A Driving Instructor's Blog

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COVID virus graphicDue 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% of that income up to a combined maximum of £1,875. 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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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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Although it might have a say in how long you remain one!

My article, Should I Become A Driving Instructor is quite popular – 25,000 views since I published it. It is a very long article, and some people probably don’t have the attention span to read it all, but in it I explain how an ADI’s finances work.

It’s quite simple, actually. You charge money for lessons, and you spend money to get a car, run it, keep it on the road, and keep your business afloat. What’s left over is your wage before tax and National Insurance. Anyone higher than a squirrel on the evolutionary scale will use yearly figures for comparisons, and not short-term spikes in their earnings as a guide to future profits. I mean, over a typical financial year my monthly hours worked might look something like this.Hours worked per month (typical)

It is equivalent to an average over 52 weeks (we call that ‘a year’) of about 30 hours of lesson per week. I have done busier years than this, and I have done quieter ones. And I have had more erratic ones  But this is typical – an ‘average’, if you like.

My current lesson rate is £29 per hour. So my takings for the year – my turnover, which is how much money I take from pupils – would be £45,240. But not all that money is my wage.

Right now, doing a week like that would cost me about £80-£100 or so in fuel costs (which varies depending on the cost of fuel at any given time). Over a full year, I’d have to spend about £5,000 on fuel just to be able to give these lessons.

Then there is how much it costs me to have a car in the first place. Let’s consider this in my world – and not the one populated with unicorns prancing across candy cane fields under a sky full of rainbows. The absolute minimum cost to anyone is going to be at least £30 per week to keep a car on the driveway – and that’s for an older car which never goes wrong, which in all honesty is in unicorn territory. Over a year, that would cost you over £1,500. A newer car, or one which is leased or on PCP, or from a franchise, would cost at least £80 a week (over £4,000 a year), and up to £200 a week (over £10,000 a year).

So if you subtract the fuel cost and the yearly cost for keeping even a perfect banger which never goes wrong  on the road, your theoretical wage would be £38,700. Realistically you will have a proper car – one that still reflects sunlight and has at least something inside it which is electrically powered – and your theoretical wage would be more like £30,200-£36,200.

There are other overheads you need to subtract from that, but let’s stick with this theoretical set for the purposes of this discussion.

Now, just for a moment, let’s take a totally separate path. IF I charged £50 an hour, my theoretical wage would leap to around £67,000. IF I charged £100 per hour, it would be as much as £145,000. But reality has a big say in all this.

In 2016, a survey showed the average lesson price in the UK was £24 per hour (mine was £25), with a higher range of £28, and a lower one of £23. In 2020 – and without knowing what effect COVID-19 has had yet – these figures are typically about £5 higher. I stress, these are averages, and at any time there are always some people who are charging either well below or well above the average. But when I say ‘well above’ or ‘below’, were talking a few pounds – not tens of pounds. Anyone charging double that is not doing normal lessons with normal people.

I recently saw someone claim that it was possible to ‘earn’ £74,000, and they even cited an example of someone who ‘had done it’, and that they did so working 36 hours a week over 48 weeks. Straightaway there is a problem, because 48 weeks isn’t a full year, and 36 hours per week over 48 weeks actually equates to a weekly average of 33 hours per week. That would means someone ‘earning’ £74,000 would be charging the equivalent of £43 per hour which is almost double the normal lesson rate. Alternatively – and without knowing the full details – another way of looking at it is that £74,000 over 48 weeks scaled to a full year equates to £40 an hour at 36 hours per week. This is what happens when the clueless start throwing random and incomplete figures around.

The second problem is that they are not ‘earning’ that at all. That is their turnover, which the person who made the claim admitted to later, though not initially when they were in full-on bragging mode. Turnover is absolutely meaningless unless you have someone’s detailed accounts. The worrying thing is that supposedly professional people are bandying these figures around for purposes best known to themselves, but they are totally ignorant to what it is they are actually pushing.

Someone charging anywhere near £43 an hour is not going to be driving a banger with faded paint. They will not be giving normal lessons to normal people – there will be some unique selling point (USP) they are involved with, or they will only be covering a special area with very rich clients. And if they have a cat in hell’s chance of sustaining that model from year to year even in those circumstances, they will be highly experienced to the extent they can get away with it. If they are inexperienced (or bad) instructors, even posh and rich people will tend to realise any shortcomings sooner or later.

