A Driving Instructor's Blog

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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