Why do driving instructors wave to each other?

“Do you know all of the other driving instructors?” I am often asked. In reality no. Certainly over the years I have met a large number of driving instructors from Nuneaton and the surrounding area in the Nuneaton driving test centre but to say I know them all would be an exaggeration.

There is another designation of road users who frequently wave to other members of the same group even though they are strangers and that is motorcyclists. Motorcyclists share a common bond because to be a motorcyclist is to experience a common set of problems that would not be immediately apparent to other road users; among which the two primary ones are a commonly held stereotype and the fact that both sets operate in isolation. Believe me, I am not on a social excursion when I am on the road with pupils. I operate in professional isolation.

It is nice to get together with other instructors, which I do once a month at the NADDIA group. As road users go driving instructors are an amicable and fairly friendly bunch from literally all walks of society. As with any section of society there will always be the odd one who prefers to maintain a professional distance (as we say when we are being polite) from the others.

How many illegal drivers are on our roads?

I simply cannot help but wonder how many people are driving cars in the UK, either on a regular or occasional basis, without conforming to the legalities.

This thought occurred to me earlier on today when we popped off to Shackfest which is only about a twenty minute drive from us along the A444. Within that short and simple drive along a comparatively straight road interspersed with only a few villages the standard of driving on display was appalling!

Certainly the awareness of any sort of risk assessment strategy was absent in the minds of drivers simply launching themselves into the other lane approaching blind bends and accelerating like crazy up to the point that harsh braking was required.

I can tell you that someone important to me would have to have a dire need way beyond a mug of tea before I would accept such risks.

Please drive safely friends.

Why I will not teach driving instructors any more.

During my time as a driving instructor I have taught a further six people to qualify as ADI’s themselves.

Teach is not really a descriptor that I am comfortable with. I do maintain that to qualify as a driving instructor you need to find a caring human being with the necessary personal qualities. Such people do not need to be ‘taught’. You simply guide them through their development.

I never marketed myself as an instructor trainer, it was purely word of mouth recommendation and they all passed so I must have been doing something right.

I do enjoy my job and I am grateful for that. What has changed immensely is the working conditions, the pay, the way we are viewed by officialdom and our day to day treatment by the public and our pupils.

In short this is no longer a profession (my view of professional status will be the point of a subsequent post) that I could, with an open heart, recommend to a friend.

From an ethical point of view therefore I am not prepared to take money off others.

Who takes refresher lessons?

People who hold a full UK driving licence and have had a substantial break from their driving, whatever the reason, and people who passed their driving test and have not driven since form the majority who enquire about refresher lessons.

Confidence is a huge factor in your ability to drive safely and drivers who have lost their confidence need professional support and guidance so that they can rebuild theirs.

Hours and hours of motorway driving back to the UK

Our return journey home was uneventful apart from the timings. In common with many UK drivers before me I forgot that the French motorway network has a paeage system which is a toll system of motorway financing. This fact in itself is not what I forgot. I forgot about the absolutely enormous queues which go with it especially at popular choke points in the network such as the Pont Do Normandie. A bloody great bridge upon which several motorways converge. The weekly ‘run to the channel’ for UK tourists has to be the busiest time of the week.

We did make it in time for our train but rather than the leisurely drive up the coast with two or three convenient stops for breaks and pictures in pretty places we ended up just driving and queuing. Aah well, life happens.

Once back on UK British shores I was faced with an entirely different driving environment. The UK motorway network. Apart from the fact that there are signs and road markings there are not many similarities between the two motorway systems. Ours is wider, used by a far greater number of vehicles, more complex in its nature and once you add smart motorways and traffic officers (oh yes, they exist) to a much more diverse traffic flow then we have, in my opinion, a much better motorway system.

With over two thousand miles of motorway network to go at there is much for the beginner to find daunting. I do motorway driving lessons for those in the Nuneaton area at a reasonable price and I can certainly see why they are popular with those who have recently passed.

With an extra two and a half million cars on the road in recent years and no end in sight to the rise in traffic numbers the situation is not going to become any easier for the new driver to adjust to. Whereas I can certainly see why our motorways are safer than the French ones, I can also see a point in the not too distant future where motorway tuition will be insisted upon after passing the driving test.

Whether the planned expansions to the UK motorway network will make this possible for every area of the country I am not sure. That would be the requirement for adding motorway driving to the standard driving test. I think the time may be approaching whereby new drivers have to jump some sort of official hurdle before they can officially drive on the motorways.

As to what that may be; if you have any ideas or suggestions then I would value your opinion in the comments section.

