Monday, 4 November 2019

Driving - Manage the Risks

There are many thousands of accidents involving motor vehicles every year. With a little extra care and attention, though, I think it would be fair to say that many of these could be avoided.

Driver error is the single biggest cause of accidents involving motor vehicles, accounting for somewhere between 77 and 90% of the total figure, depending on which publications you read.

Vehicle defects are the next, followed by drug driving.

This is by no means an exhaustive guide on the subject. There is plenty of in depth statistical information out there if you care to look for it. Hopefully, though, this piece may give you a few things to think about to help you manage the day to day risks of driving.

Before the Journey
Ask yourself honestly, is your vehicle fit for the journey you are about to undertake? 

Yes, it may have passed the MOT, but that could have been some months ago.
- Are your bulbs all working?
- Are your fluid levels topped up?
- Are your tyres in good condition, correctly inflated and have adequate tread?
- Are your windscreen wipers functioning correctly?

An interesting fact for you. The minimum legal tyre tread is 1.6mm, however, if you actually look at a barely legal tyre it looks almost bald.  

RoSPA advise changing tyres when they reach 3mm. Below 3mm stopping distances increase considerably as tyre grip decreases. 

On tarmac, a tyre with just 1.6mm of tread takes 37% longer to stop than a tyre with 3mm. My personal view is that isn't an acceptable risk worth taking.

I want to make sure that I can stop quickly and safely in the minimum distance. One day someone’s life may depend on it.

These are simple checks that take no time to do, and in most cases cost absolutely nothing, but even if you do need to change a tyre or two, what price do you put on safety?

Going beyond the basic checks we can do ourselves, when was the last time your vehicle had a thorough service? If you can't remember then it is probably time you did.

Next to driver error, brake failure, defective tyres, suspension and steering problems are high on the list. Thorough and regular servicing will usually identify potential issues before they become a real risk to driver safety.

Because many of the serviceable parts are not in plain sight, quite often these will be ignored until it is very obvious that there is a problem. Don’t wait until it’s too late.

During the Journey
Anyone that travels in my car would probably say that I am the most boring driver they have encountered. Why? I ask for passenger chat to be kept to a minimum, no mobile calls until we have parked and no radio or music.

This may sound extreme, but that is my choice as a driver.  The simple fact is that many accidents are caused by driver distraction, and this in turn leads to driver error. 

So you can see it follows that if you keep unnecessary distractions to a minimum, more of your attention is devoted to the task of safely driving the car.

I’m not for one moment saying that drivers should not talk to their passengers, or the radio should never be on, but what I am saying is that, where possible, keep distractions to a minimum. Definitely no mobile phone!

Once we are moving, good forward planning is key to a comfortable, safe drive. Have you ever been in a car with someone who is always hitting the brakes because they missed one thing or another? I certainly have. 

How does that make you feel? For me, in some cases, frankly I just didn’t feel safe, and that isn’t a great feeling.

Forward planning is simply looking ahead at the approaching landscape and identifying any possible hazards that could affect or interrupt your drive. 

For example, a set of lights that have been green for a while that could change. Another example could be that you see a parked lorry, blocking off your immediate road ahead. Spot the obstacle early enough, check your mirrors and, if it’s safe, go around.

The alternative scenario is to sing along to your radio, pay no attention, spot the parked lorry very late, panic and steer around with no safety checks, thereby running the risk of a collision.

You are probably thinking that all this sounds quite obvious, and yes you would be right. For many motorists vehicle maintenance and journey planning is an obvious thing to do, and that will be reflected in their driving record and insurance premium. 

For many others, however, these simple things are a complete mystery. This type of driver make the roads more hazardous than they need to be.

In summary:
  • Do your fluid and tyre checks regularly.
  • Make sure your vehicle is regularly serviced.
  • Plan your journey in advance, and keep your eyes open as you drive. Look out for those who aren't, or can't be bothered.

At the very least I hope that this basic guide has given you some food for thought. If it gets just one person to pop outside and check their tyres or bulbs (preferably both!) this will have been time well spent.

Stay safe and enjoy your driving.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Is there a good or bad time to book a driving test?

To begin with, my default position is that there is no such thing as an easy driving test. It wouldn't be a test if it was easy. So, in theory, any day is as good as any other. Irrespective of the time of day, test routes are varied to robustly examine a candidates ability across all driving scenarios, except motorway.

If there is a weakness, believe me, the examiner will find it - whether it is breakfast time on a Monday or tea time on a Friday. Thorough training will certainly minimise the possibility of failing due to skills gaps, but what about other factors?

