A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

Asda forecourtFor as long as I can remember – from way before I was a driving instructor – I have repeatedly heard the old story trotted out about how supermarket fuel is of inferior quality and can damage your engine. I even got it from an Esso cashier a few years ago when I told him I could fill up at Asda for up to 10p per litre less than what the Esso garage had just hiked its prices to.

Before I go into any detail, let me just say that that claim is a load of bollocks, and is perpetuated by people who don’t have a clue.

All fuel sold in the UK must conform to EN228 or EN590 (petrol and diesel, respectively), and unless you have a car which states otherwise in the manual, it will run comfortably on fuel which meets these specifications. The only difference is that some major garages may include extra additives designed to improve performance of their basic “premium” grade (and note that I said “may”). The “super” grades definitely contain additives, along with that other “additive” of about 10p per litre on top of the forecourt displayed price. EN228 and EN590 ensure that any fuel does not damage your car, and they also ensure that you don’t get the famous “residues that gunk up your engine” crap that people love to tell you about. You can read more about it here.

There is no way that the majority of driving instructors fill up with “super”. They use regular “premium” like the rest of us. If I used “super”, my fuel bill would increase by about £500 a year.

When I drove a petrol Ford Focus, the handbook told me I needed to use a minimum of 95 RON fuel. “RON” is the Research Octane Number, and the larger the RON number, the more expensive the fuel. Normal “premium” petrol is the bog-standard grade, and is 95 RON. The higher grade 97/98 RON is the “super” type, and often has an amusing comic book name like “Super-X Excelleratium Ultra Hyper-Q Unleaded Fuel”, alongside some graphic likely to appeal to chimpanzees in fast cars. Higher performance cars tend to specify 97/98 RON as a minimum, but normal cars don’t. Unless your handbook specifically tells you to use higher than 95 RON, you will have no trouble with it. I never did.

A similar thing applies to diesel fuel. The big garages may have a “super” grade alongside the basic one, but smaller garages don’t. For the last 5 years or so, I have exclusively used Asda for my diesel fuel. I have had no engine problems, and I get excellent mileage (over 50mpg).

In 2010, while I was still driving petrol cars, I had a problem with erratic idling on my Focus (across several cars, I should add). Even the dealer tried to argue that it was down to the fuel, and advised me to use “super” and give the car a “good blow out” on the motorway. It was absolute bollocks – the pre-2013 model cars all had the same fault, and a mechanical fix was needed. But if the dealer trotted out that same crap to other owners, the myth would just get perpetuated for another generation.

Supermarket tankers fill up from the same places the bigger garages do. Sometimes, you’ll even see one of the “bigger garage” tankers delivering to a supermarket. But it all meets the EN228 and EN590 specifications.

As an additional tip, I fill up at Asda – where the fuel is always about 5p cheaper than the local garages to start with. I use an Asda Cashback+ credit card, which gives 2% cashback on all Asda purchases (including fuel), and 0.2% on all other purchases. I pay it off before any interest is charged, and since I shop at Asda anyway – spending upwards of £150 on groceries most weeks, and over £100 on fuel – cashback soon mounts up. I know 2% doesn’t sound a lot, but it is the equivalent of about 3p per litre of fuel, so if Asda is charging £1.32, I end up paying £1.29. I save at least £150 a year just based on fuel purchases, and at least double that on everything else.

But I get better mileage from the more expensive fuel

No one is saying you don’t. However, it’s only a few mpg (go on, be honest – it’s not like you double your mpg or anything), and you’re paying for it. I bet it took several tankfuls for you to work out that you were getting an improved mpg.

After all is said and done, the fuel companies want profit, and it’s the customer who provides it. So if you work it out again, I expect that you’ll be paying more for the higher-grade fuel than you’re gaining from extra mpg. If it’s a driving school car, the improved mpg will be minimal – and I know you won’t admit to that.

However, if you try to claim that the standard fuel damages your engine, you’re talking crap. If it meets the EN standards it won’t do any damage at all.

