Diary Of An ADI

A Driving Instructor's Blog

ADI Green Badge montageThis article was originally written in 2010, and things have changed a bit since then. This article now refers to the current (2018) procedure – with a 2019 amendment for the bit about what date your driving licence was issued.

My ADI badge was due for renewal in October 2018. I got the initial alert that my DBS check (formerly the CRB check) needed to be renewed in early April – 6 months before my badge expired. This alert came from DVSA via email.

I applied for my DBS immediately online. DVSA supplies you with a PIN number and a secret word. You apply via an online form.

Once you have completed your DBS application, you take a printout of the completed form along with the necessary documents to a Post Office branch that does identity/document checks (you can find a branch at GOV.UK). Note that your local Post Office will almost certainly not have this facility – you will need to go to one likely to be situated in the middle of a large city, with no easy parking, and with queues of people with prams and other annoying things, doing what people who use Post Office branches in the first place usually do. In other words, be prepared for a long wait.

Be careful with your initial DBS application. I am paperless, so had to go to my bank separately to get an official bank statement printed out as one of my check documents. You have to physically put the date of the statement on your application form – even though it is clearly printed on the actual statement. The problem is that you can only use a date in the past, so get the statement first, then fill the form in the next day. Trust me: if the statement date is today or in the future, the online system won’t let you proceed, and if you try to post date it, the Post Office will reject it because the dates won’t match.

When I did mine in October last year, I used my driving licence as a check document (and you probably will be, too). At that time, the date you had to physically enter on the form was the date you passed your test. It was NOT, as you might reasonably expect (as I did), the “valid from” date on the front of your licence (i.e. when you last did your photo update). It was totally f—ing stupid, but that’s how it is, and it isn’t explained anywhere that I could find (nor was it such an issue any of the previous times I had a CRB/DBS check done). The woman at the Post Office told me it catches a lot of other people out , too. Basically, if you don’t remember the exact date you passed your test (and I bloody well didn’t), you have to infer the date from the list of entitlements on the back of it.

As an update to the date on your licence thing, a reader emailed me recently (May 2019) and told me that he had used his pass date, as I outlined above, and the idiots had rejected it and wanted his “valid from” date from the front of the licence. He tells me he was shown the document dated January 2019, so it seems the morons have moved the goalposts and not told anyone. Just be aware of this if yours is due – it looks like the required date is now the one on the front of the licence, which it definitely wasn’t when I did it (though it should have been)!

It’s a stupid system, because the dates on bank statements and driving licences are integral to those documents, and all you are effectively being checked on is whether they caught you out when asking you to write them down on a separate form. It’s even more stupid when you get it wrong, and the Post Office worker shows you how to fill it in properly with the correct figures, so you go away (you have to generate another form) and make the corrections. There is no security aspect to it whatsoever.

I used my passport, my driving licence, and a bank statement as my check documents. I had recently had to apply for a new passport and used this instead of my birth certificate (which has to be an original, and not a copy like mine is).

My DBS certificate came through about seven days after the document check was completed (the check at the Post Office triggers your application process). It costs £6.00 for the service.

Now we come to the actual renewal of your Green Badge. There is no warning later in the year from DVSA – it’s up to you to keep track of your application.

Every Green Badge expires on the last day of whatever month you originally registered in. You apply to renew as soon as possible in the month in question. In my case, with my badge expiring on 31 October, I had to apply any time from 1 October (I would not have been allowed to do it on 30 September).

You simply log into the IRDT system – which every instructor should have access to – and make your application. You will need to provide the number on your DBS certificate, which DVSA will have a copy of/access to. You need a means to make payment (credit or debit card). It costs £300. I applied for mine on 1 October, and it was issued and is now current since 2 October. It arrived in the post 5 October, and has an expiry date of 31 October 2022. All set for another 4 years, now.

To summarise. Assuming you have a credit or debit card, and are not still holding out against technology and the internet, the times taken to actually get both the DBS and your new badge are very short. The documentation and chasing around required for the DBS application is a right pain in the arse, so plan ahead. Application for the Green Badge is simple.