It has always has been the case that, irrespective of knowledge and ability, some people perform better in test conditions than others. Not fair perhaps, but that's life.

There are, however, a number of factors that you can take into account when booking your test which may give you an edge on the day.

Your body clock - When are you most alert? When do you function best? Don't book a test at a time when, on a normal day, you would still be fast asleep.

Rubbish Collection Days - Yes, I know that this sounds like a strange one, but think about what happens to the roads in and around your area when all the refuse and recycling lorries arrive at once. These good people have got a job to do, and a tough job at that, but what effect does it have on the roads? What effect does it have on many drivers? So why create an additional layer of stress that doesn't need to be there? Simply avoid bin collection days around your test centre area.

Pick a quiet day in your diary - Don't cram a driving test in between college exams or work meetings. Minimise the stress and do your test with a clear head.

Nervous or Confident? - Some people take exams in their stride, while others experience anxiety in varying degrees. Some experience mild nerves, while others go to the other extreme and test nerves become all consuming..

In many cases, the levels of stress or anxiety that build up prior to a test can be a big factor in determining success or failure on the day. In other words, a really good, well prepared candidate can panic themselves into a fail.

So what is the answer? My advice, and it is just advice, is that anyone who does experience severe test nerves, they should take their driving test first thing in the morning to avoid a build up of anxiety prior to the test.

So breakfast, test, pass, home, celebrate.

Hopefully, this has given you a few things to think about. The main thing to remember is that there is no quick route to a driving licence. No short cuts. Just good old fashioned hard work.

The bottom line is this. Any person greatly increases their chances of test success with thorough training and preparation. It is after all a test of skill, not luck.

Skill is permanent, luck is temporary. I know which I prefer.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Driving Instructor Grades

Every 3 to 5 years all Approved Driving Instructors have to be assessed in a live lesson by a Senior DVSA Examiner, to demonstrate their instructional ability and conformity to the National Standards in driver training.

During my last Standards Check, in February 2015, I achieved a score of 47/51, which puts me in the top 29% of UK Approved Driving Instructors.

Hardly anybody, apart from driving instructors themselves, is aware that instructors are graded. There are only 2 grades - A and B - the next grade is Fail. The problem with having 2 grades is how do you know whether your Grade B instructor is closer to a Grade A, or closer to a Fail grade?

Unless you ask your instructor what their score was you have no way of knowing.  If you have any doubts, ask to see their Standards Check marking sheet.

The Instructor will be awarded a grade - A, B or Fail. The gradings look like this:

Grade A - Score 43 to 51/51 “A high standard of competence”

Grade B - Score 31 to 42/51 “A sufficient level of competence”

Fail - Score 0 to 30/51 “An insufficient level of instruction”

Here is my Standards Check marking sheet:

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Monday, 27 November 2017

Instructor Pass Rates - What does it all mean?

A couple of days ago I had a call from a chap enquiring about lessons for his son. It started off like so many other calls.

He liked my website, Facebook page and the fact that my pupils had rated me 5* on Facebook and Google.

It all sounded like a done deal, but then things took an interesting turn, which then led onto a 30 minute conversation about pass rates.

The gentleman asked me why my first time pass rate was low compared to other instructors,  and why did I take twice as long to get people to test as others.

Wow. I didn't see that one coming, particularly as I pride myself on some pretty good year on year figures.

Did you know that the published first time pass rate figure for tests across the country is a woeful 21%, where mine is 73% for 2017 and 82% for 2016.

When I quizzed him further, he said that one website he had looked at claimed to have a consistent first time pass rate of over 90% year on year, and the majority of their pupils get to test in around 20 hours.

Whether it is learning to cook, learning to dance...whatever, how expert can your average person become at any of these skills in 20 hours?

The best that most people can hope to achieve in this timeframe is a basic level of competence, and driving is no different.

I suggested that the gentleman call the instructor or company and ask them to provide proof of their claims.

If their figures are indeed true, then all other instructors will be out of business very soon - me included - but something tells me that isn't going to happen.

Additionally, the Government would be beating a path to secure their services to re-train every instructor in the country using their magic formula.

Again, I don't think that is going to happen somehow.

The simple fact is that instructor and driving school pass rates cannot be verified by the public through any official channel. Daft, but true.

With regards to the number of hours training my pupils receive, my learners take the test when they are good and ready.

Given the high accident rates for new drivers, my conscience would not rest easy if I put someone forward for a test without being comfortable they had the skills, knowledge and experience to drive safely and confidently on their own.

For your average learner, 20 hours of lessons is nowhere near enough to achieve a decent standard. For many 20 hours just covers the basics.

