Do you work weekends?

The issue of working weekends can be contentious amongst driving instructors. Well some of us anyway. Most are laid back enough to live and let live. Franchised or not we are all individual self-employed bods who do our own thing.

The issue for me is that I have never wanted to work weekends but because of necessity I was in a position of needing to for years. I used to work seven days a week. Not full days at the weekend but I regularly had folk booked in seven days. Then I dropped to six and for over twelve months now I have been rejoicing in merely working a five day week. To be honest, I worked seven days for so long I am still not accustomed to having weekends off.

As you can see from the Availability page on my website I hardly work standard office hours. I feel like I definitely do my bit, but not at the weekends.

Having said that you may see me out at the weekend with the roof sign on. It can happen. Whereas I will not answer the telephone to a new pupil and book them in for weekend lessons; there is the odd case of an existing pupil who can no longer make their regular time due for example to a change in working circumstances. Sometimes I let them go. “Sorry, don’t work weekends”. This has happened. I am not without sympathy though for the pupil who has attended quite a few lessons regularly and suffers a change in circumstance. It has happened, and probably will again, where I will offer the option of a weekend lesson to help them out.

The secret is that I have to offer the option. Asking is pointless!

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.

Nuneaton And District Driving Instructors Association (NADDIA)

As a professional driving instructor I am always open to the thoughts and ideas that other professionals are prepared to share. What could be better for this purpose than a regular monthly meeting of Approved Driving Instructors (ADI’s) and Provisional Driving Instructors (PDI’s) at a central venue? Beats me, that is why the Nuneaton And District Driving Instructors Association (NADDIA) exists. Nobody knows everything and it is beneficial to share.

We are a friendly bunch who discuss issues from the national, regional and local perspectives which is why this meeting is officially recognised as beneficial to your Continuous Professional Development (CPD):

Nationally we are affected by legislative changes which obviously have a bearing upon our day, institutional changes such as within the DVSA which can have a significant impact upon both our own administration and that of the practical driving test. News and information brought back from conferences that our members may have attended is of interest and can bring a new perspective to previously held discussions. Surveys come our way which allow us to share our thoughts and opinions (of which we have many I assure you) to a broader reach than we normally would.

Regionally is more at the kind of level where we start to interact with the DVSA more on a face to face basis than via channels of communication. Regional managers over the years have always taken a ‘my door is open’ approach which facilitates not only clarification of issues which may arise from either side of the conversation but occasionally a port in a storm; which from time to time we have been very grateful for.

Locally is where we come into our own. Who knows the roads and road traffic system in the Nuneaton area better than anyone else? Since between us we probably spend more time driving around professionally observing what is happening around us that any other group of people then I submit that we do! Problems that instructors are experiencing are discussed and useful suggestions are forthcoming. Road Safety is a regular topic and from time to time discussion about Instructional technique can get a bit lively. The practical driving test itself is of course discussed, how it is conducted by local examiners; who are sometimes invited along (Hello folks), unfortunate occurrences and how this all ties together from the perspectives of our pupils, the examiners and ourselves are all relevant topics of discussion. Sometimes, quite unexpectedly, the best discussion of the evening comes out of nowhere from the last item on the agenda, ‘Any other business’.

You have to be there to share!

If you are an interested ADI or PDI who might be local enough to find a monthly trip to Nuneaton appealing then please join us:

When?

The first Tuesday of every month,
Start time 8:30pm

Where?

Chilvers Coton Conservative Club,
Bridge Street,
Nuneaton

CV11 5UD

See you there!

Bin men are an essential service, not a nuisance, so show some respect for their safety

I am off at the moment taking a couple of days to relax before starting back to work after our lovely summer holiday in France.

What do I see through our bedroom window this morning but the recycling wagon and its crew doing their rounds. This is no great shock to me as I am sure it is not to you. Our road is pretty busy these days for a side road and the twenty mile per hour speed limit is only generally obeyed by driving instructors and the few law abiding drivers out there.

You know that I am a driving instructor by trade (the clue is the top of the blog *winks*) and as you would expect I teach health and safety above everything else. For a couple of minutes I watched the recycling crew going about their daily work and I was appalled at the level of danger they face literally on a minute by minute basis.

It only takes a few seconds out of your day to keep the crews safe,
and a split second to injure them.

Drive as you were taught: approach slower taking effective observations. Be prepared to stop if you are not convinced that you can pass safely. Allow extra space (preservation of human life has to be a good reason) for the crews because everyone may lose concentration momentarily. Only pass when you are totally certain that everyone is safe while you are passing.

