A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI

The ford near OxtonI saw this question posed on a forum a while back, the premise being that if you have been trained properly, you could pass your test at any test centre in the country. It comes up regularly.

Many instructors jump on board with it like starved chihuahuas on pork chops, because we all know how better than everyone else they are. It’s a nice theory, and one which should work – in an ideal world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and there are several flaws in the idea.

First of all, even passing your test at the test centre you know like the back of your hand is far from guaranteed. The national pass rate is about 45%, and even after we eliminate every person who shouldn’t have been at a test centre just yet, it still wouldn’t be close to 100%. The best and most well-prepared drivers can get caught out on the day on roads they know well for any one of a hundred different reasons.

Secondly, even Godlike driving instructors would have problems driving in some unfamiliar areas around the country. Nottingham doesn’t have any particularly awe-inspiring features, but a relatively simple one like the Nuthall roundabout – following the A6002 from Stapleford towards Hucknall, for example – would be enough for an experienced but unfamiliar driver get in the wrong lane and be required to do a late change (perhaps on the roundabout itself). There’s no signage on approach to tell you what lane to use in advance, and it’s only when the road suddenly widens from one into four lanes that road markings appear (if you can see them under all the traffic). The lane allocation is not what you’d expect if you were following the usual roundabout principle in the Highway Code, and it’s a very busy M1/city centre junction with surprisingly short light sequences. Any late lane change during the day will definitely require someone to slow down and let you in (or not if they’re driving an Audi, BMW, Merc, or if they live in Strelley), and that will inconvenience the overall flow at the lights. Even the Godlike instructor would fail if that happened on a test – and since it is on the Watnall test routes (with many more situations like it across all three Nottingham test centres), what the hell chance does a novice driver have if they haven’t been shown how to do it, and practiced it often?

Then there is the general area itself. Taking an extreme case, Mallaig in Scotland has often been cited as having the highest pass rate in the country. This isn’t because the drivers who take tests there are better than anywhere else, but is almost wholly as a result of the fact that Mallaig is a tiny fishing village in the middle of nowhere. It has something like 10km of roads in total, no dual carriageways, one small roundabout, and a total population of under 200 in a village of 67 dwellings (and about 1,000 inhabitants in the total catchment area). It is 140 miles away from the nearest motorway, and only a few miles north west of the place where Connor MacLeod was born in Highlander. And it does around 20 tests a year – that’s one thousand times fewer tests than are conducted in Nottingham, which is by no means at the other end of the spectrum from Mallaig (parts of London probably hold that honour).

Even given the apparent simplicity of the road network there, there’s still no guarantee that someone from, say, London would automatically pass in Mallaig without practice, and I suspect that Mallaig’s occasional less-than-perfect pass rate in any given year is partly down to outsiders thinking they can pass there after reading about it, even though they can’t drive properly anywhere else.

There are no certainties in driving, and definitely not in driving tests. If there was, there would be pass rates of 100% by the bucket load, and instructors would be boasting more zero-fault passes than you could shake a stick at. The best you can say is that the odds of passing shift from whatever they would have been if you change things. Taking a test in an unfamiliar place will almost certainly shift them down, and a simpler road network is likely to shift them up. But unless everyone heads to Mallaig, the degree of simplification would be minimal, and would merely introduce new roundabouts and weird junctions for some learners to get into a panic over.

Lastly, no one who claims their pupils would pass no matter where they took their test has ever evaluated it. It’s impossible to do so, since you can’t test the same pupil in different places. Everyone is different, and every test is different – even if it uses an identical route to the one before it.

Sometimes my own pupils get it into their heads, when trying to book a test sooner than is available at the nearest centre, that going for one elsewhere would be a good idea. I only deal with Nottingham, so if they come up with Sutton in Ashfield, Loughborough, or Leicester (and they do), I refuse outright. If I don’t know how to get there without looking it up, they can forget it. I’m more amenable to the idea if it’s another Nottingham one, but not if they only do one hour lessons and a simple round trip is more than 30 minutes or so in good traffic. I will also usually put a block on it if they want the test within a couple of weeks and haven’t driven the area before.

