A Driving Instructor's Blog

Movies & TV

You can catch it on iPlayer for the usual limited time. The One Show on BBC One tonight had a segment about driving on bald tyres. It starts at 2½ minutes in.

The programme says that around 60% of cars seen by garages (well, one in Northampton, so it’s reasonable to extrapolate a little) have at least one defective tyre. The claim is made that people are leaving it longer before replacing tyres due to the adverse economy we’re currently experiencing.

There’s nothing wrong with the segment overall, but it makes the highly misleading and erroneous claim that if your tyres fail the “20p test” they are illegal. I mentioned this test in several recent posts (for example here, and then again here. Oh, and here).

The One Show is absolutely wrong about this.

The legal minimum tread depth is 1.6mm across the middle ¾ of the tyre and all around the edge. The Highway Code confirms this:

Tyres. Tyres MUST be correctly inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s specification for the load being carried. Always refer to the vehicle’s handbook or data. Tyres should also be free from certain cuts and other defects.

Cars, light vans and light trailers MUST have a tread depth of at least 1.6 mm across the central three-quarters of the breadth of the tread and around the entire circumference.

Motorcycles, large vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles MUST have a tread depth of at least 1 mm across three-quarters of the breadth of the tread and in a continuous band around the entire circumference.

Mopeds should have visible tread.

Be aware that some vehicle defects can attract penalty points.

Indirectly, this is all the fault of the Cumbria Police and the media morons who reported their blitz on dangerous tyres ahead of this winter (that first article I wrote which mentioned the “20p test”). The rim on a 20p is about 2.5mm wide, and Cumbria Police were obviously using this as an overkill method of warning people who drive in the harsh Cumbrian winters on the tricky Cumbrian roads about the risks they were taking as their tyres wore lower and lower (driving in Cumbria in winter is not quite the same as driving in London or any other city during the same season).

To measure 1.6mm you can use the row of dots on a 10p piece (or buy a proper tool from Halfords for a couple of quid).

The One Show goes on to suggest that a tyre failing the “20p test” is dangerous – even saying that anything less than 3mm is illegal, and carrying out an unscientific test to prove their incorrect ideas.

Yes, we know that the lower the tread, the longer the stopping distance, but the fact remains that 1.6mm is still the legal minimum – not 3mm, as the BBC is falsely claiming. And although garages might refuse to MoT a car with less than 3mm of tread on its tyres, that’s not the same as them being illegal.

EDIT: This article is already attracting a lot of hits. A reader has commented that the car with the “dodgy tyres” doesn’t skid into the boxes – it rolls into them. This suggests that the test was perhaps rigged to give more dramatic results.

Obviously, we only have The One Show’s word that the tyres were at the tread depth the woman’s car had. Speculation, of course, but it makes you think.

Of course, the stopping distance is best with new tyres. But it gets greater with ANY amount of wear. The question is: at what point does it become dangerous? The law says below 1.6mm, and not 3mm.

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NOTE: This post is from 2011. A new series began in 2013.

Well, I watched the first episode and it was reasonably interesting. You can watch the programme on Channel 5’s website (presumably for a limited time, so get it while it’s hot!)

It was touching to see Sarah get over her fear of motorways, and great to see the other woman gain confidence. But Lewis was typical of the problem on the roads today as far as many young male drivers is concerned. Still, at least he will have the comfort of knowing that he appeared on TV and initially came across as a prat – and left it looking an even bigger one.

The same might be said of a few other people. You see, his instructor said on the show that she couldn’t believe he had a licence after seeing him drive for the first time. It was obvious what she meant. But not to some people. Here’s a typical – and wholly expected – comment:

Does this imply that the ADI did not check his licence before starting the session?

The rest of the series looks interesting. Next episode looks like featuring a racerboy who eats, drinks, and uses his mobile phone at the same time whilst driving at speed without touching the wheel with his hands, and with his girlfriend in the car. Lewis the prat didn’t seem to mind driving hands-free, either.

Surprisingly, the morning after, there are actually some sensible comments being put up on the forums. You still get the one or two complete tossers (absolutely no better than Lewis, but in their own field) who insist on trying to find fault with either the female ADI who was featured, or the driving school involved – but these people usually have a track record of this sort of thing (i.e. franchise-haters, cheap-lesson haters, not even qualified ADIs, and so on).