On the other hand, if you insist on using paper money or cheques, won’t use the internet, or want to kick up a stink about which photo you want on your badge… good luck with that. I have no idea what to do in those circumstances.

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UK PassportFirst published in November 2018, this question pops up from time to time. I often gets hits on terms like “can driving instructors sign passport applications” or “can my instructor sign my passport photo”. The short answer is: NO. They can’t.

On the forums, no one knows the answer – but it doesn’t stop them offering one up all the same. Their answers are mainly based on the fact that they’d like to think they can sign, and proceed from there.

The GOV.UK website lists recognised professions, members of which can countersign passport applications. It is worth pointing out right away that driving instructors are not mentioned. The closest is “teachers and lecturers”, and as much as ADIs like to consider themselves teachers, they are not teachers in the sense the word is intended in an official context.

I have asked the Passport Office for guidance on this before. Their initial answer was:

Yes you would be able to sign a passport application if you are self employed and VAT registered or a Limited company.

I queried this further (most instructors would stop reading after the word “yes”), pointing out that most driving instructors are not VAT registered, nor do they operate Limited companies. The Passport Office responded with:

…a driving instructor can be considered a suitable countersignature not because they are a driving instructor, but if they would be considered the owner/manager of a limited or VAT registered company.

If they would not be registered in this way we cannot guarantee they would be accepted by the processing team.

There it is in black and white. Driving instructors cannot countersign passport applications just because they are driving instructors. If they are VAT registered or owners of Limited companies, they can. But the vast majority of instructors are not VAT registered, nor are they owners of Limited companies. If an instructor who is not VAT registered or the owner of a Limited company countersigns a passport application, the application may be rejected if anyone bothers to check.

Of course, some ADIs might operate larger schools and their greater turnover would mean they would have to be VAT registered. They may even be large enough to form a Limited company out of it. If they are either of those things, they are eligible to officially countersign passport applications. But I emphasise again that the vast majority of ADIs cannot officially sign off passports because they do not meet the relevant criteria.

I have successfully signed passport applications for friends over the years on the back of being an instructor. I am successful as an ADI, but I am not VAT registered and I am a sole trader. I have always been wary of signing off passports because I knew it was a grey area. Any one of those applications could have been bounced back. I’ve never signed one for a pupil because I simply don’t know them well enough (as well as being from a “recognised profession”, you also need to have known someone for at least two years, and I’ve only ever had a handful who’ve been with me that long in all my years as an ADI). It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if it turned out that some instructors are signing applications for pupils and even charging money for the service (like some GPs do).

So, technically, the answer is no. Driving instructors cannot sign off passport applications just because they are driving instructors. And that’s the official Passport Office stance.

I sign them and no one says anything

Officially, you are not authorised to sign passport applications. You are simply not being questioned over it – if you ever were, your signature would be invalid. That is the official Passport Office stance, and no matter how you try and argue it, you are not authorised to sign them off.

No one has ever questioned it

If they did, your signature could be rejected. That is the official Passport Office stance, which I have in writing (see above). You need to be the owner of/manager in a Limited company and/or be VAT-registered and to have known someone at least two years to be eligible if you are not in one of the recognised professions. The vast majority of ADIs have not known their pupils for anywhere near two years, and the vast majority are not owners of/managers in Limited companies, nor are they VAT-registered. Specifically being an ADI does not give you the authority – the Passport Office told me that in writing.

If you are not being challenged, it isn’t because you are authorised. It is because no one is checking properly. As long as that’s the case, carry on by all means, but officially you are not authorised to countersign passport applications.

ADIs are “teachers”

No we are not. A teacher is someone who is a member of the teaching profession, and who specifically does that job day in, day out in a school or college. By your definition, anyone who ever passes some information on to someone else is a teacher, and that is obviously incorrect, since that would mean everyone would fit the bill one way or another. Like it or not, a driving instructor is not one of the recognised professions. And a driving instructor is absolutely not classified as a teacher in the professional and official sense the word is meant.

So is it illegal to sign them?

No – but it’d be bloody interesting to see what happened if someone you’ve only known for a couple of weeks, and whose passport was obtained with your endorsement, suddenly turned up on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, and they wanted to know how he or she got it. But it isn’t illegal to sign them off. You’re just not officially authorised to do so.