If they persist, a quick drive around the relevant area is usually enough to get them to change their minds. Once they’ve seen all the lorries and roads full of potholes around Colwick, the Nuthall and IKEA roundabouts for Watnall, or the Long Eaton roundabout for Chilwell, most decide to stay where they were before. Sometimes, the grass on the other side isn’t quite as green as it once seemed when you’re walking over it barefoot.

Which test centre do you recommend?

The nearest one. If a pupil can only do one hour lessons, and lives in Long Eaton, with the Chilwell TC five minutes away, and we’ve done most of our lessons around Long Eaton, Chilwell, Beeston, and Bramcote, they’re not booking a test at Colwick, which is a good 30-40 minutes away, solely on the grounds that their mate (who lives there) passed at it last week. Not without a big discussion, anyway. I once did a test at Colwick with someone who lived in Long Eaton (we’d done many of the two hour lessons over there, mainly at night), and on test day it took us over an hour and a half just to get there – we arrived a few minutes late. Fortunately, she passed.

If they really want to use a different test centre, they can do longer lessons to make sure we can familiarise with it.

So, you just teach people test routes?

I’ve written hundreds of times about the distance I cover with pupils on lessons. Someone who I have been teaching from the start will have been on the A46 with me, and many will have been down to Leicester and back on the M1 if they do two hour lessons. They’ll have been on single-track roads, driven through a ford, dealt with horses and nut jobs with a Spandex fetish on country lanes, and quite possibly have seen Southwell Minster. All of them now know where (and what) Newstead Abbey is, and will marvel at how much of Sherwood Forest has fewer trees than a football pitch does. All of them will have passed through at least some of the villages of Papplewick, Wysall, Rempstone, Widmerpool, Wymeswold, Tollerton, and many others, for the first (and possibly last) time in their lives. I did one this week, and we covered over 40 miles in an hour and half lesson.

But no matter where they have driven with me, the test will be conducted within a very tightly defined area, and driving through the ford near Oxton – while useful in its own right – isn’t going to help them stay in lane when they have to deal with the Virgin roundabout in Colwick. Nor is it going to help get it into their heads that when the bus lane ends heading back to the test centre, if they don’t move into the left lane, they’re likely to panic and mess up big time when they realise the lane they’re in is now right-turn only, and the examiner said to go straight ahead at the lights. The ford won’t help them finally grasp that driving on Marshall Hill Drive cannot be done in third gear unless you’re doing 30mph all the way up it, and that those Give Way signs at the top mean that when get there you should take your foot off the gas and be careful of vehicles coming the other way. It won’t help them understand that when people are walking across the road in front of them in West Bridgford town centre, it’s most likely because they’re on one of the seven zebra crossings over about 300 metres, and that it might be a good idea to slow down and stop for them. Oh, and the ford won’t teach them that no matter how many times they try, they can’t go straight ahead at that first mini-roundabout in West Bridgford, because the pretty red signs with a white bar across them say so.

In short, the ford near Oxton has no direct bearing on the outcome of their test. All that other stuff does, and it would be insane not to spend more time on that than on the fringe stuff. I mean, it’s no bloody good if they can drive through a ford, but still don’t see or react correctly to pedestrians in built up areas.

I’m teaching them how to be novice drivers. They can gain 30 years of experience… over the next 30 years by themselves. They’re not going to get that in the three months they’re with me.

People doing intensive courses have to use different test centres

I have my own views on intensive courses, but if you do them and have to book wherever is available, then that’s your affair. I’m not convinced that the test centre used should be dictated by the timescale involved in the first place, but even more so when it is just to avoid taking lessons (which it usually is with mine when they do it). Lack of familiarity with an area is unlikely to go in their favour.

Most test routes are intended to be at least a little challenging, taking in steep hills, one-way streets, heavily pedestrianised areas, and so on. I would lose pupils if I hadn’t shown them these features and they encountered them for the first time on their test. I’d lose even more if a particular individual had issues with certain things, and I hadn’t spent time on specific and more troublesome examples of them on test routes across several lessons to put things right.

Some pupils might not be fazed by unfamiliar territory. But many more are.

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You’ve got to laugh.

A PDI (trainee instructor) asks for advice on whether it’s best to go it alone in his Part 3 training, or use a franchise to go on a pink licence.

He gets a reply that franchises are a waste of money and he should go it alone using Facebook. Except that the person who left that reply started out with a franchise themselves and left after becoming established.

