A Driving Instructor's Blog


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Bill and Ben - Flower Pot MenThis came in via the Google newsfeeds. It seems that Bill Plant driving school went into administration on 27 April 2017. It has since been bought out by Ecodot, which is:

…a specialist in car vehicle preparation and dual control vehicle hire. Our main services are, Dual control vehicle hire, Alloy refurbishment, Porfessional (sic) Valeting services and Body Repairs

I would have used an image above which related directly to Bill Plant, but from past experience I know that they’re a bunch of prima donnas who threaten court action unless you’re saying anything good about them. Of course, such behaviour makes it even more difficult to say anything good about them.

The reason for the titsup is given as being due to:

…exceptional costs associated with a change in operating model.

Or, in other words, they were a bunch of incompetent prima donnas. Most of the other belly-ups in the driver training industry went bust during the economic downturn during the last decade and the early part of this one. Bill Plant has managed it during a period of economic growth, and that doesn’t bode well for their future.

This industry is not high-margin. Driving lessons can only cost so much before learners won’t pay for them, and at the moment almost everyone is charging the same (in the region of £25 an hour, give or take a few quid). Similarly, instructors who work on a franchise will only pay so much before they walk away, too. The amount they pay for the franchise lines the pockets of the franchiser, who is at the top of the pile, and that franchiser will not be happy unless he or she is pocketing enough to keep a new X5 on the driveway. A kind of status quo is established, whereby the only loser is the instructor – lesson prices can’t go up by much, and the franchiser will still want to increase profits year on year, so the franchise fee goes up. It’s a simple Law of Nature.

It makes you wonder what the numpties did to their “operating model” to screw things so badly. I wonder if it had anything to do with introducing BMW X1s as tuition cars – the prices of which range from £23,000 to £35,000, which is at least double (and up to five times) the price new of most instructors’ tuition vehicles? If it did, I can’t see Ecodot – which is apparently now trading as Bill Plant Driving School Ltd – keeping them. Someone somewhere in the chain has to pay for the overheads.

As I say, this industry is not high-margin, and anyone who buys a top marque as an overhead and then delivers lessons costing the same as they would in a vehicle costing a quarter of that is not going to stay in business long without someone on the outside pumping them money intravenously. Having hubby (or wifey) supply the financial drip feed to their other half is one thing, but for a limited company it’s a different matter altogether.

Ecodot isn’t big enough to pump money in indefinitely, and I can see big changes coming.


I updated this again. I’m still getting hits on the same search terms so I thought I’d give examples when I get them:

  • 13/10/2015 – “bribe driving examiner uk”
  • 14/03/2016 – “how to tell if your driving examner is corputed [sic]”
  • 26/03/2017 – “driving test how does bribe work woth instructors [sic]”
  • 26/03/2017 – “bribing driving examiner”
  • 28/03/2017 – “how much to bribe a driving examiner”

I wrote this article back in 2011, but I’m still getting people finding the blog on the search term “how do I bribe driving examiner” or something equally lacking in good English.Bribery - it means handing over money

Look. If you are so stupid that you don’t know how to do this, ask yourself if you really should be driving a car unsupervised. Because you really shouldn’t. But since you obviously are that stupid, it means handing over money in return for a favour – in this case, a test pass even if you are a crap driver.

The simple fact that you’ve typed the question into a search engine means it can be traced back to you, and for all you know the agencies could be looking for people just like you. So well done for flagging yourself up to them as a cheat and a liar.

It’s hard to fathom how weak-minded someone needs to be to consider criminal acts and to ignore the consequences of those acts as a viable way of getting what they want.

Bribery of driving examiners has less than a 0.1% chance of succeeding. However, the risk of jail or deportation for trying it is pretty much guaranteed. It’s far easier – and cheaper – to learn to drive properly and take your driving test. Just look at some of the idiots who have been prosecuted – two morons in this story, lots of them in this one, two more here.

One thing that’s becoming apparent is that the people most likely to consider paying someone else to do their test for them are usually from countries where fraud and corruption are written into the constitution. It’s also apparent that those most likely to take money from these idiots and then to try to impersonate them (even though they look nothing like them) come from the same communities!

Let’s try this in big red letters to see if it helps some of the stupid ones out there understand it better:





How can I tell if my examiner is corrupt?

Or, as it was asked to find the blog, “how to tell if your driving examner is corputed [sic]”.

Ask him. If you end up in handcuffs in the back of a police van, then he obviously wasn’t. Or you didn’t offer him enough.

It’s cheaper to learn to drive properly, you idiot.

Can I get done trying to bribe an examiner?

Or more accurately, “can I get done tryong [sic] to bribe a [sic] examiner”?

See above.

Is it easier if I get someone to take the test for me?

If you get away with it, yes. However, it will mean that you are still a crap driver and may well end up killing someone. However, paying someone to take the test for you is more expensive than learning properly. Your chances of  successfully gaining a licence this way in the UK are almost zero, and even if you initially get away with it, at some point they will catch the person you paid and take your false licence away. You will then be fined, perhaps imprisoned, or even deported if you are not a UK citizen.

If you’re still so stupid you want to try it, go ahead. And watch me laugh when you get caught.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can I download test routes?

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

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

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

A desire to obtain detailed test routes for use on lessons seems to be something newly-qualified ADIs attach high importance to. Trust me: don’t waste your money.

Is it possible to record test routes?

Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same. I use a tracker and I know where every pupil goes on their test (and I can see where they are while I’m at the test centre, so I know when they are coming back). This is purely for my own information, and publishing my logged routes would be completely against DVSA’s original reason for stopping publication. If it wasn’t already apparent from the rest of this blog, I have absolutely no inclination or desire to go against DVSA.

I have provided an old Clifton test route in the image at the start of this article (Clifton is now closed). What 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. And 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. I recently showed a pupil where she had failed after the examiner explained it in the debrief, but she didn’t know what he was talking about. I placed it online for her to look at less than an hour later.

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 even 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 just be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010 and which are almost certainly out of date. As I said above, routes change with time.

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

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

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

How many test routes are there?

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


Reversing around a cornerThis article gets a lot of hits, and reversing around a corner is the manoeuvre many of my own pupils struggle with the most.

What seems to make it so difficult is that you have to control the car all the way through  – it’s not just full lock one way, then full lock the other – so you need to know which way to turn the wheel. And that’s where the problems arise: steering the car when it is going backwards. In my experience, most people – 80% or more – seem have problems initially, and for some it is always a real struggle.

The secret to overcoming the issue of which way to steer and mastering the manoeuvre is to retrain your instinctive behaviour by careful calculation. What does that mean?

Steering - forwards and backwardsWell, imagine you are sitting in your car in the middle of a big, empty car park. If you steer left and drive forwards, as shown by the green arrow in the diagram, then obviously the car will turn to the left. What you might not be aware of is that the back of the car swings out to the right, but since you aren’t usually looking at that bit of your vehicle when you’re driving your brain doesn’t take it into consideration.

However, if you stop, put the car into reverse, and then start to move backwards, although the car will still turn to the left, as shown by the red arrow, this time the front of the car swings out to the right. You see that quite easily, and when you’re stressed your brain will instinctively try to make sense of that. Your instincts kick in and immediately tell you to steer the opposite way.

Your instincts can get even more confused by information provided by the mirrors. It is surprising how many people without previous experience subconsciously believe that everything in the mirrors is the opposite way round, and since your instincts feed off your subconscious, relying on them can be a recipe for disaster.

Remember that your instincts will kick in whenever you are stressed, and if they’re incorrectly programmed you’ll usually end up steering the wrong way when reversing around a corner. The secret is to: take your time, stop… and think… often.

Each time you stop, you must work out – calculate – what to do based on the hard facts, as illustrated in the above diagram. Ignore the front of the car as you do your calculation – you’re guiding the rear end. Absolutely the worst thing you can do, and especially so when you are still learning, is to go quickly and avoid stopping, because that forces your instincts to take over. The more you get it right, the more confident you will become, the less stressed you will be, and the quicker your instincts will get retrained.

Reversing around a corner is actually quite simple, and on your test all you’re expected to do is keep reasonably close to the kerb and watch out for other road users (the examiner only has tick boxes for “control” and “safety”). The examiner won’t get out and use a tape measure, and as long as you don’t mount the pavement or end up across the other side of the road then you’re unlikely to attract even a driver fault, let alone fail your test. The examiner doesn’t care what method you use, or how often you stop (as long as you don’t take forever and cause hold ups for other road users), so you can gauge your position relative to the kerb by looking out of the back window, the rear passenger window, using your mirrors, or a combination of any of these. You can steer as much or as little as you like as long as you remain in control – and are aware of what is happening around you.

Remember that reversing into a corner isn’t a parking manoeuvre, and you shouldn’t attempt to get really close to the kerb. You want to try and keep about as far away from it as you would be if you were emerging to turn left going forwards.

Here’s a fool proof method which works every time. For it to work, your mirrors must be adjusted the same every time – if they aren’t, your position relative to the kerb will be different.Reversing around a corner - start position

First of all, look at the bottom edge of the mirror housing in the picture above. Note the two white dots – I have marked these on the picture using my graphics software, but you can put suitable markers on your own car using Tipp-Ex (which you can scrape off easily without leaving any marks) or two rubber bands. The actual positioning of the dots isn’t critical – all you need to do is split the mirror approximately into thirds. You don’t even need to put any marks on your car – just imagine the position of the thirds markers.

Step 1

Drive past the road you want to reverse into and stop safely about two to three car lengths beyond it, and about half a metre (the width of a drain grating) from the kerb. When you look in the mirror you should see that the kerb is more or less at the nearest third marker (as shown in the picture above). It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit closer or a bit further – as long as you can see it.Reversing around a corner - the point of turn

Step 2

Get the car into reverse, and safely and slowly reverse back until the kerb curves away from the car, as shown above. Stop when it lines up with the furthest third marker. This is the point of turn (where the kerb is branching away from the car).

Step 3

This next part is critical: work out which way you need to steer. The kerb has moved away from you(←, or “to the left”), so you need to steer towards it (←, or also “to the left”). Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reversing around a corner - kerb gets closer

Step 4

Reverse safely and slowly until the kerb comes back to the nearest marker.

Step 5

This part is critical again: work out which way you need to steer. The kerb has moved towards you (→, or “to the right”), so you need to steer away from it (→, or also “to the right”). Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reverse around a corner - kerb moves away

The kerb will now move away from you again. Repeat the above steps – carefully working out which way to steer every time you stop – until the car is into the side road.

Step 6

Once you are parallel with the kerb in the side road, stop. This part is critical again: work out which way you need to steer. If you continue moving without doing anything, you will continue to get closer to the kerb and will hit it – so you must steer away from it (→, or “to the right”) to avoid that. Steer one complete turn of the steering wheel in that direction.Reversing around a corner - in the side road

Step 7

Reverse back safely in a straight line for about 3-4 car lengths, then stop and secure the car.

