Why bother with manual car driving lessons?

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What is the point of learning to drive a manual geared car?

I have been teaching people to drive in automatic cars in addition to manual cars since 2008. In those early years the demand for automatic was limited to about 5% of enquiries and at the time I was one of only three or four instructors offering automatic lessons in my area. In 2017, in my area, I continue to be one of only a few instructors offering lessons in an automatic but the demand outstrips manual enquiries by around four to one. I accept the evidence is anecdotal but it is unquestionably clear that peoples attitudes towards automatic cars is changing.

The question is – Why?

When people are asked about their choice, the majority tell me it seems easier to learn. Many already have access to an automatic car and they have no desire to change and so cannot see the point of learning manual.

This all comes at a time when many governments around the world are forcing or encouraging car manufacturers to produce more environmentally friendly vehicles. In Europe the targets for lower emissions means manufacturers are increasingly finding it necessary to introduce hybrids to their line up. It is a fact of life that Hybrid cars and all electric cars are equipped with a form of automatic transmission out of necessity.

Cars with automatic transmission are inevitably becoming more available, they are much more fuel efficient, more comfortable, convenient, more fun to drive, and clean. We have arrived at a point where automatic versions of some of the most popular cars are outperforming their manual counterparts. Therefor, it should not be a surprise that many, and maybe most, people consider these automatic hybrids and all electric cars to be very much more desirable. If evidence were needed, their use by taxi drivers must be testament to the advantages they provide.

It is true that not all learners can afford to buy new or even newish cars and for that reason I can see there will continue to be a demand for traditional manual gearbox driving lessons but that doesn’t change the fact that the driver training industry is changing and as we currently exist in an era where instructors are in short supply and therefor always busy, the trend toward automatic is not being recognised. There is a very real risk that the shortage of automatic driving instructors will become a serious problem.

New Driving Test 4th December 2017

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It will change on the 4th December 2017

Following the announcement of the driving test changes many people will be worried about how the changes will affect them and others wondering if they can pass their test before the changes are implemented.

Don’t Worry

The first thing to say is that there is no need to fear the new test. I was fortunate to be part of the trial of the the new test and I have been making sure all of my clients are familiar with both the current test and the new elements for almost two years and I can say with certainty all of my clients prefer the elements of the new practical test.

SatNav – The Main Change?

The change to attract most attention is the use of the SatNav. It’s a direct replacement for the current 10 minute period of independent driving in which the candidate is required to memorise a route or follow road signs. Everyone prefers the SatNav because it is easier, you have a screen offering confirmation, and instructions are usually repeated.

Ancillary Controls

Another change receiving attention is the requirement to operate an ancillary control whilst on the move. This might be wash wiping a front or rear windscreen, demisting a window or adjusting heater controls. This is not really a change because in the current test the examiner would expect you to use these controls effectively if required and if you can’t do it, or you lose control, you will fail.

Alex

Reversing is getting easier

The Reverse Left and the Three Point Turn are dropped. From 4th December you could be asked to drive into a parking bay, forwards or backwards. Or you could be asked to complete a parallel parking exercise. The third option is that you might be asked to stop on the right hand side of the road and then asked to reverse back in a straight line parallel to the kerb for a distance of about two car lengths. When that has been completed you will be instructed to move off again. Thats it, nothing much to to worry about. Or is there?

What the DVSA has NOT told us

To some extent the talk of SatNav’s and reversing has acted as a smokescreen hiding real threats faced by some test candidates.

The DVSA has said that the test is changing because:

“…most fatal collisions happen on high-speed roads (not including motorways) – changing the format of the test will allow more of these types of roads to be included in driving test routes.”

During the trial period the distances travelled on the SatNav tests were sometimes double that of the current test and the routes contained a much higher proportion of fast roads.

It is my opinion that this increase in distance, whilst not explicitly mentioned by the DVSA, is the most significant change of all and it could easily prove to be the most challenging part for candidates who find it difficult to read the road, assess appropriate speeds, and overtake when necessary. The extra mileage in these extended test routes will result in an increased requirement to overtake and the new test routes will naturally be more difficult for test candidates with little experience on fast ‘A’ roads.

The practical driving test is not getting more difficult and the drive will be assessed in exactly the same way as before. No doubt this will be the defence if the DVSA is accused of failing to give adequate publicity for this significant change in the test. The fact remains that candidates will have a greater exposure to roads where it is very easy to make speed related mistakes.

Will you be prepared for this new test?