Episode 2 reviewed here.

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Well, it’s about individuals with poor driving skills taking lessons to bring them up to scratch – but the people who find this blog looking for info about the show won’t be interested in that sort of minor detail. It involves driving instructors, and that’s enough.

Channel 5 - Dangerous Drivers' School

Starting on Wednesday, 19th October, the Channel 5 series is called Dangerous Drivers’ School, and on its web page it says that "three experienced driving instructors buckle up with a collection of dangerous drivers".

In the first episode, a pretty boy club promoter is the subject under scrutiny… or is he?

What Channel 5’s site doesn’t say is that the instructors involved in delivering the training are all from the AA, and this automatically puts them at a huge disadvantage as far as any other ADI watching the show is concerned. But it would have been the same wherever the instructors were from – any large national driving school, or independent is grist for the "professional" ADI’s mill.

You see, it is one of the requirements of being a "professional" driving instructor that you find fault with all other instructors – especially if they’re from a national driving school, even one of the reputable ones. Of course, it is also a requirement of being a "professional" ADI that you firmly believe and proselytize the belief that there are no reputable national schools out there. A third "professional" requirement is that you make badly worded, confusing innuendoes (masquerading as wit) whenever an opportunity like this arises. This occasion is no exception:

…Yep………………..I shall advise all my friends to go to the AA for free and not use my expert services for which they would have to pay…

…How can independants [sic] thrive when the big companies have a hold of the market…

…I wonder how many non AA instructors will ask for a free lesson from the experts..!

…I am sure that AA instructors would be glad and happy to help these poor souls…

And this is before the first episode is aired. Ironically, some of those comments are from people who either used a franchise to get them to where they are today, or who are still with one (albeit, not the AA).

The AA has some more information on its own website. It apparently runs a course designed for inexperienced drivers (not learners) – this course has been available for several years (I remember that it caused a stir among the unwashed masses when it was launched), and is not new. Nowadays, it appears to be free through the AA Charitable Trust according to that website (I’m not sure what restrictions might apply, though).

But you see, any driving school out there could offer something similar if it wanted to. In fact, with so many of them offering stupid lesson prices and slitting their own throats into the bargain, you sometimes wonder why they don’t anyway. Admittedly, Channel 5 isn’t likely to be sniffing around trying to make expensive TV shows involving "Binkie’s School of Motoring" in the Scottish Highlands (I made that up). So names like the AA, BSM, and so on are automatically at an advantage.

But forfeiting any advantage from the corporate name is the free choice an ADI makes when he or she decides to go independent. You can’t go solo and take the name with you, no matter how nice it would be to do so.

Certainly, knowing how other ADIs think, you wouldn’t catch me appearing on TV doing my job (not that Channel 5 or anyone else would want me to, of course). It would be the equivalent of leaping out of a World War I trench in broad daylight on your own, wearing fluorescent green clothes, and making a lot of noise as you rushed the enemy line. Bloody stupid!

And I can’t wait to see how this develops once the show is aired and those who haven’t yet realised it’s the AA involved suddenly wise up.

As for the show, I’ll watch it – but I’m always sceptical about these things. Why? Well, if I were a crap driver, would I really want to be on TV telling everyone about it? Would I – in the process – think it wise to admit to breaking the law or endangering others?

On the other hand, if I were a complete prat with an ego problem, anxious to be on TV, would I ignore all that and leap at the chance? The answer is quite clear on that one.

That’s why I’m sceptical. The programme is quite possibly more about the complex personal issues of the people appearing, not about getting better at driving.

EDIT 22/3/2012: I understand that a new series is in the pipeline – sounds like it will be shown later this year.

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Blackcurrant Lucozade PosterLook at the picture on the left. It’s the poster being used to advertise Blackcurrant Lucozade at the moment.

Does it – in any way at all – make you consider rushing out to buy a bottle of the stuff?

I’m sure the girl is attractive, but you certainly can’t tell from this picture, because in it she looks quite horrendous. The purple tongue is disgusting, and an indirect, yet obvious pointer to anyone with a brain that this stuff needs to be kept away from anyone under the age of 25 who goes anywhere near light coloured material. And her expression screams "this stuff tastes bad".