Apart from the overlap of situations (a PDI aiming for Part 3 is a completely different situation to a new ADI who’s just passed Part 3), it’s like if Andy Murray started advising people to enter Wimbledon when they’ve only just taken up tennis on the basis that he’s won it in the past.

Actually, given the aforementioned overlap of situations, it’s more like Andy Murray advising someone who’s only just taken up cricket to enter the World Snooker Championship because he’s won Wimbledon before.

Anything to have a dig at franchises.

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This article was originally published in 2011, with updates in 2014 and 2016. It has had a few hits recently, so I’ve updated it again.

Someone found the blog on the search term “adi how to check wing mirror position”. A bit of a strange question if it was from an ADI, but for pupils it is often a problem – certainly to start with.Wing Mirror Position

The wing mirrors should be adjusted to give the maximum view behind without creating blind spots. My own lesson plans use the image shown on here. However, this is not intended to provide millimetre-perfect guides for where to put the mirrors!

The bottom line is that you aren’t interested seeing birds and aeroplanes, or road kill. You want to see as much as possible of what is happening behind you and to your sides. You don’t want to be looking at half of your own car. It isn’t rocket science.

I currently teach in a Ford Focus and I’ve found that a good position position for the wing mirrors from the pupil’s position in the driving seat is when they can just see the tip of the front door handle in the extreme bottom right of the nearside mirror, and the extreme bottom left of the offside mirror. Anywhere near that position is fine – it doesn’t have to be measured with a ruler! Obviously, if you’re an ADI using a different car, you set the mirrors yourself and then look for a reference you can explain to your pupils when they have to do it.

One point I do stress to my learners is that if they plan on using the mirrors for any reversing manoeuvres, it makes sense to adjust them consistently each time they get in the car (during their cockpit drill). If they don’t, what they see can vary, leading to confusion.

An ADI needs to have a rough idea of what the best mirror position looks like from the passenger seat so they know if the pupil is doing things properly. This is pretty much down to experience, because all pupils are different – some sit 4 feet behind the steering wheel because they’re 6′ 7″ tall, whereas others sit only a few centimetres away because they’re 4′ 10″. Consequently, the best mirror position for each learner can vary dramatically.

I remember one occasion many years ago when one of my pupils had driven to a location for a manoeuvre. Just before we started it I casually glanced at her offside mirror and something struck me as being odd. I suddenly realised that I could see the side of the car in it from the passenger seat. When I tested the position later I confirmed that she would have been unable to see anything but the side of the car!

Lord knows what she was thinking, or what she thought she was seeing. She’d been through her cockpit drill and insisted everything was OK, and she was religiously doing the MSM routine throughout the lesson. But she wasn’t actually seeing anything useful at all. This is the sort of thing that instructors need to look out for.

What is the correct position for my mirrors?

You want to see as much as possible of what’s going on behind you and to your side, and not leave any unnecessary blind spots.Blind Spots

The interior and exterior mirrors’ coverage overlaps behind the car, but there are areas where only one mirror provides useful information – and areas where none of them do (the blind spots). The red car in the diagram is in a blind spot, and would not be visible in any of the mirrors, so you’d have to turn to look over your shoulder to see it (this is a shoulder or blind spot check).

There is no advantage to being able to see birds and aeroplanes anymore than there is to being able to check out the squashed hedgehogs. And it goes without saying that the interior mirror is not for checking your hair and make-up.

How you achieve the correct mirror setting is really up to you, but it makes sense to have a consistent position so that you can see the same space around the car whenever you go out. If the mirrors are too high then you won’t see the lines when you’re reversing into bays, for example, but too low means you can’t see behind you properly when you’re driving, which can be a particular problem if the road undulates (i.e. it is hilly).

I get my pupils to use the door handles as references, as explained above. For the interior mirror, the driver wants to see all of the back window with a slight bias towards their left ear. But remember, this is just a very general guideline that I use – it isn’t written down anywhere that you have to use it.

How much of the car should I see in the passenger mirror?

Almost none of it – just the same as with the one on your side.

Although there is no rule that says they have to be set in a precise way, common sense dictates that the mirrors are there so that you can see what’s going on around you at ground level – not so you can stare at the side of your car. Therefore, you want to adjust them so that you can’t see much of the car at all, and not too much sky or road. Being consistent is a natural consequence of that.