During the trial period for the new test, I was astounded to hear instructors complaining that they had not received training on how to teach people to stop on the right hand side of the road. If the professionals can’t see though the smokescreen it seems unlikely they will understand the true nature of the challenges ahead for their clients.

I hope I’m wrong.

Do I need to indicate here?

When should you signal? A guide for learner drivers

Signal or not?

Do I need to indicate here?

Is a question I am regularly asked and I’m sure it’s the same for other instructors. People who are learning to drive are usually OK with such decisions when it comes to junctions but at other times there is inevitably some confusion and I suspect that its not only learner drivers who are confused.

Most instructors will reply with something that would require the client to think about the solution for himself like “signal if you think it would be useful to another road user”. It’s a form of standard response which has been used for years and it’s become something that we just say without thinking.

After years of giving this reply, I recently heard myself saying the line and I realised it was quite a stupid thing to say because it meant almost any signal could be justified to anyone in any circumstances and as a guide to people learning to drive it was useless. It had to change, the only problem I had was thinking of an alternative.

What message do indicators really convey?

I pondered the question for a few days and asked myself what message I wanted to convey when I used the indicators. Naturally, it varies for different situations, but usually I am not simply telling someone that I want to change direction e.g. if I want to stop the car on the left I am saying something like “I am stopping on the left, I need to slow down and I want you to take some action to ensure you don’t crash into the back of me”.

When thought about in this way, it becomes very clear that I am the person who benefits from that signal and the real purpose of the signal is to ask the driver behind me to take some kind of action.

If we look at any other situation (not junctions) where we might consider using indicators i.e. overtaking, passing parked vehicles, lane changing or moving off from the side of the road. In every case, if a signal is necessary it is because we want another driver to take some kind of action.

If we are not asking for a response – A signal is probably not necessary!

Logically, it therefor follows that if we don’t require another driver to take some action a signal is not required.

At the time of writing I have only just started making changes to my training methods. I am trying out different methods of introducing this way of thinking to my clients and it may take a while to evaluate any benefits.

Watch this space.

Pass Plus – Fit for purpose or just an expensive waste of time?

Pass Plus - Is it a valuable course or a waste of money?

Pass Plus – Waste of Money?

Pass Plus – Fit for purpose or just an expensive waste of time?

Pass Plus, around since 2002, is now considered by many to outdated and a waste of money. It was intended to equip drivers who have recently passed the driving test with skills not acquired whilst learning to drive. On looking back it sounds like an endorsement of the old claim that ‘you only really learn to drive after passing the driving test’.

The worrying bit is that in twelve years no evidence has ever been found to support the claims that it participants in the course actually learned new skills. The insurance industry saw no impact on the high level of claims made by young drivers and this is the real reason that insurance discounts have all but disappeared.

If we examine how pass plus worked, it is easy to see flaws in the system. The course, intended to last not less than 6 hours, was rarely exceeded. It consisted of six modules i.e. Town driving, all weather, rural, night, dual carriageways and motorways.

There was no requirement to actually drive in all weathers if the conditions were not available. It was acceptable to discuss the theory as a means of teaching. If motorways were not available within a reasonable distance there was nothing to say that this module could not be dealt with in a similar manner!

There is no test with pass plus. The instructor is expected to sign off the client in all of the skills covered. I don’t believe any instructor ever refused to sign off a client who had paid for a pass plus course. Without any checks or balances the Pass Plus course could never have real value or credibility.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of all was timing. The scheme was introduced at a time when all driving instruction was the kind where the learner listens to the expert and tries to remember as much as he could. In recent years there has been a move towards ‘Client Centred Learning’ where the learner takes greater responsibility for his own learning.

The shift towards CCL and Coaching in particular has created a different kind of learner driver. Learners are now more demanding, they know what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. New drivers who have learned in this new way are usually more inquisitive and consequently better informed.

Clients today ask about Pass Plus but when they know the facts they rarely seem interested in even the possibility of an insurance discount. Most people agree that passing the practical test should never mean the candidate has completed the learning, rather that he or she is now considered safe to continue learning without being accompanied. If we accept this to be true, why should anyone need to pay for further training?

Driving Test Pass or Distinction

Pass Certificate

Would you be happy with a pass?

Driving Test Pass or distinction. Will you be happy with a test pass or would you aim a little bit higher if a better grade was available.

The idea is that if you achieved a higher grade, currently being referred to as a ‘distinction’ you could be rewarded with lower insurance costs. It’s not government policy, merely an idea by current Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.