Branded fuel is better quality than supermarket fuel

Look, the tankers fill up at the same depots from the same storage tanks. The only difference is whatever the likes of Esso and Shell put in it afterwards to justify the increased price. And those additives don’t turn the fuel into Superfuel – they’re just intended to keep injectors and nozzles clean, which theoretically gives better mpg because the engine allegedly runs more smoothly. The jury is still out on whether that works or not (some people say it does, others say it doesn’t). The jury has been out for the last 30 years.

The simple fact is that any car that is less than 5-10 years old, and which has been serviced regularly, will not really see any major benefit from an additive because there’s nothing to put right. Older cars with claggy engines, maybe – just maybe – but not new ones.

The only thing that will boost your car is the octane number of the fuel. And you pay for that. The big question, though, is do you really need to?

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UK PassportThis question pops up from time to time. I often gets hits on terms like “can driving instructors sign passport applications” or “can my instructor sign my passport photo”. The short answer is: no. They can’t.

On the forums, no one knows the answer – but it doesn’t stop them offering one up all the same. Their answers are mainly based on the fact that they’d like to think they can sign, and proceed from there.

The GOV.UK website lists recognised professions, members of which can countersign passport applications. It is worth pointing out right away that driving instructors are not mentioned. The closest is “teachers and lecturers”, and as much as ADIs like to consider themselves teachers, they are not teachers in the sense the word is intended in an official context.

I have asked the Passport Office for guidance on this before. Their initial answer was:

Yes you would be able to sign a passport application if you are self employed and VAT registered or a Limited company.

I queried this further (most instructors would stop reading after the word “yes”), pointing out that most driving instructors are not VAT registered, nor do they operate Limited companies. The Passport Office responded with:

…a driving instructor can be considered a suitable countersignature not because they are a driving instructor, but if they would be considered the owner/manager of a limited or VAT registered company.

If they would not be registered in this way we cannot guarantee they would be accepted by the processing team.

There it is in black and white. Driving instructors (the vast majority of them, anyway) cannot officially countersign passport applications. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But most are not. If they do countersign a passport application, the application may be rejected because they do not meet the requirements.

Of course, some ADIs might operate a larger school and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered, thus becoming eligible to officially countersign passport applications. And if their company is big enough, it may well be a Limited Company. But that’s a very small proportion of those on the Register.

I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor, but I was always wary because I knew it was a grey area. Any one of those applications could have been bounced back. I’ve never signed one for a pupil because I simply don’t know them well enough (as well as being from a “recognised profession”, you also need to have known someone for at least two years, and I’ve only ever had a handful who’ve been with me that long in all my years as an ADI). It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it turned out that some instructors are signing applications for pupils and even charging money for the service (like some GPs do).

So, technically, the answer is no. The typical instructor cannot sign off passport applications. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.

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TomTom Screen GrabI originally published this article in January 2018, but it is due an update.

It was announced mid-2017 – sometime before the 4 December start date – that when the DVSA introduced satnavs as part of the independent driving section, the model the examiners would be using was going to be the TomTom Start 52.

After briefly considering buying one, I decided against it. I’ve used standalone satnavs before, and the problems with mounting them and all the bloody cables has pretty much put me off for life. Even the latest ones are just too bulky to sit anywhere unobtrusively.

In the more recent past, if I’ve ever needed to navigate somewhere, I just use Google Maps in one of its forms on my smartphone. In the weeks leading up to 4 December 2017, I tried using it with pupils. It works (if you know what you’re doing), but its choice of route can be creative to say the least. And it isn’t the most chatty of navigation apps. Worse still is the inability to save pre-determined routes – and that’s essential for a driving instructor.

More recently still, I tried using the satnav in my Focus. The graphics on that are straight out of the 80s, and you half expect Super Mario to bounce across the screen. It, too, can be rather creative with its suggested routes, it can’t save pre-determined routes, and the erratic split-screen thing it does at unfathomable times is confusing to pupils. And I think the last map updates were drawn up by personally Christopher Columbus.

