A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Borders graphicThe system we have in the UK is that if you hold a full non-UK licence from a non-EU country, or a country which does not have a reciprocal arrangement with the UK, you can drive on that licence for up to 12 months.

The clock starts ticking from the moment you set foot in the UK. It doesn’t stop if you go home again, and it doesn’t get reset at any time. Oh, and you can’t go back home, get a full licence, then come back and drive for a full 12 months on it. The clock is started as a result of your first entry into the UK – not the entry of your licence.

The purpose of this arrangement is to give you time to apply for a UK provisional licence, take driving lessons, and pass your test. Unfortunately, many see it as an excuse not to do anything for another 12 months – then get desperate.

Many years ago, while I was still a relatively fresh ADI, I had a new pupil who was from Pakistan. He had a job with a big pharmaceutical company based in the south of the UK. On his first lesson I asked to see his licence, and he handed me a pristine Pakistani one (green card). Alarm bells rang immediately, and asked him how long he’d been in the UK (two years). I then asked him when he had obtained this licence. He told me he went home earlier in the year (about three months previously) and got the licence then. I told him I didn’t think he could drive on it and – in his presence – called the main police station in Nottingham to seek clarification. As luck would have it, the guy who answered on that Saturday or Sunday afternoon was ex-traffic police, and he told me he thought I was right, but went to fetch the handbook to check for me. That was when I heard the full detail I have already given, above. In this learner’s case, he needed a UK provisional licence and didn’t have one, and the lesson obviously didn’t go ahead.

Some designated countries (and the whole of the EU) have those “reciprocal arrangements” I mentioned. The full list is here (and although it is dated 2013, it is still correct at the time of writing). People who hold full licences from those countries can exchange them for a full UK one without having to take a test. The exchange is like-for-like – an automatic licence from Australia would get exchanged for an automatic licence in the UK. And the original licence must have been obtained in one of the reciprocal countries – not one near by, or with a similar sounding name or geography (i.e. North Korea is not the same as South Korea, USA is not Canada, Hong Kong is not China (nor is Singapore), and so on).

Ignorance of these rules – real or pretend – is not going to get you anywhere if you get stopped by the police. I know for a fact that there’s a fair number of older non-UK drivers, who have been in the UK for quite some time, who still drive on their “international licence” by virtue of going to visit family in their home country once a year, thus believing they’re resetting the counter. They only get away with it because they haven’t been caught yet – and I know for a fact that there are some who have been caught, and who therefore can’t fall back on “pretend” ignorance any more, but who carry on driving nonetheless. Sorry, but it’s true.

As driving instructors, our only professional responsibility is to make sure the people we teach are licensed to take lessons with us. Anything beyond that is a personal matter, and climbing on to a soap box to bemoan the dangers of allowing foreigners to drive in the UK at all, without (or before) passing a test, has nothing to do with our day job. Don’t forget that we are foreigners when we travel outside the UK, and if you think we should bar anyone who hasn’t passed a test in the UK from driving here at all, then expect to have your (or your kids’) future plans for camping or skiing holidays seriously curtailed in return.

This has been the system used for many years across many countries. It doesn’t result in carnage, and apart from the usual mad rush to get a licence at the end of the 12 month window, it works reasonably well. For us as well as “them”.

Foreigners can fail a test and still drive. That’s wrong.

Look. It’s the system. How many current UK drivers would pass the test if they took it right now, without additional training? How many ADIs would?

It’s worth looking at the DVLA’s official position on this before spending the rest of your working life believing something else. I wrote to them and specifically asked what happens if a non-UK/non-EU full licence holder takes and fails a test within the 12 month window. Their response was:

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

Is that clear enough? ADIs are always whinging about how one of their pupils was unfairly failed for things like not looking in their blind spot even though no one was nearby, or braking hard at a junction, but that they’re otherwise good drivers. Like it or not, the test is a series of hoops the candidate has to jump through, and if they miss one, they fail. The difference is that a learner has never driven unsupervised and has never been licensed to do so, whereas those holding licences from other countries usually have. There’s a big difference.

And don’t forget that when a UK driver visits another country, they expect to be able to get a hire car if they want one and visit all the tourist sites. A UK driver in Europe, the USA, or anywhere else is no different to a foreign driver in the UK. It’s the system.

If you’re teaching a foreign driver, just concentrate on your job and teach them. Get them through their test.