But I’ve been contacted previously to verify that I signed

That’s the Passport Office not doing its job properly. You can see what they told me, above. If you are not a “recognised profession”, you must be VAT-registered through being the owner of, or manager in, a Limited company, and you have to have known someone for at least two years to be eligible to sign (and that applies even if you’re on the recognised list). Normal ADIs are not authorised to sign off passport applications – the Passport Office has stated that in black and white. Most of us do not know pupils for more than 12 months, and we only know many for six months at best. At the very least, you can’t (or shouldn’t) sign them because of how long you’ve known the pupil – the other stuff is just icing on the cake.

I’ve done it before for friends of many years. But as the Passport Office has said, such applications could be rejected. That they haven’t been is because the Passport Office didn’t check properly. Just because you got away with it (like I have) doesn’t mean you are officially authorised.

No one is saying you’re a bad person for doing it, or that you should stop. It’s just that you’re not officially authorised to do it, no matter how you try and twist it. That’s the Passport Office’s official stance.

The Passport Office told me I could sign as an ADI

Assuming you didn’t stop listening after the word “yes” and therefore missed the part about being VAT-registered, etc., there is every likelihood that whoever you spoke with was just a phone operator and not an expert on the subject. They could easily have given the wrong information. Their first response to me seems to be saying yes at first glance, and it’s only when you stop and ask yourself (and question the Passport Office more deeply) if you are VAT-registered that the penny drops. If the first person who responded to me knew what they were doing, they would have given the information the second respondent did right at the start, because it is crucial.

ADIs fall foul of at least one of the criteria for being able to countersign passports in the first place, namely how long they have known the pupil. That particular criterion is not in question, only the one about ADIs being “teachers”, and therefore on the list of “recognised professions”.

Can ADIs sign passport applications?

The official answer is no. The Passport Office has told me in writing that a driving instructor (or anyone else not in a recognised profession) can only sign if they are the owner of, or a manager in, a Limited company, or if they are VAT-registered. They also need to have known whoever they are signing for for at least two years. Nearly all ADIs are not VAT-registered, not owners of a Limited company, not managers in a Limited company, and have not known their pupils for anywhere near two years. They are not eligible to sign on every single front.

Even if “driving instructor” was a recognised profession, not having known the pupil for at least two years would mean that virtually every instructor would immediately be abusing the system if they countersigned applications.

You’ll get a lot of idiots saying yes, you can sign them. They say this because they are instructors who have done it, and they assume that this must mean they are authorised. Many are desperate to believe that they are special and can do it. They aren’t, and they can’t. Not officially, anyway.

It’s a bit like burgling someone’s house. Just because you don’t get caught doesn’t mean it’s OK.

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Ramadan MubarakI originally wrote this back in 2010, but it gets a new raft of hits each year, usually around the start of Ramadan – which is today, in 2019 (well, last night).

I had a pupil on test a while back who failed, and she mentioned that Ramadan had started as I drove her home. She insisted that she felt OK, but I couldn’t help wonder if it might have had some effect on her concentration otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up.

Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims. During it, participants abstain from eating and drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Technically, those fasting are not even supposed to drink water (there are exceptions for pregnant women or those with specific illnesses), and some participants take it more literally than others. At least one reader has had concerns that Ramadan has affected their driving, and in 2016 it was unusually long at 32 days. In 2017, it ran from 26 May to 24 June, and in 2018 it spanned 17 May to 15 June. In 2019, it runs from 5 May until 4 June. It’s pretty much a full month anyway.

Some years ago, I worked in Pakistan – in Karachi – for a short time, and was there during Ramadan. Some people ate during the day, but very little, and some fasted properly. But in the main, whether they fasted or not, they just got on with things and worked normally. After sunset, though, the street vendors came out and it was scoff-out time (I have vivid memories of the sights and smells when I went to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s tomb one evening).

At the other end of the spectrum, when I worked in the rat race over here, Ramadan and other such religious festivals were used by some (not all, I must add) simply to avoid work. I remember some of my shop floor staff trying it on, and although we knew that they were doing so (having a smoke outside when you’re supposed to be praying is a bit of a giveaway), the employment and discrimination laws in this country pretty much tie the employer’s hands.

