Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

dvsaThis is interesting. DVSA has announced that it will be trialling carrying out the reverse bay park exercise in non-DVSA car parks during February and March 2022.

The trials will be conducted in Stafford, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Barnsley, Wakefield, Chester, Northwich, Upton, Wallasey, St Helens, Wolverhampton, Gillingham, Bishopbriggs, Gateshead, Durham and, Abergavenny.

I’m all for it – especially if it stops those twats who think they’re good ADIs, and yet who see the test centre car park as some magical place that their little darlings must practice in at all costs. Even when tests are coming and going, and when they have expressly been asked not to.

The first time any of my pupils get to bay park in the test centre car park is on the day of their test. Once when we turn up, and perhaps a second go if they get that manoeuvre once their test commences. The rest of the time I use business and retail parks, or supermarket car parks.

The sooner DVSA implements this fully, the better. But I bet you some instructors will be opposed to it.

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Smearing windscreen in rain

The problem of smeared windscreens in the rain has driven me nuts ever since I started driving, but it became a major headache when I became a driving instructor.

We’ve all experienced it. You get a few spots of rain, and when the wipers wipe you get a mosaic pattern left behind for a few seconds. In heavy rain it’s like someone poured chip fat on the screen and you can’t see properly.

Just to clarify, but there are two separate situations involved here. The normal everyday situation is that muck gets on to your windscreen, and you need to get it off. You do that by squirting some of your screen wash on to the glass, and the wipers wipe the muck away. I’ve talked about how to do that in the article about making your own screen wash. However, over time you get oil and wax bound to the screen which is very difficult to get off, and that is the second situation, and the subject of his article.

Things came to a head some years ago when my lease company replaced my car. From the first day I owned it, in rain you couldn’t see anything. All the previously tried methods, which had given various levels of success, failed completely. Scrunched up newspaper was no good, sodium lauryl sulphate had a minor effect, various solvents also minor, and Clearalex was probably the best but still far from perfect.

The problem was so bad that I seriously thought that the glass must have been damaged in some way.

Normal smearing is caused by gunk on the road loosely binding to the glass. All you need is a bit of water and detergent and it comes straight off. But wax is a totally different matter. A tiny amount of it can affect the entire surface of the glass, and is does not come off with normal detergents. In fact, the process of washing the car can be a major culprit – sponges and rags get wax on them from any waxing process you use, and if you go near the glass with them it gets on there, too. It’s even worse if you use hand car washes regularly (as I do).

The other thing to remember is that your wiper blades can also get wax on them. Even if you get your glass sparkling clean, a few wipes of contaminated blades can mess it up again almost immediately. Furthermore, if you clean the glass and the blades, but leave any wax in the well where the wipers sit, they pick it up and spread it around again.

That lease car – and several others since – appears to have had some manufacturing residue still on the glass, because I was also having problem inside with misting and hazy marks with certain sun angles.

So how can you get it off?

Clearalex is available as a liquid, but you used to be able to buy it in sachets in powder form. It is intended to be added to your screen wash, and it cleans quite well, but the drawback is that it leaves a horrible white residue when it dries. I have had some success with Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS), which is an anionic surfactant used in many household products. It removes quite a lot of windscreen gunk, but it didn’t seem to touch wax or my residue, and it also leaves annoying white marks on the glass when it dries.

However, I eventually came across Sugar Soap. I’d not heard about it before, but it is used by decorators and builders to remove grease and dirt from surfaces prior to painting, and it occurred to me that that was precisely what I was trying to achieve with my apparently permanently gunked windscreen.

Wikipedia describes it thus:

Sugar soap as typically found in Commonwealth countries is a cleaning material of variable composition sold for use on surfaces affected by greasy or tarry deposits which are not easily removed with routine domestic cleaning materials. When in dry powder form it looks like table sugar thus causing the name.

The solution is alkaline and its uses include cleaning paintwork in preparation for repainting.

The powder form looks exactly like Clearalex powder, and I suspect that there may be some similarities in chemical composition. But you can get liquid and trigger spray variants of it. The main difference between Clearalex and sugar soap is that the latter is dirt cheap, whereas the former comes at a premium price. You simply make up a bucket of the stuff with warm water and give your windscreen a good going over with a clean rag or sponge.

In the case of my ‘damaged’ windscreen, I soaked some cloths in the solution and gave my windscreen a good scrub. Then I then took the car out for a run in the rain.

Initially, I thought it hadn’t worked. But with each wiper pass the glass was became clearer and clearer. The sugar soap appeared to have softened whatever it was on the glass and it was gradually coming off. When I got back home I soaked the rags again and this time left them covering the windscreen for about half an hour (not forgetting the bit under the wipers). I also cleaned the blades with it. This time the windscreen was absolutely crystal clear.

In conclusion, Sugar Soap is great for one-off cleaning. However, it leaves a nasty  white residue when it dries if you try to include it in normal screen wash.

Traffic Film Remover (TFR)

Not long after all this, I stopped using the Tiger Wash (drive thru) at my local garage and started using a local hand car wash – partly as a result of the garage hiking fuel prices, and partly because the hand car wash also did a damned good vacuum clean of the inside of the car. I was intrigued at how clean they could get the car just using some small hand pumps and a power spray. The next time I was in, I did a bit of snooping around and discovered ‘TFR’ – or ‘traffic film remover’.

After reading up on the subject, I bought some TFR from a company called JennyChem. They also supply the mysterious cherry-smelling shampoo the hand car washes use, along with a range of other treatments used by car washes. In a nutshell, a 1-2% TFR solution gets all the oil/wax film off a windscreen in one go, and it also seems to also attack the residue I’d been plagued with on my lease cars since that first one that had it, though sugar soap is still best for this.

Right now, you can get a 5% discount at JennyChem using the following code at checkout.

BAYJC8628

I use TFR in a small spray bottle to clean my alloys and bodywork in between visits to the hand car wash when I have an upcoming test. It removes brake dust from alloys, as well as summer tree gum and bird crap (especially when the little sods have been eating blackberries and insist on sitting on the telephone wire right above my driveway).

And a final note. You can make your own screenwash using TFR. But be advised this does still leave a slight residue.

Does TFR damage the windscreen?

No.

Does TFR damage paintwork?

If it is the non-caustic type, and if it is used at the manufacturer’s recommended concentration, no. But remember that TFR will remove any wax you have applied, so you will need to re-wax after using it on painted surfaces. However, removing wax is exactly what you want if it’s on your windows, which is ultimately why I use it.

Strongly caustic types – which are cheaper and harsher, and often used to shift several centimetres of crap off the undersides of lorries – could damage painted surfaces if used at high strengths and if left on for too long. However, the stuff supplied by JennyChem is not strongly caustic, and is specifically designed for use on cars.

Is there a non-chemical solution?