Trying to get them off the roads is a personal issue, not a professional one.

Foreigners may never have driven on the left

No. And foreigners in other countries – foreigners from the UK – may never have driven on the right. Yet many thousands do it every year. It’s the system.

The driving test isn’t specifically about driving on the left or right. It’s about being able to drive safely enough to get a licence. It’s all very well giving examples of the bad examples you may have experienced or heard of (or even imagined might happen), but a lot of non-UK drivers holding full licences are perfectly safe on the roads.

Of course, some aren’t. But as I suggested previously, some of our own learners fall into that category.

Professionally, we should concentrate on teaching our own learners. If you want to embark on a personal crusade, keep it separate.

I’ve seen people fail their test and drive away from the test centre

If they have a full licence from another country and are still within their 12 months, they are not breaking the Law. It’s the system. I repeat what the DVLA has told me:

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

If they drive away on a Provisional licence unaccompanied then they are breaking the Law. It’s a totally separate situation, and one that isn’t confined to non-UK drivers.

Even EU drivers are unsafe

Look. Try to understand this. The people who come to you are not representative of the entire population of the universe. They are merely representative of the type of people who have issues with their driving.  Crass, all-encompassing statements about EU (or any non-UK) drivers are just wrong. The ones who approach you obviously know they have issues, otherwise they wouldn’t have.

Foreigners have always driven here when they visit – certainly within your lifetime. The vast majority are exactly the same as a Briton driving abroad – and we’ve always done that.

There are some UK drivers – people who can trace their family tree back virtually to the Saxons – who are crap drivers. They’re probably less “foreign” than you are. It happens. And they’d be just as crap driving in France, Spain, the USA, or anywhere else. The same is true for some people who were born in other countries. Driving is a human skill, not a racial one.

The UK test is stricter than everyone else’s

You can’t have it both ways. First, it’s about driving on the left, now it’s about British superiority.

Britain doesn’t have the “hardest” test – not even within Europe.

In my own experience – and that of a lot of other ADIs if what I have read is correct – people from countries where obtaining a licence is easiest tend to realise they’re going to have problems and take lessons when they get here. Not all of them, of course, but a fair few.

I’ve had full licence holders from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, USA, Gambia, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, Zimbabwe, and some others I can’t recall right now come to me for lessons because they’re terrified of our roads.

If someone has a full licence from any country, and doesn’t give a damn about how they drive, they won’t come anywhere near you in the first place. So if they do, it’s either because they don’t have a licence, or because they know they need some guidance. And if they vanish once you explain how much work is involved… well, as I said previously, it’s a totally separate issue, and has nothing to do with allowing foreigners to drive for 12 months on their full national licences.

I never see them again when I tell them they won’t pass the test

You’d never see any learner again if you told them that. I was under the impression that ADIs were supposed to be positive when dealing with their customers.

Perhaps you should take a step back and consider that maybe your attitude to “foreigners” is clouding your judgement when you take them on.

When someone comes to me, and once I’ve assessed their driving, I explain to them what is required to pass the test, and that they’re not there yet (assuming that they aren’t, although many aren’t far off). I explain that there’s no chance of passing the test by luck unless you’re close to the required standard, so it is important to fix any specific problems. I stress to them that we’re going to do it in the shortest possible time, because driving lessons are expensive. I never tell people how long it will take, because I simply don’t know. If someone is no better than a beginner, they usually already know they’re not ready (and, usually, they do, no matter what you’ve convinced yourself of otherwise). One or two might believe differently – usually, the older drivers – but the majority don’t.

If someone insists on booking a test in spite of all that, I simply tell them that they can’t use my car. If they disappear as a result, I concentrate on my other pupils, because that’s my job.

If they pass, they’re not insured to drive away from the test centre

Neither are UK learners. That’s why I explain to any of mine – no matter where they come from or what colour their skin is – that if they go for their test in their own car (and a small number do), they need to phone their insurance company before they drive away just to be on the safe side. If they’ve spent all that money on learning to drive, they will listen. Any who don’t are not automatically “foreign”.

It’s their responsibility – not yours. And the problem is not confined to “foreigners”.

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Pinocchio's lieI just saw the biggest load of nonsense on a web forum. Someone has made the statement that independent instructors charge more than those who are franchised to a school, and that independents don’t offer block booking discounts, whereas the schools do. Others have added that this is because independent instructors are “more experienced” and “better qualified”.

