and gravity may well cause you to speed up once you start to slip. There are a few hills on my patch which are impassable in winter if it snows – in either direction. You either can’t get up them, or you can’t stop if you’re going down and need to.

This is why the split between ‘thinking distance’ and ‘braking distance’ is irrelevant on snow and ice.

What is the stopping distance for [insert car name here]?

Yes, someone found the blog whilst searching for Ford Focus stopping distances!

I’ll repeat what I said above: stopping distance applies to good tyres on a good surface under good conditions. It has virtually nothing to do with what car you’re in.

What is the stopping distance in a tunnel?

It’s the same as anywhere else. I think people are getting mixed up with this sentence in the Highway Code (Rule 126):

If you have to stop in a tunnel, leave at least a 5-metre gap between you and the vehicle in front.

Note the word ‘stop’. It’s to allow freedom of movement if people have to get out and evacuate (or if anyone needs to get in to deal with something). However, you should use your own common sense when driving normally through a tunnel. The two-second rule is a minimum, not a target to meet at all costs. Maintain a safe distance of at least two seconds when driving in a tunnel, and leave at least a 5 metre gap if you have to stop in a tunnel.

Incidentally, if you are following the two-second rule when driving at 30mph, you will be nearly 30 metres behind the car in front. At 60mph this gap will be over 55 metres. That’s plenty of space to ensure you don’t stop too close to the car in front if traffic stops in the tunnel.

Have Highway Code stopping distances ever been updated?

Not to my knowledge. They’re the same now as they were in the 1960s, I believe.

Remember that the ‘thinking’ part won’t have changed anyway (other than being questioned by Brake), and the actual ‘braking’ part is still composed of the physical capabilities of the car and those of the driver.

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COVID virus graphicUpdated 22 October 2020

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the SEISS has been extended to April 2021. It will be paid in two instalments – the first, covering November-January, and the second covering February-April. This time, it is targeted at people who are working fewer hours than they normally would be as a result of the ongoing situation, and who were eligible for SEISS in the first place (i.e. received the first two grants).

As I understand it, those who couldn’t claim previously still won’t be able to. I do feel for them.

Whereas the first grant paid 80% of someone’s average income, and the second one 70% (while they weren’t working at all during the lockdown), these two extended payments will each give 20% 40% of that income up to a maximum of £1,875 £3,750. It is a top-up for reduced work.

I’m not sure when the claims will open. If it’s like the last two, the first extended payment can be claimed in January, and the second in April. However, that seems a long time to wait, and it may be different this time around.

I also note that no one at our end has done the sums yet and worked out that if the first SEISS covered March-May, and the second June-August, then there is a gap involving September and October. I’m sure it won’t take them long to pick up on it, though. The thing is, HMRC didn’t give time ranges for the first two grants, and said they just covered two three-month periods, and in any case we worked most of March.

Whatever, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

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Virus imageIn normal times, when someone goes out on their driving test, it is quite possible for them to ‘fail’ before they even leave the test centre if they mess up on the bay park, for example (or try to take out the test centre gate on their way out). However, in the vast majority of cases the test still continues for the allotted time of around 40 minutes.

Occasionally, if someone has a meltdown, the examiner might decide to terminate the test early. In Nottingham, the examiners are all decent people, and what they usually do under such circumstances is guide the test back to the test centre and terminate it early there. Only in the more dramatic cases (or with one examiner at Watnall, who I haven’t seen for a while) do they do an abandonment, leaving the car wherever it is at the time. This can happen when the candidate is simply unable to continue or to drive safely. The last one of those I had was some years ago, where the the candidate had committed a simple mistake, which she realised, and which – in the examiner’s own words – was not a serious fault anyway, but she went on to have a full breakdown, was in fits of tears, and simply couldn’t continue.

In normal times, I have no issue whatsoever with whatever the examiner decides (even that one at Watnall). Some pupils, though, are furious to discover that even though they ‘failed’ early on, they were still given a full 40 minute test. ‘What’s the point?’ is their usual question, whereupon I explain that that’s the system, and they’ve paid for 40 minutes of test time and it makes sense to get the experience in full. Examiners are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.