Mr Hancock, says that a distinction grade is being made available for people completing apprenticeships and he believes such a scheme could provide a greater incentive to become safer drivers.
The idea is quite a good one but there are obstacles that could prevent it from ever being implemented. The main problem as far as I can see is that the present system of driver evaluation will not easily lend itself to such a scheme.

Currently, a driving test candidate starts the test with the presumption that he is a perfectly good driver with no faults marked against him. To pass the test he must drive around a set course which intended to last about 35 – 40 minutes. The examiner records faults as they go round and the candidate passes if less than 16 faults is recorded and providing none of them were potentially or actually dangerous.

Not getting a fault does not necessarily mean that the candidate has acquired a higher standard of driving and is quite possible, with a little bit of good luck, for really bad drivers to pass the driving test.

Perhaps the test should be changed to an assessment of how well a person drives instead of simply counting faults. The DSA has in the past argued that such if such a system were implemented, it would be more difficult to ensure consistency of marking. Personally, I would argue that they already have that problem as I see little evidence of consistency already.

I have been present in the car in hundreds of driving tests and I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone fail who should have passed, given the current system of marking, but I have frequently seen people pass who should have failed, and yes I do think it has something to do with quotas.

If you think the idea of the skills minister has some merit, maybe he should be encouraged. Let me know what you think.

Avoid Car Insurance Fraud

Is your insurance policy genuine?

Is your insurance policy genuine?

How can you avoid car insurance fraud.

On 28th October 2013, a man was jailed for his part in a scam that swindled more than £500,000 out of unsuspecting drivers by selling them fake insurance policies. By all accounts, this prosecution has not put a stop to the problem, merely highlighted its existence.

According to the Police and Insurance companies, it is mainly young or inexperienced drivers who are paying out for insurance policies that subsequently turn out to be fake leaving the victims out of pocket and without insurance.

Insurance costs are high for many people but it is young or new drivers who are forced to pay the highest premiums of all and have the greatest need to search for the best deal around. These same people have little or no experience of buying insurance making them ideal targets for exploitation by criminals.

The scam is very simple. The fraudsters set up a website or advertise in places likely to attract the target audience. Motor insurance is offered at a very low price, the money is taken, either in cash or by money deposited into bank accounts being used by the fraudster, and a worthless policy document and insurance certificate issued in exchange.

Sometimes, a genuine policy of insurance is arranged with an insurance company but details of the insured person are falsified to obtain the policy at very low cost, rendering the policy invalid, but the vehicle insured is shown on the DVLA database as insured and therefor unlikely to be stopped by police.

How to recognise a scam? If you are looking at a website it could be very difficult to spot a scam but there are things you can do to protect yourself from fraud. A genuine broker will take payments by credit card and if the sale is fraudulent the bank will usually reimburse you.

Be aware that there is no such thing as fixed price motor insurance.

If you believe you are dealing with an insurance company you can check they are members of the Motor Insurance Bureau.

If you are dealing with a broker, ask which insurance company is offering the policy and, if in doubt, check the details of your insurance direct with the company before you part with any money.

After a policy is issued you can check the askMID.com database to make sure your car is insured?

Finding a good Driving Instructor

Find an Instructor

Find an Instructor

Are recommendations really the best way of finding a good driving instructor?

Not in my experience because they are usually given without comparison to any other instructor.

For my money, the best method is look on the internet and call instructors directly.  Most people already do this but they don’t always ask the right questions. With this method, at least you have an opportunity to question the instructor and simply having a conversation over the phone can sometimes elicit a great deal of information – If you know what to ask.

A Fair Comparison on Price.

Over the years as a driving instructor I have received hundreds of phone calls from people looking for driving lessons and it is quite clear to me that most people haven’t a clue what to ask and end up only asking about price per hour. Unfortunately this question, on its own, tells you nothing and in a market where instructors compete for work, the cheapest instructors are usually cheap for a reason!

Naturally, price is very important to you but the cost per hour is irrelevant unless you know how many hours you need. All instructors will rightly say that everyone is different and its impossible to predict how many hours you will need. However, all good instructors keep records and should be able to tell you the average number of hours his clients take before passing a test. You must make your own judgement of any instructor who is either unable or reluctant to give this information.

The instructors price per hour is now positively useful because a simple calculation will tell you the total cost of learning to drive for the instructors average client. I agree it doesn’t necessarily tell you what the cost will be to you but irrespective of whether you learn faster or slower than average, you can now make a fair comparison on price.