The more I thought about these issues, the more I realised that the only realistic way forward was to use a TomTom in order that pupils wouldn’t be intimidated by a different looking map, different instructions, or different voices. I asked TomTom if there were any plans for an approved app that would run on Ford’s software. It seems that they did have an arrangement with Ford to develop such an app at one point, but that fell through for some reason. But then I came across the TomTom GO app for Android. It turns your phone into a fully-blown TomTom satnav, with the added benefit of a high-res display (see the screen capture, above). TomTom GO gives you 50 miles of free navigation per month, but that gets used up in a couple of hours on lessons. However, you can subscribe for about £5 per month, or £15 for a full year, and get unlimited navigation (you can also subscribe separately to other TomTom services). You get unlimited world maps for this, and any updates are included. I bought the year subscription – it means I can have an absolutely up-to-date satnav for up to ten years for the same price as a standalone unit that would be out-of-date within a year.

A massive additional benefit is that by logging into your TomTom account on your PC or laptop you can create entire routes using a drag-and-drop map and save them. When you sync them to your device, they appear in the list of saved routes. This is how DVSA has created the routes it uses. The benefit of these pre-determined routes is that you can force a specific journey around specific roundabouts or road features, rather than have the satnav try and re-route you through a shorter route to a specific destination. Of course, you can also save favourite places – like test centres or retail parks – and just set one of those as a destination and let the pupil follow whatever route the satnav comes up with. It’s all extremely flexible.

The TomTom GO speaks through the vehicle audio system via your smartphone’s Bluetooth link.

How are pupils managing with the satnav?

At the time I started teaching it for the test, some of those I expected to have problems took to it remarkably well. A year down the line, I don’t even think about that anymore. It’s just part of what I have to teach them.

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Shaun the SheepPeople often find the blog on something to do with sheep. The latest was asking what you should do when you encounter them in the road.

The word “sheep” isn’t specifically mentioned in the Highway Code in this context, but the following rule is the relevant one (it comes under “other road users”):

Rule 214

Animals. When passing animals, drive slowly. Give them plenty of room and be ready to stop. Do not scare animals by sounding your horn, revving your engine or accelerating rapidly once you have passed them. Look out for animals being led, driven or ridden on the road and take extra care. Keep your speed down at bends and on narrow country roads. If a road is blocked by a herd of animals, stop and switch off your engine until they have left the road. Watch out for animals on unfenced roads.

It’s happened to me before where I’ve rounded a bend on a country lane and the road is blocked by a herd of sheep being moved from one field to another (twice in 18 months, though I haven’t had one for a few years now). I’ve also come across sheep just wandering on the road in the Peak District, and one time a lamb had escaped from a field and was being chased by someone trying to recover it.

I’ve also encountered cows browsing on the bushes on the outside of their field (I’m not sure who shit themselves the most that time I came round a bend on a single track road – me, or the bullock that had got through a fence, a stream, and then a hedgerow to meet up with me). Then, of course, you have horse riders – the normal ones who give you a wave, and the ones with attitude problems who take racehorses out.

In the case of the sheep being herded, I stopped and turned off my engine (and had a quick chat with the farmer who was at the front). If they were just wandering around in small groups, I passed slowly, keeping my eye on them. In the case of the lamb, I stopped, then put my hazard lights on when I saw a car come over the brow of a hill behind me.

What should you do when passing sheep on the road?

Someone found the blog with this question recently. It’s from the theory test, and the correct answer is to slow down and drive carefully. In reality, though, stopping and turning off your engine is often the best course of action, so make sure that’s not an option if you see this question.

Should you report a sheep in the road?

Of course you should, if it’s running loose from a fenced field or on a main road (as opposed to being herded by someone), and clearly shouldn’t be there. Someone could get killed. Use your own common sense – I’m no expert on sheep, but I know if one’s meant to be in the road or not.

This doesn’t apply to extremely rural roads, such as in the Peak District, where there are no fences and sheep wander freely across roads. You just drive with care and deal with them as necessary.

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Slave CylinderAbout a month ago I noticed my clutch pedal on my Ford Focus 1.5TDCi felt different. It started off where as you lifted it, your foot would leave it, then the pedal jumped the last few centimetres and bounced on to your sole.

