A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

Flat EarthIt was announced today that from 16 August, those who have had both COVID vaccinations will not have to isolate if they come into contact with an infected person.

I notice that social media is still fairly overflowing with flat-earthers in the allegedly ‘professional’ ADI community proudly trumpeting that they’ve never worn a mask, and nor have any of their pupils, so the change in rules in a couple of weeks about masks won’t affect them. In case you forgot, let me just remind you what I’ve said before. That they are complete twats.

I wonder how these same specimens will do – due to their similarly stupid conspiracist views about the vaccines and whether COVID even exists – if they subsequently are supposed to isolate after 16 August? If they don’t, they’ll be breaking the Law, and if they insist on bigging themselves up on social media every five minutes (as is their wont), the Registrar might take a very dim view of their status on the Register. Frankly, if they did fall foul of that, my feelings would be along the lines of ‘serves you right, and good riddance’. After all, they are almost certainly a part of the reason all of this has gone on quite as long as it has (they’ve helped spread it, for a start).

Strong evidence is mounting that the vaccines are preventing deaths. Last year, with three noticeable spikes in infections, the death rate increased approximately 3-4 weeks later. That was when we had no vaccines. However, during this latest spike in infections, the level at which an increase in deaths subsequently occurred last year was surpassed right at the start of June. And death rates have not risen significantly at all after five weeks (fingers crossed they don’t, even though today’s figure is a little worrying). The only difference is the vaccine.

As for masks, I find it incredible that there are still people out there who believe the mask protects the wearer. It doesn’t, and never has. The mask is for the benefit of others.

I haven’t decided yet how I am going to deal with masks when the requirement for them ends in a couple of weeks. I am doubly-vaccinated and careful, of course. However, my pupils collectively (on average) go to school and go out and get pissed whenever they feel like it. Some of them have flat earth mothers who ‘don’t believe in’ the virus, or who are anti-vax/zero knowledge. So the risk to me is still there. I might decide that I still need protecting from them – it depends on how the numbers go over the next fortnight.

One asked me today what I would do. I explained what I just said, and she agreed. And another one later also fully understood. Any who don’t can find another instructor.

Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow

Share

Ogle Road Mini-roundabout in SouthamptonA reader contacted me recently and asked for advice on a particular mini-roundabout. It’s shown in the photo above and – when there aren’t roadworks in place – there are two lanes on the approach.

Have you ever seen such a stupidly misplaced circle?

This is in Southampton. There is absolutely no way anyone in the right-hand lane can treat it as a roundabout and make any attempt to go around it the correct way without risking a scrape with someone in the left-hand lane not swinging out wide. The only really safe way is to effectively go round it the wrong way (which is probably what most people do).

I thought some of ours were badly painted, but this one takes the biscuit. It needs fixing as soon as possible. There is no way the single lane on the opposite side needs such width – if it does, then the kerb needs altering that side to create a pocket. That circle should be slightly to the right of centre of the right hand lane for the car park.

Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow

Share

British pound coinsInstructors have recently been off on one again about how much you can earn as an ADI.

This time, the argument revolves around the latest advertising strapline from a training company that you can ‘earn £50k and work hours to suit yourself’ as an ADI.

I have explained how a driving instructor’s finances work many times. In a nutshell, your earnings (gross profit or wages) are however much money you take for lessons in a whole year (your turnover) minus however much money you spend in order to deliver them (your expenses or overheads) in the same period. That’s it. No other combination of kiddie maths has any relevance whatsoever. You do not take tax and National Insurance off, since those are likely to be different for everyone.

As a rough guide, the expenses figure for a typical ADI is likely to be around £10,000 per year. The real problem is that many instructors seem to spend the better part of their time trying to convince themselves and everyone else that their expense figure is much lower – usually to try and ‘prove’ that franchises are bad. But they are either lying, or just extremely clueless. However, if we ignore the lies, in order to earn an actual wage of £50,000, you would need to have a turnover of £60,000 per year. If you charge £30 per hour for lessons, that would equate to 60,000 divided by 30 = 2,000 hours of lessons per year.

And 2,000 divided by 52 weeks = 38.5 hours of lessons per week.

If you charge £25 per hour, it would equate to 2,400 hours a year, and 46 hours a week.

Reality Check #1

If you can charge £30 or more per hour, that’s fine. However, the vast majority of ADIs cannot. Most are in the £25-£30 range, and some can barely get away with that. A few – very few – instructors in wealthy southern areas can apparently charge up to £40, but they are not the norm by any stretch of the imagination. Christ! I am in a relatively affluent zone, and my hourly rate is £30 (the high end), but I am not so stupid as to believe people in Liverpool or Birmingham could charge that, anymore than I am stupid enough to believe I would survive if I started quoting £40.

I actually wrote about this just over a month ago when the same argument kicked off in a slightly different guise. In spite of the usual nonsense being claimed across social media, only a handful areas can command hourly rates above £30. And even those are often heavily discounted by block bookings to well under £30.

Those who are fortunate enough to be able to charge above-average hourly rates seem to think everyone else could, too. That is complete bollocks. If everyone in an area is charging £25, if you up your prices to £35-£40 then you may as well give up this job now. I didn’t work out a ‘national average’ from the survey I did in the link, above, but looking at the figures it is clearly below £30 and nowhere near £40.

In the example calculation I gave, for every £1 below £30 you charge, you need to work an average of approximately one extra hour per week on top of the 38.5 needed for a £30 lesson rate in order to turn over £60,000.