A reader (from Australia) wrote to me to tell me that he had had success removing that new-windscreen film using Cerium Oxide paste. You can buy it easily from various places (including Amazon) in various forms – powder, paste, or block – and it is specifically used for polishing glass. If you buy it, make sure you get the finest grade possible – ideally, one which is specifically sold for the intended purpose.

Can you put oil on the windscreen to prevent smearing?

Or, as it was put to find the blog, ‘can u put oil on wind screen 2 prfent rain’? NO. It will make it worse.

My windscreen is smearing when it snows

That’s probably a different thing, and not ‘smearing’ at all. When the windscreen wiper rubbers get cold, they also get stiff. As a result, instead of flexing to the windscreen contours and bending forwards and backwards on each stroke of the wiper, they snag and bounce across. They may even not touch parts of the screen properly on the wipe. All of this is often accompanied by a horrible grunting sound, and it leaves behind a trail of water streaks.

Also, if there are remnants of snow on the blades, this can leave a trail of melt water as the blades wipe. You get similar effects if a leaf or small piece of blossom gets stuck on your blades.

I see rain spots after my wipers wipe

Then you’ve got wax or some other coating on your screen. I get it after I’ve been to the car wash, and I remove it using TFR and/or sugar soap.

Don’t forget that the wiper blades must also be cleaned (as well as the space below the blades when they are in their parked position). There’s no point cleaning the glass of wax if the rubber still has it on it. The wipers will put the wax back as soon as you use them.

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Smearing windscreen in rainI’ve mentioned this in the smearing windscreens article, but winter is the time of year where it gets wet and cold (well, certainly wet), and along with the salt spreading a lot of crap gets thrown on to your glass and builds up into a nasty film that doesn’t easily wash off.

I’m always surprised that some people – including driving instructors – only put water in their wash bottles. And they try to justify it! But water on its own simply does not have sufficient wetting properties to attack oil, wax, and grease stuck on the glass. You know when it’s there, because you get that mosaic pattern left behind when you wipe in the wet.

You need a good detergent to clean off oily deposits, and a small amount of alcohol to assist with wetting. Alcohol also functions as an antifreeze when present in higher quantities, so whereas water will freeze at 0°C, a proper screen wash solution containing alcohol will freeze at a lower temperature depending on how you mix it – as low as -9°C.

You can buy two types in the stores – concentrated, or ready-to-use. With the former, you dilute it yourself depending on the weather outside, and with the latter you have to buy the correct type (they do ‘summer’ and ‘winter’ mixes, with the summer one containing very little alcohol). In most cases, the ‘concentrated’ stuff can be used neat and will protect to between -6°C  and -9°C depending on the brand. Some types claim as low as -20°C, but these are specialist ones and they likely contain other chemicals, since alcohol alone to provide that level of freeze protection would be quite dangerous because of its flammability.

The price of typical concentrated screen wash varies from about £5 per 5L in summer, to about £8 in winter (when you need it the most). The ready-to-use stuff is similarly priced, even though it is more dilute – so you are paying for water if you buy that. In a bad winter, with lots of rain and slush, I can easily get through 5L of washer fluid each week. I use less in summer, but over a year it can still mount up.

If you’re going to buy it, my advice is to stock up in summer when the prices are lower, and only get the concentrate so you’re not paying someone to dilute it for you. You often get BOGOF offers in summer.

However, it can be cheaper to make your own, and it is certainly more convenient. I got the idea when I had a freeze up one time (I was late switching to my winter mix in the first of the two cold winters we had about ten years ago), and solved the immediate problem by nipping into a hardware store and buying a bottle of methylated spirits. Adding that to my wash bottle depressed the freezing point and I was running again within 30 minutes. So then I thought why not make my own?

Washer fluid essentially needs to do two things:

  • clean
  • not freeze when it gets cold

It’s basically just a mixture of alcohol and water with a bit of detergent. And some smelly stuff and dye if you are going the whole hog with it.

For a normal screen wash, the recipe below is what I now use. In a 5L bottle, I place the following:

  • 10g Alcohol Ethoxylate
  • 50g Butyl Glycol
  • Ethanol
  • Fragrance
  • Colouring
  • Water to make up to 5L

The amount of Ethanol depends on the temperature you want to protect down to. To protect to around -2°C, 250mls of Ethanol is all you need (this is my Summer mix, since Ethanol also acts as a wetting agent and it helps to get rid of tree sap). To protect to -4°C, you need 500mls of Ethanol, 750mls protects down to around -6°C to -7°C, and 1L protects down to -9°C. Any more Ethanol in the mixture than that and the solution (especially its vapour) becomes potentially highly flammable. I adjust the amount depending on how cold it is, but I switch to at least 500mls around November each year.

Surprisingly, the water you use is quite important. Tap water is likely to leave water marks on the glass when it dries because of the dissolved salts in it. For many years, I used boiled rainwater, but these days I use the condensate from a home dehumidifier.

I buy Alcohol Ethoxylate and Butyl Glycol from Mistral Industrial Chemicals. At the time of this update, 1L of Alcohol Ethoxylate costs £15 and 1L of Butyl Glycol costs £16.99. The total value of these in each 5L batch of my screen wash is therefore just under 16p.

Ethanol is the most expensive ingredient. I currently buy mine from Liquipak. To keep the overall cost down, I buy 20L at a time, so a batch of my screen wash set to protect me to -9°C would contain Ethanol to the value of £4. A Summer mix would contain about £1’s worth.

I latched on to Alcohol Ethoxylate and Butyl Glycol from reading the Safety Data Sheets from various manufacturers of commercial solutions, and worked out a recipe from there.

A brief aside…

Some years ago I was having major problems cleaning my windscreen on new lease vehicles when I received them. There was something on them that gave the mosaic effect in the wet, but absolutely nothing would get it off.

Eventually, I found that Sugar Soap would. Sugar Soap is used by builders and decorators for degreasing walls and paintwork before painting, and I found it did remove the stubborn film from my windscreens.

Then, a few years ago, I was snooping around the forecourt while my car was being valeted at a hand car wash. I was intrigued by all the things they sprayed on the car which got it sparkling clean, so I wanted to find out what they were using. This was when I discovered Traffic Film Remover (TFR).

I tried using Sugar Soap in my screen wash, but it left a heavy residue when it dried. For several years I used TFR, which was much better (and very effective), but it still left streaks when it dried which I wasn’t happy with. This is why I came up with this latest recipe.

However, if your windscreen picks up a lot of wax from car washes, and other residues from the road, screen wash alone won’t completely remove it. In fact, you can completely degrease your windscreen in the visible areas, but it you leave even a trace of wax on the wiper blades or – worse – in the space where they sit when they aren’t wiping (it gets pushed down there and acts as an ink well), it gets spread pretty quickly back on to the main area of the glass.