The next morning was quite cool, and after the first depression to start the car, it stuck half way down. Hooking your toes underneath and pulling it up righted it, and it would be OK for a while – but you could still feel something odd in that as you pressed it, there was initially not much tension until you’d gone several centimetres down, then it would bite.

Over the next week or so, cold mornings made it worse to start with, but pumping the pedal a few times would make it work again for a while. During a warmer period it was less noticeable, but still apparent as the day wore on. As I switched between pupils each day, I’d sometimes realise that some of them had been driving with it stuck part way down. Several of them had commented on it – one asked if I had used the dual controls a couple of times, because she’d felt the pedal move.

It went into the garage (a main dealer, as it happens) for a day, and they could feel the bounce, but I got the usual spiel that made it sound like they’d never come across it before. They bled the system and asked me to try it for a few days. The mechanic said it might be the master cylinder. He assured me the clutch was still working fine, it was just the pedal return.To be honest, it still didn’t feel right even driving away, but after a couple of hours it was back to the way it was before, so I booked it in again. They said they’d need it for three days, and I scheduled lessons around it as necessary. It went in this week.

Before it went in, I did a bit of Googling, and it seems that this is not an uncommon problem either with Fords or various other makes. I told the dealer that when I dropped it off.

Long story short, they replaced the slave cylinder (which meant taking the gearbox out) and it is now fixed. No more clutch pedal sticking down.

I’ve seen a few instructors asking about it in various places, and I can assure them it isn’t because the floor mats are jamming the pedals, and it’s got nothing to do with the dual controls (two of the answers given that basically equate to “I don’t know”). In fact, when the clutch pedal sticks down, you can tell by touching the duals (a few times, I thought pupils had their foot on the clutch when driving).

Note that from what I have seen on Google, this fault is absolutely not confined to Fords. Modern clutch systems are hydraulic much of the time (they used to be cable-controlled). So if you get a clutch pedal not coming all the way up, this may well be the problem you are experiencing. A slave cylinder for a Focus costs about £40 (probably more at a dealer), plus there’d be labour on top, but it’s not the end of the world in terms of total cost of repair. Fortunately, mine is covered, so I didn’t have anything to pay.

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All the Es

This article was originally published in 2011, but I’ve updated it a couple of times since, this latest one in 2018 following a run of hits.

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.

Since the original article, some idiot organisations have turned the 4Es into the 5Es. I suppose it means they can have more meetings and do more flipcharts instead of getting on with some bloody work. There’s even the 3Es out there somewhere. And even if you find an explanation from the UK, the order and even the word for each of the Es will create still further 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 it is obvious they really don’t have a clue, either. That’s the classic sort of behaviour that I had to endure when I was in the rat race. The best place to go for a serious explanation is America, and this 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.

I’m not completely sure where the hits on the blog are coming from, so I don’t know who is searching, or why. It does seem popular, though, and mostly the search terms being used include the word “discuss” – which is why the 4th E is particularly interesting. However, 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 are covering their part automatically without having to worry about acronyms and the inevitable flipcharts and Powerpoint sessions.

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TumbleweedIt’s funny, but I keep seeing instructors claiming on forums and social media that they all still teach turn in the road (TIR) and reversing around a corner (RRC). I mean, 99% of them are all doing it, same as they ever were.

For anyone who doesn’t know, DVSA stopped testing these manoeuvres in December 2017.

Before then, instructors would be queuing up to use corners that the examiners used. There’d sometimes be three or more cars waiting to muscle their way in (I’ve written several times about how I’d “had words” with the prats who’d tried it when I was somewhere with a pupil and they’d got in my way). A lot of them would spend a full hour there, boring their pupils witless with try after try. Right now, the only time there are any problems is in car parks used by examiners for bay parking. All the old, favourite corners and quiet roads for turning have tumbleweed blowing across them.

So I’m wondering where they’re doing these manoeuvres now, because it sure as hell isn’t in the places I go – and I travel significant distances with my pupils. I reckon I’ve seen two cars having a go in the last year – and they were private runners or PDIs by the look of them. There must be some mythical place out there, like the “elephants’ graveyard”, where all these instructors are when they reckon they’re still covering them.

