Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

Had a pupil on test recently who encountered an unusual situation (well, not unusual for the area it occurred in, but unusual for someone taking their test). She was driving along and suddenly thought there was something seriously wrong with the car. She had no idea what to do.

The examiner explained to me what happened. Driving through a particular area they were suddenly surrounded by ‘about 20’ Police cars, Policemen running all over the place on foot, and the noise the pupil thought was the car was the local Police helicopter which – in the examiner’s own words – was nearly sat on the roof.

It reminded me of another Police incident sometime last year. A pupil had asked me a while prior to her test what to do if there were Police cars. We covered it (i.e. Police cars coming up behind, and at traffic lights), but not an actual Police incident where a house raid is obviously underway. It’s not exactly something you can simulate during lessons – particularly seeing as every one would be different. I remember saying something like ‘don’t worry about it too much because it won’t happen on your test’.

Well, it did. So that’s twice!

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Nice first-time pass yesterday (well done, KA) by a pupil who is moving to Wales at the weekend. He tells me this will save him £300 a week with immediate effect now he doesn’t need to use the train. And just completed a Pass Plus with a pupil who passed a couple of weeks ago (well done RH), and who has told me his job has already taken off skywards as a result of getting his driving licence.

This is what being a driving instructor is all about!

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I don’t know if it’s just me, but even the simplest roadworks seem to take forever these days. Currently, I can think of several simple resurfacing jobs which have been going on for weeks and months when I seem to recall in the past that bigger jobs were carried out in a fraction of the time.

In our city centre, one particular road was milled and resurfaced several weeks ago. Admittedly, the ‘raised ironworks’ signs were only there for about a week before the resurfacing was carried out. But the resurfaced road has had no white lines for at least three weeks. And guess what? They decided to do that final small thing during this morning’s rush hour! One lane closed on a major link to the city.

On another busy road, they’ve been ‘widening’ it by about a metre either side just outside a new business park for months now. Every day at 9am the temporary lights go up, about 30 workmen set about doing very little for an hour, then it’s time for a cup of tea until midday, then it’s lunch, then another hour or so of very little activity, then pack up and go home about 3-3.30pm.

And on yet another busy link road they’ve had it closed off at weekends for the last month or so, and even when it re-opened they still hadn’t painted the bloody lines on it.

Why the hell can’t someone make them contract to do nights and finish the work as quickly as possible?

Earlier this year (January, I think) there was a retaining wall which was being maintained. A sign said the work would take about 13 weeks to complete – why this long is anyone’s guess. After something like 18 weeks the sign was taken down and the work was eventually completed around June. Most of the time there was no one working and just a load of equipment with those wire fences narrowing this traffic blackspot down to one lane much of the time (temporary lights, of course). I suspect someone got a talking to, as the lights went and the fence was pushed in a bit so that two lanes could be maintained (notwithstanding morons using the chip shop, taxi drivers, buses, and so on parking in the narrowed area).

Why a simple job took 25 weeks (not the planned 13) of chaos is open to debate. But the damned road was again partially blocked this weekend because they’ve now decided to resurface it next to the retaining wall! Technically, the job still isn’t complete.

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Learning how each pupil’s mind works is important. They can surprise you very easily.

I’ve had a handful of people who, when asked to turn right at a roundabout, have literally tried (or intended) to turn right – as if it were just a crossroads. In all cases they hadn’t heard the word ’roundabout’ and after questioning (and sometimes following tears) it became clear that they didn’t recognise the big concrete circle in front of them as a roundabout. In one case, this was less than 30 seconds after we’d just gone around it from the opposite direction!

You have to be ready for it. No pupil has ever actually done it: I’ve stopped them as soon as their hands have moved.

But one case I’ll always remember was driving down a country road with a pupil in clear weather and a clear road. We’re driving in a straight line, when suddenly I’m thrown from one side of the car to the other as we swerved sharply all over the place. After we’d righted and were going straight again I asked my pupil:

What did you do that for?

She said:

I was trying to avoid that horse poo in the road.

This was the same pupil who had once squealed and curled up in a ball in the driver’s seat while we were doing 50mph on a dual carriageway because a lorry had overtaken us. I simply took the wheel and – not quite following the Official Driving Instructor Teaching Guidelines – said:

Don’t EVER do that again

And she never did. She was the most entertaining pupil I think I’ve ever had.