An occasional deep clean using Sugar Soap or TFR is still a good idea, therefore. You can get Sugar Soap on Amazon, or at the local Screwfix depots and such like. You can get TFR (among other places, including Amazon) from JennyChem. And if you do decide to order directly from JennyChem, use the discount code BAYJC8628 to get 5% off.

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Alcohol Ethoxylate and Butyl Glycol are the same agents used in commercial screen washes. They are relatively non-foaming, and are designed to attack the kind of stuff you get thrown up on to your glass while you are driving. Don’t try using Fairy Liquid or other household detergents – you’ll have bubble blowing down the street, and it doesn’t work for this purpose anyway at the concentrations it is intended to be used at.

Personally, I make my screen wash fluid ready-to-use as I need it (I make three or four batches at a time and just keep them on hand, making more as required). In summer, I use the minimum amount of Ethanol, and in Winter I just up it depending on how cold it is outside based on those freezing points I mentioned earlier.

As for the fragrance, I found a concentrated Apple scent specifically for car detailing applications like this. It is manufactured by Koch Chemie in Germany, and is called Duftstoff Apfel. If anyone wants to know where to buy it, drop me a line using the Contact Form. And the colouring I use is just three drops of food dye.

How can I prepare for cold temperatures?

Use common sense. If it’s warm, you don’t need a low-temperature screen wash mix, since the higher alcohol content is just a waste of money. But you do still need decent cleaning power for the bugs and tree sap you’re going to get. However, if it gets very cold, you don’t want a freeze-up, so be ready to alter your mix accordingly.

For the recipe I have given here, assuming you have made it to protect down to -6°C to -7°C (750mls Ethanol), you can dilute it 1:1 or 1:2 with water and it will still clean your windscreen. As I say, I make mine as I need it, so I always have the full detergent effect.

Can I make it with more alcohol in it?

Yes, but be careful. Ethanol is flammable, even in water mixtures. On its own, Ethanol has a flash point of 14°C (that means that at that temperature and above, a combustible vapour exists above it that can easily be ignited). A 10% solution in water has a flash point of 49°C, which is much safer. A 20% solution has a flash point of 36°C, which is still safe unless you store it in a very hot place. A 30% solution has a flash point of 29°C, and this is quite likely to be encountered in hot weather. My advice is not to exceed about 20-25% of ethanol.

Do not carry a strong Winter mix in your car in Summer. And definitely do not carry significant quantities of neat Ethanol at any time.

Can I use isopropanol instead?

Also known a Propan-2-ol, 2-Propanol, and Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA).

Short answer, yes – but only if the it’s a few degrees below zero. IPA has a lower flash point than ethanol, and any solution above 20% is potentially risky. IPA also has a very distinctive smell.

Can I use Methanol?

I’m just going to say no. It’s poisonous even in small quantities (it can make you go blind), and could be dangerous if inhaled regularly, so for that reason you should not use it.

Can I use methylated spirits?

Usually, this contains methanol as the denaturant – though sometimes other chemicals are used. It also has a strong smell. Apart from the time I used it in an emergency, I would advise against it. However, if you can find ‘denatured ethanol’ or ‘denatured ethyl alcohol’, and can be sure it doesn’t have methanol in it, that would be fine. It’s usually (not always) the blue stuff that contains methanol.

Can I just use water?

Water on its own is no good. If the temperature falls, it will freeze. Even if it doesn’t freeze in your main washer bottle, it will in the pipes and at the nozzles, and freezing water is quite capable of splitting pipes or closed containers. Attempting to use your screen washer pump if there is no liquid water inside could burn out the motor.

Water alone doesn’t clean many things off the glass – it won’t touch oil, grease, or squashed insects, and it will struggle with tree sap.

Remember that if you are driving without the ability to keep your windscreen clear, you are committing an offence. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 says:

Every wiper and washer fitted in accordance with this regulation shall at all times while a vehicle is being used on a road be maintained in efficient working order and be properly adjusted.

Arguably, you are not complying with this if you just use water. If it freezes (or the bottle is empty) and you drive, you’re definitely not complying with it. It is shocking that some ADIs are apparently doing this.

Can you dilute ready to use screenwash?

Of course you can – certainly in Summer. It’s not a magic potion – just a mixture of water, alcohol, and detergent. I wouldn’t dilute the ready-to-use stuff more than about 50:50 with water, though, because the detergent probably wouldn’t do its job properly.

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The new Highway Code hierarchyFrom 29 January 2022, new changes to the Highway Code (HC) come into effect.

The new hierarchy for road users is as shown in the graphic above. Pedestrians first, then cyclists, then motorcyclists, then cars and vans, and finally lorries. This is based on who is likely to get the most damaged if any one of the other things hits them. And at this stage – as long as you don’t apply any reality to the situation – it makes perfect sense. Well, apart from the fact they left horses off the graphic, but more on that later.

However, the instant you do apply reality, you can see potential issues.

You see, the top three in the hierarchy consists of the vast majority of the population, who either aren’t aware that the HC exists, or who treat it as advisory even they do. And to make matters worse, the first and second groups in the hierarchy will become acutely aware of these changes thanks to the media, and a significant proportion of those will therefore push it to the limits.

Look at this example of something that happened to me while I was driving to a lesson a couple of weeks ago.

If that road was 30mph (or if he’d have done that in front of one of his neighbours in their Audis or low-slung Corsas who don’t recognise speed limits in the first place) he’d be in intensive care right now, or worse, But this is what cyclists do! And he got a mouthful from me out of the window.The new Highway Code rules

You see, the HC is changing like this. Whereas before, a pedestrian crossing the road at a junction was supposed to make sure it was safe and give way to anything turning in, now it is the pedestrian – one of those least likely to be aware of the Highway Code – who can just walk out regardless and it will be the driver/rider of the vehicle who is supposed to give way. And the hierarchy gives the same precedence to cyclists. I mean, we never see them jump on a pavement to skip lights and ride across a junction, do we?

Imagine the twat in the video above coming round a corner and colliding with a pedestrian being equally twattish by by just stepping out. In Broxtowe, Aspley, and Strelley (among others all over the country) it is deeply embedded in the single helix of their DNA to behave like that.

I’m just dying to see how that will be resolved, since the cyclist would have no insurance, and unless he hangs around – which he’s unlikely to do if he’s maimed someone and knows he was being a prat – there is little chance of finding him. Christ, the police can’t even find the boy racers and illegal off-road bikers in Strelley most of the time, so cyclists are well out of the mix on that one.

A lot of rear-end collisions occur when cars stop suddenly and the driver behind isn’t paying attention. Let’s be under no illusions here: drivers of cars, vans, and lorries can be as afflicted with stupidity as much as cyclists and pedestrians are. However, drivers tend to be more aware of the fact that if they hit one of the specimens of those other groups, they will damage them quite badly. But imagine driving into a junction as some prat walks (or rides) in front of you. The possibilities are endless, for hitting the pedestrian/cyclist, or having some imbecile ram into you if you stop suddenly.