Taking overheads into account, the person they mentioned would have been ‘earning’ at least £10,000 less than that £74,000 – even without knowing the full story. If they were using a high-spec or specialised vehicle – which is likely if the hourly rate really was £43 – it could have been £20,000 less, or even more. So it is misleading, and unprofessional to push a high figure like this as a potential salary. It is no better than me quoting a friend of mine who charges £60 an hour – he’s a plumber.

The bottom line is that most ADIs – the vast, vast, vast majority – cannot possibly charge £43 and hour. That majority is so vast that individuals who can get away with it for whatever reason are irrelevant. Furthermore, the vast majority of ADIs struggle to maintain even 20-30 hours, and that’s especially true right now. You can see my real world example, which dips between about 80 hours and 160 hours per month over a year (20-36 hours a week) even when there’s no pandemic to deal with. Back in the last recession, you could easily halve those figures for many people, and at the opposite end I once did a year where I was averaging 40 hours a week – which nearly killed me. I would never quote that year as in any way ‘typical’ – because it wasn’t, it isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. It happened by accident, and I deliberately pulled back as a result of it, hence ‘30 hours’.

You see, that’s another complication which the person boasting these figures missed. In terms of workload, an average of 36 hours over 48 weeks is precisely that – for 48 weeks, the instructor would be delivering that number of lessons. And that is hard to do, especially if it is week in, week out. If they worked 7 days a week, they’d be doing 5 hours every day (the person who made the claim said they were ‘doing 2 hour lessons’, which doesn’t quite fit). A 6-day week would be 6 hours a day – which does fit. And no cancellations, urgent appointments, or family issues? It’s unicorn territory even with that. But whatever, financially it has to be gauged over 52 weeks to make any sense in salary terms.

And I stress again the phrase ‘theoretical earnings’. In reality, an ADI has other overheads he or she will have to subtract from their turnover before they can call it their wage. These will vary for each individual – with the likelihood that someone charging £43 per hour and getting away with it will have a lot more to pay out than everyone else.

If you’re thinking of coming into this business, do not listen to poseurs who quote these outlandish figures. If there is any confusion between ‘turnover’ and pre-tax profit when they comment, walk away and blacklist them. They do not have a clue – no matter what title they give themselves.

A decent instructor teaching normal pupils should be looking to earn a proper wage somewhere around £25,000-£30,000 in 2020 (COVID-19 and Brexit effects notwithstanding) – if they’re doing an average of 30 hours and if they’re charging around £30 an hour. You can worry about USPs, rich clients, and doubling your fees later.

Oh. And ‘turnover’ is not your ‘wages’ or ‘earnings’.

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NextBase dashcamI first published this in 2019, but recently noticed people having dashcam issues which are likely connected with this topic. The original article follows.

A bit of advice to anyone using a dashcam. I see a lot of people complaining that theirs is playing up, and other advice to regularly reformat the card – which seems to get a lot of people recording again, at least for a while. I strongly believe that part of the problem is with the card, and not the dashcam. Specifically, people are using the wrong cards – and that’s true, even if they’re the ones their camera’s manufacturer is recommending.

I have always used SanDisk Extreme cards in my dashcams, and I have not had any problems. Extreme cards are not the cheapest, either. They’re pretty high spec. However, as a result of something I’d read online, I wrote to SanDisk and asked them if Extreme cards were OK to use in such dashcams. Here is what they replied:

Thank you for contacting SanDisk® Global Customer Care. Please allow me to inform you that for Dashcams & security surveillance cameras, we recommend to use SanDisk® High Endurance Memory Cards since these cards are specially developed for high endurance applications and continuous read & write cycles. These cards are built for and tested in harsh conditions and are temperature-proof, shock-proof and waterproof.

Also, please be informed that using Extreme or Ultra line memory cards on these devices void their warranty.

The text in that last sentence has been emboldened by me. At this point, it is worth noting that “high endurance” cards are special cards. They’re not easy to get hold of except through specialist suppliers, and your local PC World or Currys branch is unlikely to have them in stock. They cost more than normal cards.

