A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

For anyone who’s interested, I recently had a pupil who was driving on their full licence from another country inside the 12 month period they are allowed. They had a UK provisional licence, and were taking their test in their own car.

The question arose over what would happen if they failed their test. Would they be legally allowed to drive away?

I emailed DVLA, and they replied:

A non GB licence holder can still drive for up to 12 months regardless of a UK test failure.

Essentially, they could fail their test 20 times and still be allowed to drive alone on their non-UK licence inside that 12 months as long as the licence remained valid. I know that will get a lot of Brexiters hot under the collar, but it’s the way it is.

It is not voided when they obtain a provisional licence, which makes sense, since the intended purpose of that 12 month period is to give them time to pass a UK test.

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I wrote this article in 2013 after I’d seen someone desperately trying to complicate the subject by claiming that the Emergency Stop isn’t in DT1 (the examiners’ internal guidance document). Just for the record, that document contains the following section:

1.31 EMERGENCY STOP

An emergency stop should be carried out on one third of tests chosen at random. It can normally be carried out at any time during the test; but the emergency stop exercise MUST be carried out safely where road and traffic conditions are suitable. If an emergency has already arisen naturally during the test this special exercise is not required; in such cases the candidate should be told and a note made on the DL25.

With the vehicle at rest the examiner should explain to the candidate that they will shortly be tested in stopping the vehicle in an emergency, as quickly and safely as possible.

The warning to stop the vehicle will be the audible signal “Stop!” together with a simultaneous visual signal given by the examiner raising the right hand to face level, or in the case of a left hand drive vehicle, raising the left hand. This should be demonstrated.

The examiner should explain to the candidate that they will be looking over their shoulder to make sure it is safe to carry out the exercise, and that they should not pre-empt the signal by suddenly stopping when the examiner looks round, but should wait for the proper signal to be given. To minimise the risk of premature braking, examiners are advised to ask the candidate if they understand the ES instructions.

The emergency stop must not be given on a busy road or where danger to following or other traffic may arise.

It is essential that examiners take direct rear observation to ensure that it is perfectly safe to carry out the exercise. They must not rely on the mirrors.

If the exercise cannot be given within a reasonable time the candidate should be asked to pull up, care being taken to choose the right moment as the candidate will have been expecting the emergency stop signal and may react accordingly. They should then be advised that the exercise will be given later and that they will be warned again beforehand. Alternatively, if conditions ahead are expected to be favourable, they should be reminded that the exercise will be given shortly, and the instructions repeated if necessary.

If a candidate asks whether they should give an arm signal, they should be told that the command to stop will be given only when it appears that no danger will arise as a result of a sudden stop, but that they should assume that an extreme emergency has arisen and demonstrate the action they would take in such a case.

The emergency stop exercise must not be used to avoid a dangerous situation.

It’s worth pointing out a few things that worry learners, all of which are mentioned above or in the rest of DT1:

  • you will not be asked to do it on a busy road
  • the examiner will check behind first, so you don’t have to
  • having to do it in a real situation could count as having done it on the test – the examiner will tell you
  • it will not be done as part of Independent Driving

Furthermore, DT1 adds:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DVSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

I’ve mentioned ABS and the Emergency Stop before because of people trying to complicate it simply as a result of their own lack of understanding. I’ll repeat what I said in that article: when it says to press the brake and clutch at the same time, it doesn’t specifically mean that both feet must go down as if they were glued together at the ankles. The thing you have to remember is that the clutch will begin to release as soon as you start to press the pedal, and the brakes will start to bite as soon as you start to press them. Neither are digital switches – they are analogue devices, which means that there is significant travel of the pedals to achieve varying amounts of the relevant effect. So if the clutch releases more than the brakes are braking, the car will take longer to stop because the effect of engine braking is removed. For that reason, you really want to be braking hard first, then depressing the clutch a fraction of a second later when executing an emergency stop. The whole process happens in less than a couple of seconds anyway.

It still amounts to pressing both pedals “at the same time”, but this distinction relates back to the older method of cadence braking (on non-ABS cars), where you had to pump the brakes and slow down in stages, THEN put the clutch down right at the end to avoid stalling. In this case, you were not pressing both pedals at the same time, and doing so would most likely have been a serious fault on someone’s test.

Trust me, if your mum walks out in front of you and you need to do an emergency stop to avoid hitting her by a hair’s breadth, not utilising engine braking properly could make all the difference between a big sigh of relief or a trip to the hospital.

It doesn’t matter if the ABS kicks in (and makes a noise outside, with vibration on the brake pedal inside) during the exercise. As long as the driver is in control and stops the car promptly then the Emergency Stop will have been completed satisfactorily.

The Emergency Stop will nearly always be carried out as a totally separate exercise on the test, though if you have had to do one in a real situation (possible but highly unlikely for most candidates) then the examiner may count that as having done the exercise if you were one of one in three who gets it. For the exercise proper, the examiner will ask you to pull over and he will then explain as follows (again, taken from DT1):

Pull up on the left please (either specify location or use normal stop wordings) Shortly I shall ask you to carry out an emergency stop. When I give this signal, (simultaneously demonstrate, and say) ‘Stop’, I’d like you to stop as quickly and as safely as possible. Before giving the signal I shall look round to make sure it is safe, but please wait for my signal before doing the exercise.

Do you understand the instructions?

Once you have completed your Emergency Stop, he will say something along the lines of:

Thank you. I will not ask you to do that exercise again. Drive on when you are ready.

It’s that simple. And the decision over what is and isn’t acceptable lies with the examiner.

What would be a minor (driver) or serious fault on this manoeuvre?

The procedure as I teach it is as follows (immediately after the STOP command):

  • brake firmly
  • declutch just after
  • keep both hands on the steering wheel
  • once stopped, apply handbrake
  • put into neutral
  • look all around
  • relax

Then, once the instruction to drive on is given:

  • put into gear
  • gas/bite ready
  • look all around
  • if safe, release handbrake and drive off

Possible driver (minor) faults might include stalling, going for the gear lever or handbrake before the car stops, or not looking all around properly after you’ve stopped (though that last one is rare).

Possible serious faults might include getting into a mess/panic if you stall, not stopping quickly enough, putting the clutch down before the brake, or not looking all around at all before you move off (this is more common).

Some faults might be only minor in some cases, but become serious if other traffic is around. For example, stalling before you move off and not checking all around again. Or if stalling/panicking causes a hold up for traffic. Or moving off before you’ve looked around properly and someone is overtaking you. The examiner’s decision is what counts because every situation is different.

If you do it right – or even close to being right – on your lessons you’re almost certainly not going to fail your test over it. I’ve never had anyone fail for it. So make sure that you can do it right on your lessons.

Will I fail if I stall on the emergency stop?

No, you shouldn’t if you react appropriately by making the car safe, then get it started again promptly. It will usually be marked as a driver fault. However, you are on test and you might panic and do something else wrong which could result in you failing.

Do I have to pull over when I do the emergency stop?

No. That would defeat the purpose. The idea is to stop as quickly as possible, whilst maintaining control and safety. If you waste time trying to pull over you’ll travel further, and so won’t stop quickly enough.

Imagine your brother or sister (or pet dog or cat) runs out a few metres in front of you while you’re driving along. That’s why you want to stop as quickly as possible, and to hell with what’s going on behind you (the examiner will check to make sure it’s safe by looking behind – you don’t have to).

Once the exercise is complete, you will drive on normally unless the examiner specifically asks you to pull over – which he might, since pulling over then driving off again is a separate thing that is being assessed on your test.

Should I signal when I move off after an emergency stop?

In most cases it isn’t necessary, and you certainly don’t want to be doing it before you’ve looked to see if anyone might benefit. However, if you look around and decide that you should signal – for a pedestrian perhaps, or if someone is coming towards you from either direction – then do it (make sure you signal right and not left).

Why shouldn’t I use the handbrake to stop?

Depending on how old you are, you may remember from certain action movies that the characters involved in car chases sometimes brake, skid the car around, then drive off the other way. What they are doing is called “a handbrake turn”.