Right now, of course, we’re not in normal times. No normal tests were carried out between the end of March and August, and since they restarted there are obviously a lot of extra details we all have to be aware of, making them far from normal normal.

The majority of test candidates are young people, and the majority of young people are students. Unless you live under a rock, or in accommodation provided by QAnon, it won’t have escaped your attention that there has been a huge spike in the numbers of positive COVID-19 tests, and many of those are among students. Conversely, the majority of driving examiners are not young people, and many of them are in the demographic where the prognosis for a positive COVID-19 test is not good – for them, and quite possibly members of their immediate family.

As I have explained in recent articles, in the last month I have had to stop lessons for a student whose sister was sent into quarantine after members of staff at the school she worked at tested positive. I stopped lessons for another who was sent into quarantine after a staff member at his workplace tested positive (and I discovered today he also became positive last week). Another texted me last week to tell me he had been sent home from school to quarantine because his teacher had tested positive. And I have heard that an examiner has had to quarantine because someone took a driving test a couple of weeks ago and tested positive the following day (and that one raises a lot of unanswered questions about the candidate, their morals, and their intelligence). I also spoke with one of my student pupils who went home at the start of the lockdown and has recently come back, and he tells me his accommodation outside the university has numerous people who are positive and supposedly quarantining.

The COVID-19 infection path is complicated, and doesn’t follow the simple rules most people don’t understand even then. Technically, it would be possible just to come into contact with a single viral particle and get infected. However, the risk of infection increases in line with the number of viral particles you are exposed to, the frequency of exposure, and the length of time you are exposed to them. It’s a triple whammy. The more infected people there are, and the more time you spend around them, the greater the risk. It’s the same principle for most viruses and infectious agents, and COVID-19 is no different – other than there being no vaccine for it yet. This is why we have the various measures in place for trying to manage it, and it is no wonder that responsible people and organisations are following them, instead of trying to argue that they are wrong.

As I have repeatedly said, the situation we are in is far from normal. Rightly or wrongly, the decision was made to try and resume some level of normality following the lockdown. That eventually led to the resumption of driving tests – along with a raft of changes to how they are carried out. These include:

  • masks must be worn
  • test centre waiting rooms are closed – largely because they’re being used by examiners who are socially distancing in their workplaces as best they can (and even if they’re not, having ADIs in there would raise major distancing and sanitization issues)
  • tests are ‘terminated’ as soon as a serious/dangerous fault is committed, and the candidate is directed back to the test centre
  • instructors cannot accompany tests
  • instructors cannot listen in on the debrief

The reality – in Nottingham, anyway – is that there is absolutely no issue using the toilets in the test centre if you ask (I should say, ‘ask nicely’, but then I am always polite with examiners). As long as you are wearing a mask and don’t try to climb on the examiner’s shoulder by hanging through the door, there would appear to be no real issues with listening to the debrief from a safe distance, Even if you don’t, the examiner will likely have a quick chat outside. The only downer to all this is that if it pissing down with rain, you’ll get wet while the test is out unless you’ve taken steps to deal with it (and I have).

This is how it is in these very un-normal times. People tend to forget that it’s only been like this with driving tests for a couple of months, and with a vaccine likely on the way, it probably won’t be like it for that many more. I mean, Christ! Assuming there is a vaccine by Christmas, it means that we’ve had to struggle for barely a year with the whole pandemic (notwithstanding the false dawn in the middle, which has caused the resurgence we have today). And as much as I hate bringing the past into things, people had to put up with much, much worse restrictions and conditions during – and for a decade after – the Second World War. Standing in the rain for 40 minutes is hardly on the same scale.