Reality Check #2

You cannot rely on getting 38.5 hours of work every week – and that is true no matter how much you charge. Anywhere near 40 hours is a nice-to-have, but it isn’t a take-it-whenever-you-want-it option. This job doesn’t work like that.

If you target 38.5 hours hard, weekly variation in your diary means that sometime you’ll only manage maybe 25-30 hours, whereas other might be as high as 50. And 50s are a killer, believe me. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

If you are normal, you will take a holiday at some point, and you will want Christmas off. Even if you consider yourself to be in Superman territory and forego holidays, and work over Christmas, you will not get 38.5 hours during holiday seasons, because pupils will want the time off. Assuming you take 4 weeks off in the year (and that includes if it is spread out over the whole year into an hour here and and hour there), that will mean you have to achieve an average of nearly 42 hours every other week if you charge £30. If you’re charging £28, you’d be aiming for 45 hour weeks. And if you’re charging £25, you’ll be targeting close to 50 hours a week.

Reality Check #3

Shit happens. Learners get ill. You get ill. Learners have family problems. You have family problems. So learners cancel lessons – as you may have to. Every cancelled lesson you don’t fill – and you won’t be able to fill all of them – will have to be added on somewhere if you want to clear £60k. So the average weekly hours you need to work will have to rise still further.

Reality Check #4

Doing 38.5 hours a week in an office is not the same as delivering 38.5 hours of driving lessons (with travelling time in between). In an office, you’re in there for about 7.5 hours a day Monday-Friday. As an instructor, delivering 7.5 hours of lessons Monday-Friday would keep you away from home for 10 or more hours a day. An office job is not the same as being a driving instructor. With knobs on. And then some.

Reality Check #5

There is absolutely no way you can work a 38.5 hour week – every week – as an instructor without running the risk of making yourself ill, or at least becoming tired and risking delivering below-par lessons. As I said, I’ve done it, and it’s fine for a while – until it catches up with you. I was aiming for 40 hours, and I was sometimes hitting 50. But after six months I noticed I was getting tired, and it was getting in the way of my life outside work (my music concerts, etc). I deliberately pulled back. If you have a family to look after, you have no chance.

Being an ADI is inherently a lazy job – you’re sitting down all day. Don’t kid yourself that walking to the bank at lunchtime is ‘exercise’. It’s better than nothing, but it isn’t much after all is said and done. But if you’re desperately trying to get around 40 hours, you simply won’t have the time to exercise. Even if you try, you’ll be rushed and stressed – which cancels out the ‘exercise’ part.

When I do a 40+ week now, it is just for a short time, and not by design. And I schedule an hour and a half in the gym three times a week regardless. It’s in my diary, and is not bookable for lessons. Frankly – and arguably – I should have done that when I started out in this job. At the very least, I should have started sooner. The COVID lockdown made the decision for me – and I am grateful to it for that.

Reality Check #6

Many things in life are hypothetically possible, but that does not mean they are also practically probable. I mean, if you worked 18 hour days and charged £40 an hour, all your pupils lived within 15 minutes of each other, and you didn’t take holidays, then you’d turn over something like £200k a year, leaving you with a wage of around £180k. I can assure you that you won’t find (m)any ADIs who have achieved that just by giving normal lessons, and even fewer who do it year after year.

There’s no absolute physical barrier to doing that, of course. It’s not illegal, and in terms of time and sleep it doesn’t break any universal laws of physics. Hence, it is hypothetically possible. But there are so many other much more likely factors involved that is is virtually impossible in the practical sense. You will get tired. Even exhausted. And that really would impact your health. Trust me, it would.

The situation with 40 hours weeks is the same. It just takes a bit longer to hit that ceiling.

Reality Check #7

You are not ‘working hours to suit yourself’ in the sense the advertising strapline intends it if you are doing anywhere near 40 hour weeks. The purpose of that claim is to imply you can have weekends and/or evenings off. It doesn’t tell you that if you do reduce your hours to fit your family or social life, your earnings take a hit, and that the more you ‘suit yourself’ the less you will earn relative to that ‘up to £50,000’ part.

A 40 hour week for an ADI is not the same as one for an office worker is. An office worker is in the office for 40 hours, and does whatever it is they do, much of which is office chit-chat. They go home at 5pm, and switch off until 9am the next day. They are off at weekends. If they don’t finish something one day, they pick up where they left off the next day.

A 40 hour week to an ADI means 40 hours of lessons. If the ADI works seven days a week, that means he or she will have to do 6 hours of lessons each day (or 8 hours if they keep weekends free). Some instructors claim all their pupils live near each other, so there is negligible travelling time involved between lessons. In my case, I allow between 30 minutes and 60 minutes to allow for traffic hold-ups and other issues. Sometimes, consecutive lessons will start from the same address, so there really is no travelling time – but it still takes up to 15 minutes to switch over unless I am being a total arsehole with a stopwatch to time lessons. Most lessons do require travelling time, and I am pretty certain that this applies to the vast majority.

If you have a 30 minute travel time, 6 hours of lessons will keep you out of the house for more than 9 hours (a 66-hour week). Doing 8 hour days will keep you out for over 12 hours (a 62-hour week). Yes, I know that looks odd, but it’s correct – just think ‘60 hour week’.

You would simply not have any appreciable time off with a 60 hour week.