The handbrake usually only operates on the rear wheels, and if you are driving along and pull it sharply it can lock the wheels, and that causes them to skid. Since only the back wheels lock, the rear of the car spins around because for all practical purposes the rear wheels are not gripping the road surface.

It’s all well and good if you’re doing a stunt for a movie shoot, but on roads where there are other road users it is incredibly dangerous. Imagine an emergency situation, where you need to stop as quickly as possible, and usually in a straight line. You aren’t going to achieve that if the rear wheels spin out and are not gripping the road surface. At best, you’ll stop over a much longer distance because the handbrake isn’t designed to stop the car in the first place. At the worst, the car will spin out of control and you might hit something or someone – or even roll it.

On top of that, the ABS on modern vehicles functions via the footbrake (which is hydraulically controlled through the car’s on-board computer), not via the handbrake. In a handbrake stop you have no ABS functionality (the electronic handbrakes in modern cars usually won’t operate when you’re moving anyway).

If you apply the handbrake before the car has stopped in the Emergency Stop exercise you’re almost certainly going to get a serious fault for it.

Can you stop using the handbrake in any other situation?

The classic example is if your normal brakes fail for some reason – you press the footbrake and nothing happens. Your only option is to slow down and stop using the handbrake (noting the comment above about electronic handbrakes not working when you’re moving).

It happened to me many years ago when I’d flushed my brake system, but left an air lock in it somewhere. I came to a T-junction and the car wouldn’t stop, so I used the handbrake to slow it down. Fortunately no one was coming, because I couldn’t stop in time for the junction, but I did prevent the car ending up in someone’s living room!

I’m an ADI. How should I teach the Emergency Stop?

You really ought to know this. It isn’t rocket science. What I do is run through skids and how to deal with them, the factors likely to cause them, and so on. I have a few stories about when unexpected things have happened to me (like the time I was in a column of traffic driving at 60mph in the Cotswolds and a herd of deer ran out about 5 metres in front of the van at the front, who slammed into them because he couldn’t do anything). Then I explain the Emergency Stop procedure, which is basically as follows:

  • I give the signal
  • You brake hard, then put the clutch down – IN THAT ORDER
  • Put the handbrake on and put it in neutral
  • Look all around

When I (or the examiner) says to drive on:

  • Put it in gear and get ready to move off
  • Look all around
  • If it’s clear, release the handbrake and drive off

Looking all around – and that includes both blind spots – before you move off is critical because traffic or pedestrians could be passing either side of you. If you just glance in your mirrors after you’ve stopped you tend to get away with it, but if you try that as you drive off then it’s pretty much a fail. No guarantees, of course, but if you look properly it won’t be an issue.

I like to feel as though the ABS is about to kick in when a pupil stops. If the ABS does kick in a little, even better. But I don’t want them stamping hard on the pedal.

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This article was originally written in 2011 after someone asked if it is OK for the ABS to kick in when you do the emergency stop on your test (and in real life).

DT1 – DVSA’s Internal Guidance Document – says:

ABS – Anti-lock braking system.

Note: Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are being fitted to an increasing number of vehicles. Examiners should not enquire if a vehicle presented for a test is fitted with ABS.

Most ABS systems require the clutch and footbrake to be depressed harshly at the same time to brake in an emergency situation; therefore a fault should not be recorded purely for using this technique with a vehicle fitted with ABS on the emergency stop exercise. On the emergency stop exercise, under severe braking, tyre or other noise may be heard, this does not necessarily mean the wheels have locked and are skidding. Examiners should bear these points in mind when assessing the candidate’s control during this exercise. Further advice regarding ABS is given in the DVSA publication ‘driving the essential skills’.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says this concerning ABS systems:

…You should refer to the owner’s handbook for details of the manufacturer’s recommended method of use…

More on what TES says about emergency braking later. Let’s take a look at some typical (and common) owner’s handbooks.

Vauxhall Corsa

For optimum braking, keep the brake pedal fully depressed throughout the braking process, despite the fact that the pedal is pulsating. Do not reduce the pressure on the pedal.

Do not let this special safety feature tempt you into taking risks when driving.

Traffic safety can only be achieved by adopting a responsible driving style.

Vauxhall Astra

Antilock brake system (ABS) prevents the wheels from locking.

ABS starts to regulate brake pressure as soon as a wheel shows a tendency to lock. The vehicle remains steerable, even during hard braking.

ABS control is made apparent through a pulse in the brake pedal and the noise of the regulation process.

For optimum braking, keep the brake pedal fully depressed throughout the braking process, despite the fact that the pedal is pulsating. Do not reduce the pressure on the pedal.

Ford Focus

Using ABS

When hard braking is required, apply continuous force on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brake pedal since this will reduce the effectiveness of the ABS and will increase your vehicle’s stopping distance. The ABS will be activated immediately, allowing you to retain steering control during hard braking and on slippery surfaces. However, the ABS does not decrease stopping distance.

Ford Fiesta

Using ABS

When hard braking is required, apply continuous force on the brake pedal. Do not pump the brake pedal since this will reduce the effectiveness of the ABS and will increase your vehicle’s stopping distance. The ABS will be activated immediately, allowing you to retain steering control during hard braking and on slippery surfaces. However, the ABS does not decrease stopping distance.

The message is quite clear: LET ABS DO THE WORK, AND DON’T TRY TO OVERRIDE IT.

Whether the ABS kicks in or not is down to many factors. A controlled stop that won’t engage the ABS in dry conditions on a clean and level surface will almost certainly engage it in the wet on a slight declination. Even on the flat, a bit of dust or gravel will change the physics completely. And on snow or ice, the ABS will kick in as soon as you touch the brake whether you want it to or not. It’s up to the examiner at the time to decide if the stop was prompt enough to be labelled as satisfactory.

If the test candidate stamps on the brake with all their might, causes the examiner to head butt the roof, and scuds to a halt over less than a metre from speed of 30mph, then the examiner just might consider it to be “not controlled”. But the ABS kicking in short of this is not a fault in any way.

TES goes into more detail after having advised checking the car’s owner’s manual. It deals with the issue on the premise that the ABS should be allowed to do the work.

How do you do the emergency stop?

At the prompt (when the examiner says “STOP” and raises his hand; or when in real life – for example – that woman with the pushchair walks out in front of you):

  • brake firmly and progressively (i.e. apply more and more pressure) to stop in the shortest distance safely
  • put the clutch down just after you brake
  • keep your bloody hands on the steering wheel up to this point!
  • once you’ve stopped, apply the handbrake and put it in neutral
  • take a look around and rest your feet

In reality, you’ll brake hard and declutch very soon afterwards – almost (but not quite) simultaneously. There’s no messing about with stopwatches and stuff! You just do it. But what things are classed as potentially serious faults during the stop?

  • responding too slowly
  • putting the clutch down before the brake
  • putting the handbrake on before you’ve stopped
  • skidding out of control
  • missing the brake pedal
  • taking your hands off the steering wheel

Notice how “stalling” isn’t on there. As long as you put the handbrake on and put it in neutral if you stall, then restart the engine, you shouldn’t worry – but obviously, don’t stall deliberately. Learn to do it properly.

Putting the clutch down too soon can cause the car to surge forward if you’re going downhill (on the level, it’ll simply not slow down), then the brakes have to do more work. This results in longer stopping distances. Make sure your method allows the brakes to engage before the clutch is disengaged.

When moving off – when told to do so by the examiner – get it in gear, get ready, and look all around. That’s over BOTH SHOULDERS and the mirrors. You can fail for not looking around properly before driving away.

Just to summarise one more time, though:

  • when that woman with the baby in the pushchair walks out in front of you after you pass your test, you will hit the brakes as hard as possible to avoid hitting her
  • you won’t give a flying toss whether the ABS kicks in or not – because you don’t need to
  • you want to stop over the shortest distance, so don’t put the clutch down before the brake
  • on your test, the examiner wants to see you demonstrate this simple skill by stopping quickly and in control when he tells you to
  • there is a big difference between doing it on test and doing in real life (e.g. to avoid the woman with the pushchair)
  • if your car has ABS, it is there to help you. Let it!
  • the DSA says you should do it this way
  • your vehicle handbook almost certainly says to do it this way (check!)
  • if someone is telling you otherwise, they are telling you wrong

Does ABS kick in if you hit the brake hard?