Don’t try to adjust your mirrors too far outwards to try and cover your shoulder blind spots – you won’t be able to do it, and you’ll just create two more of blind spots behind the car. What you’re after is almost continuous coverage from the nearside mirror, through the interior mirror, and across to the offside mirror.

How can I adjust my mirrors to eliminate blind spots?

If you mean the blind spots you need to turn around for, you can’t – not with the standard mirrors fitted to the car, anyway.

The only way to cover your shoulder blind spots using mirrors is if you buy additional piggyback ones that fit on top of your existing mirror housing and which can be angled differently (or those round convex ones you stick on the surface of your existing mirrors. Such additional mirrors are often used by people who can’t turn around properly, or in cases where the driver cannot see behind properly due to the vehicle design. A lot of instructors also use them, but I am not in favour because pupils are unlikely to fit them to their own car, and they just promote laziness when it comes to being safe. I only use additional mirrors if I’m teaching someone with a disability which impedes turning around in the seat.

Unless you have a medical condition or some genuine reason for needing extra mirrors, you should not be looking for ways to avoid checking your blind spots properly. Turning around to look is absolute, but using a mirror is by proxy. A mirror is useful if there is absolutely no other way – but it is dangerous and lazy if the mirror replaces the absolute way needlessly.

My instructor told me the car should fill one third of the mirror each side

I’m sorry, but that is complete nonsense. As I said above, there is no absolutely correct mirror position, but there are plenty of absolutely wrong ones. What point is there in wasting a third of the mirror area just so you can look at the side of the car?  I’ve also heard similar nonsense about “two [or three] finger widths” of car being visible, which is also wrong.

Your mirrors are there to show what’s behind you. Adjust them so that they show a tiny sliver of the car, and not too much sky or road.

Can I re-adjust my mirrors for particular manoeuvres?

Yes. My own pupils only adjust it for the parallel park, because I have a method which accurately positions the car relative to the kerb, but I sometimes pick up new pupils who like to drop the mirrors for any reversing (quite a few used to do it when reversing around a corner). If it works for them I don’t try to change it, but if it doesn’t I get them to do it my way. For normal observations, the mirrors don’t need to be moved if they’re adjusted properly in the first place.

If my side mirrors aren’t adjusted properly will I have trouble with parallel parking?

It depends what method you’re using. In order to parallel park you need to know where the kerb is and to judge your position relative to it, so if you’re using your mirrors to determine that, you’ll have problems if the mirrors are badly adjusted, or if they’re adjusted differently each time you get in the car. 

This is true of any manoeuvre or situation where you use your mirrors – if they’re badly or inconsistently adjusted then you won’t be able to see what you ought to be able to.

Can I re-adjust my mirrors if I’m on my Part 2 (driving instructor) test?

Yes.

Can I ask the examiner to adjust my mirror for me?

If you have manually-adjustable mirrors, yes. The examiner will not refuse this request. The examiners’ SOP (DT1) says (or used to):

The candidate may ask the examiner to assist in adjusting the nearside door mirror before a manoeuvre. The examiner should not refuse this simple request, and assist the candidate as appropriate. The candidate should not have to lean across the examiner to adjust the mirror.

If you have electrically-operated mirrors, it is a non-issue since you can adjust them as necessary.

Would I fail if I touched (clipped) someone’s wing mirror?

If you mean clipping it with your wing mirror (or any other part of your car), almost certainly, yes! You could fail just for being too close to someone’s wing mirror, so clipping it would be even worse.

Like most things you can never be 100% certain that it would result in a fail – there might be extenuating circumstances – but in all normal cases it would mean that you were passing too closely, and that has its own box on the DL25 Marking Sheet. You’d get a serious or a dangerous fault for it depending on the actual situation.

I clipped someone’s mirror. Does it make me a bad driver?

Only if you keep doing it. Most people have done it at one time or another, but they learn from their mistakes.

If you actually break someone’s mirror, my advice is to let them know. Years ago, one of my pupils went into a narrow gap too fast, panicked when a bus also came through, and clipped someone’s wing mirror when he steered away. I can vividly remember seeing the glass from the other car’s wing mirror fly up as we went past. I pulled him over immediately, and ran back to the other car – which had someone in inside ready to drive away – and apologised profusely, got their phone number, and informed my insurance company right away. None of this crap about not admitting liability – we were at fault completely.