You do not have to use the handbrake each time you stop as you move around the corner (but it doesn’t matter if you do). Use it if it will help prevent the car from rolling, and especially if you’re reversing on a slope.

I can’t emphasise strongly enough how important it is to stop and work out which way you need to steer. If you react on instinct you will almost certainly steer the wrong way, so you have to calm things right down and prevent instinct from taking over.

One useful tip is to talk out loud. If I stop my pupil and ask “which way has the kerb gone?” they should answer “away from me” (if that’s the case). I will then ask “so what do we want to do?” and they will say “get closer to it”. I then ask “so which way should we steer?” – and this is where logic must beat instinct: logically, if the kerb has moved away, and we want to get closer, we simply steer towards it. If the pupil can do that with me asking the questions, they should be able to do it if they ask the questions themselves – except that if they only think the questions instead of saying them out loud, the subconscious is involved and instinct is likely to win out. By asking the questions out loud, the conscious is involved, and logical actions are much more likely.

Are there any other ways to do it?

Of course. As long as you can get round the corner safely and in control, you can do it however you want. If you have good reverse steering skills there is no reason why you can’t just go slowly and steadily round the corner, steering as much or as little as you need until you’re in the side road. Actually, that’s the ideal way of doing it – just don’t forget to keep an eye out for other traffic and pedestrians, which is easier said than done when you’re still moving and trying to avoid the kerb. Depending on the car you’re using, you could watch the kerb out of the rear passenger or quarter light window, or even out of the back window. However, do not be fooled into thinking you shouldn’t use your mirrors: they’re there for precisely this kind of thing.

Is there a fool-proof way of doing this manoeuvre?

The one I have described here is pretty close. As I said at the start, this manoeuvre requires you to control the car throughout based on your position relative to the kerb. I suspect that you’re asking this question with a view to finding a method where you don’t have to think: you’re not going to find one. Like it or not, you need to know what you are doing, and this method works for any wide corner.

Isn’t your method too prescriptive?

Other instructors love this sort of nit-picking. Many people have major problems steering in reverse, and it is not written anywhere that they must be able to go backwards around a corner at speed without stopping. New drivers need all the help they can get, and whilst they may one day be able to whizz safely and accurately around a corner whilst simultaneously solving a Rubik’s Cube and playing the banjo, during this phase of their life when they can’t do that, this method (or a similarly prescriptive one) can help them.

Why can’t they just steer round naturally?

The fact that you’re reading this ought to make the answer obvious! If your pupil (or you) can do it freestyle with their eyes shut, all well and good. If your pupil (or you) has problems knowing which way to steer, you would be stupid to persist with doing it freestyle – they/you will just get in a mess and steer the wrong way. It’s a waste of the pupil’s time and money, and highly detrimental to the instructor’s reputation if the pupil decides they’re not getting anywhere. Not “making progress” whilst haemorrhaging money is one of the big reasons I pick up partly-trained pupils who’ve had enough.

What do I do if another car turns up when I’m reversing?

You need to use your own judgement. As a rough guide, while you are on the main road, wait for anyone coming up from behind (don’t worry too much about those coming from the front unless it’s a very narrow road). Once you’re turning in, keep an eye on those approaching from the left/front but only worry about stopping to wait if it’s a narrow road or if they are turning into the side road). Once you are well into the side road, cars on the main road are not an issue as long as they’re not turning into the side road. At all times, be aware of traffic coming up behind you from the side road.

Of course, a lot will depend on where you do the manoeuvre. The Golden Rule is not to fail to see approaching traffic (or pedestrians) because the examiners are watching for precisely that. Generally, if you look, you will see – if you don’t look, you can’t see!

What do I do if someone flashes their lights at me?

Make sure that they’re flashing at you and not someone else, and then carry on with the manoeuvre if it’s clear that they’re waiting for you – but keep an eye on them, because once you’re around the corner (assuming they’re behind you) they’ll probably go past and you’ll have to pause as they do.

What would be a serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The decision will be the examiner’s, but as a rough guide: missing other cars and pedestrians, not looking all around before commencing the actual turn, mounting the pavement, going more than half way across the side road at any point in the manoeuvre, and so on are likely to be marked as serious faults.

Never self-assess, though. Most people who assume they have “failed” for something usually turn out to be wrong, and not long ago one of my own pupils rode up the kerb slightly and slipped back down again (jeopardising my alloys) and still passed. It depends on how good the drive was, and the way the particular examiner marks tests.

Do I fail if I stall when reversing around a corner?

No. Not automatically. It depends on various factors – how many times, how you deal with it, what is happening at the time (i.e. other road users), and so on. Aim not to stall, stay calm if you do, then concentrate on the rest of the test and keep your fingers crossed. Don’t self-assess. It’s the examiner’s decision, not yours.

Read the article on stalling.

At what point do I turn?

It doesn’t have to be millimetre perfect. All you’ve got to do is follow the kerb around, making sure it doesn’t go too wide or disappear into the side of the car when looking in the left mirror, and you’ve cracked it. Generally, you want to start turning just as the kerb starts to curve away from the car. The method I’ve detailed above takes care of it for you.

How much should I turn the wheel when reversing around a corner?