I show my pupils how to do those old manoeuvres once or twice, so if something happens on their test (or once they’ve passed) and they have to turn around they’ll at least be able to physically do it (and that has happened a couple of times on tests). I bring it in sneakily, by wanting to turn round and go back the way we came for some reason, pointing out afterwards that “that used to be on the test”. That way, they realise what they’d use it for without worrying about the finer details too much, and it means they can’t accuse me of teaching them things “they don’t need”. But there’s no point spending hours on it so they can do the original ultra-polished pre-2018 test version.

What annoys me, though, is that DVSA took TIR and RRC out of the test in the first place. It was bloody obvious that instructors would gradually stop teaching them, even if they were “still on the syllabus and should be taught”, as DVSA stated. Pupils – and especially their parents – are highly likely to object to paying for lessons if they’re being taught stuff they don’t “need”, in their eyes. Christ, before any bay parking was included on tests up here, no one taught it at all. TIR and RRC are no different to that now.

What makes it all the more annoying is that it wouldn’t have cost DVSA a penny, or caused them any extra work, to keep both on the test as possible manoeuvres that could be requested, along with the newer ones. That way, instructors would have had to teach them – and pupils would have had to accept that. It would also have resulted in better trained drivers. I’d like to think DVSA will come to its senses and bring them back, because if they leave it too long it will be a major problem, since ADIs won’t remember* how to teach them properly.

Unfortunately, as with most large organisations, logic is not DVSA’s strongest point.

* You think I’m kidding? When they first introduced bay parking at one of the then two test centres in Nottingham, 80% of ADIs boycotted that one and went to the other. They didn’t know how to teach it. Several retired because of it.

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Pebbles on a ropeIn this months issue of Intelligent Instructor magazine, there is an article from the RAC, the heading of which suggests that motorists could face being fined and getting points on their licences if they stop inside the cycle forward area (advanced stop lines) at traffic lights. The full RAC news release is here.

I’m absolutely in favour of that, because the number of drivers who ignore them totally – especially taxis, Audis, BMWs, motorcyclists, and other crap drivers – drives me mad. They’re there for a reason, and shouldn’t be ignored.

However, there are no links whatsoever indicating where this has come from, or how reliable it is, and the only quoted source appears to be “Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy”. On top of that, motorists can already be fined for stopping in the box (see later). So you have as much balance as you’d have trying to place a rock on a tightrope. Consequently, I did a bit of Googling, and immediately came up with this article in The Sun (a UK tabloid, registered at the Post Office as a comic). This one is much more interesting.

In this article, dated only a couple of days ago (and more recent than the RAC story, which is from last week), it seems that cyclists could find themselves being fined up to £1,000 if they go over the second (stop) line. And as we all know, most of them do (the ones that don’t use the pavement at the last minute instead, then skip back on to the road once they get across the pedestrian crossings). To be fair, there are no absolute links in this article, either, though they do quote rather more balanced sources than the RAC does.

The thing is, drivers can already be fined and get points on their licence for stopping after the 1st line – and that’s official, from the police. So is the fact that cyclists can already be fined for crossing the 2nd line. It isn’t actually illegal for a motor vehicle to stop in the cycle area unless you do it after the light has changed to red – it’s not illegal if the light changes as you are passing through the box. Of course, the problem with that is that it has to be witnessed by a policeman or caught on camera.

It would appear that the only thing changing is the price list. I cannot see how they could possibly make it completely illegal for a motorist to stop in the cycle area, since there are sometimes extenuating circumstances. The one that jumps instantly to mind is on someone’s driving test – they haven’t seen a red light, the examiner uses the dual controls, and they stop in the box. It happens – it actually happened to one of mine less than a month ago – and the only alternatives would be to shoot the red and either get a prosecution notice or collide with someone, or brake so hard someone goes into the back. DVSA would love having to deal with the fallout from those.