There are a number of similarities with a certain famous painting by Edvard Munch.

It’s one of those occasional ads that really irritates me for some unaccountable reason each time I see it. It’s even uglier full size.

I wonder exactly what the executives of the company which makes Lucozade were thinking when they approved this? It just doesn’t work.

Afterthought: I have just got to post more articles. This is making me mad keep seeing it at the top of the page. Damn, it is ugly. Ugh!

Footnote: This is quite a popular post judging from the hits – and they can’t all be from weirdoes only interested in the girl!

Since originally posting it, it became clear that Lucozade was gearing up for the annual music festivals. Although this particular ad has thankfully hit the trash cans (at least around here), there are several others that glamourize music festivals – silhouetted sunset shots of kids doing dangerous stunts that the stewards would eject them for, or screaming pointlessly at something, waving their fingers in the air.

Just think: when you go to a music festival, and especially if you’re there for the week, where do you go to the toilet? How do you clean yourself afterwards? How do you clean yourself at all? What do you think is in those bottles that are inevitably thrown around by retards in the crowd? And as much as Lucozade would have you think otherwise, the number of times the weather has been anything like it is in those ads – particularly at festivals during the last decade – could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

A pupil told me that he saw someone knocked out by a 2L bottle of “something” that hit them on the back of the head. Let’s face facts here, people aren’t going to be slinging unopened bottles of Volvic around anymore than they’re going to be able to stand in the sun all day drinking Carling and screaming without having to urinate. And he confirmed that when his dad turned up to drive him home (Leeds to Nottingham), they had to drive back with the window open.

But, hey! That’s the Lucozade image.

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Jamie's Dream SchoolI just caught the tail end of this new Channel 4 series – you can watch it on 4oD.

The series synopsis is as follows: Jamie Oliver brings together some of Britain’s most inspirational individuals to see if they can persuade 20 young people who’ve left school with little to show for the experience to give education a second chance.

It doesn’t actually say much about the “young people” involved. After seeing this first episode, it hammered home to me why I decided that a career in teaching was not for me! These “young people” were the reason.

To be fair, they know they’re on TV and it’s probably the most exciting thing that has happened – or ever will happen – in their lives. So they’re most likely behaving even more brattishly than they did when they were at school the first time. They all talk at the same time in squealy chav voices, and won’t shut up.

One of the specialist teachers (David Starkey, a renowned historian) was slated by the “headmaster” for trying to deal with the little hooligans head on. It seems the only acceptable way to teach them is to give them lots of expensive treats and lavish lessons – how many schools can afford to ship in mediaeval jousting shows, and whole dead pigs for biology classes? Why waste the money on these useless morons? The Guardian’s review is typically right-on.

I’ll keep an eye on this one. Looks interesting. Next week, Simon Callow appears to lose his temper with them.

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Sky Channel PDFFrom today, Sky has updated all its channels. In a nutshell, nothing is where it was (well, hardly), and everything is where it wasn’t (more or less).

As usual, Sky doesn’t appear to have published a comprehensive list of channels – although according to the publicity blurb, it will “be distributing a handy quick guide this week”. That’s no bloody good, when the channels have moved today.

Maybe this will help anyone else in the same position. Click the logo to download a PDF file with all the channels on it.

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The Story Of The GuitarThe BBC is showing Guitar Heroes again on one of its satellite/cable channels. This time, it also has some other guitar-related documentaries.

There’s a great one about Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits), but the one that caught my eye was this three-parter about the history of the guitar (available for the usual limited period on iPlayer).

Alan Yentob travels around to various places to look at how the guitar originated, and how it developed – from Mediæval times to the present. Lots of acoustic and rock footage included.

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Thin Lizzy Bad Reputation on BBC 4I caught the tail-end of a BBC 4 documentary last night, looking at Thin Lizzy. You can catch it for a limited time on iPlayer.

I must admit that I didn’t realise what a complete and utter mess they got themselves into through drugs.