The vast majority of people sit somewhere in the 40 to 60 hours bracket. Some take less. Some take more.

The fact remains that everyone learns at different speeds. Everyone has different skillsets. Some have great natural road sense, others dont. Some have great natural co-ordination, others don't. That's life.

You cannot force someone through a driving course just to meet a target. That would be stupid, unprofessional and potentially dangerous.

Anyway, despite my best efforts,  I'm not sure that I convinced the caller. It was evident that his prime objective was to get his son to test as quickly and cheaply as possible.

So be it - his money, his choice, his son, his conscience. There was nothing else to say so I wished him well and off he went.

Off the back of that call, however, it really made me think about how information can be used and mis used in the persuit of a full diary.

So I have put together this blog entry to hopefully help people make sense of the pass rate information they see out there and get them asking the right questions.

At the end of the day,  people are free to believe whatever they want to believe, and spend their money as they see fit.

Hopefully,  though, the following will at least get people thinking about what the figures mean and what questions to ask in conversation with a driving instructor or school.

Now onto the science bit. I hope you find it useful. A little of this is repetition of points made above. Please bear with me though. Here goes.

If I asked you what the driving test "pass rate" is, I bet you a large Americano that you would come up with a figure somewhere between 40% and 50%.

Why? Because that is the percentage that you typically see in the press. Most test centres quote similar figures.

Where do these figures come from? How are they calculated? Who calculates them? What do the figures on instructors websites mean? Can I believe them? Are they accurate?

Anything to do with statistics and percentages is usually shrouded in mystery, but hang on in there and I will try to make things a little clearer.

The one thing that is absolutely certain about any pass rate figures you see published on any instructors website, mine included, is that you, the consumer, have absolutely no way of confirming whether they are accurate or factually correct.

So, at the most basic level, treat any driving school pass rate information with caution. View it more as advertising banter than a passport to statistical enlightenment.

Let's explore the various types of figures you may see published, and see what they really mean.

Test Centre Pass Rates
The last time I checked the pass rate for my local test centre, it was 47%, with a small variance year on year.

Let's be clear, that figure is not the FIRST TIME pass rate. It is the OVERALL pass rate. Let me explain.

At any test centre, on any given day, there will be a mix of candidates. Some taking their test for the first time, others having a second go, and others taking the test for the 3rd, 4th....10th time.

Of all those people, for my particular test centre, around 47% will pass, with 53% having to re-book another test.

So the failure rate for the Practical Test is high - very high - and is one of the main factors why test waiting times are so long.

Quite simply, the system gets clogged up with repeat attempt candidates.

The answer to that particular problem is to ensure training is of a standard where more people pass FIRST TIME. That is why, if you ask an instructor for their pass rate figures that you make it clear that you want to know their FIRST TIME pass rate, and not their OVERALL pass rate, which is meaningless.

I'll explain.

Driving Instructor Pass Rates
Ok, let's take a fictitious driving instructor who did 20 tests in 2017.

Of those 20, everyone passed - eventually.  So the instructor could tell you his pass rate is 100%. That is his OVERALL pass rate. 20 candidates and 20 passes.

If you dig into the figures, which you will never get an opportunity to do, though, the reality would probably look quite different.

4 candidates passed 1st time
11 candidates passed 2nd time
4 candidates passed 3rd time
1 candidate passed 4th time

So for our make believe instructor,  his OVERALL pass rate is 100%, but his FIRST TIME pass rate,  the important bit, isn't so healthy.

This chap had just 4 out of 20 pass first time. So his FIRST TIME pass rate for that year was just 20%.

100% OVERALL pass rate. 20% FIRST TIME pass rate. A world of difference.

Can you see now why you cannot take any figures you see published at face value?

Would you regard an instructor whose pupils all pass on their 2nd, 3rd or 4th attempt as good? Probably not. His OVERALL pass rate is 100% but his FIRST TIME pass rate is horrendous.

Would it surprise you to learn that the most recent reliable figure for the FIRST TIME pass rate at test centres is just 21%.

That figure again, just in case you thought it was a mis-type, is 21%.

Put another way, if all the candidates going for a test on a given day were first timers, something like 79% would fail - that's a failure rate of 4 out of 5!

So 4 out of 5 driving test candidates have to go back into the system for another go, and possibly even a 3rd, 4th....10th attempt.

In summary
Perhaps now you can see why you need to be cautious when taking extremely high pass rate figures at face value.

If I saw a consistently high pass rate figure - year on year in excess of 90% - I would proceed with caution.