But my overheads are less than £10,000 per year

This crops up time and again. It is invariably driven by the belief that since a certain ADI owns their car outright (and it is possibly quite old) it costs ‘nothing’. It is completely false to say this.

Even the most clapped-out ten-year old banger you have owned from new has a residual annual cost of at least £1,000-£1,500, and the vast majority of ADIs are not driving ten-year old clapped out bangers. However much you originally spent to buy the car has to be spread across the period of time you own it. If you paid £10,000 for it ten years ago, it is costing £1,000 a year to keep (just under £20 a week). And it has to be replaced sooner or later.

Most ADIs doing 40 hour weeks will have newer cars than that. They will be spending at least £5,000 a year on fuel (probably more), and at least £4,000 on their car (probably more). Those spending less because they have a clapped-out 10 -year old Corsa are not typical.

I’m turning work away

Yes. You are right now as a result of COVID. But you almost certainly weren’t before it hit in early 2020. And it will return to the same level at some point. The current demand is not a reliable indicator of the job. And that assumes no more lockdowns. It is utter stupidity to recommend this career based on the current demand for lessons.

I can charge £35 an hour

Good for you. But Liverpool (for example) is not the same as Hampshire (for example), and it cannot charge those prices. If you are suggesting Liverpool ADIs charge Hampshire prices then you are an idiot. They could not do it, and would go out of business if they tried.

40 hour weeks are no problem

For the vast majority – the vast majority – they would be if they were doing them all the time. I know this from experience – 40 hours is no problem to start with, but it catches up on you if it stays that way. And that’s the same for you, too. You just don’t realise it.

Once you learn to understand, the best part of being an ADI is that weekly hours fluctuate. Some weeks might be 40+ hours, but the ones that fall to 25 save your health.

In reality, you simply cannot work unlimited hours without it leading to problems. Not understanding or realising this is a problem in itself – especially if you like offering ‘advice’ to others.

Me, me, me – buy my coaching course

From what I have seen, a significant number of those advising Liverpool and Birmingham instructors that they can charge Hampshire prices also sell coaching courses. They’re the kind of people who see a sale in every question any ADI has, but since they are ADIs themselves, they’re not good sales people. They’re just ADIs who think they are good sales people.

You cannot raise your prices if you’re in an average £25 area to £35 overnight and expect to stay in business. You absolutely cannot.

Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow

Share

DoogleBooks LCD drawing and writing padEver since I became an instructor I’ve managed to get through a lot of notebooks. Anyone who does this job will know that you have to sketch a lot of things when you’re explaining stuff to pupils.

I started off buying notepads, but realised that was quite expensive – especially if you wanted the larger sizes. Then I turned to making my own, by ring-binding punched copier paper and using that. I discovered that normal two- or four-hole punching was no good, because the sheets could easily get torn with all the handling and jolting they get in the car, so I turned to spiral binding. That served me well for many years – but I was starting to feel my conscience nagging me over the amount of paper I was getting through.

A few years ago now, I tried using my laptop. It’s a Surface Book Pro with a detachable screen so it can be used as a tablet. With a simple sketching app, it was fine – but there was still the hassle of getting it out, booting up, then detaching the screen, then reattaching it and powering down when I’d finished. There’s no way I wanted my Surface loose in the car while it was moving and quite frankly – in some of the places you have to cover – waving a two and a half grand laptop around is not the smartest thing you can do.

Then I had one of my thoughts. It occurred to me that there must be something out there that could just be used as a drawing board, but which didn’t involve dirty rags covered in black marker from the dry-wipe boards some people use. That was when I came across LCD drawing pads. At the time I first tried them, they were usually 6 inch or 9 inch screens. I found a 10 inch one and it worked great. I still have it, in fact. But a couple of years ago, while still looking for something better, I came across DoogleBooks.

Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow
The main attraction at the time was its size – it’s a 12 inch screen, so about the size of a piece of A4 paper. It also boasted an erase function (you can erase parts of your diagram with an eraser on the stylus) and a bright screen – my original cheap import was quite faint, though still perfectly usable. It comes with a padded protective case and a separate eraser, a lanyard for the stylus, and some spare tips, and a few bits and pieces for kids rather than adults (and which I never did figure out what they were for).

It is powered by – believe it or not – a standard watch battery, which lasts ages (I’m still on the original after nearly two years). That’s because the device is not illuminated in any way, so doesn’t draw much power.

You ‘turn it on’ with a very small switch on the back, though this is a ‘lock’ function rather than a power button as far as I can tell. The stylus clips neatly into the frame (come to think of it, it was because the clip on the cheap one I bought snapped which got me looking again) and has a nice long lanyard so you don’t lose it.

Once powered/unlocked you just write or draw whatever you want. The width of the stroke is governed by pressure and angle of the stylus nib, so you can get thin lines or thicker ones as needed. If you want to start again, you just press the button on the left in the picture above with the trash can symbol twice, and the screen is cleared. The double-press is a safety feature so you don’t erase by mistake – see the next bit for why.

If you make a minor mistake, you can erase just part of whatever you’ve drawn or written. Press the other button until the red LED comes on, then use either the small rubber eraser on the other end of the stylus, or the larger rectangular one which is supplied – just like you would with pencil on paper. Once you’ve erased whatever you want, press that button again until the LED goes out and you’re back in drawing mode. Due to the proximity of the buttons, you can see why complete erase needs two presses. This selective erase does work, but be aware it does leave slight smudges behind – again, like you’d get with a pencil on paper.