Please take a few seconds to save a life!

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.

If I stall on my driving test will I fail?

I cannot even estimate the number of times that pupils, especially those with a driving test already booked, have asked me the; “If I stall on test” question.

A driving test examiner will not fail you just because you have stalled the engine. I do not care what you have heard or which of your acquaintances has given you this information. You will not be failed just for stalling.

Please allow me to offer you a thought: we are approaching a traffic light controlled junction very slowly and the lights change to green shortly before we would have stopped. You bring the clutch up and whoops, stall the engine. Now I may be wrong here (I am not) but the car is still rolling slowly in its intended direction of travel, you still have a green light, and nobody has died! You feel a bit daft but apart from that there is no injury.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the examiners are trained to judge each fault on its own merit. Not to take a more holistic overview at the end.

If your car is still moving

My advice to pupils in this situation is to restart the engine while the car is still moving forwards and carry on as if nothing had happened. If you can manage this then as far as the examiner is concerned nothing significant actually has. In this situation it is unlikely that the examiner will record a fault and even if they do it will be a driving fault.

If your car is stationary

If you have to stop, apply the handbrake, make sure you are in first (not third because mis-gearing is a common reason for stalling in this situation) gear, restart the engine and move off with a minimum of fuss. In this situation because you have stopped the examiner has to take into account how significant, if at all, disruption to other road users has been because of your stall but as long as you restart the car and move off in a timely manner with a minimum of fuss you would only receive a serious fault if in the opinion of the examiner there had been disruption to other traffic.

Do not do this!

The last thing that the examiner wishes to see if you stall is the application of some bloody great big re-start procedure. Imagine the first situation where you are still rolling. Some people have been taught to do the following:

Stop the car, apply the handbrake, select neutral, cancel any indication, restart the engine, prepare the car to move, perform an all around observation, indicate as necessary then move off.

Seriously! I have met newly qualified instructors who were trained to teach this. Either myself or another experienced instructor in the test centre soon advises that they change their tuition.

Examiners are not out to get you

If you stall more than once on a side road with no other traffic around but do regain control and continue without them having to advise then it will not be viewed too seriously.

Obviously the number of stalls is taken into consideration and each can be marked as a driving fault.

There is a certain amount of nervousness that is expected on test day and I assure you, if driving test examiners failed everyone who ever stalled then the number of passes given out at any test centre in any given week would be significantly reduced.

What are driving test examiners like?

Understandably pupils are always keen to hear an answer to this question once they are further along in their development stage.  The answer often surprises.

Contrary to hearsay they are not animatronic creations of some nether world that are secretly plugged into emotionally screened charging points at the back of the driving test centre at night, to be dusted off and faced forward in the morning.  Such stereotypes are most unhelpful to pupils who are genuinely asking after the experience of others who have already taken their driving test.  Indeed the correlation between having failed a test for which the vocal friend will not accept responsibility and the rolling out of a negative stereotype is clear for all to see, once someone points it out to them.

In the real world: driving test examiners are simply government employees undertaking (pun intended) a days work like any other.  They are well trained friendly human beings who are not out to get you, or your friend.

At the beginning of the test: their assumption is that you can drive perfectly well.  Why else would you have paid to undertake the formality of demonstrating your standard of driving to them so that they can issue you a full UK driving licence?

For the ones who pass: well they get a funny looking pass certificate which brings them immense pleasure and a smile that will not fade for at least the remainder of that day and a full UK driving licence through the post within the next fortnight.  The driving test examiner gets to enjoy the best part of their job which is telling you lot that you have passed!  For them this is a dollop of their job satisfaction comes from.  Who wouldn’t enjoy telling someone that they had passed their practical driving test?

Unfortunately: not everyone does drive well enough during their allotted time.  Often the reason is nerves, pure and simple.  Every driving instructor that there has ever been is familiar with the experience of driving a pupil home who recognises that they did make the major mistake marked on the sheet but just cannot believe that they actually did it.  We fully understand this, as do examiners.

From long experience: I can say that after the test it is quite common to hear pupils say that the examiner was actually rather nice.  Pupils who have failed their test do appreciate the sensitive explanation in the examiners debrief that is the reality; rather than the brusk dismissal of their performance that some are expecting.

It is understandable that you will be interested to hear about the experiences of others in relation to a test that you are about to take.  It will help you if you see the responses in context though, and definitely the person that you should pay the most attention to is your driving instructor who has seen and discussed far more test debriefs than anyone else you may know.  I have seen literally hundreds.  The local motormouth has only seen their own; to which they were clearly not listening!

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.