Not automatically – or rather, not as an immediate result of hitting the brake pedal. ABS kicks in when the wheels are locked, and allows them to move slightly. By hitting the brakes hard, if the wheels lock – and the car starts to skid – then ABS will kick in. However, if you hit the brakes just as hard and the car stops without skidding then the ABS will not kick in.

It is locked wheels which trigger the ABS, not the act of braking by itself.

Should I put the clutch down at the same time as the brake?

The blog has been getting hits from www.pistonheads.com (hi guys) as a result of a thread asking precisely this. As DVSA guidelines say, doing so is not automatically a fault – but it depends.

The problem with wording stems from the older method of cadence braking (on non-ABS vehicles), where you had to pump the brake pedal and slow down in stages, then put the clutch down at the end to avoid stalling. In this older situation, you did not “press both pedals at the same time”. The thing you have to remember is that the clutch will begin to release as soon as you start to press the pedal, and the brakes will start to bite as soon as you start to press them. Neither are digital switches – they are analogue devices, which means that there is significant travel of the pedals to achieve varying amounts of the relevant effect. So if the clutch releases more than the brakes are braking, the car will take longer to stop because the effect of engine braking is removed. For that reason, you really want to be braking hard first, then depressing the clutch a fraction of a second later when executing an emergency stop in a car which has ABS.

If you put the clutch down first, the car will free-wheel (or surge forward if going downhill), and the brakes will subsequently have to do all the work (and a lot more of it!). At the very least, you’ll stop over a longer distance, and that is no good for the woman with the pushchair you were reacting to. We can easily say that you must not de-clutch first.

If you hit the clutch and brake at exactly the same time it is highly likely that you will release the clutch plates before the brakes have started to grip significantly – and it will vary from car to car depending on clutch wear and pedal adjustment. In a panic situation this could easily lead to a longer stop.

So, common sense would suggest that you brake first, and then de-clutch (as per the advice in TES). This makes sure the brakes are starting to act before engine braking is lost by separating the clutch plates. Unless your vehicle handbook says otherwise, leave de-clutching for as long as possible to increase the amount of engine braking available during the braking phase.

The simple solution as far as training new drivers goes is to teach them to brake firmly, then put the clutch down. During an actual stop the two operations happen so quickly that they are virtually simultaneous anyway – but not so simultaneous that de-clutching affects the braking operation.

As long as the brakes have purchase, de-clutching will not attract a fault from an examiner if a satisfactory controlled stop is effected.

It’s easier for pupils to press both pedals simultaneously

I don’t teach my own pupils necessarily what’s “easiest” for them. I teach them what’s “best” or “safest”. Every single one of them has been able to do it the way I want them to after a few tries. Every single one. It is not a complicated process.

If you think “easiest” is better than “safest”, you need to have a word with yourself.

Do you fail if the ABS kicks in?

No. DVSA doesn’t say that anywhere. They will not fail someone just because the ABS engages during a controlled stop.

Do learners find the emergency stop difficult when taught “the DVSA way”?

No. To start with, there is no “DVSA way”. It makes perfect sense to brake first then de-clutch a fraction of a second later, and it’s the easiest thing in the world for most people to learn. DVSA’s TES is simply highlighting the best way.

Why not teach people to brake and de-clutch at the same time?

The method in TES says to brake first and de-clutch later. As long as this doesn’t go against the manufacturer’s recommendations (as DVSA correctly points out) then it is the best method. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the method outlined in TES. Furthermore, I have yet to see any manufacturer advise simultaneous braking/de-clutching – when they say to press the pedals at the same time, they just mean not to use the old cadence braking method.

The biggest danger of simultaneous pedal-dipping is that the clutch gets released before the brakes take hold. Obviously, this is extremely dangerous to the point of being potentially fatal if it causes you to stop over a longer distance.

How do you engage the ABS in an emergency stop?

The ABS is something that engages when it needs to. You don’t set out to make it operate. It will kick in if the wheels start to lock making it possible to maintain some steering control during the stop. When stopping in an emergency you simply brake as hard as you need to and if that causes the ABS to kick in then you just let it do its job.

The driving test only tests stopping in a straight line, but that’s not like the real world.

So what? The driving test emergency stop is making sure you can hit the brakes hard enough to stop, and do it in such a way that you stop in the shortest distance. It’s not testing you on every imaginable situation.

The bottom line is that if someone runs out just in front of you you’re going to hit the brakes and try as hard as possible to not hit them. On a bend, the risk of spinning off the road when braking hard at speed is extremely high. There’s nothing anyone can do about that – it’s the laws of physics.

DVSA is deliberately vague about how to do an emergency stop.

Nonsense. TES is a DVSA publication and it has two full pages of information about stopping in an emergency ,covering defensive driving and avoidance, ABS, and the basic routine itself. What exactly do you expect them to say?

What happens when the ABS kicks in?

Once the electronics under the bonnet detect the wheels have locked (i.e. that you’re skidding), they will release-brake-release very rapidly for you. The footbrake pedal will vibrate and you may hear a noise that sounds like you’re skidding on gravel. Just let the ABS do its job and don’t release the pressure on the brake (unless it is to help you recover from a serious skid, where the car is starting to swing out dangerously).

Is it safe to drive my [insert car name] when the ABS warning light is on?

Someone found the blog with “Ford Fiesta” inserted into the blank spaces.

At the very least, if the ABS isn’t working, then it won’t kick in if you have to stop suddenly, and that could result in someone dying where they might otherwise have been unharmed, since you’re more likely to skid and lose control. More relevant is the fact that since your car would fail the MoT test if the ABS is faulty, so if you were involved in an accident there is a strong possibility that your vehicle would be assessed as unroadworthy, and you could get in serious trouble.

If ABS is fitted to your car, it must work. If it doesn’t, then technically you’re breaking the Law. A faulty ABS means the brakes will still work, but the ABS won’t. So no, it isn’t “safe”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where can I download test routes?

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

Why don’t you provide your test route data?

A point of principle. DVSA stopped publishing them because instructors were trying to teach only the test routes. I know full well that that’s why people want the information, and I’m not going to go against DVSA. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons, but I want to know where the routes are so I can deal with any weird stuff.

Should I pay for downloadable test routes?

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

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

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

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

Is it possible to record test routes?

Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same (I use a Pro Pod tracker). If you use a phone app, you have to leave your phone in the car, which raises various problems if it is paired with your in-car audio system, plus you can’t play Angry Birds at the test centre if you’re not sitting in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many test routes are there?

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

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Colwick roundabout - smallOne of the most common reasons pupils fail their tests is by not maintaining lane discipline on roundabouts.

I’ve noticed over the years that – from time to time – you get instructors who have read a few pages out of Roadcraft, and who have subsequently decided they’re going to teach their pupils to drive like police pursuit drivers from now on. It quickly develops into the inevitable boasting about how they get theirs to straight-line roundabouts.

Frankly, it’s a stupid idea to do that with 17-year old novices. When they’re under pressure, most of them are barely aware that there even any lanes there when they enter a roundabout, and even the normal observations and control are likely to suffer. With the additional checks needed if you’re going to skip lanes, the chances of something going wrong just increase. Furthermore, straight-lining is intended to allow police drivers to maintain speed, and that’s pretty much the last thing you should be encouraging 17-year olds to do.

I vividly remember an end-of-test debrief some years ago for a pupil who had failed with one serious fault. It occurred on the Virgin roundabout in Colwick, which basically has a two-lane dual carriageway going in, and two lanes coming out (therefore, two lanes on it, even though it is unmarked, and on the return to the test centre these are narrow). The examiner’s words were as follows:

I asked you to follow the road ahead at the roundabout. You approached it in the left-hand lane, and you straight-lined it – which is perfectly OK – but you didn’t check your mirrors to see if there was anyone in the lane to your right.