On a more serious note, some people have real problems to deal with. I was teaching a pupil with dyspraxia and we’d sorted out his initial inability to raise the clutch gently in a real driving situation. When stationary he could find the bite gently, but when moving off his left leg was like a bungee cord: Boiing! Up like a shot.

One time we were driving at 60mph on a straight road. It was nearly 10pm, dark, and there were no other cars around. All of a sudden he just turned the wheel and we were heading towards the kerb. When I pulled us over and talked to him about it, I asked the question:

What made you turn the wheel in that situation?

He answered:

I honestly don’t know.

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You get some pupils who are absolutely brilliant to teach every way you look at it. They book regular lessons, rarely cancel, always turn up, and they never cause you a problem.

On the other side of the coin, I’ve had pupils who have cancelled or changed more lessons than they’ve actually taken. I’m flexible to start with, I warn them if they carry on taking the mick, and I get rid of them if they do it again after that (I had one who had cancelled or rearranged 4 out of his first 5 bookings, then didn’t turn up to the next one he’d specifically arranged during a school holiday. To make matters worse, his dad reckoned he should be test-ready after only 12 hours, having never driven before!). To date, that’s only two out of hundreds of pupils I’ve ditched.

I have one who has only ever let me down once: I turned up one Saturday morning at 9am and he didn’t show. It turned out he was comatose in bed with a hangover. We don’t do Saturdays anymore.

I have another who had let me down by being at a music festival when I turned up to a booked lesson (apparently his phone battery had gone dead and he couldn’t contact me, nor I him). He’s on a final warning because the next lesson I turned up for he was absolutely paralytic at 6pm.

The other one I got rid of had used up all the possible excuses. One time she was painting her bedroom and ‘forgot’ the lesson. She was ‘ill’ more times than I have fingers to count with. But the best one was when she called an hour before her 6pm lesson – she was at school and the exam, which was scheduled to start at 3pm, still hadn’t begun. The last straw was when she was ill yet again. I simply told her I couldn’t afford not to teach her anymore.

To be honest, it’s best when they just tell you the truth: ‘I can’t afford the lesson this week’.

That’s becoming more common with the credit squeeze and all.

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Just listening to the radio between pupils and I heard that a promotional video for the 2012 London Olympics had been withdrawn because of complaints. Guess why?

Some moron had used a portrait of Myra Hindley – who was serving a life sentence for serial child murder until her death in 2002 – as part of the promotion! You can read the full story on the BBC website.

Whoever did that is just further proof of the plummeting intelligence levels we have to put up with in the UK these days. How stupid could someone possibly be to even think of doing this?

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I have a pupil who is taking a long time to grasp certain aspects of driving. She’s been having particular problems with road markings, road signs and signals, and roundabouts – in spite of having done well in excess of 50 hours training between me and her previous instructor. Well, we went out yesterday and dealt with some of the biggest roundabouts in this area and I think she’s got it at last!

Admittedly she still sometimes over-reacts to the red light (slamming the brakes on) and not the green arrow saying she can go when she comes up to those phased light signals. She just seems to see things differently to everyone else. But the signs are good for the future.

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Two more dangerous examples of overtaking on Saturday whilst out with a pupil doing Pass Plus. We were on a 60mph road – a known accident blackspot (almost daily someone nearly manages to kill themselves, and every couple of weeks one of them succeeds) – doing 60. Typical Saturday afternoon traffic. A blue Toyota Aygo (VN56 XRM) driver uses his peanut-sized brain to the max and overtakes in the face of oncoming traffic. You should have seen the faces of the two middle-aged women in the car he almost collided with! He spent the rest of the length of the road just in front, so what he thought he was proving is anyone’s guess.

Then, about 40 minutes later a black Toyota Corolla (GV52 XMR) carried out an equally dangerous stunt – with equal evident purpose – at traffic lights.

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You get highs and lows in this job!

Yesterday started off bad. I was on my way to my first pupil who had her test that day. Just left home and was travelling along a 30mph dual carriageway at precisely 30 when a Gorilla in a pratmobile (shaved head, tattoos, black vest) came flying up behind and tailgated as close as he could possibly get. He was really close. Once I was sure he wasn’t going to overtake I signalled to move into the right lane, as I intended to turn right just ahead, and as I moved he typically (and I know it is deliberate when they do it) chose the same time to do the standard prat manoeuvre of swinging out and trying to go past. I pointed to my head (sorry, but I’m not perfect by a long shot when it comes to reacting to these neanderthals). He pulled alongside to try and exchange opinions – though precisely what part of his driving (tailgating, breaking the speed limit, attempted dangerous overtaking) he thought was worth defending is anyone’s guess. I provided him with a descriptive four-letter word, starting and ending with a ‘T’ to go and look up in his Ladybird Big Book Of Words and continued on my way in a legal manner. Meanwhile he ramped it up to about 60 and carried on his way.