I used to have the (bad) habit of getting up at 8am or earlier, drinking only a cup of tea, not eating anything until I finished work in the late evening, then pigging out on kebabs or curries. Occasionally, during the day, my blood sugar would get so low that I’d crave something to eat there and then – at which point I could easily put away four Mars Bars and drink a litre of Lucozade! Someone who is very slight would probably not be able to get through the day without being affected at least partially – and this must also apply to those fasting during Ramadan.

If you are teaching Muslim pupils it’s worth discussing the subject with them – and just be open about it: they don’t mind talking about their religion (it’s people who think they do who have the problems). I’ve had several pupils in the past who were suffering during fasting, and in several cases we postponed lessons until it was over. Indeed, in 2019, I have a pupil who is very nervous and jumpy in the car, and we were both worried Ramadan might affect her. So we have agreed to do her lessons later in the evening (that was my idea), and although I will admit I thought sunset was a little earlier than it really is when I suggested it, we’re doing lessons at 9.30pm once a week so she can keep driving.

Irrespective of the reason for fasting, not eating could affect both lessons and driving tests because concentration could be impaired by low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). This would apply to anyone who hasn’t eaten properly (remember that it could also be due to an underlying health problem, like diabetes, so I’d advise anyone who is experiencing such symptoms to check with their GP). Not being able to concentrate on driving during lessons is a waste of the pupil’s money whether it’s due to a cold, hay fever… or fasting.

Advice I’d give to anyone fasting during Ramadan is to take lessons or tests in the morning or late evening (if your instructor will do it), and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. It also makes sense that anyone who isn’t fasting eats and sleeps properly, otherwise their lessons (or tests) could also be affected. In extreme cases, just put the lessons on hold until Ramadan is over.

As for the question about whether they should be driving or not, I think you need to be realistic. I’d say that 99% of white, non-Muslim UK drivers drive when they’re not feeling 100%, and Ramadan hardly turns most participants into hospital cases. I can’t see any automatic reason why people who are fasting for Ramadan shouldn’t drive.

Can I take my test during Ramadan?

Of course you can. However, you should consider how fasting affects you and your concentration. It might be better to plan ahead and avoid booking a test during Ramadan altogether. Alternatively, try to book an early test at a time just after you have eaten – or rather, before you start to get hungry.

Fasting during Ramadan affects my driving to work

Honestly, someone found the blog on that search term! The answer is simple.

If you are having problems, either don’t drive or don’t fast. What other answer did you expect? Some Magic Pill that makes it all OK? If you don’t feel well, don’t drive. And that applies whether you’re ill, drunk, menstruating, or fasting. It’s just common sense.

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I wrote this article way back in 2012. At the time, DVSA had just launched a new facility where you could find your Theory Test Certificate (TTC) number online if you’d lost the paper sheet. Here’s the link to the feature on GOV.UK.

You need the number if you’re going to book your practical test – and note that I said the number, not the certificate itself.

A lot of pupils get worried that they need to take the actual TTC to their practical test, though. By that time, many will have lost or misplaced it (quite a few of mine have, and we usually only find out the night before or on the day, which allows me to wind them up a little). Indeed, the booking confirmation you get when you book your practical says you should take your licence and TTC along with you.

In all the years I have been an instructor, I can think of only one or two occasions where the examiner has asked to see it – and those were at least ten years ago. More recently, when a pupil has offered the TTC along with their licence, the examiner isn’t interested. They only want to see the licence.

If you think about it, you wouldn’t be able to book your practical if you hadn’t passed the theory, so it’s obvious you have done when you turn up on test day.

When any of my pupils starts to fret over not being able to find their TTC – and after I’m finished winding them up – I tell them the examiner won’t ask for it, and even if he or she does, just say that you didn’t get one or that the printer at the testing station was broken when you were there. None of them have ever had to do that, though, because the examiners simply don’t ask for it.

If you still have your TTC, take it along with you by all means. But don’t worry if you’ve lost it, because unless there is some problem with your booking, I cannot see any reason why they would demand to see it.