Remember, apart from your gut instinct, you have no other way of confirming whether what you see is true.

Looking at it from a purely common sense point of view, if all driving instructors really do consistently achieve these high FIRST TIME pass rates, why is the national figure just 21%?

Do the maths.  It just doesn't add up does it? Everyone claims to be brilliant but official figures paint a different picture. Something smells a bit off.

At the end of the day, it's your money to spend as you wish. Spend it wisely.

The Guardian


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Thursday, 8 December 2016

New Driving Test

DVSA released the following briefing for instructors:

Pre-briefing at the start of the test

Here’s the new explanation that driving examiners will give at the start of the test.

'The test will last about 38 to 40 minutes and will include about 20 minutes of independent driving and various roads and traffic conditions. I will ask you to complete one manoeuvre and we may carry out an emergency stop. The sort of things you’ve been practising with your instructor or accompanying driver.'

The ‘tell me’ safety question

This question will still be asked at the test centre, before your pupil starts driving. Here’s the new explanation that will be used.

'Now I’d like to ask you one question about your vehicle and other matters relating to vehicle safety. The second question will be a ‘show me’ question on the move.

If you'd like to make yourself comfortable in your car now please, I will join you in a moment.'

I want to emphasise that your pupil will still need to open the bonnet if they’re asked question 12, 13 or 14.

In September, we’ll publish a video about the ‘tell me’ questions so your pupils know:
·         how to carry out the checks
·         why it’s important that they do them regularly

The ‘show me’ safety question

This question will be asked while your pupil is driving.

It can be asked at any time during the test, including during the independent driving part.

The examiner will ask the question in a location which gives your pupil enough chance to demonstrate the safety check. Here’s the instruction they’ll give.

'When it’s safe, could you show me…'

This video shows a couple of examples.

If your pupil isn't sure how to do it, the examiner will ask them to pull in when it’s safe and appropriate, and then ask them to find the control.

The examiner will be able to ask any of your pupils with special needs to pull in before asking the question, so they can explain what they need to do.

We’ll publish a video about the ‘show me’ questions in September, too.

Independent driving

The examiner will ask your pupil to pull over before starting the independent driving part of the test. At this point, the examiner will select and start the route, if it's using a sat nav.

Here’s the instruction that examiners will give when using a sat nav.

'Shortly I’d like you to drive for some distance independently. I’d like you to follow a series of directions from the sat nav please. Continue to follow the sat nav until I tell you otherwise. Drive on when you’re ready.'

Remember, 1 in 5 tests will be following traffic signs, and not directions from a sat nav. The instruction given for these will be as follows.

'Shortly, I’d like you to drive for some distance independently. I’d like you to follow the traffic signs for [location] please. Continue to follow the signs until I tell you otherwise. Drive on when you're ready.'

Pull up on the right and reverse

Here’s the instruction that examiners will give to your pupil while they’re driving (they won’t pull over first to give the instruction).

'Pull up on the right when it is safe to do so, please.'

'I’d now like you to reverse back for about 2 car lengths, keeping reasonably close to the kerb'

If another vehicle pulls up behind the car and stops your pupil from reversing back, the manoeuvre won’t be completed. The examiner will ask your pupil to drive on, and another exercise will be carried out later in the test.

If a vehicle pulls up in front, the exercise will continue.

This video shows an example of the manoeuvre being carried out.

Parking in a bay

The examiner will ask your pupil to park in a bay. They'll ask them to either:
·         reverse in and drive out (only in a driving test centre car park)
·         drive in and reverse out (in any car park - including a driving test centre car park)
Here’s the instruction they’ll give to drive forward into a parking bay.

'I’d like you to drive forward into a convenient parking bay finishing within the lines, either to the left or the right (if the car park allows it).'

'Now, I’d like you to reverse out either to the left or the right (if the car park allows it).'

Your pupil doesn’t need to park in a bay where there are vehicles in adjacent bays.

Your pupil can’t drive through a first parking bay, and then park in a bay directly in front of that.

When they reverse out, they can’t go into any bays behind them.

This video shows an example of the manoeuvre being carried out.

The time the test takes

As we mentioned in our original announcement back in April 2017, the length of the test won't change as a result of the changes. We've designed it to fit into the current appointment time.

Learning to Drive - All You Need to Know

Having clocked up thousands of hours of driving tuition over the years, and having had the pleasure of helping many different people, I have put together this “learning to drive” guide for the benefit of anyone looking to embark on the journey towards a driving licence.

In an effort to provide you with a rounded picture of the world you are entering, I go into a reasonable amount of depth, offering advice and opinions about driving lessons, driving instructors and the industry generally.