This is a stupid change. Roads were built for traffic, and yet precedence is now given to pedestrians and Spandex fetishists with serious attitude problems, all because of the Green Agenda.

Oh, and horses. I have no problem with horse riders, since they almost invariably do not have attitude problems (those that do are in a small minority). I’m careful with them, and they want to be careful with me, and in all honesty, if they were first on that hierarchy I’d give it my full support. However, the number of cyclists with behavioural issues is close to 100% (though close to 100% of them don’t realise it). Virtually none of them care about anyone except themselves, and they should not be given this bone on which to gnaw.

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A SparrowhawkI woke up this morning to be met by a very unusual and rather exciting sight just outside the kitchen window.

A bird – I believe it is a Goshawk [correction: A Sparrowhawk, so the article title is now a bit off] – had caught a pigeon and was eating it. It was quite macabre, since the pigeon was not dead and remained alive for at least 30-60 minutes while the hawk tore it to pieces and ate it. The whole business took a couple of hours, and it ate everything except the feathers.Another angle (Sparrowhawk)

Then, just before dusk, I looked out of the window and saw it – or at least another bird – had caught another pigeon. This one was dead, and it flew off with it this time.Sparrowhawk close-up

It was a magnificent creature, though – nature is both cruel and beautiful – but it was so close I got a couple of dozen great pictures from the open bathroom window and through the kitchen window glass.

We do get the occasional evidence of a major incident in our garden (which is quite large) judging from the explosion of feathers we see. I’ve mentioned before that I came home one Sunday afternoon some years ago and saw a large bird of prey eating a pigeon at the far end of the garden.

But I hope it sticks with a pigeon diet and leaves the smaller birds alone.

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Originally posted in 2009. Updated annually, so here’s the 2021 version. It’s the end of November and we’ve had some early snow. The papers are full of photographs of people’s dogs in snow, children sledging on frozen mud with some sleet on it, and dire warnings about the coldest winter since 10,000 BC (the last Ice Age). Same as every year. The original article follows.

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 might be a market for specialised snow lessons at premium prices. 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. Even when we get a little of the white stuff it is usually gone inside a week or two at most. 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 fall in London. This  is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.

Every year, incompetence and bureaucracy at local councils typically means that every time there is any bad weather, it’s like they’ve never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are. Having a ‘specialised snow Instructor’ in the UK (especially in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing the Mediterranean: bloody stupid!

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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.

One bit of advice. Make sure you have the right mixture in your wash bottle, and a scraper for removing any frost or snow. A further bit of advice. Never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a metal-bladed ice scraper. Always plastic. Trust me, I’ve tested metal ones for you, and you are welcome. Don’t use metal.

Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?

It depends on how much of it 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 a lot of sense to do them if you can to 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. If your instructor cancels then you should not get charged. If you are, find another instructor quickly.

If the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea. That’s when they’re likely to be cancelled.

Also 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 based on the weather in your area.

Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?

Yes. If he or she doesn’t (or just doesn’t turn up without telling you), find another. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask.

My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather

Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018). I’m telling you in the most absolute terms possible that this is utter nonsense. I have never heard of insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather, and especially not driving instructor insurance. If anyone tells you this, find another instructor quickly.

Do [driving school name] cancel lessons due to bad weather?

Cancelling lessons due to bad weather is down to the instructor and not the driving school they represent. So it doesn’t matter which school you are with. But yes, lessons can be cancelled for bad weather.

Any decent instructor might cancel lessons due to too much snow – either falling, or on the ground – making driving dangerous. They might also cancel due to thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain/flooding. The decision lies solely with the instructor. If you disagree with their decision, find another one.

Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?

There is no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you, but if he or she does it goes against all the principles of Common Decency. You should not be charged for bad weather cancellations initiated by your instructor. If you are, find another instructor as soon as possible.

However, if it’s you who wants to cancel, but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson, it’s a little more tricky. You being nervous is not the same as it being genuinely too dangerous. I had someone once who would try to cancel for light rain, bright sun, mist, and wind when she didn’t feel like driving. You’ll need to sort this out yourself, but as in all other cases, if you’re not happy just find a different instructor – being aware that if the problem is you, the issues won’t go away.

I want to do the lesson, but my instructor said no

You need to be realistic about the conditions. Just because your test is coming up, for example, and you don’t want to have to move it doesn’t alter the fact that the weather might just be too dangerous to drive in on the day of the lesson. When I cancel lessons in snow it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. On the other hand, if the police are advising against travel, or if the roads are at a standstill, I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.Snow on road scene 3

As 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. His house was on a slope, and it was clearly becoming difficult to drive without slipping. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson. The snow lasted for about as long as his lesson would have, but was gone by the afternoon. Cancelling was the right decision.

Do lessons in snow cost more?

No. If you’re charged extra for normal driving lessons in snow, find another instructor immediately.

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, like the red car in the picture above.

You should never drive in snow

That’s total rubbish. Unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’, doing lessons on snow or ice is extremely useful for when you pass. Partially melted snow is ideal for doing ‘snow lessons’ if you have the right instructor. The one thing you do need is to make sure you are suitably equipped in case you get caught out. A scraper, de-icer, the right liquid in your wash bottle – and perhaps a pair of snow socks.

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Do YOU do lessons in snow?

Generally speaking, yes – as long as I feel it is safe to do so, and unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’. I do not do lessons in snow because I am desperate for the money – I will happily cancel if I believe it is too dangerous. And sometimes it is. For example, in this 2021 update, I cancelled two late afternoon lessons on the day it began snowing hard (after finishing the one I was on while it was coming down), because the first is trigger-happy with his foot at the best of times, and the other would have been after the slush froze (and it froze bloody hard). And I didn’t know how long it would snow for, or how much we’d get.

Why do YOU do lessons in snow?

Several years ago we had two winters where it snowed properly for the first time in around 26 years. I had not experienced it as an instructor before, and I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks I realised I was being over-cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I recognised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching aid. Not with the beginners or nervous ones, but the more advanced ones definitely.

Snow - bad enough to cancel or not?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.

At one time, tests wouldn’t go out if there was any snow at all in Nottingham. In February 2018 during the visitation by ‘The Beast from the East’ (aka the ‘Kitten in Britain’), I had an early morning test go out with substantial 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). You can never be certain, but be prepared.

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. And you shouldn’t be charged for your lesson or car hire that day.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 could easily be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.

Driving tests cancelled due to snow [insert year here]…

It doesn’t matter if it’s 1821, 1921, 2021, or any other date. If there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy then your test may well be cancelled. It doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says, or – in 2021 – that there’s a long waiting list for test dates due to COVID. It is up to the test centre to decide.

Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?

Driving in snow is potentially dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets will likely be 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. You are a new driver and you probably haven’t driven on snow before. DVSA cannot take the risk, and you have to accept it.

PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED AT THAT TEST CENTRE BEFORE YOU SET OFF – YOU WON’T FIND THE ANSWER GOOGLING FOR IT. DECISIONS ARE MADE MINUTE-TO-MINUTE AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT BY CALLING THEM.

In the past, I have had 8.10am tests booked in the middle of winter and sometimes I know for a fact that when I pick the pupil up at 6.30am the conditions are so bad the test is going to be cancelled. But until the examiners get in just before 8am there is no way of checking. That’s why I advise against my pupils booking early tests in winter – cancellations are far more likely when it is cold and icy, and it is more likely to be cold and icy (and foggy) first thing in the morning before the sun has come up properly.

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It’s nearly the end of Autumn in the UK, snow is looking likely, and my tree only has a few  yellow leaves left, having had a healthy and drop-free season otherwise. Time to prepare for next year and start feeding and watering from March again.

Our Silver Birch in June 2017Back in 2014, when I originally wrote this, our Birch tree suddenly began to produce a lot of yellow leaves in mid-June. After a lot of research I managed to figure out the possible causes and the remedies. That was the purpose of the original article.

However, 2018 threw up a new issue. It turned out to be the hottest year on record, but even before we found that out people will remember how hot it was, and for how long it stayed like that. My tree once again began to show a few sprays of yellow fairly early in the season.

The article becomes popular each year, firstly in late Spring and early Summer, then again later in the season closer to Autumn.

In 2014, I identified the following as likely causes of premature yellowing:

  • nutrient deficiency
  • iron deficiency
  • manganese deficiency

After the 2018 heatwave, I further identified lack of water as a major factor. With hindsight, it may have also been a factor in that 2014 season, but nothing compared with 2018 for prolonged heat and lack of rain.

When I first experienced yellowing back in 2014, I initially thought my tree was dying. Googling for an answer was pretty much useless, because most of the technical advice is American and focuses on the Bronze Birch Borer (a beetle that feeds on white birches), which isn’t known outside of  North America. But somewhere in among the advice, I came across a simple comment – and I don’t recall where I saw it now – that made a lot more sense.

In a nutshell, premature yellowing/leaf drop can be caused by nutrient and iron deficiencies in the soil. This comes about over a period of time as fallen leaves are swept up each year and sent to the tip, so none of the nutrients are returned to the soil. Consequently, the soil becomes depleted of them.

Birches are ericaceous – lime-hating – plants, and prefer a slightly acidic soil. As such, you need to feed them using ericaceous fertiliser. I first used Miracle-Gro solid fertiliser, intended for Azaleas and Rhododendrons (also lime-hating), but a couple of years later switched to Doff liquid feed so I could use it in my Access Irrigation Static Dilutor. I also got hold of some Maxicrop Seaweed Extract, which is also liquid, and watered that in at the same time.

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My original problem showed itself as canary-yellow leaves, either in sprays, or randomly dotted throughout the canopy. On closer inspection, some of the leaves looked like those in the photograph here.Leaves suffering from chlorosis

This is known as chlorosis. Leaves are usually green because they contain chlorophyll – and chlorophyll is green. Chlorophyll is what allows plants to convert light energy into sugars that they can use as food through the process called photosynthesis. Plants use iron to produce chlorophyll, so if there isn’t enough iron in the soil the tree can’t make enough chlorophyll, and you get yellowed leaves. The tree compensates for being hungry (if it hasn’t got chlorophyll it can’t make food for energy) by going into shutdown and shedding those leaves. And you may also find that new leaves are small and misshapen when chlorosis is the issue.

You can easily treat chlorosis using sequestered iron (or seaweed extract). Being ‘sequestered’, the tree can suck the iron up and use it right away. A longer term solution is to use iron sulphate lawn feed, which also slightly acidifies the soil over time.Close-up of leaves suffering from chlorosis

I also bought some manganese to water in the first time, but I am not sure how relevant that was. I used it for a couple of seasons, but stopped. Each year, I simply feed the tree once or twice a month between March and September using fertiliser and seaweed extract.

Note that none of these problems are confined to Silver Birches. All trees and plants can be affected by nutrient deficiencies, and you simply have to deal with the problem using the appropriate, easily purchased treatments.Close-up of our tree's leaves in June 2017

In that first season, a single application of fertiliser stopped the leaf drop almost immediately. Once the already-yellow leaves had fallen, the tree remained green until Autumn, and even threw out some large new leaves and fat catkins. It obviously liked what I had done to it, and I continued doing it from June until September every few weeks.

Everything was fine until the hot summer of 2018. You might recall that the prolonged heatwave began quite early, and by the end of June I was again noticing a few sprays of yellow. I wasn’t a nutrient issue this time – I was feeding the tree regularly – but I’d already guessed the hot weather might have something to do with it, and a bit more research showed that heat stress in trees is a real issue, and Birches are highly susceptible to it.

It turns out that lack of moisture in the ground combined with prolonged high air temperatures causes trees – and especially Birches – to become stressed, which again triggers them to go into emergency shutdown by shedding leaves.

My research provided two options for getting water down to the roots (which fortunately, in the case of Birches, is quite shallow). One involved hammering at least half a dozen hollow spikes into the ground around the tree and dripping water directly down to them. I decided against that on the basis that a) the ground was already as hard as iron plate, b) anything which sounds so simple (i.e. hammering a hollow plastic spike into the soil) was going to turn into a nightmare of split plastic, only being able to get part way down, and discovering chunks of bedrock I didn’t know were there, and c) having these things poking out of the lawn would look bloody awful even if I got them in (and even worse if they only went in part-way). The easier option was to commence heavy-watering immediately – basically, to run the sprinklers for hours at a time every  night.

That method fixed the problem in less than a week.

With hindsight, it is quite possible that lack of moisture was a contributing factor back in 2014, and my feeding routine would have dealt with that automatically (though I did have chlorosis). But in 2018, it was definitely just the result of too little moisture around the roots.

So, to summarise. If you experience premature leave-yellowing, the very first thing you should do is water like crazy. Don’t worry about over-watering too much – Birches like wet soil, which is why they grow near streams. Just don’t turn your garden into a swamp. While you’re doing that, buy some ericaceous feed and seaweed extract, and get that into your soil as soon as possible (how much depends on how big your tree is).

Can you rescue leaves which have turned yellow?

No, probably not. I suppose that chlorosis could be reversed if you caught it early enough, but if the leaf is dead and the tree has triggered its shedding mechanism, you’re going to lose them.

The important thing is that by feeding and watering the tree you can stop any further yellowing – and believe me, the first time you do it the effects will be quite noticeable within a short time.