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Bill and Ben - Flower Pot MenI can’t find any specific information to back this up, but a little bird told me that Bill Plant was in financial difficulties again earlier this year. And they have apparently switched from BMWs to Volkswagens. The exact words used that Bill Plant went bust again earlier this year.

Regular readers might recall that I can’t use any photos with Bill Plant’s logo on it, because they demand I take it down if I do. They did the last time I mentioned their troubles.

The company which rescued them last time – Ecodot – was dissolved in 2014, and became Bill Plant. Companies House (CH) indicates that both Ecodot (deceased) and Bill Plant have the same registered address. The last submitted balance sheet suggests that between 2017 and 2018, Bill Plant’s P&L reserves had fallen from a negative £156k to negative £563k. They opted not to provide full P&L accounts.

That was as of May 2018, and the 2019 submission isn’t due until May 2020. So they could well have technically gone bust and no one would know unless they announced it.

One to keep an eye on.

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Protester being arrestedThere’s a passage in Catch-22 where the Chaplain is musing over his misfortunes, and asks himself:

Did it then seem probable, as he had once overheard Dunbar ask, that the answers to the riddles of creation would be supplied by people too ignorant to understand the mechanics of rainfall?

I have exactly the same feeling right now, having just watched the BBC Evening News, where they interviewed some of those idiots protesting over climate change in London.

Does it really seem probable that the solution to global warming will come from a bunch of hatchet-faced, middle-aged and elderly women – the same kind who camped out on Greenham Common in the 80s – with multi-coloured dreadlocks and half a kilo of face jewellery? Is The Truth only likely to be given to people stupid enough to superglue themselves to buses, trains, and each other? Or 16-year olds who should be in school?

I don’t think so.

At the time of writing, over 950 of these imbeciles have been arrested, with 40 being charged for various offences (so far). Photographs of several of these middle-aged prats being arrested show that it is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened to them in the last 50 years. One of their number, an exotic specimen who goes under the name of Larch Maxey – and I’d not be surprised to find that that doesn’t appear on any electoral list – is quoted:

On Tuesday we’ve got a series of strategic points around the city which we will be targeting to cause maximum economic disruption while simultaneously focusing on Parliament and inviting MPs to pause.

In other words, they’re going to try and block parliament from sitting. If Maxey engaged at least two of his handful of brain cells, he might realise that the “economic disruption” he is causing is also responsible for far more pollution than usual, as cars and lorries (and public transport) sit gridlocked. Police are travelling from all over the country – using road transport – to help. High profile dipsticks are flying in (or using trains) especially so that it can be seen how committed they are to The Cause. And let’s not even consider the carbon footprint associated with all that extra superglue that’s being sold.

Extinction Rebellion needs to get it into its thick skulls that we’re not going to go back to living in caves and eating algae.

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Victoria Parry - now with THREE drink-drive convictionsYou couldn’t make this up.

Regular readers will know that I don’t hold back on telling it like it is. I don’t give damn that the trend is towards making it a crime to tell the truth if the truth involves women or those from minority groups having done something wrong. The truth is the truth, regardless of sex or ethnic origin.

This BBC article reports that Victoria Parry, 30, was three times over the drink-drive limit when she smashed into three other cars and careered down an embankment, where her car burst into flames. She’d drunk a bottle of wine. In court, she admitted to dangerous driving – a serious offence which carries an unlimited fine and up to 14 years in prison. To make matters worse, Parry has two previous drink-drive convictions.

Now, if Parry had been a man, he would have been starting a long prison sentence right now. He’d have been fined a lot of money. And he might even have been put on the sex-offenders’ register just as a precaution.

Sarah Buckingham - some sort of "legal" authority, apparentlyParry’s case was different, though. You see, both she and the Judge were women. As a result, she was not handed down a prison sentence – which would have been absolutely guaranteed if she were a man. In the Judge’s precise words:

If Miss Parry was a man, there is no question it would have been straight down the stairs, because this is a shocking case of dangerous driving against a background of two previous convictions for excess alcohol.

The BBC article makes no mention of fines or bans, either, and I can’t find any mention in reports from other sources.