You will also note that the cycle forward area is only for pedal cycles. Motorcycles and motor scooters are classed as motor vehicles along with cars, buses, vans, lorries, etc., and are not supposed to use them. I don’t need to point out that motorcycles and scooters routinely weave past and stop in them.

The only changes that I definitely think should be made are that cyclists get fined the same as motorists for not complying with the rules, and that enforcement is equally distributed. If the fine is increased from the current £50 for cyclists and £100 for motorists to the suggested “up to” £1,000 for everyone, and cyclists get nailed as readily as motorists, then good. And tough.

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I originally wrote this article back in 2011 following an RAC story about bad car posture. I must confess I was dismissive of it – and still am to some extent – but my writing style has changed in the nine years that have passed. I’ve also had a string of hits on the subject recently. So an update was due.Human spine

We’ve known about repetitive strain injury (RSI) for many years. It’s where repetitive movements usually involving the hands and arms can result in tendon and muscle damage. True RSI can be a very serious and debilitating problem for some people, but there are many more people who either mistakenly attribute every ache and twinge to it, or who are just pulling a sickie at work. This is largely due to the difficulty in diagnosing it.

The RAC decided to coin a new term – repetitive driving injury, or RDI. They went on to claim it affects half of all British drivers, and said that it was due to poor posture. Symptoms apparently include foot cramps, aching sides, stiff necks, headaches, and eye strain.

Sorry, but if we are using RSI and RDI in the same breath, eye strain is not an RSI issue – if you have a rest your eyes are fine again, and you’re not going to do them any long-term damage just by using them to look at things. The same goes for cramps, aches, and stiff necks in the vast majority of cases. Yes, they might be brought on by bad posture or doing something your neck and legs aren’t used to (going on a six-hour drive, for example, when you normally don’t go further than Tesco half a mile away once a week). But again, a bit of a twinge a couple of times is not going to do you any lasting harm. Christ! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve pulled my back cleaning the inside of my windscreen due to leaning and stretching, and that isn’t RDI. And there is no way that “half the population” is suffering from it, when genuine RSI only occurs in up to 10% of the population.

The original eBay Motors source survey (described as “a study”, when it is merely a poll) says that it is caused by people not knowing how to adjust their seat. What? Half the population doesn’t know how to do that? It’s more a case of people choosing not to adjust their seat properly, or simply not bothering.

Every pupil I take on, I teach them the cockpit drill, and get them to adjust the seating and mirrors properly. After closing the door, the first thing they should adjust is the seat:

  • left leg should be able to push the clutch right to the floor with a slight bend at the knee (i.e. no stretching)
  • seat height should be adjusted (if possible) so that the eyes are about half-way between top of the wheel and top of the windscreen (also if possible)
  • the seat back and steering wheel position should be adjusted for optimum comfort, but so that with outstretched arms the wrists will rest on top of the steering wheel (if possible)
  • the head restraint pad should be level with your ears (if possible)

I say “if possible” in the above list, because some pupils are very short or very tall, or are carrying extra body weight, and they have to adjust things as best they can. By doing it in a structured way, the driver will not have to stretch to operate the pedals or contort themselves to operate any of the controls.

However, I have no control over them once they pass their tests, and many – the males in particular – will be intent on cultivating an image to take precedence over everything else. For example, sitting in a bucket seat in a reclined position, eyes barely level with the top of the steering wheel, right arm draped over it so they’re leaning about 20 degrees towards the middle of the car so they can see how they look in the mirror and fiddle with the stereo to find the most irritating thump-thump-thump-thump-thump track possible (or the one where they lean 20 degrees to the right, elbow on the door arm rest, stroking their bum-fluff stubble)… you see (and hear) it every day. I had one recently who, for some reason best known to himself, had decided to start changing gear by twisting his wrist round and gripping the stick from above – resulting in finding 1st instead of 3rd about 80% of the time. After I bollocked him about posing he went back to the way I’d originally taught him and the problem went away (and he passed first time a few weeks ago).