To go round most corners driving forwards you’ll need between a half and one full turn of the steering wheel. It would obviously need about the same amount going round it in reverse. It depends on the corner – some are much tighter than others – and the exact amount of steering will also depend on your car, since some have tighter turning circles than others. The method I’ve detailed above takes care of it for you.

What if it’s a very sharp corner?

Good question. The method I have detailed above will not work as it is written for sharp corners. Reversing into a sharp corner

To deal with sharp corners, all you have to do is work out where the turning point is, then apply full lock. In my car (and when I’m driving), when the kerb of the road I’m reversing into appears just inside the nearside passenger window (see image above), that’s the turning point. You can work it out for your car (or seating position) by driving slowly forwards around the corner (i.e. doing the manoeuvre in reverse) and stopping as soon as you are straight. Take a look where the kerb of the target road is and remember that position.

If you’re trying to teach this to a pupil, remember that what you see in the side window will not be the same as what the pupil sees (unless they have their seat adjusted to exactly the same place you do, and they’re the same height as you). Let them work out their own reference point – don’t tell them what it is, because it probably won’t be!

Which way should I steer?

This is the main reason many learners have problems with this manoeuvre. Their instincts tell them to steer in exactly the opposite direction to what is required whenever they are reversing (I’ve explained the probable reason why, above). Instinct takes over whenever the pupil is panicked or rushed. Quite simply, you steer the way you want the car to move, whether driving forwards or backwards. The direction you steer does not change when you are reversing.

As I explained above, talking to yourself can help a lot – it forces you to work things out instead of just going on instinct.

Can I dry steer?

Yes, if you need to. Dry steering is when you steer while the car is stationary, and although it isn’t good practice to do it unnecessarily (it can damage the tyres, the steering column, and the road surface), it is NOT marked on the test. You can read more about steering in this article. In any case, you will usually only be steering a little while you are carrying out this manoeuvre, so dry steering is even less of an issue.

Should I use the handbrake every time I stop?

No. Use it if there is a risk of rolling, if you think you might be waiting for a long time, if you want to shift your foot, and so on. Otherwise, control the car smoothly using the brake and clutch as necessary (not at the same time, though). Having said that, if you do use the handbrake for each stop you’re not going to fail for it, so if it makes you feel better go ahead and use it (several years ago, one of my pupils was told on the debrief that there was no need to use the handbrake so much – but no fault was recorded and they still passed).

My last instructor told me it’s wrong to look in the mirrors

Your instructor is wrong, and you did well to get away from him before he did any more damage. The aim of this manoeuvre is to stay reasonably close to the kerb and to keep an eye out for other traffic. Your mirrors are there to tell you what is happening behind you, so you should make use of them. Just make sure you don’t stare at them – just as you shouldn’t stare out of the back window like a zombie if you’re using that method. Move your head and look around you, but don’t be afraid to use the mirrors as your primary way of gauging distance from the kerb.

But what if I can see the kerb out of the window?

Use that by all means. Just be aware that when you buy your own car you might not be able to see the kerb through the windows. I pick up loads of pupils who can’t use that method in my Ford Focus and they haven’t got a clue what to do. A mirror-based method works in any car.

What does the left wing mirror tell me?

It came as a big surprise to me when I discovered that a few pupils actually believe that if something is moving closer to them in the left mirror, it must be moving away from them in reality! This is not correct. If something is getting closer in the mirror, it is getting closer. Period.

Although it depends on how you’ve adjusted it, as a rough guide you want to keep the kerb about a third of the way across the left wing mirror.

Can I ask the examiner to adjust the mirror for me?

Yes. The examiners’ DT1 guide says that they should not refuse to assist if this request is made. Obviously, this only applies to manually-adjusted mirrors – you can adjust electric ones from the driver’s seat. As I said above, if your mirrors are in the correct place for normal driving then they don’t really need to be adjusted. However, I am aware that some ADIs advise their pupils to adjust the mirror downwards so that they can see the kerb, and although I personally cannot see the point, if that’s how you do it then it doesn’t matter if it works for you.

Do I need to adjust the mirror?

If it’s in the right place for normal driving, quite honestly you don’t need to. Some people do, though. It’s up to you.

I can’t adjust the mirror any more to see the kerb

If you are quite short, then you may find that the mirror won’t go much lower. As I said above, you don’t really need to move the mirror away from the normal driving position to see enough of the kerb to reverse around the corner. I know that some instructors do teach it with a lowered mirror, but you have just discovered one of the drawbacks to doing it that way.

How far away from the kerb should I be?

I teach my pupils that ½ metre (about a drain grating’s width) away from the kerb is perfect, ¾ metre is a little wide (but acceptable), and more than ¾ metre is too wide. These are the ratings I use on lessons – they do not apply to the driving test.

On the driving test the examiner’s decision is final, and in most cases they are happy as long as you don’t hit the kerb or go more than half way across the road you’re reversing into at any point during the manoeuvre. My approach to teaching the manoeuvre is that by training my learners to be very accurate about it, if they deviate a bit on their tests then they’ll still be well inside acceptable limits.

Will I fail if I’m too far away from the kerb when I’ve finished?

Yes. Probably. But “too far” is a grey area, and you have to be very wide indeed to fail for it. As I said above, as long as you are on your side of the road you shouldn’t really get more than a driver (minor) fault.

Remember that this is not a parking manoeuvre. You are not supposed to keep really close to the kerb (½ to ¾ of a metre is ideal). As a rough guide, you need to be about as far away from it as you would be if your were driving forwards to turn left.

What happens if I touch the kerb?