Who are you to tell people how to set their mirrors?

Yes, that question has been asked in those aggressive terms on more than one occasion (including on forums, where instructors are trying to score points off of each other).

The short answer is that that I’m a driving instructor, and one that knows what he’s talking about. If someone hasn’t done it before – and if they’re paying me to teach them – I will give them the correct guidance they need on all aspects of learning to drive. If your instructor isn’t helping you with stuff like this it is probably because he or she doesn’t know the answer, and he’s taught you not to know it either.

What am I checking for when I use the mirrors?

Anything or anyone that you might hit or inconvenience if you move off. The mirrors are only part of it – you also need to check your blind spots, which are those areas not covered by the mirrors.

How should I use the mirrors?

Generally, at least in pairs. Use your own common sense.

For example, if you’re parked on the left hand side of the road and want to move off, you would typically check your inside mirror, offside (right hand) mirror, and right shoulder blind spot to get the maximum amount of information about what is coming up behind you. However, if you were parked on the right hand side of the road then you’d check your inside and nearside (left hand) mirror, and your left shoulder blind spot.

In either of the above examples, if you’d seen pedestrians, children, people getting into cars in driveways, or anything else that could be relevant, then you may well decide to check your other mirror and blind spot as well.

Do I need to check them in any particular order?

Not really, but checking the inside, wing, and blind spot in that order makes the most sense in most cases. If a car is coming up from behind on a straight road it will initially be visible in the inside mirror. As it gets closer it will appear in both the inside and offside mirrors, then move to only the offside mirror. Finally, it will only be visible in your blind spot until it passes you. And in any case, what is in your blind spot is closest to you, so checking that last gives you the most up to date information to act upon.

However, if you know there is a hazard of some sort behind you – cyclists or pedestrians, for example – look in the mirror/blind spot most likely to tell you where it is and what it’s doing as well. You are not going to be marked on which order you check them in as long as your checks are meaningful.

Remember that it is your responsibility to check properly. In extreme cases it may even be prudent to stop and get out of the car. For example, what if you see a small child on a bike, or even a dog, which then disappears from view as you’re about to move off? Where are they? This is especially relevant if you are doing a reversing manoeuvre of some sort.

Should I do a six-point check?

Some instructors absolutely live for routines like this.

If you insist on doing it, as long as your checks mean you don’t move off when someone is behind you, then it doesn’t really matter. Just bear in mind that while you’re doing two/three of the six checks (which are not always necessary), things could be developing in the other three/four (which are). For that reason, I do not teach this silly routine.

Many years ago, I had a pupil who used to do it. She used to say “no one there, no one there, no one there, no one there, no one there, no one there” as she did it. On her test, which she passed, the examiner commented on it by saying quietly to me outside the car: “she’s not very mature, is she?”

The simple fact is that as long as you are certain it is safe to move off, and the examiner knows that you know, that’s all that matters. How you get that message across to him is up to you.

Is it OK if I check all the mirrors every time?

It depends. Although checking all three mirrors to pass a parked car, for example, isn’t a fault in itself, the extra delay that the unnecessary additional check creates could cause problems. The most likely one is that you’ll steer out later and you’ll therefore be looking away from the obstruction at the same time you’re getting close to it. One of the most common faults (and causes of test failure) is passing obstructions too closely.

It’s the same when moving off. If you add unnecessary additional checks, the first one becomes quite stale before you’ve finished the last. If you check your right mirror/blind spot first, someone could turn up while you’re looking needlessly to the left. If that happened – and you didn’t see them – you would probably fail.

If you are doing it because you’re trying to cover all the bases and make sure you don’t miss a check in front of the examiner, or religiously performing the Six-point Check Ritual, it’s the wrong way to go about it. Remember that learners tend to be quite slow with their checks in the first place, and extra ones make them even slower – sometimes, too slow.

If it’s because you used to ride a motorcycle, then as long as you’re aware it isn’t absolutely necessary every time in a car – and if no other problems result – then it doesn’t really matter.