I have never forgotten that, and I use it on my lessons frequently. However, the pupil in question (and many others since when we’ve been dealing with roundabouts) didn’t have a clue what the examiner was talking about. At the precise moment it happened, he was thinking of a hundred other things. He knew, of course, that there were lanes, but when it came to do it – with the pressure of the test and all the stuff that happens inside people’s heads when they’re on a roundabout in that situation – he didn’t. That’s how it is for most learners, and if instructors are skimming over that to play with the big boys’ toys in Roadcraft, they’re doing those pupils a disservice.Colwick roundabout approach - lane structure

I teach all of mine that staying in lane is the best policy, and they can play at being smart arses once they’ve passed and gained more experience around the nutcases infesting the roads these days. If nothing else, learning to stay in lane is a solid foundation on which to build your later skills – it’s a stepping stone to driving like a smart arse, if you like. If you’ve never been taught to maintain good lane discipline, but you have been shown advanced (and often pointless, for normal drivers) techniques that develop out of it, sooner or later you’re going to have trouble. And your driving test is an excellent place for that trouble to make itself known.Colwick roundabout approach - options towards City

How an instructor teaches roundabout lane discipline varies from pupil to pupil. Some will pick it up quickly with no problems at all, but getting it over to others can be a huge challenge.

I have a big notebook of plain paper, and I frequently do sketches of roundabouts (and other things) to get the point I’m trying to make across. Sometimes, you get pupils who simply don’t get diagrams, and you have to resort to words and analogies with things they are familiar with (which can be a pain these days, as an increasing number of them appear to have absolutely no outside interests you can draw upon).

I also use graphics I have produced and laminated, like the ones above. The arrow diagrams show how the lanes on the approach from one direction to the main Colwick roundabout work, and which ones you’d use depending on where you are going. The one at the top is an accurate representation of the same roundabout with lane markings (click it to see the full sized version), and I have these for all the tricky roundabouts – not just the test ones. It means we can pull over and discuss what happened, and what ought to have happened.

As I have explained in the article about roundabouts, they nearly all work along the same basic principles, no matter how big and apparently complex they are. Even the largest can be broken down into a series of smaller parts that work exactly the same way as they do on smaller ones. Knowing how to do the smaller parts allows you to piece them together like a jigsaw puzzle when applying them on different roundabouts.

When it comes down to it, any large problem is just a collection of smaller ones. So as you learn, you learn to solve each small problem on its own, and over time put the pieces together so that you end up with an overall solution.

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PCN on windscreenA long, long time ago – while the ink was still damp on my first ADI badge – I discovered that some test routes in Nottingham were going through an old, narrow, one-way part of the city centre. I quickly realised that it would be wrong to expect pupils’ first encounter with these to be on their tests, so I started covering that area on lessons.

At the time, I wasn’t using technology the way I am now. To be honest, the technology was harder to come by than it is today – certainly, dash cams were not very common and were horrendously expensive. It was also before the sitting-in-on-test thing came up, so I asked pupils where they had been. Of the ones who at least recognised they were driving around a city called “Nottingham” (and believe me, that’s not as ridiculous as it sounds), I managed to nail it down to Hockley, and “a right-turn followed by another right-turn”. However, my route was going one right-turn further on than the one on the actual test route, and it wasn’t until a PCN (Penalty Charge Notice) dropped on to my doormat one fine morning that I realised I had been driving through a bus gate – a crime almost, but not quite, punishable by death in Nottingham.

It was my own fault. The bus gate was signposted and, with hindsight, I should have known (driving instructors know everything, right?) But if one PCN was embarrassing enough, you can imagine how much more embarrassing the other three were that came through over the next few days. After weighing up the possibilities, I decided against any sort of appeal on the grounds that a) I had done it, b) it was signposted, and c) if I stirred up the hornets’ nest, they might go back over any archived footage and find the other 30-plus times I’d been in that bus gate over the previous month. In the interests of financial common sense, I paid up, kept my fingers crossed there’d be no more (there weren’t), and learnt from the experience.

A PCN is a civil matter, and carries no points on your licence. You do not end up with a criminal record just by getting a PCN.

If you pay a PCN within 14 days, it’s usually half what it’ll cost you between 15-28 days. If you don’t pay within 28 days, it goes to debt collection and possibly even the county courts. If you’ve ever watched that TV series about the bailiffs, you’ll know that a simple £70 fine can turn into a £2,000 one with ease. On top of that, the last thing you want if you’re self employed is a county court judgment against you. They’re harder to get rid of than dog doo on your shoe, so it’s best to sort out any PCNs quickly.

You can contest or appeal a PCN – and it is important that you do so if it is blatantly wrong – but you must do it within 28 days. If you’re going to appeal, don’t pay up, because that would mean you’re admitting liability and it closes the case. In Nottingham, I believe that the 14 day half-price thing is suspended while an appeal is in progress, but this is not the case everywhere (and it may not be the case in Nottingham any more). If you lose the appeal you may have to pay the full price.

When a PCN is issued, it is the owner or registered keeper who receives the notification (called a Notice to Owner, or NTO). If you have a car on a lease (or through a franchise), it is usually the lease agent or franchiser who gets it, and most of them will pay up immediately to avoid the extra charges then claim the fee from you. The PCNs I got for going into that bus gate came directly to me from the council.

It’s only worth appealing if the PCN is obviously wrong (if your city has a zero-tolerance approach to bus lane infringements, and you went ahead and infringed one, your chances of having an appeal upheld are slim). I once got one through my lease agent. I had been PCNd for not paying a toll at the Dartford Crossing, and as most readers will know, I am in Nottingham and the Dartford Crossing isn’t. I hadn’t been anywhere near it for at least the previous two years (or the five since, for that matter), and when I demanded details, it turned out that the car in question was the one I’d handed back a month or so earlier, and the infringement took place about two weeks after the handover (I also had tracker and GPS evidence of my whereabouts at the time if it had been needed). They refunded me instantly, and I gave them a few choice words about not checking things properly first. Even so, someone had jumped the toll, so the PCN was still valid in that respect.

Another time – and this was before I was an instructor – I got a PCN for “not displaying a parking ticket correctly” in the city centre. The ticket was there, but as I’d closed the door it had blown across the dashboard and was upside down (though not face down) on the passenger-side shelf. It was completely legible, but the traffic warden involved was obviously a typical traffic warden, and had chosen not to see it. I appealed, with a photograph I took to show where the ticket was and how it was completely readable by anyone who made even the slightest effort to do so. The appeal was upheld and the PCN cancelled (though, it must be said, with the usual “on this occasion, we will blah, blah, blah” in the letter they sent).

PCNs have nothing to do with the police.

A Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) is a different matter. FPNs are handled through the criminal justice system and often carry points as well as a financial penalty (referred to as “endorsable”). FPNs are issued by the police, or by police-employed wardens if it involves parking enforcement in areas where councils don’t have civil responsibility for it. If you pay an FPN on time, you don’t get a “criminal record”, though obviously any points will go on your licence. If you don’t pay on time, the penalty becomes a fine, and that is likely to be logged as a crime if it has to be enforced. And remember that for many people – especially ADIs – the FPN is likely to show up on a DBS check depending on what it is for.

Does a PCN give you points on your licence?

No.

Does a PCN give you a criminal record?

No. However, if you don’t pay it and they put it out to the debt collectors, aside from the huge additional cost you’re likely to end up with, it could be referred to the county courts, then it could escalate. The last thing anyone wants is a county court judgement (CCJ) against them, but for an ADI it could potentially be career-ending. It would have a serious impact on your credit rating, meaning you could run into problems if you apply for a bank account or credit card, or if you want to buy a house. That’s bad enough, but imagine trying to buy a car on finance if you have a CCJ against you. Even franchisers could see you as a poor risk and turn you away.

Can you appeal a PCN?

Yes. But only appeal if it is obviously wrong. If you committed the offence, you’re unlikely to get away with it unless you have really good mitigating circumstances to fall back on – and I mean really good ones, like the time I wasn’t in Dartford when a PCN was issued against a car I used to have being driven there. The big problem for most people is that the embarrassment of getting the PCN in the first place makes them see all kinds of mitigating circumstances that don’t really exist.