But people are different today, and THIS is why we have problems. To start with, there is a large number of ADIs who are apparently card-carrying QAnon members and anti-vaxxers. From what I have seen, those who usually spend the better part of their time criticising DVSA over every single matter are the ones most likely to be among these. The word ‘contrarian’ springs to mind. Consequently, they know best about masks. I mean, within 5 minutes of the rule being sent out, the message boards were immediately filled by contrarian ‘what if…’ questions, and it would appear that 90% of instructors only teach people who have asthma, and have asthma themselves – even though a genuine asthmatic would not have that much of a problem with a mask in the first place.

The reason I know that is that shortly after I started lessons again, one of my pupils had an emergency  test booked. She has health conditions and is asthmatic, so I phoned her and explained the rules that had been sent out. I explained that unless a specific exemption had been mentioned at the time of booking, there was – from what I had heard from other instructors – the possibility that her examiner might refuse to go out. She resolved the issue for me immediately by saying ‘oh, I’ll just wear a mask then’. She did, and she passed. She also needed to use the loo as we arrived, and an examiner came to the door as she approached and let her in without question. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there really are people out there who genuinely cannot wear mask, but it’s nowhere near as many as some would like it to be, and asthma is not an automatic barrier unless it is accompanied by a dose of attitude.

Then there’s the waiting room issue. Yes, I would like to sit in the warm. But I can see with my own eyes that the examiners are using the waiting area (at Colwick, anyway) as an office space to help them socially distance inside. So, at the moment – in these un-normal times – there is no waiting room. It isn’t like I’ve not experienced a test centre with no waiting room before. There wasn’t one when when the Chilwell centre was first relocated, and there wasn’t one when there was a centre in Clifton. And none of them in Nottingham are actually located that close to a café or other place with refreshments (unless you include a pub in Watnall, which I have never seen any instructor enter). Of course, once this waiting room thing was publicised, we quickly discovered that most driving instructors apparently suffer from any or all of arthritis, rheumatism, dodgy bladders, and a variety of other ailments for which one of the specific triggers is apparently not being able to sit in the test centre waiting room.

Now we come to test terminations. Naturally, as well as being experts on every other subject (even though they never agree on the answer to simple driving-specific issues), it turns out ADIs see themselves as compensation lawyers, too. They’re actually trying to bolster each other up into starting petitions because it’s ‘grossly unfair’, and some sort of money-making scam by DVSA. They blame the backlog of tests on DVSA, readily apportioning blame when one of their pupils can’t get a test until next year.

For f***’s sake, people. It is what it is. We’re in the middle of a pandemic which has killed 50,000 people in the UK in little more than six months, with every sign it has come back for a bigger go. It spreads by close contact, and examiners are in one of the worst positions imaginable for it to do that. We only have our own pupils to deal with. They have to deal with all of us, and all of our pupils. And as I’ve already pointed out, a fair few of us are, unfortunately, militant deniers, anti-maskers, and anti-vaxxers – and that’s on top of being inveterate DVSA-haters. Examiners are therefore far more at risk from these nutcases than I am. I just stay away from them, but examiners can’t.

My justification for starting lessons again in late August/early September was based on the low number of infections being reported at the time. The risk of coming into contact with an infected person was low. My justification for stopping lessons again now is that the number of infections has gone through the roof, and every one of my pupils either knows someone or is someone who is infected. The risk of me becoming infected is virtually guaranteed if I continue.

And none of that makes me want to start f***ing whingeing about wearing a mask, not being able to use the waiting room, or having a test return early if someone screws up. Because as I said.

It.Is. What. It. Is. Right. Now.

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NOCO Boost 2000 Amp StarterDuring the lockdown, I was worried that my car might have a flat battery when I started to use it again. I’d taken it out a couple of times, but not for a significant run – once to the Post Office, and once to fetch fuel. As a precaution, I bought a battery-powered jump starter unit.

As it happens, I didn’t need it. Not for myself. But it is useful to have as a backup.

However, a few weeks ago I was on a lesson with a pupil and we were in Morrisons’ car park in Bulwell. Someone came up to us and asked if we had jump leads. I remembered I had the jump starter in the boot, and took it over to him. His white Transit had died as he was leaving. Here was a chance to see if the starter actually worked.

