A Driving Instructor's Blog

Someone found the blog on that search term today. There’s no single, definitive answer – it depends on both the ADI and the pupil.

When I take on a new pupil who has never driven before, in some cases I will take them out on a main road on the first lesson, even if it’s just for a few moments. Quite often, they’re good enough for us to be able to go to a few different places to look at different things. I’ve had a fair number who have taken to driving so quickly that we’ve even been able to take fairly long trips along dual carriageways and country lanes on that first lesson. Of course, I only do it if I think they can handle it.

At the other end of the scale, I’ve only ever had one pupil who didn’t drive home at the end of the first lesson (in fact, I had to drive her to and from a quiet area for at least the first six). All the others only get driven by me once – at the start of that first lesson. I don’t believe in ‘nursery routes’ – I hate the term, though for some ADIs collecting nursery routes is almost as important as collecting acronyms and clever sayings. What I consider to be a suitable teaching location might well be a ‘main road’ to other ADIs.

Many of my pupils will have a go with at least one of the manoeuvres on the first lesson – and it isn’t always the turn in the road. If someone expresses concern about being able to reverse park – usually because of what they’ve heard from friends – then we’ll probably have a go at a parallel or bay park, where they get to see how easy it is (I remember one girl who was smug because she could do it and her mum and dad couldn’t, and her mum actually asked me to show HER how to do it). On quite a few occasions I’ve had someone who has virtually perfected ALL of the manoeuvres on that very first lesson.

If I do one of these types of lesson, I make a point of explaining that they have now experienced everything the test and routine driving is likely to throw at them, and what we have to do now is polish it up so they can do it without my help, and be able to deal with unusual situations. Whenever we’re out on ‘main roads’ I will not let them drive slowly if there’s no need – we aren’t going to hold people up by driving at half the speed limit.

They absolutely love the fact that they have done so much in such a short time, which is probably why teaching this way gets me a lot of referrals when pupils relate what they’re doing to their friends. If I am to believe even a fraction of what I am told by these referrals, some of them have not driven to or from their house even after six or more lessons, and yet they are clearly able to do so. Others have never travelled more than a half a mile from their house on ANY lesson, no matter how well they can drive. It’s a bit of an eye-opener for them when they see one particular route of mine – which involves a 25 mile circuit of Nottinghamshire, taking in single track roads and the A46 (as close to a motorway as you can get without actually being on one).

Of course, not all learners can do this – but I still push them, rather than hold them back. I have NEVER lost a pupil because I am teaching them ‘too much’ (and my first-time pass rate is still very high among those I have taught from scratch). However, I have taken on a lot through referrals who claim that they didn’t think they were getting anywhere. The answer lies in there somewhere…

Pupils can be nervous about going on ‘main roads’, but except in some extreme cases that is no reason for them not to. However, I also believe that some ADIs are actually frightened themselves, which is why they potter about on the industrial estates and empty car parks for so long (I’ve NEVER done an entire lesson in a car park – the only time I use one is to do a steering exercise or the bay park manoeuvre). It is also why, when those other ADIs eventually DO venture on to a busy road, they allow their pupils to drive at 20mph or less everywhere – even on NSL stretches.

So, when SHOULD I take my pupil on the main road?

It’s up to you. If they can handle it – and if YOU can handle it –  you shouldn’t hold off. A pupil who is capable of reaching test standard in maybe 20-30 hours shouldn’t end up having to take 30-40 hours just because you’re afraid to take them on to busy roads, and if you keep doing it to them, it will come back and bite you on the backside sooner or later.

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