But the upshot is that using Extreme (i.e. high-end “normal”) cards puts them under stress that they’re not designed for. It voids their warranty, but – more importantly if you read between the lines – there is a good chance they will malfunction or play up. I don’t know much about cards from other manufacturers, but I would lay odds that most people with dashcams are using the cheapest card they can get their hands on, and that means they’re not “high endurance” types – and probably not even branded. Most of the time I see people asking what dashcam to choose they always want a cheap one, and the one they end up buying often costs them less than I pay for a SanDisk Extreme card – so there’s no way they’re going to buy a card even close to that.

My current dashcam is the NextBase 612GW. It records in 4k, and on cards up to 128GB (so I get about six hours of footage in a write cycle).  I have never had any problems with Extreme cards, but after the SanDisk advice I invested in a couple of Samsung 128GB high-endurance cards. I wanted SanDisk, but at the time they didn’t do them above 64GB. However, they do now (including a 256GB one) – and they’re reasonably priced, too.

They also now have a range of Max Endurance cards of the same capacities, which do the same job, but are warrantied for 120,000 hours of continuous recording (over 13 years)!

When I originally wrote this, NextBase would not enter into discussion over the matter when I told them what SanDisk had said. They recommended using Extreme cards, and were (and still are) adamant that they work. However, I have noticed in their latest camera documentation that they strongly advise use of their own branded Class 3 cards, and point out that these are more expensive because of the extra work they are required to do. They don’t provide detailed specs, though, so I can’t say if they’ve used higher-rated cards than Extreme. At least you’d be covered under NextBase’s warranty if the card failed, so you’d have that extra level of security – which is missing if you use a SanDisk Extreme card.

I don’t disagree that Extreme cards have worked well for me, and they probably do for most other users, especially when they’re new. But the niggling problems people keep reporting are nearly always card-related. NextBase isn’t doing itself any favours by recommending Extreme cards (or if it is rebranding them), because if the camera doesn’t record people immediately blame… the camera. And even if it is shown that the card is faulty – even if they have been using one that cost them nothing and came in their cornflakes – they still blame the camera.

The bottom line is that SanDisk have told me very specifically that Extreme cards are not suitable for dashcams, and that using them for such voids their warranty. You cannot get much clearer than that. And it stands to reason that if you’re doing something that voids their warranty, the chances are it isn’t actually very good for them – and they break.

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Pills in a blister packThis article was last updated in 2018, but it’s become popular again recently.

At the time of the original, I had recently seen a forum post from someone who had failed their driving test five times, and who said that the whole test business was too stressful and that they were ready to give up. The poster said that they fretted over the test for weeks beforehand, and the repeated failures were affecting them deeply.

Many years ago – and I’d not been an instructor for very long – one of my then pupils (let’s call her Clare), who had previously failed two tests, told me she’d been to her doctor and he’d prescribed beta-blockers. I knew what they were normally used for and asked her if her heart was OK. She told me they weren’t for her heart, and that her doctor had prescribed them to help her with her driving nerves. So I read up on the subject.

At the time this happened to Clare, I’d naïvely assumed that everyone would be like me, and that “getting butterflies” was par for the course. For most people it is par for the course, but as the years passed I came to realise that a fair number of pupils get ‘butterflies’ so bad that they are physically sick on test day – literally vomiting – and that is not par for the course. I’ve had those who start shaking when we arrive at the test centre, or who just break down and can’t go through with it. And I’ve had a couple who, after committing a non-serious fault (the examiner’s precise words) while out on their test, suffer a complete meltdown and can’t continue. This is not ‘butterflies’, and it is not ‘test day nerves’. It’s people with genuine issues.

The effect on Clare was dramatic. She was already a good driver, but she improved even more as a result of a growing confidence. Previously, she’d been a bag of nerves on her tests – it even transpired that she was nervous on lessons, but tests made it a hundred times worse. But after she started taking the tablets she passed on her next attempt. It was a real eye-opener for me. From that moment on, if I ever suspected someone was suffering from crippling nerves, I would advise them to speak to their GP. In many cases this resulted in them being given beta-blockers. There was a marked effect every single time – with some bordering on the miraculous.