Naturally, the mitigating circumstances – which also came from a woman – Parry’s lawyer, Lucy Tapper, pin the blame firmly on men. Parry is apparently an irresponsible pisshead because of being in an abusive relationship, so it’s clearly the fault of men that she has three drink-drive convictions (now) and is lucky she hasn’t killed someone. To be fair, there is no mention of who the “relationship” was with, and I might have got that particular anti-male assessment wrong. Tapper whined:

There is deep and genuine regret on her part.

You forgot to mention that that regret extends across three convictions, now, Lucy. You missed a trick to lay it on even thicker.

Parry and the Judge, Sarah Buckingham, should both be in prison. Parry for being the serial drink-driver that she is, and the Judge for utter contempt of what remains of our legal system.

The case has been referred to the judicial watchdog. Although she probably won’t be, Buckingham should be looking at applying for shelf-stacking jobs at Tesco, where she can do less harm.

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CalendarSomeone found the blog on the search term “what are the chances of passing your test in three months?”

The short answer: DVSA statistics show that the average UK learner takes 46 hours of lessons with an instructor, and 20 or more hours of private practice. Without getting into any arguments over that just yet, let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that you will need 46 hours.

If you take a single one hour lesson a week, it’s going to take you 46 weeks to get to test standard. If you take two hours of lessons a week, it’ll take 23 weeks. If you take four hours of lessons a week, it’ll take you about 13 weeks. That’s around a year, six months, or three months respectively.

The longer answer:  For all sorts of reasons, an individual could end up taking far fewer or many more than 46 hours to get to the required standard. That DVSA figure is an average measured from real people taking real tests. It’s not a forecast, though it can be useful as a rough pointer.

Over the years, I’ve had two pupils manage passes in well under 20 hours, many who have done it with between 20-35 hours, and several who have taken well over 60. I can recall two who took 140 hours and 160 hours, and a recent one who did 120 hours spread over more than three years. I also know one who took 100 hours in a manual car with me, then a further 100 hours or more in an automatic, before finally passing on her seventh attempt (she’s since given up driving because she crashed the car almost every time she left her driveway – three times in the first fortnight after she got it).

I explain all this to my pupils who have never driven before, and suggest they think in terms of 30 hours plus to start with, then see how things go. I also point out that if they are typical, it will probably take around 4 months if they’re doing an average of two hours of lessons a week. I explain clearly that this is not a prediction or target, but merely a guideline based on past experience, and if it turns out they can do it it 10 hours, I’ll be as happy as they are about it.

Now, 30 hours – taking two hours of lessons per week – would just about squeeze into a three month window with a bit of tweaking here and there. If it was going to take 40 hours, you can add another month to that time frame. On the other hand, if you’re in the 30 hour bracket and did three of four hours a week, passing within six weeks would be feasible.

The reality: You simply don’t know how many hours you’re going to need until you’ve taken them. However, once you start lessons you can usually get a good idea of where you are on the curve within a couple of hours. Obviously, if you have previously taken lessons – possibly even getting close to test standard – then you’ll probably already be a long way towards your goal. On the flipside of that, If you’ve only got previous experience driving overseas, you may find that you are only marginally ahead of a beginner when you start in the UK.

If you’re on the wrong side of the curve – for whatever reason – you’ll need more hours than someone who isn’t. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you – it’s just the way it is.

You can’t be a Marvel Superhero just because you want to be, so picking a preferred number of hours and expecting to pass if your learning ability points to a higher number being required isn’t going to work. I had one early last year who declared after his tenth hour that he was now test ready. I asked him if he’d always only ever planned to take just ten lessons, and he said yes. He’d never told me that, and we parted company at that point. He was nowhere near test standard, and the last I heard was that six months later his mum was still teaching him.

People in general seem to have major problems understanding averages, distributions, and how biology works. So I stress again that DVSA’s statistics show that the majority of people take about 46 hours of lessons with an instructor. It doesn’t matter that your best mate Kyle was taught by his mum, or that he told you he passed “after 8 hours”. He was almost certainly lying or very confused over that figure (I’ve had them before where they are already good drivers, but the skills were picked up in stolen cars or driving illegally, and they don’t include that in their public declarations of Superheroism). And in any case, you are not Kyle and are probably not being taught by his mum.