In the one where I successfully appealed for not showing a parking ticket correctly, the ticket was actually visible and legible. It was just in a slightly awkward place. If it hadn’t been legible (i.e. face down), I probably wouldn’t have won the appeal. However, in the ones involving the bus gate, I would have had to have convinced someone somewhere that the signage was misleading enough to have made me do it – and although I still think it could have been clearer (as in, no other signs to distract me), it was signposted.

Are the police involved in PCNs?

No. A PCN is a civil matter, administered by the “local authority” (i.e the council). It has nothing to do with the police.

Does an FPN give you points on your licence?

If it’s a motoring offence, quite possibly. It depends on the offence, but many FPN offences are set up to involve points on purpose. With things like speeding, there is the possibility of a speed awareness course being offered instead of points, but that depends on where you are and whether it is offered, so you can’t depend on it. It won’t be offered more than once, and if you’re an ADI, you still have to let DVSA know and hope they don’t kick you off the Register. Some regions do not have civil responsibility for parking violations, so instead of a PCN, an FPN would be issued (which may or may not involve points on your licence depending on what you did wrong).

Does an FPN give you a criminal record?

Not if you pay it on time. If you don’t pay on time, though, recovery of the fine becomes a criminal matter and that will likely end up as a criminal record. In any case, points on your licence will be visible, and if you’re applying for a DBS check or applying for a driving job then you could run into problems.

Does an FPN matter if you pay on time?

It could do. Although you might not have a criminal record as a result of paying up, the points on your licence will be there for anyone to see who has an interest – and for ADIs in particular, that means DVSA. ADIs can lose their licence to teach if they get more than 5-6 points. They could even lose it for less points if they don’t disclose it to DVSA, and DVSA subsequently finds out. Yes, other ADIs will have a fine old time telling you how to argue your case if it happens (most probably involving full moons and pentagrams) but the best way is not to let it happen to start with, then you have no worries.

Can I appeal an FPN?

Not in the same way as with a PCN. With a PCN, you simply present your case and wait for the result. Then, if you don’t agree, argue with them. With an FPN, it is a matter of either admitting guilt and paying the fine, or going to court to find out whether you’re guilty or not guilty (it’s a criminal justice situation, remember) – and the courts can issue much larger fines than the original FPN if you are found guilty.

Do all FPNs involve points on your licence?

No. There is a long list of FPNs which are classed as “non-endorsable” – no points involved – on which parking and bus lane violations (outside London) are included. On the other hand, there is another long list of FPNs which are endorsable. Rather than try to work out what our you can get away with, it’s best just not to engage in it to start with. If you’re going to listen to “advice” from others, focus on learning not to do what they did to get the FPN in the first place, and not what they tried to do to get out of it.

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Clown FeetI saw someone post an online comment about having seen “a big school car” driving in the middle lane of a motorway, and then implying that this in some way meant that every ADI who works for that “big school” is therefore pants.

It’s just another variation of the “indie is better because I’m indie” or “all franchises suck” arguments.

The comedian who posted it then tried to argue that it wasn’t part of a driving lesson by stating that it was at 10.00pm at night – presumably because he doesn’t work that late (he certainly isn’t tonight, as he obviously has time to post this). That made me smile, because I have done lessons until midnight on various occasions. I frequently get pupils who can only do 8-10pm lessons because of work commitments, and I have one right now who is at a boarding school, and who does 8-9pm every lesson. He’s already mentioned upping them to two hours at some point. In the past, some who had tests looming, either because of their own availability or my diary loading, opted to take a few additional lessons between 8pm and 11pm.

Two of my super-late ones were Pass Plus motorway sessions, where the drivers had booked them in the middle of summer, and in order to get the night time module in, we had to start late. I wonder what some of these super-indies do when they have to cover that? My guess is that their mouth does most of the work, and the driver very little. And they say only franchised instructors are bad!

Then another one chimed in with an example of one of “the big schools” cutting her up, so therefore all big schools are pants. Like no ADI has ever been cut up (or overtaken) by another indie when we’re driving at the speed limit. The likelihood of that is all the greater when said indie is in an Audi or BMW. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but people who drive Audis generally don’t buy them to drive within the speed limit all the time when the car can do 2½ times that with ease. Nor do they buy them with the intention of staying behind anyone else if they have the chance to overtake. This holds whether they’re members of the public or off-duty ADIs

And then there was the claim that phoned complaints are ignored by the big schools, as if the school involved is going to dish the dirt to the complainant so they can gloat over it. I know for a fact that several national schools contact the ADI in question and ask them about it. It is their name which at stake, and they take it very seriously. I have no idea what happens after that, because it’s none of my bloody business, but if there is sufficient evidence then the ADI in question will undoubtedly be reprimanded. If complaints are regular, they could easily lose their franchise.

What makes me laugh is that many of these super-indies used to be franchised – often to these same schools. And they still can’t see that they’re no different now, other than for what is written on their car.

My pet hate is the apparent arrogance of other instructors. I’ve mentioned this before, but the one thing that makes my blood boil is going into an empty car park – or an empty part of a car park if it’s a big one, like the Chilwell P+R – and having some total moron (and I’ve seen an AA car doing it as well as many indies) come into the same empty area, when there are at least half a dozen similarly empty areas they could go to. The other day, some dickhead indie was using the P+R as a nursery route, and so basically getting in everyone’s way, and he kept going round and round and coming into the far corner where I’d gone. And then there are the ones who go in there to practice one of the bay park manoeuvres, but instead of going to a quieter area, insist on doing it in the section marked “exit” where all car park users have to go through, thus guaranteeing that they’re in everyone’s way.

It isn’t arrogance, though. It’s just sheer stupidity. They simply don’t have a clue, and that’s what they’re teaching their pupils.

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Refer also to this article on whether or not to push the button when you use the handbrake. This article updated following a reader question on STOP junctions.


I saw a “debate” a while back on one of the forums about using the handbrake. It was started by an ADI whose pupil got a driver (“minor”) fault for not using it at a junction. Of course, as far as the ADI is concerned, it is the DVSA who is wrong. Heaven forbid that his pupil might actually have been at fault.Handbrake

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES, 2010/11 version) – which is effectively the syllabus that learners should be taught from – says:

You should normally apply the parking brake whenever the vehicle is stationary.

Apply the parking brake and put the gear lever into neutral when you’re stopped at traffic lights or queuing behind other vehicles, unless the wait is likely to be very short.

Your foot could easily slip off the footbrake if, for example, your shoes are wet or if you’re bumped from behind. You could then be pushed into another vehicle or a pedestrian.

The use of the parking brake is even more important in vehicles fitted with automatic transmission. The parking brake will avoid

  • the possibility of ‘creep’
  • the vehicle surging forward if the accelerator is pressed accidentally while in D (Drive).

The important bit is in that second paragraph – “unless the wait is likely to be very short”. It couldn’t really be much clearer. Furthermore, you are going to be marked on the use of the car’s controls on your test, and if you don’t use the handbrake in a situation where really you should then you will pick up a driver fault at the very least. You might even pick up a serious or dangerous fault if, for example, you roll back towards someone or over a give way line towards traffic.

On the matter of putting the car into neutral, I really only advise this if you know you’re going to be waiting for longer than usual, and that you’ll have time to put it in gear without getting into a flap. If you do it when you’re at the front at normal traffic lights, and they’re the ones where there is only enough time on green for a handful of cars to get through at the best of times, you will annoy other drivers if you only start trying to get it in gear and drive off once they’ve changed. This is likely to pan out even worse for learners and new drivers, who might struggle to find the right gear quickly, possibly choose the wrong one, and stall as they panic. I prefer my pupils to be ready to move off promptly.

With some temporary lights, or in very heavy and slow-moving traffic where you are a long way back in the queue, there may be a longer wait, so there is a good excuse to go to neutral and rest your legs. The same is true at level crossings, where you can calmly get ready as the train passes and the barriers begin to rise. The decision about whether to put the car into neutral or not is the driver’s. Just remember that it isn’t a fault keeping it in gear at traffic lights, nor is it a fault putting it into neutral – but  screwing up when you try to move off probably is. You simply do what is most appropriate – and what is easiest for you to deal with.