Although beta-blockers are intended to treat heart conditions associated with angina and heart attacks, doctors often prescribe them “off-label” (i.e. not for their licensed purpose) for anxiety. Propanolol is usually the one they issue. When I read up on it it turned out that actors and musicians commonly use them to ward off the effects of stage fright or the jitters when playing instruments. They’re banned in athletics because they give archers and marksmen an unfair advantage (steadier hands than without them) in competition.

Beta-blockers are a prescription-only medicine, and should only be taken if specifically prescribed to you by your doctor for this specific purpose. You must not get them from someone else, as there might be a medical reason you can’t have them, and the dosage might be different. One pupil wasn’t allowed them when she was in the early stages of pregnancy, for example, and was prescribed a lower dose while she was breastfeeding. Another had problems with his blood pressure and wasn’t given them. Another was already taking medication for anxiety and the doctor switched her to beta-blockers instead (which also helped as she was less tired with them), but another was already on anxiety medication and wasn’t given them because her existing medication was stronger. Only your GP knows your medical history and will be able to make the call on whether you can have them or not.

Beta-blockers are not ‘zonk-out’ pills that make you sleepy. No one knows the precise mechanism by which they can be used to treat anxiety, but I explain it this way.

Imagine that you’re sitting at home, feet up, chilling out with a beer or whatever. Your anxiety level (i.e. ‘nerves’) might look something like this.

Normal nerves when calm and chilled

Assuming you don’t have any issues, if you’re confronted with a situation of some sort which stresses you out a bit, your nerves might react like this to the stressful situation.

Normal nerves with a stressful situation

This is perfectly normal – anyone is going to get stressed when confronted by a stressful situation. However, some people have a chilled stress level which looks like this.

People already stressed

It might not be like it at home (though sometimes it is), but even going on a driving lesson is likely to send it in this direction. The problem then is that the test (and sometimes, even driving lessons) can send it to this when additional stress is added.

Extra stress in an already stressed personThis is into meltdown territory. At the very least, the person experiencing it is going to find concentrating difficult, especially on their driving test – and that is likely to lead to mistakes.

What beta-blockers do is effectively make this.

People already stressedMuch closer to this.

Normal nerves when calm and chilled

Maybe not as low as this, but much more like it. And that means any additional stress doesn’t lead to overload the way it does in an already stressed person.

One of the best stories I have concerns a pupil who was initially breastfeeding. She’d been taking lessons for a long time before she came to me and wasn’t getting anywhere. She turned out to be one of those people who aren’t natural drivers, and who were going to find things difficult no matter what. It didn’t matter what we covered on a lesson, or how much progress appeared to have been made, because by the next lesson she’d be doing things exactly the way she always did. Every stop was likely to throw me through the windscreen if I wasn’t ready for it, and she was like a cat on hot bricks with every action or movement. Driving in a straight line was fine as long as we didn’t have to stop – if we did, you could see the wheels in her head start to go round, the possibilities start to multiply, and chances were she’d try and turn left or right instead for no reason whatsoever. She was like a guitar string that had been tightened to breaking point when she was in the driver’s seat, and some days were especially bad. I saw her walking down the street a couple of times, and she was always in a massive hurry and looking flustered – in one instance, even muttering to herself.

I’d already talked to her about beta-blockers, and when she’d gone to see her doctor – not her regular GP, who was away – she’d been told she couldn’t have them because she was breastfeeding, so we soldiered on. But she went back to her GP a couple of months later – this time, her regular one – and asked again about using beta-blockers. He told her she could have them, but at a reduced dose.

The effect was astounding. All of a sudden, she was actually learning things, and they were sticking between lessons. If you think of learning to drive on a 0-100 scale, to begin with she was about 10-20 and getting no better. Beta-blockers suddenly took her to 40-50 over a couple of months. Then she fell pregnant again, and had to stop taking them, but the remarkable thing was that her driving stabilised where it had got to – it didn’t fall back – and we were in a much better position to move forward.

Initially, her nerves had created a shell through which nothing new could pass. Beta-blockers cracked the shell wide open, and new information flooded in. When she stopped taking them, the shell closed and we were back to square one in the sense learning new stuff was difficult – but the extra she’d learned before was still there!

So, in a nutshell, if you really are having a problem with anxiety or “nerves” when you’re driving, a trip to your GP might be worth considering.