It is not a computer. Anything you write or draw exists only on the screen for as long as it’s there. You cannot transfer it to a computer, since it is not a digital image – it is exactly the same as a pen or pencil drawing. If you write ‘CAT’, that’s just some shapes and lines – the tablet doesn’t know what you’ve written. If you erase something by mistake, it’s gone forever – there’s no undo feature. If you want to save anything, you can take a picture – pupils often take a shot of things I draw so they can look at them later, just like they used to when I drew on paper.

The device I used previously had a much fainter screen, and this meant that on evening lessons it could be difficult to see what you’d drawn. As I explained earlier, there are no backlights on these things, and they are literally the same as pen and paper – you can’t see drawings made using those in the dark, either. However, DoogleBooks has a much brighter screen contrast and you can see your drawings clearly with the interior light on. The photo above was taken at dusk with no lighting, and that’s the contrast you get.

It’s been one of the best things I’ve bought in a long while. I actually have a spare in reserve, which came about because the original Amazon order never arrived, and the owner of the British company which sells them sent out a replacement. Several weeks later, the other one arrived – God knows where it had been – and when I offered to return it the owner said to keep it as a gesture of goodwill!

They now do several different models, mainly aimed at kids, with different screen colours. And whereas the only frame colour available when I bought mine was cyan (which is actually my least favourite colour in the whole world), they now do them in a range of colours. Just be careful to choose the ‘’partial erasure’ one unless you want to save a couple of quid and lose a bit of functionality.

It’s infinitely better than using a dry wipe board. There’s no mess, and it is ready to use the instant you take it out of its case. Unlike dry wipe systems, when you erase, you erase – no ink getting stuck in scratches, which always happens with dry wipe markers. And the stylus lasts oodles longer than a marker pen. And there’s no thick pads of drawings to dispose of when you’ve filled up a notepad.

Share

Many moons ago, I wrote an article coining the term ‘the Audi lane’. It went semi-viral at the time. Here is a perfect demonstration (for Audi drivers) of how to use it.

I was on my way to pick up a pupil and was driving along Wilford Lane. The speed limit is 30mph there, but as we all know, speed limits are only ‘advisory’ for Audi drivers. The black Audi (registration number SAZ 2723) was in the right-hand lane (which is a right-turn only lane) at significantly more than 30mph. And it was raining heavily.

He (or she) stayed in the right-hand lane on the roundabout, and then – without any use of indicators whatsoever – turned left off the roundabout into the estate (which is straight ahead, and requires the left-hand lane on approach if you’re doing it even close to properly).

This is absolutely the correct way to use lanes and roundabouts if you are an Audi driver.

Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow

Share

PayPal Here card readerThis article was originally written in 2015. Prior to PayPal Here, I had used iZettle, but I had an unfortunate experience with them.

PayPal bought iZettle a few years ago. The current situation in the UK is a little confusing. In the USA, you can buy an updated version of the PayPal Here machine I am currently using. In the UK right now, PayPal directs you straight to iZettle readers.

Note that the following article is specifically aimed at card readers per se, and not with the issues I experienced with iZettle when it was an independent company.

Since 2015, I have taken close to £80,000 in card payments through PayPal Here (it’d be closer to £100,000 if not for COVID). As time has gone by, the number of people paying me by card has increased dramatically, and right now well over 90% of pupils pay that way. The rest still use cash – and very occasionally,  someone will hand over up to £700 in notes to pay for a block of lessons). One or two use bank transfer.

I do not take cheques, and haven’t done since 2015 – if someone can write a cheque, they have a bank card I can read in the car. That means I get paid immediately, and there’s no risk of a bouncing piece of paper. These days, the only real reason for anyone to want to use a cheque is to defer payment, and I don’t play that game anymore (it’s too risky). The other problem with cheques is that I have to go to the bank to gain credit from them – which is also true of cash if I accrue too much – or I have to piss around with photographs and smartphone apps, which I also don’t want to do.

The PayPal Here card reader can carry out transactions via contactless, PIN, and swipe (though swipe is not necessary in the UK). All you need to do is buy the card reader outright, download the app, connect the two through Bluetooth, and you’re set to go. With PayPal, the money is in your account within  seconds.

Although attitudes have improved since 2015, there are still instructors who – for various reasons often associated with avoiding HMRC scrutiny – are against taking card payments, prefer cash, and who then try to justify their position with lies and misinformation based on their own ulterior motives.

For me, being able to take card payments impresses the majority of pupils. It’s like you are performing a magic trick in front of them, and they marvel at the machine when they use it. Taking card payments also ensures you being paid for the lesson you just gave. I mean, let’s face it – the only two business-related things a decent and respectable ADI needs to worry about when dealing with the financial side of their services is happy pupils, and being paid on time.

BACS is better

BACS is a viable way of taking money, but it isn’t ‘better’. It relies on the pupil ‘remembering’ to do it, and often needs at least one chase to make sure it happens. If it doesn’t, you’re then into either more chasing, or cancelling the lesson if you insist on advance payment (so you lose money anyway).