Just remember: the average learner in the UK takes around 46 hours and some private practice to get to test standard. Some take a lot less, and some take a lot more, thanks to Mother Nature.

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Warning! Contains swear words.

Sync 3 after updatingSince I got my new Ford Focus last year, it has suffered from repeated random locking-up of the radio and navigation system. The only way to reset it once it happens has been to either leave the car and lock it for a few minutes, so it resets itself, or press and hold the OFF and Fast Forward buttons for about 8 seconds. Oh, and the radio has never remembered that I have set it to show additional information (the song that is playing, for example), meaning I have to turn that feature on manually every time I get in the car).

Both methods were a pain in the arse – the latter because doing such a reset puts some settings back to the factory default (the screen colour and the clock, in particular), and the former because having to get out of the car and lock it for several minutes as a solution speaks for itself. The frozen clock has made me late for at least one appointment, and the satnav freezing has forced a change of lesson plan several times (pupils aren’t paying me to piss about with a faulty satnav, and I can’t be doing so while they’re driving because it’s dangerous).

Before I realised other Ford owners were having the same problem, I reported it to my dealer when I took it in for its service. As usual, they played dumb – they don’t have to try very hard at that in the first place – and said they’d need it in for a day to assess it, which roughly translates to several days because they won’t be able to catch what is an intermittent fault that can’t be triggered deliberately. Well, sod that! With a single lost day costing me anything up to £200 in earnings, I decided to just put up with it and moan about it again at the next service.

Ford is no better. While I was checking for any information on the issue, I did find an update to the maps for the navigation system, and I thought I may as well install it. Or rather, TRY to install it, swear a lot, then give up in frustration. I downloaded the update file from Ford’s site and the first thing was that the zip file didn’t contain the exact files Ford’s “instructions” said it should. That was a bad start. But no matter how many times I downloaded the file, unzipped it, and tried to install it, the car reported a “lst_err05” each time. I know what I’m doing, and I’d done things exactly as Ford had written them. The error message gave a number to call, which amounted to a recorded message advising me to call a premium rate number. Thieving bastards! As I say, I just gave up.

In the meantime, the locking up problem continued it’s random appearances unabated.

Anyway, I discovered today that there is now a Sync 3 update which has been issued in the last few days. And when I checked, it showed up for my car’s VIN. I downloaded it (twice, eventually, because you can guess where this is going), and followed the instructions to the letter. After about 8 tries across two complete downloads of the 2.9GB zipped update file, every attempt to do the install resulted in a “pkg_err03”. I was well pissed off by this time.

Ford’s idiot instructions are written as though intended to guide monkey through complex calculus in order to crack an egg. And in Swahili, just to make it easier. Pretty much along the same lines as Ford’s vehicle handbooks, actually, where the term “radio” doesn’t appear in the f***ing index, and is implied under “audio” or “Sync 3” instead. Or the fact that 90% of the content relates to premium features that 90% of owners don’t have on their bog-standard Zetecs. Christ, mine’s a Titanium, and it hasn’t got most of what they put in there.

I digress. The point is that Ford states that you must format a suitable memory stick – it doesn’t say any particular ones are unsuitable, just that they need to be at least 4GB – using exFAT, that you should unzip the update file directly to the stick, and that the folder structure mustn’t be changed. It states that their should be two files and a folder in the root directory on the stick once this is done.

Problem. If you extract directly to the stick, the zipped package is extracted into a single folder with the stated directory structure inside it – and that’s a no-no, because the files inside this top-level folder need to be in the top level of the stick’s directory in order for the car to recognise it as an update. So you have to do a bit of file/folder moving first.

Problem. Although Ford doesn’t state this in their instructions, you need to make sure you have turned off all Wi-Fi and bluetooth functions, and that you have nothing connected to any other USB ports. You don’t quite need to go as far as enclosing the car in a Faraday cage 200 metres underground, but that’s a close call from what I can gather.

Problem. Based on what I found today, the car might not like some brands of memory stick or ones which are, say 128GB. I can’t be 100% certain about that, but I have my suspicions from what was happening earlier.