First of all, never self-assess your performance when you’re on your test. People who assume that they have failed because they’ve made a mistake are often wrong. Brushing the kerb isn’t an automatic fail (DT1, the examiners’ own internal reference document, says that). Some examiners seem to be harsher than others considering all the tales I hear, so it’s obviously best to not touch the kerb at all – but if you do, don’t worry about it and keep your fingers crossed.

Mounting the pavement is almost certainly a fail – but again, don’t assume anything! Not long ago one of my pupils rode up the kerb slightly and then slipped down again (risking taking chunks out of my alloys), but he still passed. He probably wouldn’t have if he’d have managed to get the whole wheel on to the pavement, but the point is that the rest of the drive can play a big part in how some mistakes are marked. Examiners often use common sense and aren’t out to fail people without a good reason.

Is it OK to keep stopping during the manoeuvre?

Yes, yes, yes, YES! Although it IS possible to fail for taking too long to complete the manoeuvre, stopping for a few seconds a half a dozen times as you steer around is not going to push it anywhere near this. The worst that can happen is that you’ll get a driver fault for taking a bit too long – which is much better than a serious fault for steering the wrong way and messing the whole thing up. Take your time. The problem with keeping moving while trying to figure out which way to steer is that the car will carry on going wider or closer, then you’ll panic and your badly-programmed instincts will tell you to steer the wrong way or by too much, then the whole thing is ruined. If you stop, the kerb stops getting closer or further away and you can think what to do.

It doesn’t matter how long it takes when you’re trying to master it on your lessons. Start out slow – a suitable speed will come naturally later.

My instructor told me to keep moving

Your instructor is wrong. Find another quickly before they do any more damage. You do not have to keep moving, and doing so when you are getting muddled over which way to steer or are going out of position is guaranteed to mess the manoeuvre up completely.

Can I fail for taking too long?

Yes, but you have to be really slow about it, or cause hold ups for other road users. I’ve only ever had one pupil fail for taking too long on a manoeuvre, and it was about 10 years ago on the parallel park. He reversed back and touched the kerb. He moved out to correct it, then touched the kerb again. He moved out one more time, and got it parked properly this time. The examiner failed him for taking too long because there was a car waiting.

What if I don’t have power steering?

It doesn’t matter. You need to steer enough – and that will be the same amount of steering that you’d use driving around the same sort of corner going forwards.

My last instructor told me to look out of the back (or side) window to follow the kerb

In my car – and many others – the rear sill is too high for this to work, and people who have been taught that way get into a terrible mess if they try it. I drive a Ford Focus, and many of those who pass their tests are likely to drive one, too. They were quite probably taught in a small “learner” car that there was never even the remotest possibility of them going out and buying (not until they reach 60 or 70, anyway).

The mirrors exist so that you can see what is behind you. Use them to follow the kerb and you’ll be able to reverse in any car. Having said that, if you can see the kerb out of the windows use that by all means – just remember that when you get your own car it may not work.

I can’t see the kerb when I reverse around the corner

If your mirrors are correctly set for normal driving then you WILL be able to see the kerb if you are carrying out the manoeuvre properly. If you’ve been taught to look out of the back or rear passenger windows, the chances are you’re driving a different car where that method won’t work.

What should I be looking for out of the back window?

Pedestrians and other road users – and not just out of the back windows. Keep a lookout all around as you carry out the manoeuvre.

What if I can’t see it’s clear?

You mustn’t reverse anywhere if you aren’t sure it is safe. If necessary, get out and have a look – but make sure the car is safely positioned and secured before you do.

When would a corner be unsuitable for this manoeuvre?

People ask this when they’re training to become ADIs because it’s one of the subjects that crops up at some point. The usual answer is when it’s a one-way street – you can’t reverse the wrong way up a one-way street. Other reasons for not reversing into a particular corner would be if it is very busy, if it is controlled by traffic lights, if it is within the boundaries/zigzags of a crossing, if it is on a dual carriageway (i.e. you’d be going the wrong way), on a motorway, if all-round visibility is restricted and there are a lot of people around, and so on.

Watch out for other drivers who might not care where they do it, or how they affect others. Taxi drivers, for example, will turn wherever and whenever they want – rules or no rules.

I can’t see the point of turn

If your mirrors are adjusted properly for normal driving you will be able to see the point of turn – it’s when the curved part of the kerb starts to move away from you in the left mirror. You don’t need to angle them down especially or anything, though some people do. However, if you’ve been taught to reverse by looking out of the rear windows then you will have problems in many vehicles.

Can you move forward to correct your position if you make a mistake?

Yes, but be careful. Having to add extra stages means having to do extra safety checks, and the pressure of knowing you’ve gone slightly wrong will increase the risk of you forgetting to do them. It’s best to get it right first time to avoid all of this. However, it isn’t a good idea to drive all the way back to the starting position so you can have a second try – apart from the additional safety checks, you’ll end up taking much longer over it and that can be grounds for failure.


Originally published in 2012, previously updated in 2014. New update for 2017.

Melted chocolateI will never understand why driving instructors get themselves so wound up about mock tests. I mean, I know why they do, but I’ll never understand. The only test which matters is the actual driving test, and the outcome of any arbitrary pre-test conducted by the instructor (or one of his mates) is completely irrelevant as an indicator of how that real test will turn out. The best learner driver can make a silly mistake on the day of their test and fail, whereas the most nervous learner can put in a faultless performance against all the apparent odds. Mock driving tests are about as useful as a chocolate teapot when it comes to predicting how test-ready someone is!