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Image of virusOriginally published 29 May 2020

It has been announced that the SEISS will be paid again in August. This time, it will be 70% instead of 80% of the average income over the last three years. For me, that should be around £3,000.

As I have said before – and if you are eligible – it is far better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Note that the article says applications will ‘open in August’. Logically, this means we’re going to have to put up with almost three months of people asking when they can claim, and why it hasn’t been paid yet, just like last time – even though HMRC had made it crystal clear numerous times. Oh, and those who won’t have heard about it, and still won’t have even at the end of July, who will then start blaming HMRC. Come on, people. We have something called ‘the internet’ these days – they don’t use messenger pigeons anymore!


Update: I checked last weekend on my Government Gateway (where I do my self-assessment each year) and it told me I could claim the second SEISS from Wednesday 19 August. The scheme actually opened on Monday 17 August, and they appear to have used the same staggering as before, so some people will have been able to claim on the Monday and Tuesday.

Claiming was even more straightforward than last time. It doesn’t ask for any proof that you have been adversely affected. It just warns you you’ll get chopped off at the knees if you’re telling porkies. I’m not worried, because I still haven’t started back, and that is going to be fairly easy to prove if I have to. I claimed just after midnight, but also got an email from HMRC telling me I could claim – it came in later that day.

The amount is exactly what I said in the original article above. It uses the exact same figure to base its calculation on, so that’s hardly a surprise. A further email the following day (Thursday) told me my claim had been accepted and the money will be in my account within three days. That’s three working days, so I expect it will go into my account on Monday, like last time (edit: it did – just after midnight Monday morning).

Come on, vaccine.

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DVSA logo

This article is already out of date. Read the addendum at the end!

An email alert from DVSA outlines important details on the phased restart of routine testing.

There’s nothing especially worrying in there except for one possible thing. It’s this part:

Valid theory test certificates checks

As part of our normal ID and eligibility checks our driving examiners are checking for valid theory test certificates.

If your pupil does not have a valid certificate the test will not go ahead.

If your pupil has lost or damaged their certificate they can apply for a replacement letter by contacting customercare@pearson.com. They’ll need to provide their:

  • name
  • address
  • date of birth
  • driving licence number

As you can imagine, this has already stirred up the lesser intellects out there.

Historically, DVSA has rarely asked to see anyone’s Theory Test certificate, even though when you book you’re told you should take it to the test centre on the day. In cases where they have been asked, if pupils say they’ve lost it then there’s been no issue and the test has gone ahead – probably since they wouldn’t have been able to book the test if they didn’t have one. Examiners can check online anyway.

Right now, we’re in unusual times. It is possible someone’s theory test might have expired and the system hasn’t picked it up, which I guess is the reason for this emphasis. And given the load on DVSA’s systems, examiners might not be able to check, either. Hence the need to see the piece of paper.

As an instructor, you have two options. One is to let your pupils know, and to get them to follow the instructions for getting a replacement if they’ve lost their original. They’ll have plenty of time to sort it, because the backlog of tests means they’re hardly likely to be booking one for next week unless they’re key workers.

The second option – which seems to be the preferred one right now – is to keep whingeing about how your pupils have never been asked for one before, how DVSA are a bunch of idiots, how you just had someone go on test and they weren’t asked, or you know someone who heard from an uncle whose nephew’s friend’s sister wasn’t asked yesterday, and so on.

One of those two options is easy and puts responsibility on the pupil to simply ask for a replacement by following the easiest instruction imaginable – sending an email and asking. If you tell them to do it and they don’t, and the test is cancelled, it’s their fault. The other option makes you look like an idiot if the test is cancelled. It will be your fault, and your label as an ‘idiot’ will be confirmed once and for all.

The choice is yours.

Addendum

The email above came through on Monday. Thursday, this new one came through. Now they’re saying you don’t have to get a new certificate if you’ve lost the original.

We wanted to confirm that your pupils should still bring their theory test certificates if they have a paper version.

However if they can’t find it, they don’t need to order a replacement before coming to test.

Basically, you need a valid theory test result. If you’ve lost the paper, you’ll still get to go to test – as long as your theory hasn’t run out.

The lesser intellects are now all over this one like a rash, as well.

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