Much of the content is based on my experience with learner drivers. It is possible that you could speak to another industry professional who has a different view to my own. Provided their opinions are based on relevant experience, that is absolutely fine. 

Ultimately you, the consumer, must make up your own mind and make your choices accordingly.

At the very least I hope this guide gets you thinking about the best way forward for you.

It is important that your options are thoroughly considered before you take the plunge and part with your cash.

Don’t delay booking your instructor!
Before I go into the detail of this blog, I sincerely hope you aren't one of the many people who have waited right until the last minute to book lessons. 

If you are, you may have started your search by calling an instructor who has been recommended by friends or family, only to be told there will be a lengthy wait to start lessons.

With that avenue closed you may have then trawled the Google listings, only to hear the same thing over and over. Where next? 

Does this sound familiar? I have lost track of the number of conversations with people where this has been the common thread.

To give you an idea, at the time of writing this blog, to start a new client at weekends, my lead time is around 2 months. An instructor colleague, who teaches automatic and which is far more popular than manual, he has a lead time of 3 months.

The reality is that most driving instructors, and the really good one's in particular, aren't sitting around with empty diaries waiting for the phone to ring. They will be extremely busy, often with little or no short term availability - particularly from May onwards.

This is why proper planning for a course of lessons is vital. Leaving it until the last moment wont get you the instructor, and day and time that you want without a potentially lengthy wait.

Most instructors will have somewhere between 20 and 25 clients on a rolling weekly basis, so trying to fit someone new in to an already fully committed diary, at short notice, isnt usually going to happen. 

So my advice is to book early, if possible 2 to 3 months ahead, to ensure you get the instructor and preferred day and time you want - particularly if you want a weekend slot, which are always over subscribed.

Reality Check
Learning to drive isn't easy. If it's done properly and thoroughly, and in the spirit of the National Standards for Driver and Rider Training, you could reasonably be looking at 40 to 60 hours of lessons, with variations either side.

Is learning to drive rewarding? Definitely.
Is it life changing? For some, yes.
Is it stressful? Sometimes, yes.
Is it easy? For most people, no.

Is all the hard work worth it? Only you can answer that im afraid. It all depends what value you place on the skill.

For anyone thinking this process is a quick handful of lessons followed by a simple test, you're in for an unpleasant shock I'm afraid. 

I have lost track of the number of times people have told me stories about friends with zero experience who claim to have passed after just 10 hours of lessons - sometimes less.

Think about it logically. Someone with no previous experience starts to learn to drive at 9am, and by 7pm they are good enough to take a driving test.

Seriously, does that honestly sound plausible to you?

When you take a look at my website or Facebook page what you will see are lots of happy new drivers holding up their pass certificates.

The photos are all pretty similar. Happy people who are proud of their achievement. That, though, is where the similarity ends.

What those pictures don't show, however, are the individual journeys each person took from the moment they turned the engine on for the first time.

For some lucky people the process was fairly simple and straightforward. For others it was a bumpy ride.

Most passed first time. Some needed a second go, and on the odd occasion, some even took 3 goes. That's life unfortunately.

Sometimes, and for any number of possible reasons, things just don't go to plan on the day.

The driving test is the one part of the process that the learner owns completely. No help. No prompting. No reminders. That is a lot of responsibility in what can be a fairly stressful 40 minutes.

Comprehensive training will give a candidate all the necessary skills to pass the test first time, but ultimately it all rests with how they perform on the day.

For a very small number of people I have met, the manual route was just too rocky, so they changed to automatic which is less technically demanding. Each to their own, as they say.

Something to think about
Learning to drive is a serious business. I take my role and responsibilities very seriously, and I expect those I teach to do the same.

Let’s take a look at a few facts and figures to focus the mind.

- 17 to 24 year old drivers only make up 1.5% of the driving population, but are involved in 9% of fatal crashes.

- 16 to 19 year old drivers are 33% more likely to die in a crash compared to age group 40 to 49.

- One in four 18 to 24 year olds crash their car within 2 years of passing their test.

The full report behind these figures was prepared by Brake, the road safety charity. Well worth a read.

Remember, though, road safety isn’t just the responsibility of young or new drivers. We all have a part to play.

Anyone, at any age, can be involved in an accident, so we all need to do our bit to contribute to a safer driving environment.

I make it my business to produce responsible, capable drivers who have been taught well, and not just the basics to try and scrape through a driving test.

If you are serious about the process, road safety, and becoming a great driver with confidence in your ability, pick up the phone and I will be delighted to talk through your requirements in detail.