I recently (June 2021) gave refresher training to someone who passed with me before the pandemic. On one lesson, he paid me in cash (which is now in my wallet, and will need a bank visit at some point). On the second, he wanted to pay by BACS, so I gave him my bank details via text message while he was still in the car (minor hassle #1). One day later the money had not arrived, so I texted him (minor hassle #2). He replied that he had sent it (the money miraculously appeared while I was replying (minor hassle #3) that he must not have ‘fast transfer’ on his account). I immediately texted him that I had got it (minor hassle #4). Most likely is that he sent the money when I chased him, and if I hadn’t, he wouldn’t have sent it until I did. If he’d have paid by card, it would have been done and dusted before he left the car.

BACS would be better if you could trust everyone. If you want to trust up to 20-30 pupils at any one time, that’s your business. But you are deluding yourself if you believe you won’t have problems trusting pupils to use BACS, since the ball is always in their court at some point.

How long do PayPal Here payments take to clear?

For all practical purposes, they’re instant. They appear in your PayPal account within seconds. And when you transfer your PayPal balance to your bank account, that also occurs within seconds. My only minor gripe is that you have to transfer the money from PayPal to your bank manually.

How much does the card machine cost?

Right now, with PayPal, I’m not sure. PayPal is currently in a confused mess involving iZettle. When I used iZettle (before PayPal acquired it), it could take up to a week to receive money into your account. With PayPal Here it is in within seconds. I would like to think that the same is now true of anything to do with iZettle, but I cannot be sure.

Is there a monthly rental fee?

No. You buy the card reader outright and only pay a fee per transaction.

How much do they charge per transaction?

With PayPal it’s 2.75%. For each £29 lesson paid for by card, you ‘lose’ 80p. iZettle charged 1.75% per transaction when I used it. I am not sure how it works now with the confused mess PayPal has created, and been slow to clarify given that it purchased iZettle in 2018.

PayPal takes 23p for each £1 you take

NO. THEY. DON’T. YOU. IDIOT.

I saw some clown state this on social media, and it’s bollocks. On a £29 lesson, the fee is 80p.

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 when I used them),  and you only get the lower rates on anything above the threshold they set. When I was with iZettle, virtually all my lessons were charged at the highest fee rate. I triggered iZettle’s lower rate fees a couple of times, but the lower rate only applies to takings above the threshold, and for driving instructors that is not going to happen regularly.

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.

What other alternatives are there?

SumUp is an alternative card reader provider, and has a fee of 1.69% per transaction. It takes 2-3 business days to get your money. A reader costs about £30.

Another alternative is Square, with a transaction fee of 1.75%. Apparently, money goes into in your account immediately. A reader costs less than £20.

I use PayPal because I like PayPal. However, if they don’t sort out the ridiculous confusion over whether they are now PayPal Here or iZettle, and clarify that iZettle’s pathetic system I had previous experience of is gone, then if all three of my PayPal Here readers were ever to fail, I would switch to someone else. I need to be able to take card payments, and I want the money immediately. That’s all there is.

Some vendors have no fees

And they keep your money longer before paying it to you to get their cut. There’s no free ride when it comes to clearing card payments. Someone somewhere has got to pay for it. And let’s face facts: it’s going to be you in the end.

The charges are a rip off

Fine. Keep taking cash and cheques, and pretend it doesn’t cost you anything to have to go to the bank to pay it in, or chase anything that bounces.

I can charge a ‘transaction fee’ to cover charges

No you can’t. It’s illegal. Just price yourself so you can cover the transaction fees you pay overall from your income, and stop trying to forecast it to the nearest fraction of a penny.

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 an overhead, even if it is 20 years old), and that if you don’t have to pay a franchiser then you’re better off by the whole franchise fee (you’re not, because you still pay overheads, even if you don’t realise it). A card transaction fee is an overhead, that’s all.

I can’t see the point of taking card payments

Fine. Keep taking cash. This is how older or less clued up ADIs think, though.

What about cheques?

What about them? No one has attempted to pay me by cheque for at least 6 years now. Even before that, a cheque was often a way of paying for a lesson before they ‘got paid on Friday’ because they knew it would be at least a week before it was requested from their account. If someone can write cheques, they have a cheque guarantee card, and that has a chip & pin on it these days. If they use the card with my reader, I get paid instantly. If they use a cheque, I have to piss around getting it to the bank, and then hope their account will cover it when it gets requested.

I can take pupils to a cashpoint

Good for you. I’m sure they absolutely adore paying for a driving lesson which – in part – involves stopping to withdraw money every week. For me, my card machine is the cashpoint. In fact, on a couple of occasions, I have avoided having to go to a cashpoint because the pupil needed it for personal reasons nothing to do with the lesson, and handed them cash out of my wallet in return for a card transaction. It helped me avoid a bank trip, and the pupils were extremely impressed.

Is it of any benefit to take card payments?

It has saved me a lot, both in monetary terms, and in terms of my sanity trying to find a parking space near the bank or standing in a queue while stupid people take tens of minutes of the one cashiers’ time at my Halifax branch.

Another benefit is less tangible. Pupils are often impressed if you pull out an iPad and have a glitzy demonstration video to get some point across, for example. It’s exactly the same when you tell them you can take card payments.

Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow

Share

Logic For DummiesI only wrote this at the beginning of May, but it’s already worth an update.

At the time when I first published it, a lot of instructors were complaining about the waiting time for driving tests. Several of my own had had rearranged tests assigned which were in June-August. I managed to book another at Watnall for July, but since then there has been nothing.