Do you have to keep treating the trees?

Yes. If you don’t, the problem just comes back once the tree has used up what you’ve fed it, especially if you bin the leaves again the following autumn. Huge trees will suck up all the nutrients and water, and if you’re raking up and binning the leaves each year (or if the soil is dry and there are no prolonged periods of rain) nothing gets returned to the soil.

How often should you feed?

Treat them once or twice a month from March until September. And water regularly.

Can heat and drought cause them to lose leaves?

Yes. If they are stressed you may get them dropping leaves. In extreme cases the leaves can go brown and the tree can even die. It’s a good idea to water them deeply during hot, dry periods. Once or twice a week should be enough, though more frequently won’t hurt if the dry period is prolonged.

Remember that after a period of drought (or prolonged dry weather) it needs an extended period of rain to wet the soil again, especially deep down. A few heavy downpours won’t do it, and you will still need to help things along.

Will a Birch recover from drought?

It depends on whether the drought killed it or not. A reader wrote to me in 2018, mentioning that his tree had lost its leaves, and I advised that the only thing he could do right then was to feed and water – and hope for the best. He wrote to me in 2019 to tell me the tree had started to rock in the wind, and that a tree surgeon had subsequently declared it dead, and had had to remove it. Apparently, the roots were rotten.

There’s no way of knowing if it was just the drought that did the damage. The tree may have been weakened by not feeding and watering over previous years, and the drought was just the final nail in the coffin. But the 2018 heatwave certainly caused problems.

Is there any other way to deal with the problem?

You have to get nutrients and iron back into the soil. And you need water in order for the roots to be able to access those nutrients. Yes, you could use your own mulch or bought compost, but obviously this is not so attractive in a normal garden (removing it is what got you here in the first place). It would also take longer to have an effect. But it would still work, given time.

When do Birch trees normally start to shed their leaves?

In the Autumn! In the UK this is from around September-October, and the onset varies up and down the country. It often seems triggered by a noticeable drop in night time temperatures. The leaves will begin to fall from that point – very lightly at first, then increasing as the yellowing spreads.

Why do birch trees drop leaves so early?

They don’t. They drop them in Autumn, like all other trees which shed their leaves each year. If yours is turning early, you may have a problem.

How do you apply these treatments?

You make up the required solution as directed on the pack, then water it into the area specified. I use a combined watering/fertilising system, which I have written about separately. However, you can use a watering can and hosepipe/sprinkler as necessary. Note that if the ground is dry, a watering can won’t get the nutrients down to the roots, so a heavy watering is essential.

Why are fallen leaves sticky?

You’ve probably got greenfly! Specifically, the birch aphid, Euceraphis betulae. They feed on the European Birch, Betula pendula, and they increase in number during warm and dry weather. Aphids secrete honeydew as they feed, and that’s the sticky stuff you’re seeing. Apparently, you can get different species of greenfly that feed on specific trees.

You can kill them with a soap/water mixture, though no one has ever been able to tell me precisely how you apply that to a 20 metre high tree. And the same goes for any chemical method relying on direct contact. An alternative solution is to introduce predatory insects – something that eats aphids. The best one is the Ladybird larva, and you can buy them online. There are other predatory insects you can buy, too.

My tree is losing branches and twigs

If the tree is weak then it is understandable that twigs and small branches might fall off. Once they’re stronger this will stop. In any case, if it is windy, a few dead twigs are bound to fall off. It’s just nature – and birches also have a fungus which can cause small twigs to die and fall.

In the Spring, Crows can also be a problem if they’re nesting nearby. They are very, very selective in their choice of twigs for the purpose, and they will tear off dozens until they get the right one. It’s nature, so we don’t worry when they’re using ours for their twigs.

When do birches start to show leaves?

In Spring, obviously, but the precise date varies depending on both the tree and the weather. In 2019, they were about a month earlier than 2018 in the UK. Mine is usually showing leaves sometime during April each year.

I’ve got catkins but no leaves

Someone found the site in April 2018 with that query. You’ll probably find that in a couple of weeks you’ll have lots of leaves. As I have said in this article, I start feeding mine from March onwards. Leaves start sprouting a week or two earlier than my neighbours’ trees, and the foliage on mine is usually much denser. The catkins often come before the leaves.

Are the leaves changing early this year?

This was a generic search term used to find the blog in mid-July 2017. The short answer is no, they are not – not in July in the UK, anyway. They change towards the end of September in the UK.

Do Weeping Silver Birches lose their leaves in Autumn?

Yes.

When do Silver Birch leaves go all brown?

They don’t. The leaves should go yellow and fall off in the autumn.

I had quite a few visitors from this search term in 2018, and when I looked it up it seems that extreme cases of chlorosis and heat stress can result in leaves turning brown (see this supplementary article). It could also be a disease or infestation which you could treat, but the tree itself might also be dead – especially if it has been having any of the problems I mentioned above over previous years. Best to call in the experts.

Does this advice only apply to Silver Birch trees?

No. Chlorosis can affect many plants, and lack of nutrients is a universal issue. You might need a different fertiliser to address any nutrient problem, but iron will likely fix chlorosis. Lack of water can kill virtually any plant.

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DIY Doorbell Schematci LayoutA few years ago I bought a Ring video doorbell. After a bit of fiddling setting it up, it has worked reasonably well, though it isn’t perfect.

For a start off, it relies on Wi-Fi, which is a bloody nightmare at the best of times in the home environment. It is also totally dependant on Ring’s own cloud system (it isn’t an ONVIF camera, which I will go into later). But my main niggle is that I have no control over my data – and Ring is trying to make access to it even more difficult, thus enhancing the imperfections.

You see, the Ring system can currently be accessed via a desktop app, a smartphone app, or via a browser. I use the desktop app to monitor my system, because I can see absolutely no point in having a HD camera and only viewing it on a small smartphone screen. Furthermore, the smartphone app has a tendency to alert you up to a minute or more after an event has been triggered (I often get in my car and drive off from my house, only to have my phone vibrate when I get to the end of the road informing me I left a short while ago). And the browser interface has two-factor authentication and logs you out every five minutes, so if you get an alert, it can take some seconds to log in, by which time whoever was at the door has left. The desktop app is always connected (albeit with a tendency to decide not to give a live feed after it has been triggered). And another niggle is that the system only records several seconds of footage when an event occurs – it doesn’t record continuously.

But a couple of months ago, Ring unilaterally announced it was discontinuing the desktop app – initially, in mid-October, and currently (following uproar across the community), in December.

As I said, the Ring doorbell and the Ring system are not perfect. It can be glitchy, and it could do things better (like record continuously). But it’s a million times better than just ‘ding-dong’’ when someone calls, especially when that someone knocks instead (which most seem to do). However, without the desktop app, the glitchiness factor increases in significance considerably – the variable time lags with the other two methods are simply not acceptable. And as the Ring is a subscription device, I was rather miffed at this drastic change.