If, on the other hand, you want to do the bare minimum in the hope of scraping through, I am not the best person to call. Sorry.

This is why I do not teach test routes. Learning test routes is not learning to drive, and is certainly not in the spirit of the National Standards.

As part of the process I always take learners outside of the "test area" to experience unfamiliar roads and to see how they cope with strange roundabouts, different junctions etc. 

In summary, if we aren’t pulling in the same direction from day one, then quite simply the relationship will not work.

The Driving Course – What People Say
"Really tough”
"Best thing I’ve ever done”
“Life changing”
"I totally under estimated what was involved”
“I never ever thought I would get the hang of it”
"All the effort was worth it”

An interesting and diverse set of comments from real people, who themselves are an interesting and diverse bunch.

Every learner driver is unique, bringing with them a unique skill set, their own preferred learning style and reasons and motivations for learning to drive.

Some people begin lessons because their friends have started. Others learn because they are fed up queuing in the cold and rain for public transport.

Others see a driving licence as their passport to a better life – more job opportunities and better earning potential. Whatever your own reasons are, make your choices wisely.

Choosing an Instructor
This is probably the single most important decision you will make, and my advice is to take some time and choose wisely.

Don't jump in with the first bargain basement offer you see. Do your research.

Does the instructor have an online presence? Do they have a verifiable track record? Facebook reviews? Photo's of successful clients?

The best way to find a good instructor is through word of mouth. It usually follows that if a friend has had a good experience, there is no reason why you shouldn’t as well.

If you do not have the benefit of a recommendation, however, there are several ways you can find local instructors.

You can search either the or DIA (Driving Instructors Association) websites by postcode. Here are the links:

It is important to find an instructor you gel with. This applies as much to me as any other trainer. So why not try a 2 hour taster lesson? If you like what you experience, great. If not, move on.

How do my learners describe me? 

As you can see different people have described me in various different ways, based on their own experiences during our journey of learning.

Some people are naturally very driven, and work with me to move the process forward. Others, require constant pushing and motivation to progress.

The bottom line is this. My DVSA Grade A status hopefully shows that I am a pretty good driving instructor, but I am not a magician.

What do I mean by that? It means there is no magic wand to obtain a driving licence. No fast path. No easy way. Just good old fashioned hard work and perseverance.

Learning to drive is quite often much tougher than some people think it will be. Without the right attitude and motivation to succeed, even the best of instructors will have an uphill struggle to get you over the line.

Have realistic expectations
This reinforces a point I made earlier. Speaking from experience, managing people’s expectations in a fair and realistic way can occasionally be a tough nut to crack.

Some people are better than they think they are. Others think they are better than they actually are. Then you have everyone in between.

Every year, my aim is a 100% first time pass rate, and everyone I put forward for a test is more than capable of achieving that.

Sometimes though, for any number of reasons, things just don't go to plan.

The important point to make is that when someone goes for a driving test they have confidence in their ability, and that process may take longer for some than others.

One thing is certain, any attempt to cut corners will not usually lead to the desired outcome.

It usually becomes fairly apparent after about 10 hours of lessons how long the road ahead is looking. So managing a persons expectations in an honest and open way are key to a happy instructor / pupil relationship.

Learning to drive requires the ability to process and filter constantly changing information very quickly, and then respond with appropriate action.

In a high pressure potentially dangerous situation there isn’t time to do 50/50, phone a friend or ask the audience.

You may have just one or two seconds to understand a developing situation, and deal with it in a safe and effective way. This can be extremely stressful.

What is true to say though, as with any other process, is that you will only get out what you put in. If you want that licence badly enough, and are prepared to work hard and push yourself, then you will ultimately be successful.

If you think it is going to be an easy ride and don’t put in the effort, it is going to be an uphill struggle all the way to your test.

How much should I pay?
With a fairly broad range of prices in the TW1 to TW16 area, ranging from £22 an hour up to £30, there is plenty of choice.

As a general rule, expect to pay more for a well established top grade instructor with a proven track record. 

Most people, however, will look to pay what they perceive a service to be worth, and that will differ from person to person.

Most instructors usually have reduced offer priced lesson hours, and I am no exception. They are a great way for learners to sample the service on offer, whilst not having to pay full price.

Whoever you choose, my advice is not to pay a large amount upfront until you know you will be happy with the trainer. If you aren't happy on day one, it will be an expensive mistake if you have already paid for a block booking. It is important that you get along with your instructor and respond to their methods of teaching.

When considering anything that looks too good to be true, do so with your sensible head on. Remember, a driving school is a business and businesses cost money to run.