As for the handbrake, at junctions I advise my learners to be aware of the gradient. Not using the handbrake on downward-sloped junctions sometimes makes more sense than not using it on upward-sloped ones. If you stop on an upward slope, the car will immediately start to roll back as soon as you release the footbrake to go for the gas. If you’re good at it then it is possible to get going quickly and safely, but many learners panic and lift the clutch too fast, resulting in a stall. This is a prime example of a situation where a learner should be taught to use the handbrake, whereas an experienced driver probably wouldn’t need to.

At some stage, most learners ask something along the lines of how long they should be stopped for before using the handbrake. ADIs love to use the “when a pause becomes a wait” line, and then apply a number – for example, a pause is under 3 seconds, a wait is over. That’s rubbish. There is no way this can be answered in black or white terms – it depends on the situation.

Oh. And your foot can slip. I had a pupil pass her test recently who stalled during her manoeuvre because it had been raining and her foot slipped off the brake.

It would appear that the ADI who was criticising DVSA in the first place wasn’t actually present on the test or even at the debrief, so I don’t know how they can claim the examiner’s decision was wrong! DT1 – the DVSA’s internal SOP for examiners – makes several references to what constitutes “a fault”:

For the turn in the road:

 

The object is to see if the candidate can manoeuvre and control the vehicle in a restricted space where proper use of the clutch, accelerator and handbrake, combined with judgement of the position of the vehicle in relation to the kerb, is essential.

The bold text is mine. Use of the handbrake is as important as use of the clutch and footbrake.

For normal stops:

 

The candidate should be able to pull up parallel to, and within a reasonable distance of, the nearside kerb. The examiner should observe whether the candidate then applies the handbrake and puts the gear into neutral.

The bold text is mine. You have to use the handbrake when you do a normal stop at the side of the kerb.

In automatic vehicles:

 

The handbrake should be applied for temporary stops, e.g. waiting at a red traffic light, a junction, or in a traffic hold-up, if they are likely to be of a long duration.

Short stops may not require the application of the handbrake.

The handbrake may need to be applied to prevent `creep’.

Note that this is very specific in terms of where the handbrake should be used.

At the time of originally writing this article (April 2014), the DT1 was last updated in October 2013. Prior to that, there was a statement which said:

Full use of the parking brake should be used, to prevent the vehicle rolling backwards or forwards.

This is no longer anywhere to be found, and there is no specific mention of when to and when not to use the handbrake other than that the car should be in neutral with the handbrake on when the engine is started (which is actually confusing, as people will take it to mean that you should go into neutral if you stall).

Will I fail my test if I don’t use the handbrake?

You’re supposed to use the handbrake to help prevent the car from rolling and to make it safe in certain situations. That’s what it is there for.  Although you are unlikely to fail simply for not using it in a given situation, if you do end up rolling backwards or forwards your chances of failing increase significantly. A good example of when to use it is when you stop at a pedestrian crossing to let people cross – if you’re at the front of the queue, and especially if the pedestrians include children, just think what could happen if your foot slipped or someone bumped you from behind. In this situation – and certainly on your test – not using your handbrake is potentially dangerous and the examiner could mark it accordingly.

If you stop facing up a sharp incline, common sense says the handbrake will help you avoid rolling backwards when you move off again. However, if you choose not to use it and remain in control then it won’t be marked. Remember, though, that your right foot will be on the brake, and if you get the timing wrong and lift the clutch too far before you’ve switched your right foot to the gas pedal then you will stall – which means you’re not in control – and then you’ll have to try to stay in control all over again to avoid rolling back as you restart the engine and give it another shot. It would make much more sense just to use the handbrake for what it was designed for in the first place, and all of that would be avoided.

When should I use my handbrake?

Whenever it would help prevent the car from rolling backwards or forwards.

It can also help you avoid stalls. If you have the handbrake on, it means you can set the gas and find the bite ready to move off quickly. If you’re holding the car still using the footbrake, you’re likely to get your timing wrong and lift the clutch too much before you’ve set the gas properly – which increases the likelihood of stalling. You’ll get better at being able to do that with time, but certainly to begin with – and for many people this includes even the point at which they’re at test standard – using the handbrake will help to avoid stalling in many situations.

When is it compulsory to use the hand brake?

It isn’t. You should use the hand brake whenever it would help you prevent the car from rolling backwards or forwards when it isn’t supposed to. In theory, it would be possible to not use the hand brake at all on your test and still not get faulted for it. However, the reality is that there will be times when not using it is just stupid and asking for trouble, and much will depend on the kinds of roads you’re driving on.

If you have to deal with steep hills, the risk of rolling back is going to be very high. With new drivers, a roll back is often accompanied by a stall as they panic and lift the clutch too quickly before they’ve applied gas. Not using the hand brake might not be recorded, but the stall probably will – particularly if it is then followed by more stalls, and causing a hold up for traffic behind, which is common with new drivers (especially if they’re nervous on test).

At night (and you won’t be doing your test at night), the risk of brake dazzle is very real. It is bad practice to just hold the car with the foot brake all the time, and although it would be a very picky examiner who faulted you for it, it IS potentially a fault.

If you don’t use the hand brake when you perhaps ought to a couple of times on your test, it probably won’t be marked unless it leads to another problem. If you don’t use it every time you really should, you’re just asking to be faulted. The simple solution is to aim to use it and not to worry if you forget a few times – as long as it doesn’t result in a worse problem as a result.

An experienced (and good) driver will use the hand brake less than a new (good) driver because they’re likely to be able to hold the bite better. Someone who is not so good with holding the bite – no matter how much experience they have – really ought to use the hand brake more. The reason for this is that they can then set the gas, find the bite, then release the hand brake when they want to move off. The alternative is that they will have to take their foot off the foot brake, set the gas, and then find the bite without rolling back and without stalling. With new drivers, that sort of timing is often a problem.

As I’ve said elsewhere in this article, not using the hand brake when you should is the sign of a lazy, bad, and/or arrogant driver.

Do I apply the handbrake first, or put it in neutral first?

In most cases it doesn’t matter. Common sense says that the safest way is to stop the car with the foot brake, apply the handbrake, then put the car into neutral (you can take your foot off the foot brake then). But no one is going to penalise you for it if you put it in neutral first as long as you don’t roll or lurch.

Just remember that learners (and new drivers) are more likely to lift their feet when they stop, and if they get muddled with their foot timing then they may run into problems, which are made worse if the handbrake isn’t on and the car is still in gear. At least if the handbrake is on, the car won’t go anywhere.

Why should I use the handbrake at junctions?

Primarily, to prevent you from rolling backwards or forwards where this would be undesirable. In addition, sitting with the footbrake on means your brake lights are on, and in modern cars – especially at night – that dazzles people behind you, and is inconsiderate.

If you’re going to be waiting for any length of time beyond a pause, use the handbrake. That’s what it’s there for. Not using it when you ought to is as lazy as it is wrong.

What is the rationale for using the handbrake?

Use it to help prevent the car rolling backwards or forwards when that would be dangerous or inconvenient. Use it at pedestrian crossings – especially if you are the first car in the queue – so that if someone went into the back of you and/or if one of your feet slipped the car would not surge forward.

My friend told me you don’t need to use the handbrake on flat roads

Your friend is wrong. You use the handbrake to secure the car when it needs securing. It can still roll – or be pushed into a roll – on flat roads. In any case, most roads have a camber (a curvature to help water drainage), which means they’re not flat at all.

Imagine sitting – on a flat road – at a zebra crossing with people walking in front of you, just using your footbrake. Then imagine what would happen if someone went into the back of you. Believe me, your first thought isn’t going to be to keep your foot on the brake. Worse still, it might slip on to the gas pedal. If you had the handbrake on then the car would stall.

Trust me: not using your handbrake is the sign of a lazy, arrogant, or dangerous driver.