Instructors shouldn’t really be encouraging unnecessary checks, though they shouldn’t be trying to stop it if no other issues are cropping up.

I failed my test for observation when moving off, but I did look over my shoulder

The examiner is watching you to make sure you take effective observations before moving off (and in other circumstances). Just looking isn’t enough. You have to actually see, too. That’s what is meant by “effective”.

Think about it. Looking in two mirrors and over your shoulder involves three head movements, but you could do this with your eyes closed and not see anything at all.

I once had someone on a lesson stop at a T-junction to emerge, look both ways, and then try to pull out in front of a bloody lorry which was less than 20 metres away approaching from the right. They had looked, but not seen.

The problem is that when people don’t appreciate why they’re looking or what they’re looking for, they won’t do it properly. In that case they may as well have their eyes shut for all the good their “checks” do.

The chances are that something similar to this is what happened on your test. Or perhaps the examiner wasn’t happy that you’d have seen something if it was coming (even if it wasn’t) because you didn’t look properly.

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NextBase dashcamA bit of advice to anyone using a dashcam. I see a lot of people complaining that theirs is playing up, and other advice to regularly reformat the card – which seems to get a lot of people recording again. I strongly believe that part of the problem is with the card, and not the dashcam. Specifically, people are using the wrong cards.

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

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

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

So, using Extreme cards puts them under stress that they’re not designed for. It voids their warranty, but – more importantly if you read between the lines – there is a good chance they will malfunction or play up. I don’t know much about cards from other manufacturers, but I would lay odds that most people with dashcams are using the cheapest card they can find, and they certainly won’t be paying the extra few quid that goes along with high endurance types. Most of the time I see people asking what dashcam to choose they always want a cheap one, and the one they end up buying often costs them less than I pay for a SanDisk Extreme card – so there’s no way they’re going to buy a card even close to that.

I have a GoPro camera that records in 4k video. I bought a high capacity SanDisk card designed for 4k that I had to import from the USA because they weren’t available over here, but before I got it I tested a normal SanDisk Extreme card and the video was as choppy as hell. It wasn’t the card’s fault directly – it just wasn’t fast enough for 4k, and it wasn’t supposed to be. I’m fairly certain that this is one of the problems people experience when they use a card that simply isn’t up to the job in their dashcam.

NextBase insist that Extreme cards are compatible with their devices, and their own cards appear to be rebranded SanDisk ones. I don’t disagree that they work well for me, and probably for everyone else when they’re new. But the niggling problems people keep reporting might not be doing NextBase any favours, because I firmly believe that a lot of them are down to the cards protesting at being used outside of their specification, but the user blames the dashcam.

SanDisk high endurance cards only go up to 64GB, though other manufacturers produce higher capacity units.

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I haven’t updated this in a while, and I really should have.

I have been intrigued by the number of driving school websites carrying these sheets now – even to the extent that they carry the exact same scanning defects that are on the ones I generated. Coincidence? Or uncredited plagiarism? I’m seeing a lot of the latter these days.

Note that the article below is the original from 2014, and the download file is for the old PSTs if anyone still wants them for some reason.

The new Part 3 marking sheet can be downloaded here. There’s only one, and it is the official DVSA website, so it should always be up to date (or have a link to an up to date version).


The blog gets a lot of hits from people looking for the PST (ADI 26) marking sheets used on the Part 3 ADI test. In fact, this file has been downloaded many hundreds of times, yet I think less than PDF Downloadhalf a dozen people have bothered to say thank you (and some websites are carrying ones they’ve apparently pilfered from here, down to the same scanning defects, but not given credit for). It used to be very difficult to get hold of these from anywhere else, and given the graphics work I had to do to clean up the originals, I know that people have got them from here.

Click the PDF image to download the file. It contains all ten PSTs, and they’re full-sized, so you can print them out if you want to.

The PSTs are also given in the Driving Instructor’s Handbook, although much smaller. But you can see what’s on them at least – which is really all that matters.

Just one last word on the “thank you” thing (and the outright plagiarism some people are involved in). If you have anything like the same approach when you start teaching real pupils you may find you don’t stay in business very long.