Anyone offering super cheap lessons has got to be cutting back somewhere. It's a simple case of basic housekeeping and commonsense.

There is a point where a lesson price is so low that there is little or no profit to keep the business afloat and pay the instructors bills.

Think of it this way. Someone selling £10 notes for £5 will always be in great demand,  and superficially, they look to be extremely successful. A business model that generates little or no profit, however, will not last very long.

As at April 2019 I charge £30 for the intial 2 hours, then £27 per hour with discounts for block booking. Is that worth the money? I believe it is, but only you can decide that.

If you don't place much importance on the process, then £27 an hour may seem expensive. If, on the other hand, you want a grade A instructor with a proven track record over 10 years, £27 an hour may seem like good value for money.

The choice is always yours to make.

A few consumer sayings spring to mind:

- Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware

- You get what you pay for

- Pay cheap pay twice

-The person who wants something for nothing will usually get nothing for something.

Why are independent instructors cheaper than the big driving schools?
You may hear the term "franchise". What is a franchise?

In simple terms, a person will pay a fee to trade in the name of an established business. You never own the business, merely rent the name as long as you keep paying to do so.

Lots of businesses run as franchises. From burger restaurants to coffee shop chains to national driving schools.

In the case of franchised driving schools, the instructor - the Franchisee - will pay anywhere from £80 per week for a locally based Franchise to £200 per week for a national driving school.

Those costs have to be built into the overall lesson prices, which is why it tends to be the case that national franchised driving schools charge more per hour.

The additional cost has absolutely nothing to do with the instructor being a higher grade or offering better instruction. It is purely because their overheads are higher, and so they have to charge more.

In terms of my own lesson pricing, I work for myself, so I don't pay a third party any franchise fees.

I don't pay anyone to do the “back office” tasks, because I do them myself. I generate enquiries through my own website and Facebook page. I arrange my own car and insurance, and I do all the behind the scenes activities like diary management.

It is because my trading overheads are significantly lower than those of a franchised instructor that I can offer a lower price - but not lower standards.

As an instructor, there is nothing at all wrong with the franchised route, but it isn't for me personally.

If an instructor wants the hard work of the business side taken care of for them, that’s fine, so the franchise route may work for that individual. Personally, though, I prefer to be my own boss and build my own reputation, not someone else's.

I built my business from nothing 10 years ago, after a 25 year career in Banking, of all things. I enjoy running things my way and I have 100% control over all aspects of what I do and how I do it.

Nobody loves my business like I do, and the success of my business rests entirely on my shoulders. I’ve got nowhere to hide, and nobody else to blame if something goes wrong – and that is exactly how I like it.

Do the national schools have better quality instructors?
The short answer is no.

All driving instructors are self employed, and go through exactly the same process to gain their green instructors badge.

At the end of the qualifying period, each instructor is awarded a grade depending on their performance in the final exam.

Once an instructor is fully qualified, they then have the option to either buy into a Franchise or trade as an independent business, like my own, and build their own brand.

Irrespective of what career path an instructor takes, every 4 or 5 years each is assessed during a live lesson with a DVSA Senior Examiner present.

The lesson is then graded, based on a detailed set of criteria. That assessment is called a Standards Check. Here is the marking sheet used.

The instructor will be awarded a grade, based on the overall quality of the lesson – A, B or fail.

I am a Grade A, and recent figures show that just 29% of instructors achieve the highest grade.

If you like your facts and figures the ADI National Joint Counci have put together an excellent analysis of the Check Test pass and fail rates. Very interesting reading.

Instructors have the option of adding their grade to the "Find an Instructor" part of the DVSA website. On a recent check I am one of just 4 A Grade instructors in my postcode area. Hopefully, that number will increase over time. Driving up standards within the industry has to be a good thing for everyone.

Pass Rates. Fact or Fiction?
Do a quick web search and you will find many instructors and driving schools using phrases like “excellent pass rates”, “high pass rates” and so on, but what do these claims mean?

In truth, not a lot. They are just words not facts. One person’s idea of excellent is another person’s idea of average.

There are various ways that pass rates can be interpreted and manipulated, so any figures you see published by instructors should be treated with caution.

You as the consumer have absolutely no way of confirming these figures one way or the other.

The Government is considering publishing pass rates that they collect through the driving test system.

This, though, cannot be relied upon for factual correctness. For example, if a learner uses their own car for their test, the instructor will not be credited with the pass.

I have lost count now of the number of clients I have taught and who passed the test in their own vehicle, and for which I receive no credit in the Government statistics.