I went to see the current line-up a few weeks ago at Leeds, and although the music was great, the crowd was a little boisterous. I didn’t mention it in my original post, but I nearly (only nearly, I stress) got into a fight with some leather-clad jackass who decided to come in 2 minutes before Lizzy came on, barge his way to the front, and try to stand directly in front of me (I shoved him out of the way). But one of the other dickheads in his entourage was smoking pot – and I mean huge spliffs – all through the gig. I hate the smell of the stuff. The Leeds O2 Academy staff doesn’t give a toss about people smoking whatever they want in there – when I saw Gary Moore there not long back you could smell cigarettes all the time, and it wasn’t from outside.

But back to the crowd… bearing in mind I’ve been to all sorts of gigs over the last few years (including Bullet For My Valentine, recently, where I narrowly avoided getting slung in the middle of the mosh pit), this was a complete throwback to the bad old days. It was such a dramatic change for a band which is essentially living out its final days by basking in its past glories (nothing wrong with that at all, I hasten to add), that it’s had me wondering for a few weeks.

But now I understand.

I suspect that much of Lizzy’s reputation is built solely upon their drug-ridden past, and Phil Lynott’s untimely (though, after seeing the documentary, not as unexpected as you’d have thought) demise prevented any further reputation building. I suspect quite a large portion of those present were attracted to what reputation had been built up to and including Lynott’s death.

Phil Lynott was a nice bloke, but he just destroyed himself. The others were lucky. He wasn’t.

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It’s back!

The most annoying TV ad in the world (at the moment). That damned Heinz Tomato Soup one where they are all spitting (sorry: blowing) on to spoons of soup to some idiotic tune you cannot make out.

[flv:/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/soup_ad.flv 480 360]

I must admit I thought they’d responded to customer complaints – I got a lot of hits when I posted it back in October, so it’s obvious I wasn’t the only one who hated it. And it hasn’t been shown since then… until just now. But no doubt someone at Heinz has stubbornly decided they can’t just waste all the money they spent on advertising it and resurrected it.

It’s in a different guise (they will have had several made all at once), but it’s still annoying from the first microsecond onwards. It is a surefire guarantee I won’t be buying any Heinz Tomato Soup anytime soon.

EDIT 2/10/2011: I was going to write another article about this damned advert – which has made a very unwelcome return to our TV screens – but the number of hits I’m suddenly getting speaks for itself.

Heinz is staffed by idiots if it think this is going to sell more soup. I lunge for the remote control mute button the second it comes on.

It’s obvious they have grave doubts, because they took it off around the time I first mentioned it, put it back on again, then took it off once more. At no time did it get the usual wall-to-wall showings. They were obviously testing the water.

Look, Heinz people. The advert stinks. You’ve wasted money on it. You will not increase sales of Tomato Soup by showing it (I, for one, will never buy Heinz Tomato Soup again as a result of the damned thing). Get rid of it and make a decent one that doesn’t involve the sound of bodily functions.

EDIT 10/10/2011: Someone said to me yesterday “have you seen that advert where they’re blowing on soup? I have to turn the TV off when it comes on”.

Get wise, Heinz. You’re damaging your sales while you keep showing it. It’s the most annoying ad ever.

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This is a very old story from 2010.


I caught an episode of Rip Off Britain on BBC One this morning, and it was laying into trainee driving instructors. You can watch the episode in question on BBC iPlayer for a limited time.

Rip Off BritainThis episode focuses on transport, though it is worth bearing in mind that Rip Off Britain is one of those BBC shows aimed at old(er) people who fancy a moan about something.

At 2:00 into the programme there is a segment about the average comprehensive insurance quote being over £1,000, and then it homes in on an old couple who contacted the show about “their grandson, Josh”. They say “he’s a good boy”, so it must be the insurance companies who have it wrong, eh? Just as a reality check, my insurance is less than £300 a year on my private car, and has been for many years.

Grandad became Josh’s driving instructor (they are seen moving off and driving around without any L plates at all on display). And Grandad’s logic about how those who have never had a claim (his learner grandson) shouldn’t be penalised, when the statistics show that 17 year old males (like his learner grandson) are a major risk is seriously flawed. And keep showing said grandson on the Go-kart track racing around is just further reason why 17 year old males ARE such a risk. Attitude.