Do you use the handbrake in an automatic car?

Yes, and anyone – including driving instructors – who tells you otherwise is wrong. TES says:

In vehicles fitted with automatic transmission, the use of the parking brake is even more important. The parking brake will help avoid

  • the possibility of the vehicle creeping forward
  • the vehicle surging forward if the accelerator is pressed accidentally while in ‘D’ (Drive).

You may get away with it on test if you don’t use it (just as you may get away with it in a manual car), but if that’s the way you’ve been taught then you’ve been taught wrong.

There seems to be a lot of instructors these days who are switching to automatic cars without knowing how to drive them properly. They are then teaching their lack of knowledge to learners. It would appear that just as some learners see automatic as an “easy” way to getting a licence, instructors are seeing it as an “easy” way to avoid teaching important things.

What if my car has “hill start assist”?

“Hill start assist” (HSA) is feature on some new cars (it’s actually been available on automatics for some time), where if a gradient of more than a certain amount is detected, stopping with the footbrake then releasing it doesn’t result in a roll back. The brakes hold for short time until you find the bite.

Personally, I don’t like it. It doesn’t always kick in (it depends on the gradient as already mentioned), and I don’t agree with taking control – and therefore the requirement for skill – away from the driver (don’t even get me started on self-driving cars!) Learners should be taught how to drive properly, and not how to cut corners. In any case, what happens if I teach them how to drive using HSA, when the first car they buy doesn’t have it?

Most cars allow you to turn HSA off. If you have a car with HSA, use it by all means – but remember that it is merely a tool to help manage many drivers’ inability to find the bite properly. Also remember that it IS NOT intended to be a substitute for using the handbrake in situations where the car needs to be properly secured.

My friend told me that “hill start assist” prevents the car from moving if someone drives into the back of you, so you don’t need the handbrake

It makes me mad when I hear rubbish like this. That is NOT what HSA does – and even if that was, only an even bigger idiot would trust it over a mechanical feature like the handbrake.

HSA is intended to stop the car rolling back when on a gradient above a certain amount. It only works for a short period of time before the car DOES roll back, and I can assure you that it doesn’t kick in every time – you cannot trust it implicitly under any circumstances.

Should I use the handbrake at every set of traffic lights or every junction?

No. Use your common sense. If you’re likely to roll then use it – especially if you’re not confident holding the car on the bite for a few seconds on upward inclines. If you expect to be waiting just a short time then use the footbrake – but don’t try to be clever and argue that a 3 minute wait at temporary lights is “short”. It isn’t. By “short”, we’re talking in seconds, not minutes. And don’t forget the issue of brake dazzle at night.

I’ve found that this question often crops up when pupils who have not been taught to use the handbrake properly switch to a better instructor, who then begins to point out the error to them.

Should I use the handbrake at every pedestrian crossing?

Again, no. Use your own common sense. But above all, be absolutely certain that you are not endangering pedestrians crossing in front of you. If you are first in the queue and people are crossing in front of you then it makes a lot of sense to use it. If you’re further back and no one is moving up behind you, there is less need. If it’s night time, consider brake dazzle on the driver behind.

Should I always use the handbrake at STOP junctions?

The short answer is no. You do not need to use the handbrake at every STOP junction.

However, you MUST actually stop, and it is very common for drivers to think that they HAVE stopped when they haven’t. I often have my pupils argue that they DID stop when I know for a fact that they didn’t – they just creep very slowly, and that is NOT the same as stopping. Even when they do stop I am not always convinced that they did so on purpose, and that had the conditions been slightly different, they might have continued rolling (they sometimes admit to that when I Q&A them over it afterwards). Therefore, you might want to think about using the handbrake at STOP junctions to make sure you really have stopped.

I am not saying that you must/should use the handbrake at every STOP junction. But it might help you if you do. What I tend to do is explain the situation as I have here, then watch what happens on lessons. Most pupils are easily able to consciously bring the car to a full and proper stop. Some aren’t, though, and when I have one of those I just advise them to use the handbrake (yes, I teach these pupils to use the handbrake at STOP junctions).

The examiners have to fail you if you don’t stop at a STOP junction, and no amount of arguing about it will reverse their decision.

I failed my test for not using the handbrake at a STOP junction

I wasn’t there, but I would lay odds that you didn’t actually stop. You just think you did – that’s a very common error. Remember that stop means “STOP”. Slowing right down and creeping – no matter how slowly – is not the same as stopping, and you have to physically stop at STOP junctions. You automatically fail if you don’t.

Also remember that YOU have to stop at the STOP line. It doesn’t matter if you stopped behind the car in front of you who got their first – that is not the same as stopping at a STOP junction. These junctions are usually there when oncoming traffic is obscured by buildings, bends, or hills (or if you’re emerging on to a tram line) – in other words, it is potentially dangerous and you need to take special care. You can’t do that if you are a long way behind the line – you have to be right up to it, stop, then creep forward and look for the opportunity to go.

You are wrong to teach people to use the handbrake at STOP junctions

Actually, I’m just not so anally retentive that I insist on doing everything by the book – and especially so when it’s a book that doesn’t exist!

As I pointed out earlier, I often get pupils who KNOW they should stop and THINK that they have. They even argue the point. But I know full well that they haven’t. I make it absolutely clear that if they do that on the test, they will fail. And that – technically – if they do it in real life, they COULD get a ticket, COULD get a fine, COULD have an accident, and COULD even end up having to pass their test again depending on what points are already on their licences. All of my pupils know exactly what they SHOULD do, and using the handbrake is an ideal solution for those people whose car control/mental processes are not as perfect as the anal retentives would like to think they should be.

There is nothing wrong – nothing at all – with using the handbrake at a STOP junction. It just isn’t mandatory, and people generally don’t need to if they have above average control and awareness. But, like it or not, many people who are genuinely test ready are only at or below average in this respect.

When people simply don’t see the STOP sign, then that is a totally separate problem which can be dealt with.

Why is it a STOP junction? I can see it’s clear

They don’t install STOP junctions just for the sake of it. There aren’t that many compared with normal junctions at the best of times, so there must be a reason. Usually, visibility is restricted at a STOP junction. Around my way, the half dozen or so that I can think of off the top of my head include:

  • there is a hill on the road you’re joining where you can’t see what’s coming up it
  • there is a rise on the road you’re joining and you can’t see what’s coming over it, and the speed limit is 40mph (which equals 60+ for Audis)
  • there is a bend on the road you’re joining so you can’t see what’s coming unless you stop and then creep out slowly
  • the road you are joining is NSL and has bends on it
  • there are buildings right up to the edge of the road and you can’t see until you creep out slightly
  • you’re crossing or joining a tram line
  • the junction has had a lot of accidents in the past
  • and various combinations of all the above

Don’t kid yourself that YOU can see it’s clear. Just stop for the piddling two or three seconds it will take to make sure it’s safe and don’t be a smart aleck. Every boy (or girl) racer in the country thinks they know best – until they become one of the statistics they have been sneering at.

I failed my test for not using the handbrake at a normal junction

Again, I wasn’t there, but something else must have happened to attract the serious fault. Most likely, you rolled backwards or forwards when you shouldn’t have, or perhaps something was happening behind you (a pedestrian walking, for example) whom you could have rolled into.

If you genuinely didn’t roll and nothing else was happening to warrant using the handbrake then you have been treated unfairly. Proving that would be extremely difficult though.

Should I always use the handbrake at roundabouts?

Someone found the blog with the question “if you have to give away [sic] at a roundabout why is it very important to use the handbrake?” The answer is the same as above: use it if you need to, or if you are likely to be waiting for any length of time. You do NOT need to put it on every time. Personally, I hardly ever use the handbrake at roundabouts – but I do sometimes.

When does the handbrake begin to bite?

In a new or recently serviced car the handbrake will probably move about three ratchet clicks before it is fully engaged. So the obvious answer is that it starts to bite as soon as you begin to pull it. However, the cable will stretch over time, and the brakes will wear down, which is why some cars require four, five, or sometimes more clicks to engage the handbrake. In this case, it is fair to say that until the slack has been taken up the brake will not bite as quickly.