So while I include these passes in my figures, the Government do not.

It may surprise you to learn that the first time pass rate nationally is just 21%.

Put another way, just 1 person in 5 who takes their test for the first time will pass. Surprised? Here is a link to the website:

If you look up the pass rates at your local test centre, typically you will see figures around the 40 – 50% range.

These figures do not relate to first time passes. They are average pass rates.

The important thing to bear in mind is that on any given day at a test centre you will have a mix of people who are taking their test for the 1st, 2nd, 3rd….10th time.

So, to make sense of the published figures, based on the fact that on average only 1 in 5 pass first time at the first attempt, the vast majority of driving tests each day are re-sits. Of those tests approximately 40 - 50% are successful, thus  leading to further re-sits. 

Is there a good day and time to take a driving test?
My default position on this question is that there is no such thing as an easy driving test. So, in theory, any day is as good or bad as any other.

Irrespective of the time of day, test routes are varied to robustly examine a candidates ability across all driving scenarios, except motorway. So there aren't any soft options when booking a test.

A driving test is there to highlight any weak areas that may exist with a candidates judgement or driving skills, and it serves that purpose very well.

Thorough training will  certainly minimise the possibility of a fail resulting from skills gaps, but what about other factors?

It has always has been the case that, irrespective of knowledge and ability, some people perform better in test conditions than others. Not necessarily fair, but that's life.

There are, however, a number of factors that you can take into account when booking your test which may give you an edge on the day.

Your body clock - When are you most alert? When do you function best? Don't book a test at a time when, on a normal day, you would still be fast asleep.

Bin collection - This sounds like a strange one I know, but on bin collection days most areas are flooded with bin and recycling lorries from early in the morning.

My experience is that these  can create additional challenges that wouldn't be there on non collection days. Why make an already tough test even harder by giving yourself additional hurdles to jump. If, on the other hand, you like a challenge, go for it.

Pick a quiet day in your diary
Don't cram a driving test in between college exams. Similarly, don't book a test when you know it's going to be a heavy day at work. Minimise the stress and do your test with a clear head.

Nervous or Confident? - We are all individuals. Irrespective of how well prepared we are for a test, some take it all in their stride, while others experience anxiety in varying degrees.

In many cases, the levels of stress or anxiety that build up prior to a test can be a big factor in determining success or failure. In other words, a really good, well prepared candidate can panic themselves into a fail.

So what is the answer? My advice, and it is just advice, is that anyone who does experience severe test nerves, those people should take their driving test first thing in the morning.

This way, there isn't time before the test to allow stress levels and anxiety to build.

I have seen a number of superb candidates take an afternoon test and fail because they have spent all day worrying about it, and have effectively panicked themselves into a fail result.

So now, anyone who doesnt perform at their best in test conditions, I get them to book their test at 8am. Touch wood, it appears to work well.

I've given you just a few things to think about. The main thing to remember is that there is no quick route to a driving licence. No short cuts. Just good old fashioned hard work.

Any person greatly increases their chances of test success through thorough training and preparation. It is after all a test of skill, not luck.

What do you think of intensive courses?
You will find there are wide ranging opinions on this subject. Personally, I have mixed feelings about intensive courses as an effective route to a driving licence for a new learner. If you have existing driving experience, however, it may work well.

People book a course of lessons, say 30 hours over 2 weeks, and have a perfectly reasonable expectation of gaining their licence at the end of it.

The reality, however, is that a pass is not assured, and this will be covered somewhere within an instructors T&C’s.

Being realistic, how can anyone offer such a guarantee?

The thing to remember, is that if you have someone who is an average learner with no previous driving experience, who under normal circumstances would take 40 hours of lessons,  or more, then logic dictates that a 30 hour intensive course simply isn’t going to be enough. 

Think of the story about the tortoise and the hare. Sometimes, the slower route can actually prove to be the faster solution. If you are considering an intensive course, talk to the course provider and get their opinion on whether it is the right thing for you. At the end of the day, the choice is always yours. Make those choices wisely.

In summary
This has probably taken you a little while to read, but hopefully it has made you realise that there is a lot to consider before you part with your cash.

Personally, I am a big believer in the saying “knowledge is power”.

Knowledge allows us to make better, more informed choices, and that is important when you are looking to invest your time, trust and a significant amount of money in, what could be, a complete stranger.

Whatever your choices and preferences are, I hope that you enjoy your lessons, enjoy success when you take your test, and then go on to have years of driving pleasure.

If you would like further information, why not take a look at my “Frequently Asked Questions” page?

Drive carefully. Stay safe.

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