I’ve mentioned before that some ADIs go to town with their little mock tests. They buy clipboards, hi-vis jackets, and wear a suit just so they can sit there pretending to be examiners. When I originally wrote this, some were already trying to use iPads (the DVSA had been carrying out trials with these at the time) to enhance their ‘mockability’ profile. Unfortunately, the problem with using tablets and computers is that when someone goes to test, for 40 minutes or so they’re not a learner but a candidate, and the examiner is not an instructor, and is not in charge of the vehicle in the same way an ADI is when he is teaching. For that reason, pissing about with gadgets during mock test performances (or at any other time) is right up there with using your mobile phone.

Comments often made on various forums suggest that some instructors spend the last few weeks before someone’s driving test just doing mock after mock after mock, gleefully reporting the “result” back to their “candidates”. At the time of the original article, some were even going public on forums when their pupil failed their real test, complaining that they had passed all their mocks and should have passed the test. It goes without saying that it was the examiners who were at fault in these instructors’ eyes.

The answer is quite simple. There is no way a mock test could ever be considered as “real”. The instructor isn’t a real examiner, even if he thinks he’s dressed like one, is armed with a colour copy of the DL25, and sits there all stern and serious (the last two Christmases, all of ours at one test centre have come out to tests in matching Reindeer sweaters). Even if he gets one of his mates to carry out the mock test, his mate is also not an examiner. The pupil knows this full well, and no matter how they score, they will more than likely still be shitting themselves on the day of their proper test. In fact, there’s every chance that the mock shenanigans will have made them even more nervous by gearing them up for an unpleasant experience, especially if they kept “failing”.Test Centre Sign

Mock tests seem to be of much more value to the instructor than to the pupil. ADIs start drooling over them even before they’ve got their green badges, and many seem to look forward to qualifying just so they can do the damned things. The chance to dress up and pretend to be important overrides all else.

A decent instructor will be highlighting what is and isn’t acceptable from very early in pupils’ training. If something is going well, there’s no need to say anything other than “well done”, etc. When problems arise, the change in approach is a “mock test” situation in itself. Instructors certainly should not be waiting until they start performing their “official mock tests” before relating driving skills to performance in the real test – by that stage they will be becoming habitual and will be much harder to rectify in the inevitably short time that remains,

I don’t routinely carry out mock tests for all the reasons I’ve given above. If a pupil or their parent asks me about them I explain how pointless I think they are, but that I’ll do one if they really want me to.

As an aside, some time ago I had a pupil whose father and sister used to invite themselves on to lessons. He had apparently had a lot of lessons already, and they were forever going on about the him taking his test (which they kept booking against my direct advice), and repeatedly demanded mock tests. The truth was that the young lad was special needs and was extremely slow picking things up. He’d only had a handful of lessons from me. He genuinely believed that if something in the mirror was moving further away from the car, it was actually getting nearer to it in reality,  and this prevented him from being able to carry out any reversing manoeuvre. I could not let him drive unaided without continuously having to intervene to prevent serious issues arising. On one occasion, he sailed into a busy junction where five roads intersect, then – right in the middle, after a red light on the periphery of his vision caught his attention – slammed on the brakes and attempted to come to a stop. In order to make a point, I gave in and attempted to “mock test” him – I think I had my hands on the steering wheel more than he did. Even after this, his father still wanted him to “have a go” at the test. I refused point blank and didn’t hear from them again.

I make it clear to all my pupils that I cannot possibly simulate a real test because I’m not an examiner. I absolutely cannot reproduce the circumstances that lead to the nerves they will experience on the day of the real test because those circumstances are an inherent part of the day of the real test. And I emphasise that if they can drive on lessons without me getting involved, they don’t need a mock test.

It’s not uncommon for me to stop a pupil from emerging at a junction as they attempt to pull out in front of oncoming traffic. It’s part of the job. Every so often, though, one of them will subsequently ask “but apart from that, was it all right?” They are incapable of understanding that purely because of “that”, the entire manoeuvre or procedure was non-existent, and the danger they had put themselves in was of infinitely greater importance than whether they were steering properly (even their MSM on approach is completely sunk if the final assessment resulting from it was so poor). The same mentality carries over to the subject of mock tests, and they use them to try and itemise things which they shouldn’t do on the real test. The worst ones for it are those who can’t afford lessons, or who want to pass quickly, and they end up with an ever-expanding list of things they shouldn’t do. Getting them to understand that if they could drive properly they wouldn’t have to be worrying about remembering what not to do is nigh on impossible (similar to how there are people who think that hiring impersonators and trying to bribe examiners are cheaper solutions compared with learning properly).

On the rare occasions I do mock tests, they’re usually the decider in an ongoing discussion about whether to move the test date, where the pupil is reluctant. I don’t think I have ever done one which lasts the same length of time as the real test – the necessary data is obtained much more quickly.


The new £1 coinA new £1 coin with 12 “sides” is being launched in March 2017. The old £1 coin will cease to be legal tender in October 2017. People are being advised to cash in their piggy bank and whisky bottle collections as soon as possible so they don’t lose out.

Apparently, there is £45 million worth of counterfeit £1 coinage circulating in the UK. I can well believe it – I regularly get obviously fake coins in my change. You can tell by how rough they look, their colour, and (in many cases) the fact that machines frequently won’t take them. I have to be honest when I say it is a major pain when you want to buy a parking ticket and the only £1 coin in your pocket gets repeatedly spat out by the ticket machine. Fortunately, handing these coins off to someone else isn’t a problem.