Problem. Ford’s instructions outline a plethora of screens and buttons you have to touch to initiate the process if you get past one of the error messages telling you to go and get scammed on that premium rate number. Once I finally got it going this afternoon, mine apparently didn’t do anything until I noticed the “Updating System Files” message along the top of the screen. It had started up automatically and it finished automatically without any interaction from me at any stage, apart from inserting the stick into the USB port.

Problem. Don’t plug the stick in, then start the engine. Instead, start the engine, wait until the system has given any messages it has decided it will annoy you with today, then plug in the stick.

Problem. You have to leave the engine running while you do the update, and it takes anywhere from 20-60 minutes to complete. It is illegal to leave your car with the engine running unattended unless it’s in your back yard, and stupid if you don’t lock and bar the gates if that’s where you’re doing it. Or you can just be bored for a while as you sit there waiting. In my case, it finally fired up just as I was leaving for a lesson, and it completed just as I got there (the radio kept working throughout, so I wasn’t bored at all).

Problem. The stick doesn’t have to be formatted exFAT, as Ford says. FAT32 works, which is what I’d formatted to after the 8 previous failures with exFAT. I was experimenting, and this was the next attempt.

Problem. Once the update is complete – and all the things Ford says will happen have happened – the update apparently isn’t complete after all. At some point about 2 hours after you think you’ve done it, the system will throw up a message telling you you’ve got to connect to a network to complete the process, on pain of not having full functionality of some features if you don’t.

Problem. From what a reader told me recently, her dealer has told her that automatic updates don’t work in the UK, so the f**king message won’t go away. The only way to stop it is to turn off WiFi, which is what I have done.

Summarising the process, then:

  • download the update file from Ford
  • format a 4GB memory stick to FAT32 (don’t use the stick for anything else once you format)
  • unzip the update file directly to the stick
  • copy the contents of the folder thus created out of the folder thus created and into the root directory of the stick
  • delete the original folder (anything else in the root directory with a remotely update-recognisable name might make the process go titsup, so don’t risk it)
  • turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and everything else relating to networking on your car’s system
  • disconnect EVERYTHING from the USB ports in your car
  • make a flask of tea to take into the car with you, and make sure you’ve been to the loo
  • pack some books or other reading material
  • get in the car, close the doors, and start the engine
  • disable Auto Off
  • let it get any helpful messages out of its system, particularly those you have to acknowledge or dismiss by pressing things
  • take a deep breath and plug the stick into the USB data port (on the Focus, it’s the one with a white light around it in the storage compartment under the heater controls)

If you’re lucky, the update will start. As I mentioned, mine just started and completed without any input from me whatsoever, but knowing Ford, that doesn’t mean you won’t see all the screens Ford says you will. The bottom line is that you want to see positive messages about progress, and no error messages at all. At the end, you want it to tell you it has successfully updated, and that it will be effective from next time you start the car (it did on mine). Oh, and you need to forget about your UK Focus being able to connect to the internet for updates, because no matter what network you apparently connect to, nothing happens.

I haven’t had a lock up yet, but that doesn’t prove anything, because it’s only been a few hours since the update. There’s a new button on the main radio screen that lets you turn on radio text (track playing) instead of having to go to Settings >> Radio >> Additional Information then back to the main screen. But it now remembers what I set it to anyway, and so this is not important now.

Update: no lock ups at all in the month since doing this.

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For anyone who’s interested, I recently had a pupil who was driving on their full licence from another country inside the 12 month period they are allowed. They had a UK provisional licence, and were taking their test in their own car.

The question arose over what would happen if they failed their test. Would they be legally allowed to drive away?

I emailed DVLA, and they replied:

A non GB licence holder can still drive for up to 12 months regardless of a UK test failure.

Essentially, they could fail their test 20 times and still be allowed to drive alone on their non-UK licence inside that 12 months as long as the licence remained valid. I know that will get a lot of Brexiters hot under the collar, but it’s the way it is.

It is not voided when they obtain a provisional licence, which makes sense, since the intended purpose of that 12 month period is to give them time to pass a UK test.

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