As I write this update, the online booking service goes as far as 14 November, and there is not a single available test at any of the three Nottingham test centres, and it has been like that for weeks now. That’s a five and half month wait at the very least – which is already an increase of a couple of months compared to what it was in March (when I booked the Watnall test, there were a lot available, and July was just over four months away). I warned it would get worse, but I don’t think we’ve seen just how much worse yet.

That’s because there is another likely issue that ADIs haven’t cottoned on to. At the moment, most of those booking their tests were pretty much test-ready last March (or certainly, at the end of September/October 2020), and it is mainly they who are taking booking slots right now. But the thousands of new learners who have only recently started lessons are all going to become test-ready.

I might end up being wrong, but logically we will end up with all those new learners wanting to be booking tests at roughly the same time, and certainly over roughly the same period of time. My guess (prediction) is that that is going to send the waiting time through the roof. And don’t forget that this is on top of all those who have failed their rearranged tests since for whatever reasons. Heck, the pass rate will still be about 50:50 at best, so they’re going to have to book further re-tests.

I had one of those ‘whatever reasons’ recently. His rearranged test had been set for June, but he got a cancellation for the following week sometime in April and went in his own car. He’d only done six hours with me last October, but was doing a lot of private practice with his mum. He failed, and was initially looking at September for his next test – though he got anther cancellation, this time for July. I’d warned him about cancellations likely being short notice, too, but he wouldn’t listen.

DVSA has put on extra tests and examiners, and that will obviously help a little. But they would need hundreds of tests and examiners to manage what I believe is going to happen in a few months time.

Ironically, instructors desperate to fill their diaries to overflowing are making it potentially worse – for themselves, as well as everyone else. They are rushing pupils through for their own financial benefit, but tests are virtually impossible to get and are typically nearly six months away if you manage one. Many ADIs are moaning about pupils and parents asking if they can book the test after the first lesson, and refusing to do it. What happens when those pupils reach test standard and then have a huge wait ahead of them for the test you eventually allowed them to book? They won’t be at all happy.

I am trying to plan ahead. I am advising even new starters with no experience to get their theory test done as soon as possible, and then we will book their practical test no matter what (if we can find one), because six months or more is plenty of time to learn how to drive for most people. I stress they will have to move it if they aren’t ready, and we are not going to pick a cancellation date if it is less than three months away. I am trying to help them make the best out of a bad situation. I have also made it absolutely clear that if they are near to test standard and their test is still months away, we will cut right back or even stop lessons altogether so they don’t spend more money than necessary.

Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow

Share

The blog article about How to do Roundabouts remains popular (and, judging from feedback I receive, very useful to many). One question which crops up again and again is to do with positioning on roundabouts. At the time I wrote this original article, it was being fuelled by nonsense from IAM, and and readily picked up by ADIs who have ideas above their station.The Highway Code roundabouts image

The Highway Code shows this picture (above) and the accompanying text says:

Rule 186

Signals and position. When taking the first exit to the left, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise

  • signal left and approach in the left-hand lane
  • keep to the left on the roundabout and continue signalling left to leave.When taking an exit to the right or going full circle, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
  • signal right and approach in the right-hand lane
  • keep to the right on the roundabout until you need to change lanes to exit the roundabout
  • signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.When taking any intermediate exit, unless signs or markings indicate otherwise
  • select the appropriate lane on approach to and on the roundabout
  • you should not normally need to signal on approach
  • stay in this lane until you need to alter course to exit the roundabout
  • signal left after you have passed the exit before the one you want.When there are more than three lanes at the entrance to a roundabout, use the most appropriate lane on approach and through it.

The underlining is mine, for emphasis. The Highway Code – both image and text – is crystal clear about staying in lane on roundabouts. It says nothing about ‘straight-lining’ or advanced (imagined or otherwise) police pursuit techniques. That’s because 99.9% of drivers shouldn’t be trying those things on normal British roads (and I include every single member of IAM in that 99.9%).

Then we come to Driving: The Essential Skills (TES, latest edition). This is effectively the syllabus that all driving instructors should be teaching in accordance with, with no exceptions that I can immediately think of. It says:

Procedure when entering/leaving a roundabout

Adopt the following procedure unless road signs or markings indicate otherwise.

Going left

  • Indicate left as you approach.
  • Approach in the left-hand lane.
  • Keep to that lane on the roundabout.
  • Maintain a left turn signal through the roundabout.

Going ahead

  • No signal necessary on approach.
  • Approach in the left-hand lane. If you can’t use the left-hand lane (because, for example, it’s blocked), use the lane next to it.
  • Keep to the selected lane on the roundabout.
  • Check your mirrors, especially the nearside exterior mirror.
  • Indicate left after you’ve passed the exit just before the one you intend to take.

Going right or full-circle

  • Indicate right as you approach.
  • Approach in the right-hand lane
  • Keep to that lane and maintain the signal on the roundabout.
  • Check your mirrors, especially the nearside exterior mirror.
  • Indicate left after you’ve passed the exit just before the one you intend to take.

Again, the underlining is mine, for emphasis. TES is also crystal clear about what is expected of drivers using roundabouts. It also uses the same image found in the Highway Code.