I wish old people would get it through their heads: just because he/she is YOUR grandson (or granddaughter) doesn’t mean he/she is different to anyone else’s grandson (or granddaughter). He or she is more likely to be the same as most other people of the same age group.

At 22:00 into the programme, they have a segment on “scam” theory test websites (they have a thing about scam sites, and educating older people to use the Internet wisely). I’ve mentioned these sites on this blog previously.

In a nutshell, don’t book your theory (or practical) test through anything other than the official DSA (now, DVSA) website. There’s not much more you can say – and it doesn’t matter how “unfair” it is (according to one of the interviewees). What those websites are doing is not illegal, although it is morally questionable.

The segment on trainee instructors/PDIs is at 29:56 into the programme. Apparently, 1 in 10 learner drivers in the UK is being taught by a PDI, and it costs “most people around £1,600” to learn to drive. The show then homes in on a young girl who signed up with “a well known school” (I note that her offside wing mirror was gaffer-taped on) to learn.

Her tale centres on her instructor not being professional, using his mobile phone, and not turning up sometimes. She claims she didn’t learn much and her confidence was low (as you will see, it turns out her instructor was a PDI).

Now, I don’t want to take anything away from what she says, but all those things can happen with a fully-qualified instructor. And they do happen.

Pink or Green?The programme’s main thrust, though, is the fact that learners pay full lesson prices to train with PDIs. There is also the claim made that PDIs are told to try and conceal the “pink” badge from their pupils with one large school, at least.

It is made clear that charging full price is not against any rules or laws, and it appears that all schools who use PDIs do charge full price. The AA, who only uses qualified ADIs, claims that you’re 25% less likely to pass your driving test if you’ve been taught by a PDI. BSM reckons that pupils taught by its PDIs have a pass rate 10% above the “DSA national average”.

The young girl “reckons” that schools are responsible for letting people know they are being trained by a PDI and for charging appropriately.

What puzzles me is how much they should charge. Half price keeps being mentioned, but why? Why “half price”? If you get taught by someone who turns out to be crap just because they are a PDI, why stop at half price? Why not totally free? After all, over 70% of them won’t make it to become ADIs anyway, so they will always be substandard in the end.

At 35:20 they carry out an interview with the DIA. Basically:

  • ask to see the badge of your instructor: if it’s green, he’s qualified; if it’s pink, he’s a trainee
  • ask his grade: 5 or 6 is good
  • there is nothing wrong with the PDI system as such
  • it isn’t properly supervised. THAT’S the problem
  • driving schools shouldn’t be charging the full rate for lessons with a PDI

I have my own views. I didn’t go via the PDI route, but I know a lot of people who did and who became ADIs using it. I find that a lot of ADIs change their tune once they qualify – they might do the PDI route, or use the hated Red Driving School, and yet even before the examiner’s signature has dried on their Part 3 pass certificate they’re at Red’s throat and vehemently anti-PDI or anti-anyone else wanting to become ADIs.

I have always been wary of the PDI route, because as I mentioned earlier, with only around 10% of people who set out to become ADIs making it (less than 30% of those who get to Part 3 pass that), PDIs teaching learners just doesn’t make sense. And yes, it isn’t supervised properly, so many PDIs end up using the pink badge as a way of making money and not learning – which is totally against what it is supposed to be for.

Edit: I notice this is cropping up on various forums now. Some ADIs are wetting themselves over it – but they all fail to appreciate that what the programme was trying to show (i.e. charging full price for trainee instructors) is not what they want to believe (i.e. that all PDIs are bad and any company who uses them is also bad). It’s another example of ADIs twisting every detail to fit in with their own biased opinions.

The programme didn’t specifically state that any of the learners mentioned were using BSM, but the self-styled “experts” are making all sorts of stupid claims and statements on the forums. One says:

That the first time i had seen BSM pointing out that it majority instructors are not fully qualify (sic).

I didn’t hear any of that when I watched it. Another – who apparently went down the PDI route with BSM – says:

Anyway, lets hope that the long awaited reform on pink licences is just around the corner. I guess then we will see the demise of B$M.

They’re on a different planet! And they call themselves “experts”.

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