Running in parallel with all this is a very relevant separate story. During the summer I installed a birdbox with a camera in it in my garden. Once I’d assembled it and powered it up, it was immediately visible on my home network. That’s because it is an IP camera, and it uses the ONVIF protocol (as I mentioned at the start, Ring doesn’t do that, and forces you to use its own cloud service). Being ONVIF also means I can stream the camera feed live. Admittedly, my birdbox camera is a Wi-Fi system in this case (it’s at the end of the garden, after all), but ONVIF cameras can be wireless or wired – it doesn’t matter, and they just have to be discoverable on your network, which the ONVIF protocol takes care of. Better still, with my NAS system – which has Surveillance Station software pre-installed – I can continuously record the footage. Obviously, there’s no point saving every minute of every day forever, so I have it set to automatically delete anything older than (in my case) two days. This gives me time to manually save any particular footage I want to keep. It has motion detection, and I can edit the zones I want to monitor (and edit detection sensitivity as necessary). And best of all, all the data belong to me, and they are free – no subscriptions of any kind.

You can probably see where this is heading. On the one hand, you have the Ring doorbell – which taps into your network, but which has to communicate with Ring’s own ring-fenced servers across the internet, and those have to communicate back across the internet (or by SMS) to send any messages. It doesn’t record continuously, and no internet (or no Ring cloud) means no functioning doorbell. On the other hand, you have an ONVIF camera, which doesn’t require an internet connection, just a local network, which records continuously, and which has virtually the same overall functionality as far as the camera is concerned (just not a bell push feature).

I mean, come on! Is there a DIY project here or what?

I discovered that you can build an ONVIF camera using the Raspberry Pi. You can get open source motion detection software specifically for the Pi (though my Surveillance Station software already has that). And you can include various event detection features – button presses, for example – in a multitude of different ways.

The schematic diagram at the top of this article shows what I am planning right now. I will have a camera system based on a Raspberry Pi Zero with a bell-push button on the outside of my front door. This will connect to a hub, based on a Raspberry Pi 4, on the inside of the door (most likely, by a wired connection through the door jamb, but with Wi-Fi as a back up for the short distance of a couple of inches if necessary). The Pi 4 will be on the network, and almost certainly wired. Finally, I want two remote alarm units (one upstairs, and one downstairs), and I haven’t decided yet whether these will be wired or wireless – a lot comes down to how prepared I am to lay network cables, and the routes I could take if I did. I also haven’t decided whether to control them from the Pi4 or via the network. These remote alarms will be audio-visual – they will chime and flash.

If anyone is thinking I will end up with something the size of a fridge on my front door, just bear in mind the Pi Zero is 30mm x 65mm x 13mm in size. Camera modules are smaller, though the lens adds height. What I have in mind will certainly look different to a Ring doorbell, but it will be of a similar overall size if I assemble it  in an appropriate way. And a Pi 4 is only 57mm x 86mm x 11mm, so it will hardly be out of place if suitably enclosed behind the door.

This will be fun. Watch this space…

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I originally wrote this in 2011, and updated it in 2013, then again in 2021.


There seems to be a lot of confusion over how to turn right at crossroads when another vehicle is turning right from the opposite direction.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) – that’s the official DSA guide to driving – says the following:

Turning right when an oncoming vehicle is also turning right

When two vehicles approaching from opposite directions both want to turn right, there are two methods that can be used. Either method is acceptable, but will usually be determined by

  • the layout of the crossroads
  • what course the other driver decides to take
  • road markings

Turning offside to offside

The advantage of this method is that both can see oncoming traffic.

In congested traffic conditions, leave a space for approaching traffic to turn right.

Turning nearside to nearside

This method is less safe because the view of oncoming vehicles isn’t clear. Watch out for oncoming traffic hidden by larger vehicles. Motorcyclists and cyclists are particularly vulnerable, as they would be hidden by any type of vehicle.

Be ready to stop for oncoming vehicles.

Police control or road markings sometimes make this method compulsory.

Defensive driving

Try to make eye contact with the driver of the approaching vehicle to determine which course is best. Your speed should allow you to stop if the other driver pulls out across your path.

What is the difference between nearside to nearside and offside to offside turning? Well, the nearside of the car is the one nearest the kerb, and the offside is the one farthest away from the kerb (the driver’s side). So, the two methods look like this:Crossroads - Turning Right

With offside to offside turning, the two cars go round the back of each other (with their offsides closest). As a result, both can see clearly down the road and both can see if it’s clear to turn or not.

Nearside to nearside turning (with their nearsides closest) creates a large blind spot (coloured purple here), the size of which is governed by the size and proximity of the other vehicle. You cannot see easily down the length of the road, and neither can the driver of the other vehicle.

As TES says, either method is perfectly acceptable.

Another thing to remember is that every junction is different and rarely will you find one that corresponds exactly with the schematic layout I’ve shown above.Crossroads in Mapperley

Let’s look at some real examples. The junction above is in Mapperley, Nottingham. It has clear road markings to guide drivers offside to offside – but since the junction is staggered, offside to offside is what any decent driver would want to do  anyway.Crossroads in Ruddington

This one is in Ruddington, Nottingham. It is marked for nearside to nearside turning because the volume of traffic turning right from both side roads would cause gridlock if people attempted offside to offside. Crossroads in West Bridgford

Finally, this example is from West Bridgford, Nottingham. When turning right from the main road, offside to offside appears to be the best option. In reality, there isn’t enough space and what usually happens is that oncoming traffic either steals the priority and turns in front of you – in which case you just hang back and let them get on with it – or it flashes its lights and you take priority (after making sure they flashed at you, and not one of the vehicles waiting in the side roads), and turn in front of it.  This is simply the kind of thing you have to learn to deal with.

This is an important learning point: learn from roads you drive on regularly, and modify your behaviour accordingly. If you’re unsure about being able to turn, hang back and give way – then the problem usually goes away!

If you’re turning right from either of the side roads in these examples, and someone is doing the same opposite you, who has right of way? Officially, no one does, and the main road is too narrow for either offside to offside or nearside to nearside turning. Some people out there (including some ADIs) would have you and the other driver sit looking at each other until you both keel over from exhaustion. In the real world – if eye contact doesn’t achieve anything – someone will either just force their way out (and the problem goes away) or flash their lights to tell you to go. The unwritten rule tends to be whoever gets there first is given right of way – but you can’t assume that under any circumstances, since there are plenty of arrogant drivers who will do their level best to go whether you’re there or not.

Remember that the Highway Code says you shouldn’t beckon other drivers and road users. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t communicate with them. It mentions eye contact… but what then? Smile? Wink? Nod your head? A simple hand gesture with a flat palm, as if to say “well, what would you like to do?” is NOT beckoning.