Regular readers will know that I am strongly pro-franchise when it comes to advising those who are just starting out about which path to take. I’m also pro-fact, so let’s see if we can find some.

It has been reported in the driver training media several times before that independent instructors typically charge at least £1 per hour less than the large national schools do. AutoExpress referred to it in 2017, and nothing has changed. Indeed, if I Google for driving lesson prices right now in the Nottingham area, I find the following examples from independent instructors (other than me):

  • £28 per hour, £26 per hour for 10x block, introductory offer £10 per hour for 4x block
  • £25 per hour, £23 per hour for 10x block
  • £26 per hour, £25.50 per hour for 10x block
  • £27 per hour, £25 per hour for 10x block
  • £22 per hour, but also offers student discount
  • £25 per hour, £24 per hour for 10x block
  • £27 per hour, £26 per hour for 10x block, £25 per hour student rate
  • £25 per hour, £24 per hour for 10x block, introductory offer £14 per hour for 4x block

Remember that at least half of pupils will likely be taking the block booking option, so the actual rate being charged is about half way (at best) between the standard hourly rate and the pro rata rate for block booking. It will be lower if a lot of students are on the books and a student discount is offered. And for those who make “introductory” offers, it will be lower still. And although these figures are specific to Nottingham, the same relationship between standard rate and actual rate applies across the country.

Take that first (and last) example. Charging £28 an hour means you must be £1 an hour more brilliant than the national schools according to that original comment, and that’s definitely worth boasting about on the forums. Except that a pupil who takes, let’s say, 34 hours to pass their test will pay for three block bookings and that introductory offer. The average hourly rate paid by that pupil is therefore £24.12 per hour, and that’s £3 less than the big national schools! The last example works out to £22.82 per hour on the same basis, which is more than £4 less. This is simple maths, but the people who make these silly claims haven’t got a clue, and they believe what they say. They genuinely believe that someone who buys a block with a 10% discount is actually paying full price!

These easily-obtained examples (I just picked the first few from a list of hundreds) show that the real lesson price – the one they actually pocket – for independents is at least £1 lower than the large national schools, even for those with the highest stated standard hourly rates. Yes, there are one or two who appear to have high prices and no substantial discounts, but I note that they also have glittery, sign-written cars plastered across expensive-looking websites. That’s strange, since I never see them out on the roads or at the test centres, and after another 12 months probably won’t even see them on the internet – though right now they’re probably making daft claims on forums about how great they are. Because that’s how the cycle goes. And yet some ADIs still believe that they are charging top dollar, even though they’re not.

The other thing is that these instructors have been foolish enough to put themselves at the mercy of the Google review system, most likely because they initially saw it as a free advertising medium. So in spite of their alleged outstanding “experience and expertise” – as claimed on that forum – many of them have a rating of three stars or less, often from a single review by someone they pissed off – probably as a result of doing what many instructors specialise in doing no matter what they have written on the sides of their cars. Namely, letting someone down. And that means they aren’t any better or more professional than anyone else.

So, there we have some facts. On average, independent instructors do not charge more than the national schools. They actually charge less. They most certainly do offer a bewildering array of discounts. And there is absolutely no evidence that they have better skills, qualifications, or professionalism – we all pass the same tests, after all.

For the record, my current lesson rate is £26.50 per hour (£1 less than the national school rate here), and I discount it to £24.50 per hour for block bookings of ten hours. I have a full diary, about half of which is taken by block-booked lessons. Someone who didn’t have the work might well be tempted to start making offers that attracted some, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if they then convince themselves that they’re still charging the full price, when they’re really discounting by almost 10%, they’re going to be looking for salaried employment again very soon.

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A lot of people are finding this article based on the search term “UKCPS scam”. I’m seeing another surge close to Christmas 2018, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise. My experience most definitely WAS in a UKCPS car park, so read on and don’t be put off by the fact I didn’t identify it as such in the title – at the time I had no idea UKCPS were such cowboys.