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Pinoccio tells a fibJust before Christmas I wrote an article based on some silly statements I’d seen about independent instructors being “better trained” and “more professional”, meaning that they could charge more and not have to offer discounts. It was easy to prove categorically that those claims are untrue with a simple scan of some instructors’ websites, and that all instructors are pretty much the same (with the statistical spread that that implies).

I just saw another comment about franchised instructors being much worse off because of having to pay their franchiser. There are still people who are dumb enough to think that being independent automatically means you’re £200 a week better off. You are not.

As I said in that earlier article, if an independent instructor and a franchised one both have the guaranteed same number of hours, and if both charge the same hourly rate, then the independent is better off – not by the whole amount of the franchise fee, but by the whole amount of that fee minus whatever he or she pays for their own overheads (and those are absolutely not even close to £0). So, if the franchisee pays £200 per week for everything (except fuel), the independent – even if they don’t realise it – will be paying at least £30 per week, but more like £50-£100 in most cases, for everything (except fuel). So the independent would be turning over approximately £100 more.

But look at all the “ifs”.

Now, consider this. A franchised instructor is likely to be charging £25 per hour or more for lessons. The independent ADI who made the claim isn’t, even though that’s the typical franchised rate in their location. Their website indicates a top rate of £21 per hour, but only £20 per hour with block booking. They also have introductory offers where blocks of 10 lessons are equivalent to less than £17 per hour! One block offer for a smaller number of hours that could last a pupil for a month is equivalent to £11 per hour!

In a worst case scenario (lots of first time buyers on the books), even if the two ADIs were doing the same number of hours (say 30), the franchised instructor could easily be turning over more than £300 a week more than the independent. In the best case (all paying the independent’s highest rate), also with the same number of hours, the franchised ADI would still be turning over £150 more per week.

And the thing to remember is that if you have a full diary and are having to turn people away, you don’t cut your £25 rate to £11, or even £20. If you are cutting it, it is to try and fill your diary. Therefore, you’re not doing the same number of hours as the franchised ADI in the first place. So the difference in turnover is even greater.

This is why franchised instructors can afford to pay the franchise. It is why they are not as badly off as some independents like to believe. And it is why I advise all new ADIs to start off with one.

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National speed limit on dirt trackOn lessons, it is quite common for pupils to query why there is a national speed limit in force in places where it is obviously not possible or safe to drive above about 30-40mph. One particular road around here is a single track with crude passing places on it (not the one shown in the photo above, but similar).

The history of the national speed limit (NSL) is quite interesting.

The first speed limits were introduced as long ago as 1865 for vehicles which were not powered by animals. A limit of 2mph in urban areas, and 4mph everywhere else, was in force, and someone with a red flag had to walk in front of the vehicle. The first speeding ticket was issued in 1896, when someone was assessed to be driving at 8mph in a residential area.

Obviously, the maximum speed capability of vehicles improved, and people were flouting the Law on a regular basis. So in 1903 the maximum speed limit was increased to 30mph.

By 1930, that speed limit was being ignored, too, and the Road Traffic Act got rid of speed limits completely. Of course, at that time, not many cars could go much above that anyway, so it wasn’t a problem for a while. However, the number of road deaths began to increase and in 1935 a 30mph limit was introduced in built-up areas, and that remains the case up to the present day. However, there were no limits anywhere else.

The first motorway appeared in 1958. Most cars could only manage up to about 50mph, so having no speed limit wasn’t much of a problem. But in 1964 – with motorways being the straightest and flattest roads available, and still unrestricted – the rally driver, jack Sears, took a test car (a Cobre Coupe) on the M1 and got up to 185mph. The newspapers were all over it, citing it as dangerous driving, and debate still rages over whether he was to blame for the trial the following year of a 70mph limit on motorways, though the foggy winter and number of accidents it led to was probably a factor. In 1967, the 70mph limit became Law. It applied to all non-urban roads.

In 1973 there was a major oil crisis. To conserve fuel, the NSL was temporarily dropped to 50mph. This was lifted in early 1974. However, later that year, as part of a fuel conservation initiative, the NSL on non-motorway roads was reduced to 50mph. But in 1977, this was relaxed and the NSL on those roads went up to 60mph. The two NSLs were made permanent in 1978.

And that’s why we have the speed limits we have today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foreigners may never have driven on the left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even EU drivers are unsafe

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

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

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

The UK test is stricter than everyone else’s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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