It’s all different in France

The road trip over to Dinan, France was the stuff of holiday lore.

A sixteen hour car journey that began well enough, except someone remembered that he had forgotten his sunglasses about half way around the M25; but nobody is perfect.

Eurotunnel cost us over three hours and I am not happy about it. Whoever set the specifications and operating tolerances of those trains needs retraining.

Once off the Eurotunnel and away from the very secure area surrounding it we were free to roam the French motorway network. The motorway system in France is mainly a network of well connected dual carriageways. This may sound insufficient, and it would never cope with British traffic densities, but most of the time the driving is easy.

Having driven in Europe, and France in particular, quite a few times before I am accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road. Even with this experience I still take my time, and an extra look, at roundabouts. It will forever feel weird to be going around the wrong way no matter how many times we venture forth.

French motorways are generally well maintained and the speed limit is higher. I do approve of the variable speed limit according to the weather conditions. Basically 10mph less in poor weather conditions.

When Debbie and I first crossed the channel with four small children there was a system still in place in some regions whereby in the countryside the traffic on the main road was obliged to give way to those emerging from the side roads. I should imagine over the years there must have been a few interesting incidents for the locals near Calais to recount of the wayward English doing it wrong but thankfully none of them include me.

If you should choose to join us dans le continent, or indeed wherever you may find yourself today, please drive carefully.

Think if you drink before taking a driving lesson

I have just posted a piece in my Twitter account asking that drivers who had a drink last night think about it before driving today.  We all understand that a few drinks may have been consumed yesterday, and yes today is a different day, but the alcohol is no respecter of the calendar.

Pupils are pedestrians at any other time and may not take into consideration the lasting nature of alcohol.

It is annoying to driving instructors, and we all experience this, when a pupil gets into our car and we suspect alcohol.  Ask a simple question and sure enough, last night was party time.

Lesson over, fee paid in full, taken home unhappy, no sympathy (believe me, none at all).

Fancy arguing that with me!  I carry an up to date breathalyser in the glove compartment.

Quick story (and I have many):

Arrive to pick up a new pupil for their first lesson. Door opens for me to be greeted by, as it happens, my new pupil.  Once I introduce myself I am treated to, “Oh, I forgot about you.  Give me a minute”.  Not the first time and I am thick skinned.  Imagine my surprise when my prospective pupil shouts to mum that they are going on a driving lesson, reaches to the hallway table and picks up an already open can of Carling, swallows the remains and says, “Not leaving that for someone else to finish, let’s be off then!”  Turns out that was the third can of the day.

No driving lesson and a lecture on alcohol awareness delivered at the door.  No re-booking sought or offered.  Call me fussy if you will, believe me I have been called far worse.  The life of a driving instructor is not always plain sailing.

Would you park opposite a bus stop?

Seriously would you?  Clearly I spend more time than most driving in urban areas of Nuneaton than most and I am surprised at the number of people who actually do.

The Highway Code Rule 243 clearly states that you MUST NOT stop or park, “at or near a bus or tram stop or taxi rank” among its list of places where parking is legally prohibited.

Just to clarify, the term “at or near” includes opposite.

Think of it this way.  The bus drivers have well defined places where they are expected to stop.  You guessed it, bus stops.  If a bus comes to a halt at a bus stop and your car is already parked opposite the bus driver has not legally blocked the carriageway.  You have!

You are not legally allowed to park opposite the bus stop whereas the bus driver is obliged to stop there.

If we could all show a little more forethought and courtesy to others then driving would be a far more pleasurable experience.

Do you concentrate as much on car parks?

I just popped a piece on the Twitter account which moved me to think a little, it’s amazing how that can happen, even on a Sunday.

The practical driving test for car drivers was changed at the back end of last year to bring it more inline with the needs of today’s drivers and I cannot argue with that.

We are looking forward to taking a peek at the first ever Nuneaton Food Festival in Nuneaton town centre today and this is what sparked my thought.  The extra parking elements to the driving test were brought in because of the ever increasing number of insurance claims originating from use of car parks.

Lots of our fellow festival goers today will drive into town, as will I.  The insurance industry has been banging on for decades about accidents in the last mile of travel due to complacency and I cannot help but suspect that drivers on car parks have been feeling a little too comfortable that their journey is over because they have entered the car park.

Your journey is not over until you have parked the car safely!

Happy 70th Birthday NHS

All drivers should spare a moment to give thanks to the National Health Service today.

Who comes when we need them? They are the safety net that never sleeps. I sincerely hope that all readers have a very safe and pleasant driving experience today secure in the knowledge that if we need them, they will come!