After seeing this story in the newsfeeds I thought I’d mention something that happened to me in late 2013. In fact, I mentioned it in this article back in January of 2014, but there’s a bit of a follow up.Leeds Arena

In December 2013, I went to see Status Quo at the new Leeds Arena. I picked up my mate (let’s call him Bob) from his house just outside Leeds and we drove into the City Centre. Bob directed me to the Edward Street car park not far away from the Arena and we parked there. This car park has ANPR cameras that detect your registration number as you drive in, and you have to enter your registration into the ticket machine – if it doesn’t match what the ANPR system picked up you apparently don’t get a ticket. I paid using my debit card (which turned out to be a wise move). There was only one price available at the time from the machine – the £8.50 overnight charge – in spite of a list of hourly tariffs being shown on signs. We arrived at shortly before 6pm and drove out at just after 11pm, where ANPR cameras apparently once again log your exit.

As we walked to the Arena, Bob told me that a few weeks earlier his wife (let’s call her Sarah) had been Christmas shopping and parked in that same car park. A few days later she was stung with a fine for “insufficient fee paid”. Now, Sarah isn’t the kind of person to take things lying down, and in any case she’d kept the receipts proving that she had paid the correct amount. She kicked up a stink and they dropped the charge. It was normal chit-chat, and I didn’t think much of it after that.

I lease my school car and the arrangement is that any traffic fines are automatically paid by the lease agent (most lease companies operate this way, I believe) if an infringement is submitted to them. This avoids the fine escalation if you don’t pay within 14 days. Anyway, in January I got a letter from my lease company informing me that they had paid a fine submitted by UKCPS (United Kingdom Car Parking Solutions). I was spitting feathers (this is another one of the things that can create stress in this job) because I hadn’t done anything wrong.

I immediately wrote an appeal to UKCPS. I also wrote to Leeds City Council, because I didn’t realise at the time that the car park in question was a private one, but all this did was teach me what a bunch of dickheads work there. The Council told me it wasn’t their problem (it seems Leeds has a similar bunch of morons in charge that Nottingham does). I pointed out in my letter to UKCPS that they KNEW I had entered the car park, they KNEW I had left it, and they KNEW how much I had paid. Furthermore, since I’d paid by debit card, my bank statement was proof of how much I’d paid. There was no reply after 20 days. I wrote a further harshly-worded letter demanding a response from them within 14 days, which was not forthcoming. I then phoned them on the number that says not to use it for claims, and they said immediately that they’d refund it. I never had to provide proof of the amount I’d paid, and I eventually got my money back in February.

I stress again that UKCPS KNEW I had paid the right amount. Their ANPR system and ticket machine would tell them that clearly. And they asked for no proof when I phoned them, which suggests they were well aware of enough information – either from my letters that they’d ignored, or via said systems – to immediately admit they were wrong. So it doesn’t take a genius to work out what they were up to, particularly when you consider they’d tried the exact same thing with Bob’s wife. I’m updating this at Christmas 2018, which is further evidence: they try this same scam every year.

In fact, if you Google “UKCPS insufficient fee” – which I did when I appealed – you find that the same scam has been pulled on hundreds, if not thousands, of other innocent members of the public. Take a look at this single link – particularly the reviews on the left hand side, where 16 out of 17 reviewers have had the same scam pulled on them and most appear to have coughed up! The hits that Google throws up are mainly the ones where people have actually tried to do something about it. It’s anyone’s guess how many others have blindly paid up thinking they made a mistake. UKCPS is cashing in on the fact that it knows a significant number of people won’t appeal. So they’re either scam artists, or are so incompetent that they make a lot of “mistakes”.

UKCPS are the sort of vermin who, until the Law changed making it illegal, would have happily clamped everyone who parked in their car park. The Law now needs to change to put these thieving parasites out of business for good. You will note that their (crap and amateurish) website graphics imply that they manage car parking for Tesco, Harveys, and Boots, since these are featured.

And Leeds City Council needs a good slap to remind it that it cannot just shake off all responsibility for cowboy operators in their City.


More recently (mid-2016) I had a run of hits on this story. I did a bit more reading and it would appear that UKCPS is becoming less likely to accept an appeal on the first contact. Perhaps their owner – who is still not behind bars where he belongs, based on the false charges his scumbag company has brought against innocent people – is worried that his profits are not increasing as much as he’d like, so he’s ordered the parasites who work for him to put up a defence.

Don’t be put off. UKCPS’ false charge scheme IS a scam, sanctioned by the city councils who allow UKCPS to operate within their boundaries.

If you know you were not guilty, don’t pay – and argue like mad. Often, and hard. Just don’t ignore the charge notice.


Is UKCPS a scam parking operator?