Pupils often have to be pushed into the cockpit routine for quite a while after the first lesson. A lot of them (again, mainly the males) will leap in and try to put it in gear, even though at that point they can barely reach the pedals when they’re up (and don’t get me started on the mirrors). Others (mainly the females) will insist on moving the seat so far forward that the steering wheel is literally a few centimetres from their chests, their arms are cramped right up, and the pedals are almost underneath them.

On more than one occasion a pupil has complained of cramp or leg discomfort during a lesson, even after doing proper adjustments. It’s most common with new drivers, especially when doing a manoeuvre, or if we’re driving in heavy traffic (with a lot of clutch work).

And it is not RDI.

It usually comes down to poor “driving fitness” in people who may not use their leg muscles very much. It goes away after a few lessons – though I’m sure it will come back if they start trying to “be cool” by posing once they pass.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated early/late 2017, early 2018, and once again in late 2018.

Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there is a market for specialised snow lessons. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.Snow on road scene 1

Let’s have a reality check here.

Until February 2009, it hadn’t snowed to any appreciable extent in the UK for around 26 years! We had two bad winters, but since then they have been relatively mild ones with almost no snow. When it DOES snow a little it is usually gone inside a week or two. Snow – and especially in the UK – is usually extremely localised. The media talks it up so it sounds like the whole country is blanketed in a metre of the stuff, especially if a few wet flakes fell in London. This  is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their yuppie wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.

Admittedly, local councils’ incompetence and bureaucracy means that every time there is any bad weather it is like they have never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are.

Will I be ditching my normal pupils and specialising in snow driving? Will I be buying a Ski-doo and offering lessons on that? I don’t think so.

Having a “specialised Snow Instructor” in the UK (particularly in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing around the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Still, I guess that makes it an ideal venture for some clown to take on to Dragon’s Den (it could go on right after the new parents with a “great idea for a line of baby clothes”).

Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.

Here are some typical search terms people use to find the blog.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much snow there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes sense to do them so you can get valuable experience. But beginners perhaps shouldn’t because it’s just too dangerous for them. It’s your instructor’s decision, even if you want to do it.Snow on road scene 2

Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?

Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. Your instructor will decide. You won’t get charged for it – but if you do, find another instructor quickly. Remember that if the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea.

Bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning with the AA, BSM, Bill Plant, or any other driving school. The decision is down to your instructor.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

He or she should do. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask. Why make life so complicated when a simple text will sort it all out? If he just doesn’t turn up, get another instructor as soon as possible.

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018).

If your instructor tells you this, I am telling you in the most absolute terms possible that you need to find another as soon as possible, and not spend a penny more with this one. I’m going to hedge my bets here, but he is simply lying to you. I have never come across any insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather.

If he’d told you it was too dangerous, that would be different.

Do BSM cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Realistically, they should only cancel if there is too much snow on the ground, making driving dangerous. There is the remote possibility that thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain might also provide a valid reason for cancelling – but in the UK, extreme occurrences of these are rare.

The decision to cancel a lesson due to bad weather lies solely with the instructor – not with BSM or any other school – so if yours is doing it when there is obviously no valid reason, you might want to look for another trainer.

Note that although DVSA will cancel driving tests due to fog there is absolutely no reason why your lessons can’t go ahead in it as long as it isn’t extreme.

Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?

Well, there’s no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you. However, if he or she does (or tries to), find another one quickly because the unwritten Law Of Common Decency says that they should NOT charge you. Not in a million years!

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel – but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson – then it is a little more tricky. It all depends on whether the conditions really are too bad, and whether or not your ADI is making the right decision based on the right reasons. Unfortunately, this is between you and your instructor – your instructor might be right, but as I said above, if you aren’t happy then find another one.

If you want to do the lesson, but your instructor refuses, again – if you’re not happy with that (and you must be realistic about the conditions) – find another one. When I cancel lessons it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. All the others can handle it as long as conditions aren’t too bad. As a general rule, if the advice is not to travel unless it’s absolutely necessary, or if the roads are gridlocked, then I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

An example: one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson (we actually moved it back a few days) because I had no idea how long the conditions would last. With hindsight, it was the right decision because the snow continued for about an hour – but it had almost gone by the afternoon.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If someone is trying to charge you extra for such lessons, find another instructor quickly. Any half-decent ADI will use snow as a chance to teach something many learners never get to experience, not as an excuse to screw more money out of them.

