A Driving Instructor's Blog

JudgementOver the years, I’ve taught many pupils whose ability behind the wheel gave me cause for concern. In some cases, it seemed that they would never learn simple clutch control, gear changing, and steering, let alone roundabouts and complex road junctions, and even when they reached test standard, it was obvious they still had issues. To this day, I sometimes ponder over what I am helping to release on to the roads.

Only one pupil that I know of has ever given up driving – on the grounds of it being too expensive, though the “expense” may have been to do with causing over £1,000 damage to a £1,500 car in three separate incidents involving inanimate objects within two weeks of buying it. She did over 100 hours with me until I finally persuaded her to switch to automatic lessons, whereupon she took another 100+ automatic hours and passed after 7 or 8 attempts.

Another pupil passed on his third attempt after 160 hours. I discovered two years later that he had learning difficulties brought on by an accident when he was younger, and I also now know that he has had numerous small accidents through emerging without checking properly at junctions.

Another was almost a clone of the previous one in terms of how he looked and drove. He passed first time after 80 hours, and his sole ambition was to drive 200 miles with his best mate to see his grandma who lived the south coast on other side of London. I made him promise me he’d do it in 30-minute hops, because of his concentration issues.

And another also passed first time after 60 hours. She put in an almost perfect drive on her test (I was sitting in back), and to my knowledge she has had a problem-free five years or more since. These are probably my worst four.

So, the question is this: if you could push a button at any point, preventing any given pupil from ever being allowed behind the wheel of a car, would you do it?

It might seem an easy question to answer, but consider that by making such a decision you are influencing someone’s entire future. Given the number of young pupils I take on who have emotional issues (including anxiety/depression) requiring medication these days, you may also be influencing someone’s life in a more direct sense.

Of course, in real life there is no actual button to press, so taking it to a more realistic level: if you decided to do it, how would you tell someone they were never going to be able to drive? And at what point?

In only one of the four examples I gave above would I have been right if I had gone ahead and said it. But I would only have been “right” with the benefit of hindsight. All the others had similar control issues which were overcome only with great difficulty, so if I had made the same decision with them I would most certainly have been wrong in at least two cases. When I look at my career overall, I have lost count of those pupils who’ve had major problems to start with, but who have suddenly broken down the wall and turned out to be excellent drivers.

This is the problem with trying to play God. You’re not God. You cannot see into the future, and that means you can make mistakes.

The reason I mention all this is that I noticed someone has raised the issue regarding the suitability of “some” people in becoming driving instructors, suggesting that there should be some barrier beyond the current Criminal Record Check that prevents “certain people” from being allowed to train as ADIs.

The question I would ask is: on what basis you to decide if someone is suitable or not? Is it a retrospective thing, in that they’ve said things you disagree with? Is it that they annoy you? Are they quiet? Loud? Do you dislike their appearance or their tone of voice? The danger is that pressing the metaphorical button I mentioned earlier can take on a very personal slant if you’re not careful. Some people may even use it as a way of achieving something they are frustrated at not being able to achieve using more direct means.

There is already a system in place to check for instructors who cannot teach properly (the initial qualifying process, and the standards check), and it can certainly weed out the seriously bad material. Admittedly, it is somewhat harder to find those who simply don’t teach properly, especially when it appears that a large number of ADIs appear to want to put on a show when they have their standards check, judging by the questions they start asking when they get the dreaded “letter”. But if an ADI has a decent pass rate, is it really any other ADI’s business if they otherwise come across as complete dipsticks? And does being a dipstick before you start training to become an ADI mean you shouldn’t be allowed to become one?

Perhaps these God-wannabes will rely on comments from their pupils before deciding to “push the button” on someone they don’t know? I mean, if I have someone who keeps cancelling lessons at the last moment (or who just doesn’t turn up whenever the weather’s nice, claiming they were “unwell”), and who I’ve spoken to sternly on more than one occasion about their reliability, explaining how much it costs me when they do it (even though it isn’t costing them, because I don’t charge them for it, even though I should), and who I have eventually gotten rid of if they haven’t stopped lessons anyway because of all the talking-tos… if they go to this Glorious God-wannabe and tell them I used to shout at them… well, hey! Push the button, why don’t you?

Remember that “shouting” is in the eye (or the ear) of the beholder, and isn’t always an absolute. Raising your voice to tell someone they just made a mistake is one thing, but raising it to tell someone they just cost you another £25 on top of the previous four times they did it is something else entirely.

When I lost my rat race job, my sole aim was to get back into employment as soon as possible. I needed to earn money to pay my bills. My decision to train as a driving instructor was motivated by that: income from employment. I didn’t experience an epiphany, where the clouds parted, and the Heavenly Host sang while a booming voice told me I had been chosen. And as I recall, getting my green badge when I passed my Part 3 involved paying £300 and waiting several weeks for it to arrive in the post. There was no pulling it out of a stone, or having it handed to me by a mystical female hand rising from a pool of still water by the light of a full moon.

No. It was me that did the choosing, and that choice was based on doing something that sounded enjoyable whilst earning a decent income. In many respects, the fact that the company I chose to train with was probably more interested in my money than my suitability meant there was little chance of my educational background and business experience getting up anyone’s nose. Since qualifying, I’ve had loads of grateful pupils pass, a full diary most of the time, and a lot of fun.

And it seems there would still be someone out there who would happily press the button if they could were I to do it all again.

(Note: The graphic used above refers to judging without possessing all the relevant facts.)

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