Well, me and my mate’s wife have direct experience of the kind of things they get up to. But take a look at these links:

These are a tiny sample. Try Googling for “UKCPS parking scam” or “UKCPS Ltd parking ticket” and see what you get. There are hundreds and hundreds of people like you who these cretins are trying to intimidate (including disabled people parking in disabled bays that these gutter trash operate). That Responsive link sums it up nicely by pointing out that UKCPS usually backs down at the first appeal – and that’s because they know that they can make money from those who don’t appeal. You don’t need to be a genius to work out if it’s a scam or not.

Are UKCPS fines legitimate?

There is no straight answer to this. In my opinion, they are not – and that explains why anyone appealing to UKCPS, and making sure the appeal is heard (i.e. don’t let them just ignore you) appears to get the fine refunded or overturned rather easily.

UKCPS are scammers, that’s for sure. They seem to operate on the principle that if they issue 100 bogus fines, only a small minority of people are likely to complain and see the complaint through. Even if only one person out of that hundred didn’t appeal, they’re making money. But I suspect that more like 80% of people simply pay up and leave it at that.

If someone ever had the desire and the money to take them to court, I think we’d find out rather quickly just how legitimate these cowboys are.

Should I just ignore the fine?

No, don’t do that. By all means, withhold payment while you contest it, but don’t just ignore it. These scammers walk a very fine line between being legal and illegal, and they know full well what they’re doing. If you ignore it, they’ll likely pass it over to debt collectors, and the amount you owe will go up by hundreds of pounds (you must have seen the Bailiffs programmes on TV).

Just fight the putrid parasites on their own terms.

Is UKCPS a legitimate company?

Unfortunately, yes. There is a big question mark over the legality of their business practices, however. There is a also a big question mark over the role of councils such as Leeds City Council, who are effectively authorising this illegal behaviour – presumably because UKCPS pays them money in order to keep operating. The list of scumbags directors who operate UKCPS are given as:

  • Ms Helen Claire Hilton
  • Ms Lorraine Doyle
  • Mr Gary Deegan (twice)
  • Mr Michael Bullock
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This has made my day. Excellent story on the BBC about how the Met Police are ending chases involving scumbags on motor scooters. Look at their response when they get rammed. No attempt to run off, just shitting themselves. Well done to the Met!

All we need now is for the policy to be extended to everywhere else in the country, and maybe – just maybe – these little pricks might start to wonder if it’s really worth it.

Mind you, if I was going to put any money on it, I suspect the Met will come under pressure to stop doing it, especially if one of the little darlings gets hurt.


Well, that didn’t take long. Less than two hours after that first story, the BBC is now reporting that the Met is under investigation by the IOPC for “three cases involving ‘tactical contact’”.

The IOPC says that one case involves a 17-year old who sustained head injuries in Bexley a year ago. It serves him f***ing right.

Let’s hope the IOPC comes to the same conclusion, and tells him and/or his idiot parents where to go.

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German Traffic PoliceThis made me smile. An 18-year old kid in Germany passed his driving test, then got caught by police with a radar gun doing 60mph in a 30mph zone on his way home (with four of his mates in the car). This happened 49 minutes after his test pass.

He’s got an automatic four-week ban, and will have to take further “expensive” training. He also got two points on his licence, a €200 fine, and his two-year new-driver probationary period has been extended to four.

Plus ça change, eh?

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Hazard Perception Test - CGI still with snowAn email alert from DVSA advises that they are introducing 23 new CGI clips to the Theory Test, which feature adverse weather and lighting conditions.

These are effective immediately for car tests, and will be introduced for the other tests at a later date.

I would assume that the various apps will also include test samples in the near future.

If you follow the link in that email, you can see samples of the clips. I think they look excellent – although I’m not sure I would drive quite so fast as that car in the snow clip is doing (you’d definitely skid in those conditions if you braked hard for a deer).

My only other comment is that I wish we got snow like that when it does snow. My experience is more on the lines of horrible slushy stuff that leaves black crap all over your car. Those clips are very realistic otherwise, though.

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Driving Test SuccessThis post from 2013, but an update is long overdue.

Unless they already have an app, I advise all my pupils that the only thing they need to buy to prepare for their Theory Test is Driving Test Success 4-in1, published by Focus Multimedia (DTS). It is available for both Android and iPhone, and costs £4.99 at the time of writing. Sure, they can buy a book if they want, or use any other service of their choice, but this is the one I recommend.