How much training will you need?

It’s not all about price. How quickly you learn is dependent on many factors, not least of which is how well you get on with the instructor. If you think back to your school days, did you feel you learned more or less with the teachers you liked? I can just remember my school days but the teachers I liked I remember very well and I am convinced I gained more from their lessons, and my progress was more rapid.

The importance of the relationship between you and the instructor is even more important because you are working in a one to one situation. A five or ten minute telephone conversation can enable you to judge if the instructor is someone with whom you can be at ease. If you find you are beginning to develop a kind of rapport with the individual it’s highly likely that the same will exist during driving lessons. Learning can be much easier and often quicker, in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

If the instructor is not easy to speak to or, for whatever reason, you feel uncomfortable when talking over the phone, you may well find you have the same feeling during your training sessions. Unfortunately, the only qualification a driving instructor requires, does not include a test of ability to communicate effectively, with empathy, or sensitivity.

Pass rates – Are they an accurate guide to an instructors ability?

Instructors worry about pass rates and believe them to be important to their clients. I too remember feeling I needed to have the best pass rate in the area but then I started to feel it might be getting in the way of giving my clients the best training.  The ends don’t always justify the means and keeping an eye too closely on pass rates can sometimes lead to teaching people to how to deal with the ‘difficult bits’ on test routes rather than enabling clients to learn how to deal with ‘difficult bits’ wherever they go in the future.

Try Before You Buy?

The most important part of any search for a driving instructor should be to arrange sample training sessions with those on your shortlist. Many instructors, including me, offer a test drive or introductory sessions at very low rates. We do so in the hope that you will be impressed with the training and you will return to buy the full priced lessons but there is nothing to stop you trying more than one or two instructors before deciding which you prefer.

I make a point of suggesting to new clients that they try at least one or two different instructors to find out who they feel most comfortable with and I am amazed at how many don’t take the advice because you have very little to lose but could potentially gain a great deal.

What should you expect from your instructor and your training?

My list of important elements for great driver training includes the following:

  • At the beginning each session you should have a clear idea of the goal you want to achieve.
  • The goal should be selected by you, or with your agreement.
  • At the end of each lesson, you should be able to assess what you have achieved?
  • You should be progressing at least as quickly as you expected.
  • Your training sessions should be enjoyable, even fun!
  • You should always be able to look forward to the next lesson.

Happy hunting!

Peer Pressure at the Bus Lane

Do you illegally queue in the bus lane and risk getting a £30 fixed penalty notice?
OR
Do you incur the wrath of fellow motorists who accuse you of queue jumping?

Most mornings my journey to work takes me along the A259, a main coastal route between Saltdean and Rottingdean, on my way into the South Coast City of Brighton & Hove.

Bottleneck at Rottingdean Crossroads

Bottleneck at Rottingdean Crossroads

For as long as I can remember, there has been a bottleneck for westbound traffic at Rottingdean crossroads because, despite being two lanes wide, only the left lane can be used by the bulk of the traffic going straight towards Brighton. The right lane is for a just a few vehicles turning right to go north through the High Street.

 

Until recently, traffic approached in a single lane, which divided into two lanes near the junction and drivers simply drifted into the additional lane as it appeared if they wanted to turn right. A few years ago the local authority had a brainwave and decided to squeeze a bus lane in beside the westbound traffic which meant there was two lanes approaching the crossroads, although normal traffic could not legally access Lane 1, until the bus lane ended about 200 metres before the crossroads.

A259 before the new bus lane

Before

A259 with the new bus lane

After

 

The designers of this engineering masterpiece presumably thought that drivers would stay quietly in lane 2 until the last moment and then, in a relatively short distance, lane change safely into lane 1 as required. Anyone having an interest in driver psychology might have guessed they would be wrong.

Queueing in the bus lane

Queue on the A259 West to Rottingdean

As soon as the traffic queue reaches the bus lane drivers approaching the end of the queue are faced with the dilemma of either joining the end of the queue which is clearly illegal or driving past the end of the queue in the hope that you can get into line further down the road. On some mornings the illegal queue in the bus lane regularly exceeds 50 cars.

I really believe that most people want to comply with the rules but I have realised that we are all prepared to break the law when it suits us. The most striking element of this daily event is not the length of the illegal queue in the bus lane but, since this problem began, I have only ever seen a few cars stay out of the bus lane completely to face the displeasure of their fellow commuters.