It got worse when I picked up my pupil. She’s failed several times already and I can tell by her mood and manner whether she is going to drive well. Her mood was not good. Her driving was great, though. We did the warm-up and she successfully completed all the manoeuvres to a high standard (last time she failed for hitting the kerb when doing the reverse park – something she never does in lessons). My biggest worry, though, was what she would do if she failed. The previous times she’s been inconsolable and has had the worst fits of crying I have ever witnessed in this job or anywhere else. Well, she failed (only four faults, but two were deemed serious) - and she was devastated. She was hyperventilating and breathing into a brown paper bag!

So far, my day was ruined. I hate it when they fail.

Next lesson was another pupil whose test was that afternoon. He’s also failed a couple of times previously - drives great on lessons with me but just can’t hold it together on test, as he gets very nervous. But he passed! His mum was made up, and so was he. It was especially nice because he is off to University in a few weeks and this was pretty much vital for him. Well done SG-N!!!

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In the UK we have a road sign which warns you you’re near a rest home or other area where you might encounter elderly or infirm pedestrians (shown here).

Old or Infirm People road sign

Old or Infirm People road sign

According to a story in the press this week (various newspapers, but full story in the Daily Mail) campaigners are demanding for it to be scrapped because it is ‘insulting to today’s fitter, healthier senior citizens’. They’re saying that it should be replaced with traffic calming measures (it often is) or a new image which is more politically correct.

Help The Aged senior policy officer Lizzy McLennan (26) says: “Very few older people are hunched over, with a walking stick.

“They are assuming everyone who is old looks like that, and they don’t.”

Erm, no Lizzy. They’re not doing that, nor have they ever done so (and at your age you probably wouldn’t know that). What they are doing is warning you that you might encounter infirm people.

Gordon Lishman (no age given), director-general of Age Concern says:

“The motivation behind these signs is positive.

“However, in practice a reduced speed limit in such areas, as implemented in school districts, would be a more welcome way to achieve this.”

Hold on, Gordon. Don’t get carried away. School districts also have a road sign irrespective of whether or not they have traffic calming measures. Haven’t you seen this one? And while we’re on the subject, do children actually look like that nowadays?

Barry Earnshaw (65), chief executive of Age Concern Lincoln says:

“I am 65, so therefore I am considered an elderly person.

“The sign doesn’t represent older people as they are today.

“There should be a generic sign that is representative of all vulnerable pedestrians, regardless of age.

“The objective is to make people slow down – there needn’t be separate signs for sifferent types of pedestrians. It is very outdated.”

Of course it is, Barry. I’m sure your ‘generic sign’ – perhaps a smiley face or something – would be really useful outside schools, stables, and hospitals and would prevent a great many injuries and deaths. But what on earth would be the point of putting up a warning sign at all if senior citizens nowadays are all fit, athletic, superheroes? It must just be my imagination that they’re building so many care homes and ‘retirement villages’ around the country.

At least some people haven’t succumbed to senility just yet. The Taxpayers’ Alliance said the objections were ridiculous and a waste of public money. Campaign director Mark Wallace said:

“They should pay more attention to the real concerns of older people – rising taxes and soaring household bills.”

Problem is, Mark, the ones kicking up the stink probably don’t have to worry about those things. That’s why they have so much free time on their hands to come up with ridiculous stuff like this. Whatever happened to eating ice cream on the benches in shopping centres and trying to get on the bus 10 minutes before their bus passes become valid?

Waterfowl warning sign

Waterfowl warning sign

But the best response has to be the one that came from the Highways Agency. A spokesman said they would not be making further alterations.

“To change every sign in the country would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds – and a change in the law.

“It’s not a simple process, and I don’t think most people would see it as a high priority for government spending.”

Quite. But while we’re on the subject I think the RSPB ought to start a campaign as a result of that highly offensive sign warning of waterfowl. Every duck and moorhen in the country should be compensated for the gross insult that sign has delivered concerning their appearance.

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