I suspect this question was asked because someone is worried about not taking the handbrake fully off. Basically, avoid driving around with the handbrake on even by a single notch.

Why does my car move when the handbrake is on?

The handbrake isn’t designed to hold the car still if you’re trying to drive it forward! The brakes will slip quite easily, and you’ll be able to drive off in most cases, albeit with a little difficulty. If you can hear the brakes creaking (i.e. slipping) when you have the handbrake on if you’re stopped on a hill then it isn’t on enough. If you hear the same noise when you find the bite, then the brake either isn’t on enough or you’re finding too much bite (possibly both).

In many modern cars, you should apply the footbrake firmly and then apply the handbrake. This gives a stronger braking action – it appears that the handbrake clamps the brakes where the foot brake put them to.

If you still have problems then get the handbrake checked out at a garage. It may have a fault.

Is there any danger in moving a short distance with the handbrake on?

Obviously, trying to drive off with the handbrake applied is wrong. It results in greater wear and tear on the brakes, and increases the chances of stalling. The car will not accelerate as quickly as you might need it to – when emerging from a junction or on to roundabouts, for example – and if you tried to change gear then the car would slow down more and the risk of stalling would increase again. Leaving the handbrake on can easily be a serious fault on your test.

Will a loose handbrake still hold the car?

It depends. The handbrake is used to pull a cable, which then causes brake pads to press against the wheels (simplified description). If the cable is stretched, and the lever can be pulled all the way up to its stop, then there might not be enough tension to apply the brakes enough to hold the car. On the other hand, if the lever still pulls tight – even if it goes up five or six clicks instead of the typical three clicks – then it probably will.

If the lever itself is loose – or even if the cable seems a bit stretched – it is worth getting it looked at, because it could fail completely at any time.

Is leaving your handbrake on a serious fault on test?

Assume yes. Even if you were to get lucky and get away with it, it is still a pretty serious problem. In most cases you will get a serious fault.

Is it wrong to use the handbrake and footbrake at the same time?

The footbrake is used to slow down or stop. The handbrake is the anchor that holds the car still when you are already stopped. Using the footbrake while you’re stationary and the handbrake is applied is just pointless, so in that sense yes, it is wrong. However, it isn’t a serious problem in this respect.

Remember, though, that your brake lights come on when you use the footbrake, but they don’t with the handbrake. Brake lights therefore send a message to other road users. If you have the footbrake on unnecessarily then you are sending the wrong message. Also remember that modern brake lights can be very bright, and especially at night that can dazzle other road users.

Conversely, using the handbrake to stop the car means no brake lights come on, and people following you might not realise you are braking. Applying the handbrake while you are still moving – even if you are using the footbrake to slow down – is dangerous because it can lock the wheels and cause you to skid. Doing it is likely to attract a serious fault on test.

I put my handbrake on but my car still rolls back/forward

You either haven’t applied it tightly enough or there is something wrong with it.

I’ve found that girls tend to have the biggest problem applying the handbrake. One trick is to make sure you have applied the footbrake firmly before applying the handbrake – that way the handbrake clamps the brakes a little more tightly. Also, don’t push the button in – let the ratchet click. That way the handbrake can settle maybe one or two clicks higher than it does when the button is pressed. Check you car’s handbook, because you’ll find some/many manufacturers these days advise not pushing the button when applying the handbrake, and using the footbrake the way I described above.

The only drawback is that once the handbrake is on tightly enough, people with weak arms sometimes can’t get it off again! I remember recently advising a female who had problems like this in my car – which doesn’t have a fault at all – to try a few exercises using dumb bells at the gym, which she attended regularly. It is vital that the handbrake can be applied and removed effectively.

If that fails, get someone else to have a try and if it appears that the car is at fault, get it looked at as soon as possible. It is dangerous if the handbrake isn’t working properly.

Can you be too weak to apply the handbrake?

I have had a few pupils who seem to have problems applying and releasing the handbrake. In more than one instance I have advised them to exercise with dumb bells at the gym. I’ve never had anyone who cannot apply/release the handbrake at all, though.

One way of looking at it is that if you can’t apply the handbrake in a car, then you shouldn’t be driving it. If you are so weak you physically can’t apply it, then you should have a modified vehicle (or one with an electronic brake) where you can.

How do I stop the car rolling in traffic if my handbrake isn’t working?

I can’t believe that someone found the blog with that search term! Your car ought not to be on the road if the handbrake is broken, and you probably shouldn’t if you have to ask questions like this! Get it fixed.

If your handbrake goes, can you keep it in reverse?

Yep, some jackass found the blog on that search term! Get it fixed, idiot. It’s illegal to drive the car if the handbrake is broken. Technically, your insurance is only valid if your car is roadworthy, so you’re effectively driving uninsured.

On the other hand, since you obviously are this stupid, reverse gear will help stop it rolling forward pointing down a hill, and 1st gear will help stop it rolling backwards pointing up. Make sure you angle your wheels so the kerb – which even as an inanimate piece of concrete is more intelligent than you are – will chock the wheels if the car moves. The key word there is ‘help’ – neither gear will guarantee that it won’t move on a steep slope any more than chocking the wheels will guarantee safety. So if it did still roll away and kill someone, then as well as no insurance you’d have that one against you, too.

Do your brake lights some on with the handbrake?

No. That’s one good reason why you should stop the car using the foot brake – so people behind know what’s happening.

If you’re stopped, brake light dazzle isn’t going to cause an accident, is it?

Driving at night and having to put up with dazzle can lead to tiredness or loss of concentration or awareness. Having bright lights shone unnecessarily in your face in uncomfortable at best, but can potentially lead to more dangerous situations. Anyone who says that brake lights don’t dazzle is wrong. They DO dazzle – especially on modern cars with high-intensity bulbs and LEDs.

Anyone teaching pupils to avoid using the handbrake – and thus, not to think of those around them – really shouldn’t be instructing. Brake light dazzle IS a significant issue, and pupils need to be made aware of it. Holding the car on the footbrake for too long, and especially at night, IS a sign of a bad or inconsiderate driver, quite possibly one taught by a bad or incompetent ADI.

Should you use the handbrake when skidding?

Jesus H Christ! NO. It will lock the back wheels and you’ll skid even more – probably into a tree or another car. If you have to ask that, I suggest you don’t drive in snowy or icy conditions.

Someone found the blog on that exact term in March 2018, just after the heavy snowfall.

Why shouldn’t I use the ratchet when I apply the handbrake?

You should look in your car’s manual – in most cases, in modern vehicles, the advice IS to use the ratchet. Applying the handbrake with the button pressed is an old-fashioned approach. I’ve written more about it here.

I hate it when I pick up pupils who have been told to use the handbrake every time they stop.

Well, good for you. However, you ought to allow for the fact that most new drivers find it difficult to assess when to do something that requires judgement or common sense, and often fall into the habit of either always doing it, or always not doing it as a result. They have often developed that habit themselves as a “just in case” strategy (they do it with signalling to pull over or move off, amongst other things). In every likelihood, they haven’t been told to “do it every time” at all. Mine sometimes try to do it, in spite of me never having taught them to.

TES makes it clear that you should use the handbrake where it would help you prevent the car from rolling. Using it unnecessarily doesn’t attract a driver fault unless it leads to holding others up or taking too long over something. However, not using it when you should can easily be identified as a fault in its own right.

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

Ford Focus cockpit

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is called the pull-push technique.

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

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

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

You should

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some people can’t do manoeuvres without dry steering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My instructor is teaching me to dry steer

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

I can’t master “pull-push” steering

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have to use “push-pull”?

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

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

What about “palming”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. They. Bloody. Well. Didn ‘t.

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

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

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

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

How do you teach a pupil to steer properly?

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

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

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

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

How many turns is full lock?

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

Is full lock the same as one complete turn?

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

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

How much do I need to steer?

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

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

I steer too much on bends. Is this wrong?

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

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

What are typical steering mistakes made by learners?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My pupil keeps taking one hand off the steering wheel

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

How can I practice steering?

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

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

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

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