For many years, DTS was available as a DVD, and I used to bulk buy them from an ADI supply company and sell them on to my pupils at cost (which was much less than the retail price). However, the days of the DVD are behind us and phone apps are almost universal. I’m not sure if they still do a DVD version.

I’m sticking my neck out here, but you can only realistically get access to the entire official revision question bank by paying someone some money – especially if you want a polished and reliable interface. Free apps might contain only a sample of questions from the full bank, or they don’t include the correct up-to-date questions (someone might be using the old question bank). DTS contains every official DVSA practise question in a clean interface, and it also comes with 85 Hazard perception Test (HPT) clips, including the excellent CGI ones. You also get an electronic copy of the Highway Code, and a Road Signs app.

The Theory Test app also has a voiceover feature, and it will read the questions and possible answers out loud to you. Remember that you can choose this option on your actual Theory Test if you need it, so it is a useful feature.

But there is a free version

Yes, and it only contains a small sample of questions and no HPT. Try it, by all means. But don’t think that you will pass if you just run through it a few times. It’s only £4.99 for the full app and HPT clips, so stop pissing around and buy it. The Theory Test costs £23, so risking failing it needlessly is false economy.

This is a true story. Not that long ago I had a pupil who I’d advised to download DTS. He failed his Theory Test several times, and after each one I was asking him how he was doing when he used the app. He assured me he was getting 100% in every test. After the next fail – and I can’t remember how many he had taken up to that point – I remember asking what app he was using. He told me it was DTS, but I asked how much he had paid for it. He replied “nothing. It was free”. I could have killed him – he was getting 100% by being asked the same ten or so questions every time!

Does DTS do voiceover?

Yes. You enable it in the settings, make sure your phone’s media volume is turned on/up, and it will then read out each question and answer automatically as you do tests on it. You can ask it to repeat as necessary.

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Illuminati symbolismA DVSA email alert advises that DVSA is running a trial where they will send text messages to candidates in the run up to their tests offering advice on how to be prepared, not to take their test before they’re ready, and how to stay safe once they’ve passed. The trial will run between now and March 2019.

Not all candidates will receive the texts, as it is a trial. Instructors are advised to reassure pupils who receive such messages that there is no cause for concern. Also, instructors who book tests on their pupils’ behalf might receive the messages instead. I stress again, it is a trial.

Now, there are two ways this can go out here in Instructor Land. One, on my side of the tracks, it seems like a reasonable idea which can’t do any harm, and which in no way interferes with my job. Or two, on the side where all the smack head anarchists live, it is obviously a DVSA conspiracy whose only purpose is to spy on ADIs and deliberately poke their noses into our job.

Let’s see what happens.

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I originally posted this article in October 2015, shortly after I started using PayPal Here to take card payments from pupils. Before then, I’d been using iZettle, but I had an unfortunate experience with them which forced me to find an alternative. Basically, iZettle updated their app and it wouldn’t install on my phone. When I contacted them, they basically told me my phone wasn’t supported – even though it had been up until then. They nearly destroyed my business overnight, and effectively told me “tough”. I was not happy. They came back to me sometime later and apologised for their error – apparently, the app had been given an incorrect filename on Google Play, and that was the cause of the problem – and gave me almost £1,000 of free transactions – but it was too late. In the two weeks it took for them to admit their mistake, I had purchased and started using a PayPal Here card reader.PayPal Here card reader

I’d considered PayPal Here even before iZettle. But at that time, PayPal Here was brand new, and staff were even more inept than iZettle’s, and more or less told me any money I took wouldn’t be accessible to me for 30 days because of a “reserve” that existed on the account I’d set up. I wrote about that at the time. PayPal was easily the better option on paper, but not having access to my money was obviously a major issue, so I went with iZettle.

To this day, I have no idea what the hell was going on with that “reserve” malarkey, but when iZettle went titsup I contacted PayPal again, and in the intervening time they appeared to have recruited  people who knew what they were doing and actually wanted to do it for me.

So, anyway. Armed with a new PayPal Here reader and a reserve-free PayPal account in 2015, I set to work.