What happens when both cars are turning right at crossroads?

Neither car has priority. The options available to you are to turn nearside-to-nearside or offside-to-offside, as explained above. However, in some cases there will be insufficient room for both cars to go at the same time and priority has to be given (not taken).

When you reach the junction, make eye contact with the other driver. It isn’t a contest, so be prepared to give way – you haven’t lost anything by waiting for a few seconds while he gets out of the way. Obviously, if he gives way to you sing some sort of signal then you should check that it’s safe and proceed.

Can you flash your headlights?

Some people out there will be having kittens at reading this, but many other drivers WILL flash their headlights to tell you they are giving way. It’s your responsibility to check there is no traffic coming from your right or left (or from ahead), and that they’re flashing at you, but you can then proceed. If someone is giving you a reasonably clear signal that they’re giving priority to you, only a fool would ignore it. And you don’t have to stretch your imagination very far to work out how this could cut both ways.

Can you wave people through?

Holding your palms out and shrugging as if to say “well, what are you going to do?” is not the same as waving madly to beckon people out. I certainly wouldn’t do the latter, but the former is perfectly acceptable. In most cases, you won’t have to worry, though. The majority of drivers are generally quite arrogant and will try to take the advantage anyway, and that sorts out the problem for you. Even a small hesitation on your part is often signal enough for them to go.

But should you do this on your test?

The short answer is no, don’t flash your headlights or gesture to people on your test. As a learner/new driver you may not be very good at it and it could easily go wrong. However, it is possible that a situation could arise where the only sensible thing to do is to flash your headlights or gesture to someone – even to beckon them.

You have to assess, be confident… and be safe.

Pupils don’t understand what offside and nearside mean.

Then educate them! It’s what they’re paying you for.

Offside to offside turning is stupid – people don’t do it.

No it isn’t, and yes they do. Sometimes it is the best option. Sometimes it is road marked that you should do it. If people don’t do it when it is clearly the best (or the marked) option then they are the stupid ones. As TES says: either method is acceptable.

Marked crossroads are invariably nearside-to-nearside anyway.

No they aren’t! Just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There are at least two in Nottingham which are included in test routes.

This comment was picked up from a forum which was visiting this article at the time it was originally published, and it is simply untrue. As I’ve made clear, either method is acceptable and which one you use depends on:

  • the junction involved
  • road markings
  • road layout (i.e. is it symmetrical or slightly skewed/staggered?)
  • the time of day (i.e. how busy is it?)
  • what other road users are doing (rightly or wrongly)

Offside to offside is unquestionably the safest method wherever it is possible to use it. Blindly trying to do nearside to nearside without understanding what you’re doing often means cutting corners, forcing others to stop or slow down, and taking needless risks. It points to ignorance of road rules and poor attitude.

Why should you check your mirrors when turning right?

One word: cyclists!

You ought to do a quick shoulder check, as well, just to be on the safe side. Trust me, not that long ago I saw a cyclist race up to a car which was turning right into Netherfield near the Colwick test centre, and turn right on his offside just as the car moved off. I’ve also seen them go round the nearside and do it.

To be fair, it isn’t just cyclists (though it is mainly them who are the problem). Motorcyclists (especially mopeds, which are just powered bicycles when you consider the idiots who usually ride them) will do it, and I’ve even had a van overtake (on the offside) when turning into a side road (I reported him to the police).

Who has priority at crossroads?

The short answer is no one does. That’s because you can never be completely certain what others are going to do, so even if there was a rule which said you had priority, and no matter how many road markings there are, there are far too many people out there who simply wouldn’t follow that rule.

However, as a general rule for yourself, assume that if you are going to cross the path of anyone else, then you don’t have any sort of ‘priority’. In other words, if you are turning right at a crossroads, and someone on the opposite side wants to turn to their left or go straight ahead (and they might not be signalling even if they’re going left or right), don’t take any risks and just let them get on with it.

Make eye contact with the other driver. They may indicate with a gesture that they are allowing you to have priority – priority can be given, but never taken or assumed.

Driving: The Essential Skills (TES) says:

  • if you’re turning right and the other vehicle is going ahead or turning left, you should normally wait for the other vehicle to clear the junction before you make your turn. Otherwise, you’d be cutting across their path

People come up with all sorts of ‘what if’ scenarios for this situation, but the simple answer is not to take risks, and not to assume other people are good drivers. For the sake of a few seconds, it is a minor inconvenience at most. Just give them priority (or let them assume they have it). That way, you are driving defensively even if they aren’t.

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I’ve moved this to the top, because I have a resident! A Great Tit – and I’m certain it’s the same one who – after his first visit, followed by his second longer one – has chosen it as a place to roost now Autumn is setting in. For anyone following this, he tends to arrive between 6.00pm and 6.20pm at the moment (though he flopped in at 5.40pm one evening). After his initial visits at 9.00am on two consecutive days, he’s roosted there every night since, so he clearly likes it. He wakes up and leaves around 7.00am each morning.

When he arrives, he spends several minutes searching for insects in the cavities (on one occasion, he got something with legs between his beak and ate it, so I now know that’s what he’s doing).  I also think that’s why he jumps up to (and above) the camera, – he’s after the insects, because the birdbox has open vents at the top as well as the bottom, so bugs are going to go inside quite readily.

This is the live feed/live streaming from my birdbox camera. It’s on the back of the garden shed facing east, and about 2m from the ground.

The camera is Wi-Fi. It worked seamlessly when I was setting it all up in the house, but when I moved it to the end of the garden the signal strength meant that the connection was intermittent. I tried a Wi-Fi extender, which improved things somewhat, but the real issue was (I think) with my Virgin Media router. I discovered that the Superhub 3 has a known issue with Wi-Fi, resulting in dropouts even if the signal is good – and that tied in with the issues I’d had for a while with my smartphone, where the connection dropped even with a good signal. So I went for a different solution.

I used a TP-Link EAP 225 outdoor wireless access point (WAP). This takes control of the Wi-Fi aspect, so the router’s Wi-FI is irrelevant. I can now get maximum wireless right to the end of our garden, which is about 50m long, and no stupid dropouts. It’s just a constant strong signal.

At the moment, the WAP is propped up indoors near a window. Next job is to drill holes in the wall to mount it outside where it is supposed to be. Since the WAP is powered directly from the ethernet (PoE) I’ve got to get an ethernet cable and plug through the wall, so that means a 16mm hole. I have a 16mm bit, and it is 300mm in length. I’m not looking forward to the next part, but I’m steeling myself for it.

Incidentally, during the day the BirdCam is in full colour. At night, when the sensor detects low light, it turns off the internal LED lamp and switches to infrared, which renders in black and white. Around the time when that switch is made, the feed becomes jittery while the software makes up its mind.

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