Even if you open a copy of ‘Roadcraft – The Police Driver’s Handbook’ you will not find any explicit recommendation that this procedure is to be ignored and replaced by ‘straight-lining’. It’s only when you start searching various ‘advanced driving’ forums (where people have names like ‘Super Scooby’ as tribute to the fact that they drive a Subaru pratmobile) that the concept of ‘straight-lining’ roundabouts rears its head. The general attitude of the average piston head-cum-IAM-member is basically this (my translation):

Straight-lining is not recommended by any authority, and you will not find it written down anywhere. The police recommend using lane discipline at all times except when on an emergency call. HOWEVER… because we class ourselves as advanced drivers, if WE feel it is safe to straight-line a roundabout then that’s perfectly OK.

Seriously, that is exactly what it boils down to. At the time I first wrote this, IAM was simply up to one of its periodic self-promotion exercises.

Slide
Slide
Slide
previous arrow
next arrow
Is it OK to straight-line a roundabout?

If there are marked lanes, you should use the marked lanes! You have absolutely no reason to do it any other way, since following the lanes will be the safest line through – that’s why they’re there. You have no need whatsoever to gain a fraction of a second advantage by ‘straight-lining’ as opposed to following the lanes. At best, you will manage to overtake a couple of other drivers who will then laugh at you when they catch up at the next set of lights. And the set after. And so on.

If the roundabout itself is unmarked, then you should use implied lane markings as suggested in the Highway Code diagram shown above. For example, if you have a two-lane dual carriageway feeding a roundabout – and there are no lane markings suggesting otherwise – then that implies that the roundabout also has two lanes. Implied markings extend to most roundabouts where two cars can proceed on to them at the same time, even if there is only a single marked lane on approach. It also applies to most of those which are wide enough to accommodate two cars side by side. The implied markings are governed by the widest feed road (i.e. it doesn’t matter if you’re entering from a single-track road, if the roundabout also has a six-lane dual carriageway feeding it, then it will have six lanes at some point!)

Will I fail my test if I straight-line a roundabout?

If it is clearly marked with lanes and you go careering across several or them and then back over again, yes. If a lane is clearly marked A60, for example, and another A52, if you attempt to take either the A60 or the A52 using the wrong lane you will be nailed for it. And you deserve to be.

If the lanes are implied then examiners often use a little common sense. Remember that learners and new drivers are, by definition, not experienced. For some, even driving in a straight line and checking their mirrors at the same time can be a major challenge, and although most learners are not quite that bad (though they do exist), they are far from being perfect drivers and their awareness skills are not fully formed. Therefore, if a learner on test doesn’t stay in lane – whether marked or implied – on a roundabout, almost without exception it is because they didn’t realise they were doing it and it is a serious error. This is especially true if there’s another road user there, and the examiners will mark it accordingly.

I have listened in on several test debriefs where someone has failed for doing precisely this, and the explanation has gone roughly as follows:

You approached the [implied markings] roundabout in the left-hand lane [of a two-lane dual carriageway]. As you moved on to it, you moved across towards the centre – which is OK – but you didn’t check your mirror to see if there was anyone coming up behind or in your blind spot. So that’s why I’ve had to fail you.

Personally, I hate this explanation, because it implies that the driver did it on purpose and just didn’t check. But I know they didn’t have a clue what he was talking about (I had to show one of them the dashcam footage on at least one occasion so they understood both where and what had happened). It was lazy positioning and no road markings – not intentional ‘straight-lining’.

It would be far simpler (and safer) just to learn to bloody stay in lane and keep out of harm’s way.

One final point. You might get away with lazy positioning once or twice if you’re lucky. Keep doing it and you will be marked down, because it is a fault.

Where can I read up on straight-lining?

You can’t – not unless you just want inaccurate and unofficial nonsense from middle-aged boy racers. The whole concept of ‘straight-lining’ is completely absent from any authoritative published material. DVSA expects good lane discipline on roundabouts.

I was taught to straight-line in the police/military

The only real purpose for ‘straight-lining’ is to gain advantage – either getting past someone, or saving fractions of a second. For the police on a call, that makes sense. I’m not convinced on the reasons for the military teaching it unless it, too, was for pursuit or reasons of timing (or possibly so the cargo doesn’t tip over). There is absolutely no reason for a normal driver (even if they are an ADI) doing it except to show off or be different.

I teach my pupils to straight-line if it’s safe

Then you’re not teaching them properly, because it isn’t what DVSA is expecting you to do. You are expected to teach them lane discipline, not some smart-arsed ideas from an online driving group that thinks it is ‘advanced’.

Learners (and new drivers) do not have the experience to be able to reliably check that it is safe to ‘straight-line’ and deal with everything else that might be going on. If they get it wrong when they’re out on their own it would be a disaster. Many of them can’t follow lanes because they don’t even know the lanes are there, and they should be taught how to do it properly first. When they’ve passed, it’s then up to them whether or not they turn into smart-arse know-it-alls, but they shouldn’t be taught to be smart-arse know-it-alls when they don’t even know the basics.

Straight-lining is an advanced driving skill that it is useful for learners to know

No it isn’t. It’s only an ‘advanced skill’ to a small number of anoraks, and apart from making the statement ‘look what a prat I am’ it serves absolutely no useful purpose for normal drivers. It is used to overtake where you shouldn’t, or to gain pointless milliseconds that are lost at the next set of traffic lights.

On a larger roundabout, your road position is likely to be misleading if you’re ‘straight-lining’, and that means others could enter it as you swerve back over. The police get away with it because they have a siren and flashing blue lights – and even they occasionally have accidents because of it.

Learners should be taught to slow down and check properly at roundabouts, not to take risks.