Since then, I have taken more than £50,000 in card payments through PayPal Here (I’d also taken a fair bit through iZettle before that). As time has gone by, the number of people paying me by card has increased, and right now I’d say that about 70-80% of pupils pay that way (2018 card takings look like being about 30% higher than in 2017). The rest still use cash (someone block-booked 30 hours of lessons a couple of weeks ago and paid me £700 in notes, which I banked, because it isn’t mine yet), a few use bank transfers (a couple of months ago a new pupil’s father paid me £700 for a block booking this way), and a couple have routinely paid using contactless apps on their phones. I refuse to take cheques – if someone has a cheque book, they have a card, and I can read that instead.

The PayPal Here reader can carry out transactions via contactless, PIN, and swipe (though swipe is not necessary in the UK). Single hour lessons can be paid by contactless (if pupils have them) but anything above £30 has to be by PIN (contactless phone apps depend on the app they’re using, and one pupil easily paid for £50 two-hour lessons contactless this way).

Since I began using it, PayPal has updated the app several times, and it is extremely convenient being able to sign in using my fingerprint these days.

The massive benefit of PayPal over iZettle is that the money from a transaction goes into your PayPal account instantly. When you transfer it from there to your bank account, for all practical purposes that is instant, too (it says it can take “up to 2 hours”, but less than a minute is typical). With iZettle, it took nearly a week – and we’re talking a business week here, so Bank Holidays both here and in Sweden mattered – for money to get into your bank account.

How long do PayPal Here payments take to clear?

For all practical purposes, they’re instant.

When you take a card payment either by chip & PIN or contactless, funds are instantly transferred to your PayPal Here account. You can leave them there, or transfer them to your bank account whenever it suits you – either from the app or from PayPal on your computer.

My only minor gripe is that you have to transfer the money manually – you can’t set it to go straight into your bank account. It’s on my wish list.

How much does the card machine cost?

At the moment (2018), a PayPal Here card reader costs £54.00. They have special offers from time to time, where the machines are cheaper than this, and my backup was purchased when an offer was in place.

How much do they charge per transaction?

It’s 2.75%. For each £25 lesson paid for by card, you “lose” 69p.

Other card reader vendors have lower fees

I’m not saying you must use PayPal. Just be aware that other vendors’ fees are often on a sliding scale (iZettle’s was),  and you only get the lower rates if you take more than a certain amount per month – which for an ADI is often quite high. I triggered iZettle’s lower rate fees a couple of times, but the lower rate only applies to takings above the threshold.

For example, if there is a threshold at takings of £5,000 per month, and you pay 2.75% up to that, and 2.5% above it, then if you take £5,500 in that month, you pay 2.75% on £5,000, and 2.5% on £500. To get any real benefit, you’d need to be taking £10,000 per month or more. Small multi-car driving schools might benefit, but a self-employed ADI wouldn’t.

The charges are a rip off

Fine. Keep taking cash.

You’re not going to get away from transaction charges. A fee of 69p is nothing on a £25 bill. All you have to do is increase your prices slightly and you’ve covered the fee, anyway.

But I can save money if I don’t have to pay transaction fees

As I say. Fine. Keep taking cash. You probably also believe your car isn’t an overhead because you own it (it is), and that if you don’t have to pay a franchiser then you’re better off by the whole franchise fee (you’re not). A card fee is an overhead, that’s all.

I can’t see the point of taking card payments

Fine. Keep taking cash. It does tend to be the older ADI who thinks this way, though.

For me, from the day I first became an instructor, the ability to take card payments was on my wish list. As years went by, having to carry lots of cash around (sometimes, a heck of a lot) and make frequent trips to the bank was becoming a major headache. Bank branches – especially convenient local ones – are an increasingly endangered species, and with parking and lost lesson time, and cheques (some weeks, every pupil would pay by cheque), it was more like an atomic migraine than a headache. There is a business cost associated with that, which is proportional to how often you have to go to pay money in. With cheques especially, I’d only have a cash flow if I went to the bank, since £1,000 of cheques in your wallet is pretty useless. I’d been waiting for something like PayPal Here or iZettle – and there are others – to appear, and got in on the ground floor.

Is it of any benefit to take card payments?

As I said, it has saved me a lot – in monetary terms, and in terms of my sanity.

But another benefit is less tangible. Some pupils might be impressed if you pull out an iPad and have a glitzy demonstration video to get some point across. Believe me, many more are impressed when you tell them you can take card payments – even more so when you actually take a card payment from them. This might become less true in the future as the dinosaurs gradually die out, but right now it works in a highly positive way.

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