I saw an article a few months ago where supermarkets were saying that shopping trolleys were able to accept the new coins. I don’t think Asda falls in that bracket. When I shopped there last Saturday, I used my trolley token on my key ring to release a trolley as usual. Tonight, I noticed that the chains and keys had been removed from all trolleys!

This could go one of two ways. Either Asda has removed the chains prior to having new mechanisms fitted. Or it has just dealt with the new coin problem by ensuring that half the trolleys end up adorning verges and off-road footpaths by mid-summer. I’ll wait a little longer before commenting further.

Incidentally, being able to take card payments from pupils has significantly reduced the risk of being handed counterfeit notes (and coins) when receiving payments for lessons. I used to hate getting £50 notes in payment for 2 hour lessons because a lot of places won’t accept them since so many are counterfeit.


Coaching - the true purposeOver the last week or so I’ve noticed the sudden appearance in my stats of visits to the blog using the search term “applied coach approach”. Until the first one last week no one has EVER used that term before, now it is appearing multiple times per day.

I should also point out that – so far – I have not been spammed with it, but after a quick search it would appear that the DIA is selling a coaching course with this title, costing a little under £100. Better still, as well as being a standalone course, it apparently “builds on” the original Coach Approach course, which no doubt also cost somewhere around £100. I bet there are some dipsticks out there who have done both, as well.

You know what they say about a fool and his money.

Coaching is coaching. Once you’ve done one course and are using the techniques as necessary, unless it turns out that you’re desperately crap at it, any further courses only benefit those who are pocketing your cash. Incidentally, the coaching clip art I found for this article struck me as being very appropriate. It looks like someone trying to coach someone else up on to a toilet seat.


Back to the Future - flying carI was on a lesson with a pupil today and I asked her how she was getting on studying for her theory test. I asked her to identify a pedestrian crossing we had just passed, and it was clear she was a little confused. Next time we stopped, I got my sketch pad out and went through the different types to show her how understanding them made answering theory test questions much easier than just trying to remember the answers.

We talked about Pelicans, Puffins, and Toucans. I mentioned how they’re named after various birds, but that in spite of people trying to make the connection, Zebra Crossings are much older and are named after Zebras and not Zebra Finches. That brought us to Equestrian Crossings, which I mentioned using the common name of “Pegasus Crossing”.

Who do you think would use a Pegasus Crossing?

I don’t know.

Think about it. What was a Pegasus?

A flying horse.

Good, and half of that might explain who uses them. Who might that be?

Flying cars.

My ribs are still hurting now. She realised immediately, but – at the time – she meant it.

Edit: Incidentally, she was one of the best drivers I’ve had, and a very pleasant pupil. She passed first time in May, having started in January with no previous experience.


Navy navigator with sextantI picked a pupil up for a lesson tonight from his house. He’d already asked if we could finish at his girlfriend’s place over in Cotgrave, which I had no problem with. Well, I say that, but I did have some small reservations, which grew as the lesson went on.

I enjoy this job immensely, but there are two particular things which I have to admit I have nightmares about. One is to do with steering. I’ve been teaching for long enough to know that pupils can do things you’d think that no sane person would ever do. For example,  a few months ago a girl who was a bit unpredictable behind the wheel in the first place was steering almost full-lock around a tight mini-roundabout to turn right when the ball on her nose ring (which she fiddles with incessantly) fell off at the precise moment she needed to steer left into the exit road. Who would ever have thought that a rational human being would instantly decide to let go of the steering wheel with both hands and plunge head-first into the foot well to try and catch the ball before it hit the floor in this situation? And in another example some years ago, a pupil was driving at 50mph down a long, straight, well-lit 60mph road, with other cars visible several hundred metres in front of us doing the same, when he suddenly decided we needed to make a 90° turn to the left. There was no left turn there anyway (not even anything resembling one), and even if there had been we couldn’t possibly have managed it at that speed, and nor should we have attempted to do so. He could never explain why he had tried (I remember his exact words: “I honestly don’t know why I did that”).

The second thing that gives me the heebie jeebies is when a pupil asks to be dropped off somewhere different to the pick up, and before I’ve had time to look it up. This is made worse when I attempt to identify the location with them and they can’t tell me anything other than “I know the way”. Those four simple words convey an absolute encyclopaedia of possible meanings, such as:

  • I’ve only been once
  • I was asleep on the back seat at the time
  • And I was only four
  • My mum (or dad) normally drives
  • My mum (or dad) think they might have once heard of something called The Highway Code
  • My mum (or dad) think that they once passed their driving test, but now they can’t remember
  • I usually walk there
  • I usually ride my bike there
  • I’m aged 17-25 and beyond the end of my road (less if it’s a long road) I get lost
  • I got lost the last two times I came here on my own
  • I usually catch the bus

Young drivers are often so poor at navigation that they think 5cm on a map “isn’t very far” – even though they’re looking at a World projection printed on A4. With a big border. And cornering on two wheels with no signals (just like mum or dad) comes naturally. With all of this in mind, the conversation at the start of today’s lesson went something like this:

Where in Cotgrave do you need to be?

I know the way

Yes, but I don’t. What road does she live on?


[Groan] You don’t know the name of the road?

But I know the way

At this point, I jokingly explain much of what I’ve written above.

I don’t know how you “usually” get to Cotgrave, and there’s more than one way. Where is she near?