I want to do my lessons but my instructor says no

A tricky one. Although I can’t vouch for other instructors, if I decide it is too dangerous to take one of my pupils out, then it is dangerous enough for any argument over it to be completely moot. I will always do lessons if I can (especially after my first frozen winter in 2009, where I was perhaps a little over-cautious to begin with) so the issue has never really come up.

If you really do disagree with your instructor, you could phone around and ask a few more ADIs if they have been conducting lessons. If they have, and if you’re still convinced, change instructors.

I’m worried about driving lessons in snow

Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing (see the picture above – that orange car is being driven by someone with a full licence, and there isn’t much snow at all, yet they have skidded off the road).

You should never drive in snow

Sorry, but that’s total nonsense. Advice “not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary” only applies to the point at which snow is falling, has recently fallen, or if other extreme conditions prevail (extreme cold, high winds, and so on). It most certainly does not apply to partially melted snow conditions.

Unless a specific and current warning is in place, the decision to drive is with the driver. If someone chooses to travel once the worst of any snowfall is over and conditions improve, they are not going against any warnings.

If you are frightened by driving in snow or icy conditions, then put the car away and don’t go out.

Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes. When we had that first heavy snowfall a few years ago I cancelled a lot of lessons to begin with, but in later falls I cancelled less. I hardly cancelled any the second winter with heavy snow. In 2017, I cancelled two lessons one day in December as snow came in, mainly because I didn’t know how bad it was going to be, the pupils in question lived on sloped roads, and Highways England had advised not to travel unless it was essential in my area.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

I am a driving instructor. It is my job – the way I make my living. If I cancel all my lessons, I don’t make any money at all. Up to a point, I can cope with that. Beyond that, though, I will have problems.Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?

Some years ago, when we had a lot of snow for the first time in 26 years, I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks, the reduced cash flow started to bite, and I realised I was being far too cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I realised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching prop with many pupils. Not the beginners or nervous ones, but everyone else, certainly.

Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.

I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.

Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?

It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you MUST turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.

Tests do sometimes go out in Nottingham if there is still snow on the ground, but not if it’s on the main roads. In February 2018 during our visit by “The Beast from the East” (aka the “Kitten in Britain”), I had an early morning test go out with snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway).

Conversely, I had a test cancelled in late 2016 because it was cold and the side roads were icy with that white frosting you get. I also had one cancelled due to fog (which was localised near the test centre, as it is situated next to the River Trent). Since I have no political aspirations, I simply go along with what the test centre decides. The alternative is to make myself look like a prat by arguing on social media about something that I can’t change, simply because my opinion isn’t quite the same as that of the test centre manager in a few cases. Most of the time, the test centre is spot on with its decision.

If my test is cancelled, will I have to pay for another?

No. They will send you a new date within a few days (or you can phone them or look it up online). And it will not count as one of your six “lives” for moving your test.

Can I claim for out of pocket expenses if my test is cancelled?

No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back – which is one reason some unscrupulous ADIs might try and charge you for the hire of the car on the day as if the test had gone ahead.Snow on road scene 4

Will snow stop a driving test?

YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test is likely to be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow 2015 (or 2016, or 2017, or 2018, etc.)

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1818, 1918, 2018, or any other date. They will probably cancel your test if there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy. And it doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Use your common sense. Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets are covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you WILL skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could EASILY lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions.

On top of all this, you are a new driver and you are NOT as experienced as you think – in fact, you may never even have driven on snow before. Some people who take driving tests are nowhere near ready, and DVSA knows that. Therefore, DVSA isn’t going to take the risk, so you have to accept it.

Incidentally, I keep seeing search terms like “cancelled driving test 23rd” from people located 300 miles away in my stats. The internet doesn’t work like that!

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED NEAR YOU – YOU WON’T FIND IT ON THE WEB.

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