How would the examiner view straight-lining?

It depends on the examiner. In the example I gave above, they often seem to assume it was deliberate but without the mirror checks. However, I know full well that it was because they hadn’t got a clue that there were lane positions to follow. On the other hand, I am pretty certain that if the roundabout had clearly marked and signed lanes, attempting to ‘straight-line’ one of those is not going to be seen as a positive unless you got very, very lucky. In most cases, even if the pupil managed to get into the correct lane eventually, it would go down as a ‘road signs/road markings’ fault for not choosing the correct lane. But add ‘observations’ on top when they do it and a serious fault is almost guaranteed.

Just don’t do it.

Teaching pupils to stay in lane isn’t teaching them safe driving for life

I’m afraid that it is. Learners are not experienced – experience is something they have to gain for themselves after they pass their tests. They need to have the safest basic skills on which to build that experience, and learning how to stay in lane and avoid conflicts is one of the best examples of that. New drivers who ‘straight-line’ nearly always do so because they either don’t know how to stay in lane, or simply want to go faster than everyone else. Those who ‘straight-line’ are usually also speeding.

I am a ‘safe driver’. I’ve been driving my whole adult life. And I use good lane discipline. The only time I usually have to take any sort of evasive action is when other people don’t use good lane discipline.

Share

All the Es

This article was originally published in 2011, but I’ve updated it a couple of times since, and again in 2018 following a run of hits. It’s been popular on and off since, and has suddenly been swamped again in mid-2021.

The original article came about after watching an argument flare up on a forum concerning the 4Es. Basically, no one knew what they were, but they’d all done a quick search and were arguing their own interpretations of the first hit they’d come across on Google. It’s funny watching people trying to put each other down when none of them have a clue.

As an aside, I notice that some organisations have turned the 4Es into the 5Es. At least I guess it means they can have more meetings, do more flipcharts, and offer more consultation opportunities instead of getting on with some bloody work. I’ve even seen the 3Es out there somewhere. Talk about confusion!

One of the big problems trying to get to the bottom of what the 4Es are all about is that even the people apparently implementing them obfuscate things so much that they don’t have a clue, either. The best place to go for a serious explanation is America, and a public safety site for Nevada is probably the best I’ve seen.

Nevada gives them as:

  • engineering
  • enforcement
  • education
  • emergency response

The Wikipedia entry explains:

Accident prevention and improvement of traffic safety

This comprises education and information, above all following the “4 Es”: enforcement, education, engineering, encouragement/economy. The main goal is promoting safety by influencing and modifying behavior using legal, educational, vehicle- and road-specific measures; driver training, driving-instructor education, information on traffic issues, campaign design and marketing, effective enforcement.

You will note the slight difference with the fourth one, though if you think about it, Nevada has it covered with their version – and bear in mind that they actually use it.

“Engineering” means things like road design, lane markings, footpaths, and so on (design things with safety in mind). “Enforcement” means publicity, policing, and so on (remind people, and pull them up if they don’t comply). “Education” means giving out information, conducting campaigns, and so on for all users (pedestrians and drivers). “Emergency response” refers to maintaining a “first responder” system.

India has been looking into it, and they refer to:

…included engineering of safe roads, provision of emergency care, enforcement of traffic rules and regulations, the use of ITS for improving road safety, and the creation of an educational and awareness campaign for changing road user behaviour to improve road safety.

The same headings as Nevada. And the ITE – an international organisation – says:

Within the 4 E’s of transportation safety, “engineering” and “education” are two of the more traditional focuses for transportation engineers and planners. However, the importance of “enforcement” and “emergency responses” should not be understated, and both are critical elements of a successful roadway safety management program.

From a driving instructor’s point of view, the education part is the one they are going to be dealing with, though perhaps with a little enforcement thrown in.

Remember, though, that it is the dog which wags the tail – not the other way round – and decent instructors (or anyone else acting responsibly) are covering their part automatically without having to worry about acronyms and the inevitable flipcharts and Powerpoint sessions. In the rat race, though, it all has to be documented and filed, so it is a much bigger – and more costly – job.

Share

The Audi LaneHad a funny one this evening.

I was on a lesson with a pupil and we were driving through Mapperley. We stopped at lights and I pointed out to him that the lanes merged on the other side, and the Audi that had pulled alongside us was going to try and get in front at all costs. Which is precisely what it did.

Then we came to another set of lights at a junction, which had split into two lanes again. The Audi was in the left lane in front of us, and I pointed out to my pupil that it was going to turn left even though it wasn’t indicating. And it did.

My pupil was incredulous, and asked how I could possibly know that.

I explained that it was simple. It was an Audi. There were two lanes going ahead, and the right hand lane even had fewer cars in it than the left one did. There was positively no way any Audi driver would pass up a chance like that and use the left hand lane unless the driver actually had to be in it for some reason. I explained that in most cases, an Audi driver wanting to go straight ahead in that situation would choose the right hand lane by default, even if the left one was empty. The instinct among them is so strong that they can’t help themselves.

I also told my pupil that if he ever bought an Audi, I’d instantly be able to read his mind, too.

Share
TES
JC TFR Mousse
Roadcraft
JC TFR Caustic
ADI Handbook
JC Snowfoam
ADI Skills
JC Tyre Shine
Fast Glass
Sugar Soap
Maxicrop Iron
MiracleGro Azalea
Doff Azalea Bulk
Doff Azalea Bulk