As soon as the unit was connected to the battery terminals, the van’s lights came on and it fired up first time. The two blokes in the van were grateful, and I was well impressed. Money well spent.

The NOCO Boost can be charged from the 12V socket while you’re driving, or from a USB charger at home. It also has USB sockets of its own, and can be used to charge mobile phones and other devices. It’s basically a massive power bank. Mine’s the GB70. Highly recommended.

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Flightradar screenshotAs I write this, I’m looking at FlightRadar24, which shows active flights all over the world.

At 9.40pm, incoming flights include Milan-East Midlands (Ryanair). Zakynthos-Newcastle (Jet2), Skiathos-Manchester (Jet2), Kefalonia-Stansted (Jet2), Athens-Luton (Ryanair), Rhodes-Luton (EasyJet), Kalamata-Heathrow (BA), Izmir-Luton (TUI), Katowice-Birmingham (Ryanair), Larnaca-Heathrow (BA), Ibiza-East Midlands (Ryanair), Venice-Manchester (Ryanair), Istanbul-Stansted (Flypgs), Krakow-Manchester (Easyjet), Copenhagen-Manchester (Ryanair), Poznan-Doncaster (Wizzair), Kaunas-Bristol (Ryanair), Palma de Mallorca-Luton (Easyjet), Palma de Mallorca-Manchester (Ryanair), Girona-Manchester (Ryanair), Alicante-Stansted (Ryanair)… This is just a sample.

It goes on and on, and then on again some more, all day, every day.

Our idiot government locked down too late back in March.Then it opened up too soon at the start of last month. It pandered to ‘the people’ – the very same twats who are now filling these planes coming in from hotspots where there are more daily new infections now than there were at the height of the first wave.

These same twats are desperately rushing back to avoid having to quarantine. Quarantine is telegraphed by Bojo’s committee of clowns to various arbitrary future cut-off times. That means that if a country is added to the quarantine list because it has high infection rates, people have at least two days to wallow in even higher infection rates, then ignore social distancing in the cattle rush to try and beat the deadline to get back in time. There’s no difference whatsoever between someone making it back at 3.59am and someone arriving at 4.01am – except one has to quarantine and the other doesn’t. It’s a complete joke.

Then there is the issue of whether people do quarantine even when they should (government advisers have indicated that 4 in 5 people don’t). Bolton has been locked down recently, and it is suggested that one moron who failed to adhere to quarantine was at least partly responsible. It would need an incredible level of naïveté to  believe that he was unique (he has been fined), and that everyone else followed the rules. The reality is that a huge number – even the majority – don’t. Incidentally, the Boltonese halfwit was called Layton Migas.

People should not be going on holiday. Period. Argue about it – and try to defend yourself – as much as you like, but if you fly abroad for leisure and come back right now, you are an inconsiderate (and probably orange-tinted, tooth-whitened) prat like Migas, who doesn’t have a clue what this is about. Any surge in deaths as a result of this second wave, and you are part of the cause.

Hospital admissions are rising again. Deaths appear to be rising – these are usually weeks behind infection rates.

Another lockdown is almost inevitable, thanks to your Ibiza or Zante jaunt. And just think. You’ve probably been whining about how ‘the country can’t afford to lockdown’ all the way through it. The weak government gave in to you. But instead of going back to work and earning some of that money you reckon you so desperately needed, the first thing you did was blow a stack to get to Spain or Greece to top up your orange glow and wave your fat arse for some Instagram material. If you’d have saved that money from your pointless piss up in the sun, then a) a second lockdown might not have been on the cards, b) you’d be more able to absorb the financial hit if it was, and c) fewer people will have died once all this is over. I sincerely hope that if the government steps in to assist people financially in a second lockdown, they don’t pay out to people who went abroad, seeing as they were the ones who effectively made it necessary.

I started doing limited lessons again three weeks ago – I left it much later than many instructors before going back to work. For the last two of those weeks I have been warning pupils we’ll likely have to stop again with the way things are going. It looks like I was right.