Is she near Ring Leas?

[A light seems to come on] Umm, I think.. ummm.

OK, we’ll head for Ring Leas and you can tell me where you’re going from there

It’s near Sainsbury’s

[I pause for a moment] But Ring Leas is nowhere near Sainsbury’s

I’ll know it when I see it

Yes, but I want to get there alive. We’ll head for Sainsbury’s then

We carry out the bulk of the lesson. Once we’ve done it, we strike out for Cotgrave along the A606 Melton Road. Just after the Wheatcroft Roundabout the conversation proceeds:

I normally take the next turn left

I know how to get to Cotgrave, just concentrate and you can tell me where you think you want to go later

I assumed that he meant he’d normally drive down Tollerton Lane (which is actually the fourth left from where we were), even though that would be a pointlessly longer way to get to Cotgrave. As we turned into Cotgrave Road (fifth left):

Yes, this is the way we come

But this isn’t “next left” like [I decide not to pursue it]… now concentrate on the road, it’s dark and narrow [and it’s snowing now]

As we approach Cotgrave:

It’s left at the Church

But Sainsbury’s is on the right

No, it’s this next road [pointing right at Mensing Avenue]

But the Church is a bit further down, and Sainsbury’s is on the right at the end of this road

No, there’s one here [Scrimshire Lane, second left, and on the right]

That’s the graveyard, the Church is on the left down there, and you said it was on the left. But this is the road she lives on, yes?

Ummm. Yes. I meant on the right.

[We turn into Scrimshire] Where does she live?

On the left just here [points]

What, down here? [Cherry Orchard]

No, down here [points left again]… where that car’s going [actually, into someone’s driveway]

You mean Ring Leas, then [which is just past it]?


So it’s down here? [I point at Ring Leas as we approach it]

No, it’s down here on the left

Several possible left turns later, we finally arrive – albeit about 1km beyond the point where our destination was “just here on the left” the first time.

Promise me you’ll buy a sat nav as soon as you pass.

I knew where it was

No you bloody didn’t. Not one of your directions was correct, and what do you think you would have done if you’d been driving on your own? You’d have taken that first turn back on the A606 and ended up in West Bridgford if you were lucky. Then you said it was “near Sainsbury’s” – it’s nowhere near.

It is

Sainsbury’s is over a mile away. Have you any idea how difficult it is to find an address when you don’t know a road name or house number, and are searching in a one-mile radius based only on visual recognition – in the dark? Your idea of this house being “near Sainsbury’s” is like saying “Nottingham is near Derby”. In global terms it is, but not if you’ve got to walk it wearing a blindfold!

Society is doomed, I tells ya!

And this is why I sometimes have those recurring nightmares.


Learner car recoveryI saw this story a few days ago about a man in Norfolk who failed his driving test “in just 5 seconds”.

It reminded me of something that happened to one of my pupils about 7 years ago. He drove back into the test centre and I made my way through the waiting room to go and listen to the debrief. With hindsight, I think I heard a loud clang as I did so, but it didn’t register at the time. When I reached the car the passenger door was open and the examiner had his head in his hands and was saying:

I can’t believe you did that. I just can’t believe it.

I asked what had happened, and the examiner told me he’d asked my pupil to pull forwards into a parking bay, but he didn’t stop in time and had driven into the crash barrier surrounding the car park. I went to the front of the car and saw that there was no damage – just a very slight scuff. When I got back to the passenger side the examiner was still repeating that he couldn’t believe it. I looked at the fault sheet and said:

Do my eyes deceive me, or did he only have two faults?

The examiner replied:

That’s the whole point! It was almost a perfect drive.

Then he said he couldn’t believe it a couple more times, and added:

I’ve got to fail you because there could have been someone standing there. You can obviously drive and we’ll see you again soon.

My pupil was a very good driver, but in spite of that it took him another five attempts to pass in the end, as he picked up a different single serious fault on the four more he failed. I used to rib him about how he’d managed to fail that first one literally less than one second from the end. And I use the example to emphasise to all my other pupils that they mustn’t switch off as they head back to the test centre (which is a common issue with learners).

I should add that I have no issue whatsoever with the examiner’s decision nor with his explanation. He was 100% right. Examiners have no way of knowing how someone drives the rest of the time, which is why candidates need to be squeaky clean on their tests when it comes to safety matters. If they aren’t, the examiners have to (or should) err on the side of caution.

As for the pupil, we are still in regular contact – though I have ignored him this last weekend. He is a Chelsea supporter whose smugness is currently off the scale. And I’m not.

As for the guy in King’s Lynn in that original article, it’s a similar situation. Yes, he had a brain fart – but what if he’d had a similar fart while driving alone just as a group of school kids started to walk across a road? The examiner had to fail him, no matter how good the rest of the drive was. If he hadn’t, there’d really be no point in having a driving test system in the first place.

With new pupils, and especially (though not exclusively) those who have driven in other countries, I often say “UK rules, UK rules” at some point, as they turn into a junction and aim for the right-hand side of the road. With some, it is a deliberate act, but very new drivers it is just a steering issue.

I saw another ADI end up on a pavement and nearly through a hedge earlier this week as his pupil over steered into a junction and then didn’t straighten up (probably with a bit of gas thrown in for good measure, followed by blind panic, which usually happens). I think we’ve all been there at least once in our careers. Indeed, it was such occurrences that led me to realise that the dual controls are a useful tool for teaching beginners, and not something to avoid using at all costs.

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