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DVSA LogoAt the start of 2020, DVSA announced they were planning to make some changes to the theory test. Any planned schedule for that went right out of the window when COVID-19 came along. However, with things firing on two or three cylinders again, an email today gives a date for when the changes come into effect.

From 28 September 2020, candidates taking their theory tests will – instead of the current written scenario with questions – be shown a video clip and asked questions. For all practical purposes, a video of a scenario replaces the current written description of the scenario.

You still get asked the same number of questions and you still need to get the same number right in order to pass (note my comments elsewhere on the blog that if you are one point off the pass mark, you haven’t ‘failed by one’ – you’ve failed by eight). And you still have to do the Hazard Perception part of the test.

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Virus graphicWell, I had my first post-lockdown test today, and she passed with six driver faults. Well done to her!

Reading some of the horror stories on social media, I wasn’t sure what to expect when arriving at the test centre. Half of me wouldn’t have been surprised to see armed guards at the gates and outside the waiting room going from some of the (probably embellished) accounts of other people’s tests.

Arriving in the car park five minutes (as clearly requested on the DVSA emails) before we were due, it was clear that alternate bays were coned-off to facilitate distancing. So we reverse-parked into one of them. Or rather I did from the passenger seat, since the pupil’s nerves meant she’d picked one with a cone in it, and with five minutes to play with there wasn’t time to piss about. She also wanted the loo.

On approaching the waiting room for the toilet, an examiner came to the door and opened it manually so she could go into the foyer, and no questions asked. The examiners are using the usual waiting room as an office so they can distance properly, and it is off limits to instructors.

One odd thing was that the pupil had to sign some sort of paper to say they were covered by insurance. Never experienced that before – and the paper was left in the car at the end of the test! The examiner wiped a few surfaces down before he got in, which is DVSA policy according to emails and the sign on the waiting room windows. I have no problem with that whatsoever, since examiners have no idea of who and what is turning up to test. In my case, I use a fogging machine to sanitise my car daily, and all my pupils that I’m currently teaching know my own isolating requirements (two have cancelled in the last week, one because she was unwell, but is OK now and it was just a sickness bug, and another is out of circulation for two weeks because his sister works at a school which has just had two positive COVID-19 tests, and although she has tested negative she still has to isolate). I noted that the test involved a satnav.

I’ve bought a waterproof cape in anticipation of being outside when it is wet at some point. Today was a beautifully warm and sunny day, so it wasn’t needed. I noticed that five out of six other instructors were sat together in two groups. I went outside the test centre compound and found somewhere quiet next to the river. My car has a tracker in it, and I can see its movement in real time, so I know exactly where it is at any time – useful for knowing when to make my way to the car park or (in rare cases) where the examiner has left it if there is a walk-back.

As my pupil returned to the car park, I made no attempt to go and listen to the debrief as I normally would, and kept my distance (as requested by DVSA in its emails). I noted that no windows were fully open – just the front ones a few centimetres. The examiner opened the car door wide as he did the debrief, but I stayed back. She gave me the thumbs up as I stood 6 metres away and shouted that she’d passed. I had to get a little closer at one point because she and the examiner wanted my opinion over taking her licence away, or leaving it with her to apply for her full licence herself. I explained that there could well be a delay in getting her new licence in the current climate, so unless she needed her provisional for ID purposes it made sense to surrender it and get things moving quickly (in any case, I pointed out she had her passport as ID if necessary). The debrief took as long as it usually does – no rush of any kind.

I gave her a sanitising wipe to wipe down contact points on her side before we switched seats for me to drive her home, while she made calls and sent texts to friends and family.

Absolutely no problems whatsoever. If it’s like this in future, the only issue is going to be the rain. DVSA doing their job, me doing mine.

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Rear-end shuntThis is an old story from 2011, updated last in 2017, and again in 2020 following another surge of interest with people asking about bald tyres and insurance – particularly when they’ve been involved in accidents.

Back in 2011 in the run-up to Winter there was story about Cumbria police and the “20p test” (original media link here). I pointed out that this “20p test” does not distinguish between legal and illegal tread depth, but is an arbitrary specification which appeared to have been seized upon by Cumbrian police ahead of the predicted relocation of the Antarctic to the UK that year.

Then, Lady Motor News (which doesn’t exist anymore) jumped on it and showed even though a little knowledge can be dangerous, no knowledge at all is even worse. The main thrust of the story was fine: if you have an accident where bald tyres are involved, you may find you are not covered by your insurance.20p coin and the 2.5mm border

But they then went on to say:

To ensure you’re not caught with illegal tyres, car insurance experts recommend the 20p trick. Place a 20p coin in the main tyre tread, if the rim of the coin is covered by the tread, then your tyres are legal for use on UK roads.

Technically, this is correct, but only partially – and only by accident. That’s because the correct specification for tread depth on car tyres is that they should have at least 1.6mm of depth across the central three-quarters of the tyre’s width (the bit that goes on the road), and this should be true for the entire circumference (i.e. all the way round). And there should be no cuts or bulges in the sidewall on both sides of the tyre. So they could fail the ‘20p test’ and still be completely legal (or pass it, and be completely illegal because of sidewall damage). That’s because the rim on a 20p coin is about 2.5mm wide, so the ‘test’ only shows if it is above or below this – but not by how much. Consequently, it has nothing to do with ‘being legal’.10p coins - with the dots

It might sound pedantic, but when people don’t understand something and start writing about it, it gets taken as gospel by those who know even less, but ought to know a lot more. Such as new drivers,Tread Depth - digital measuring tool

If you really can’t afford to by a proper tyre tread depth gauge, the legal limit of 1.6mm can be measured roughly using either an old-style 10p coin with the row of dots, or a newer coin and the top of the writing around it. The dots (or writing) are about 1.6mm away from the edge of the coin. If you are anywhere near 1.6mm using this method you need new tyres.

A proper gauge costs under £7, and any decent driver should have one. The digital ones are easily the best.

Is my insurance valid if I have an accident as a result of bald tyres?

I get a lot of hits on this  search term. The short answer is NO. You are almost certainly not covered if you are driving a car that is not roadworthy, and bald tyres mean exactly that: the car is not roadworthy (it’s actually illegal).

Will I get away with bald tyres if I have an accident?

If it’s a minor prang, and no one checks your tyres as part of the insurance process, then you might get away with it. If you do, count yourself very lucky and learn your lesson.

If it’s a bigger accident, and especially if the police are involved or there is damage to property or person, you’re likely to end up being prosecuted. The more serious the accident, the more likely they are to look for what caused it – and you not stopping in time or skidding because you had bald tyres is likely to be a major factor. If this happens, you’ll get points on your licence, and quite possibly a criminal record. Your insurance will be void, and any compensation awarded to the injured parties (plus expenses) will fall to you to pay. You could even end up in prison if you have a habit of playing silly games with the Law, and the court decides enough is enough.

If your car is in an accident and you have a bald tyre will the insurance sort it out?

Someone found the blog on that precise search term. It’s a bit of a silly question, since if you have bald tyres you don’t actually have valid insurance, so why should they help you ‘sort it’ if you’re involved in an accident as a result? Some might – but your future premiums will go sky high. It’s best not to try it – just check your tyres and replace them if they’re badly worn.

Think about it. Four new tyres – cost approximately £100. Insurance before accident for 23-year old – say £1,000 a year. Insurance after accident for 23-year old – £2,000 plus (quite a lot plus, in many cases), loss of any no-claims bonuses, and several years to get even close to what you were paying before.

Am I covered if the person who caused the accident had bald tyres?

Tricky one, and in all honesty I don’t know. Technically, if your own insurance is void if you have bald tyres, then your insurer could refuse to pay out to the 3rd party, and that would therefore apply if you were the 3rd party. Then there are the fraudulent claims for old damage, more damage than was actually caused, inflated repair costs, whiplash, and so on.

It’s a legal minefield. If you’re in this position yourself, seek professional advice.

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