I must admit to being no better than everyone else. There was an occasion just the other day when I decided the illegal queue was just too long for me and I decided to place myself at the mercy of drivers nearer the traffic lights. As soon as the bus lane had finished I slowed down and indicated left to let others know what I hoped to achieve. Thankfully, a kind soul let me move into the left lane ahead of them but I still had to slow to a crawl for a few moments while the decision was being made and this was clearly unacceptable to an angry woman, driving a BMW behind me in lane two, who’s gestures were both very rude and threatening. How did that make me feel? Well, I can say it stopped me feeling smug that I hadn’t broken the law but I’m not sure I want to repeat it the experience!

It gets even more interesting because just a few months ago an object which looked a bit like a camera appeared one morning fitted to a lamp post near the end of the bus lane. I don’t know if it was an enforcement camera or not, but everyone presumably thought it was because the queue disappeared almost immediately. A week later the object was removed and the queue has returned.

What does all this say about the typical motorist? I want to be a law abiding motorist and the camera proved we can do it, but we don’t. I think I am typical of most motorists and I feel aggrieved. I blame the local authority for placing me in the position where I must choose between breaking the law, cause others around me to be obstructed, or accuse me of queue jumping.

Roundabout Positioning

Which is the correct lane when approaching a roundabout and taking an intermediate (often straight ahead) exit?
Roundabout Positioning Chaos

Roundabout Chaos

 

When I learned to drive in 1971 roundabout positioning was easy, I was told the correct lane for going ahead was the left lane. It was a simple system and, from what I can remember, it seemed to work well in those days.

Over the years, the number of cars on the road has increased, roundabouts have become larger, often multi-lane and more complex and the left-hand lane system doesn’t have the same relevance because even if everyone uses it, and much of the time they don’t, you continue to find yourself beside other vehicles all wanting the same exit.

In 1999 the Highway Code was updated which didn’t help much as it just became more ambiguous by not telling us which lane to take and instead advising us to select the appropriate lane. It made no difference to the driver training industry as most instructors continued to teach the lane system as though nothing had changed.

In recent years I have started to question the conventional wisdom of this approach. Surely something is wrong if you reach the point where practical driving test routes need to be changed because a roundabout is considered too difficult for test candidates just because they have learned the ‘official roundabout positioning system’. We reached that point at the Burgess Hill Test Centre a couple of years ago.

It seems to me that despite any health and safety issues for driving test examiners, new drivers must learn how to remain safe when driving through difficult roundabouts.

If a google search is made on the term: ’roundabout accidents’ the results include countless examples of people writing into forums seeking advice following accidents on roundabouts. The most striking aspect for me was the belief held by many that they should have been safe because they followed the lane advice given when learning to drive.

My initial reaction was to ‘instruct’ on the best way of dealing with the difficult roundabouts locally just to get clients through the test. The disadvantage with that approach is that people taught in this way remain unprepared for other difficult roundabouts.

Eventually, I decided a change was needed. Sometimes we do things in particular ways for no better reason than we have always done it that way and sometimes fresh eyes can see things differently and my clients have provided those eyes.

Wherever possible, I prefer not to give instruction, but instead coach clients to think for themselves. When a client of mine is learning to deal with roundabouts, we almost always spend a little time watching the movement of traffic around any busy roundabout and invariably I will ask what they notice about the traffic. In most cases the client adopts a worried look and admits that all they see is chaos and very few notice any kind of system being used. I love the blunt honesty!

If you then ask what they believe they could do to remain safe when driving through the chaos, the reply is also nearly always along the lines of: “Be aware of the cars around you and avoid them”. It sounds simplistic but it’s undeniably a good plan, but more importantly, it’s a starting point for the discussion about how they would implement the plan. Instead of slavishly following a lane position strategy for being safe we start driving through roundabouts looking to see who is around us and where they are going.

In the conversation that follows you can talk about predictability and signalling as components of collision avoidance and at some later time, whilst putting into practise the theory we have been discussing, it is usually discovered that certain lane positions in certain conditions can provide an advantage.

The cynics who read this will doubtless say that I have gone the long way around to achieve the same thing but I would argue that allowing the client to identify his own method for staying safe is much more effective than learning a routine. The move away from ‘being told’ to ‘being allowed to discover’ means I am no longer teaching people how to deal with tricky roundabouts on a test route but preparing them for any difficult roundabout, wherever they go, after passing the test.

I consider my clients to be match fit if they can safely negotiate the roundabout described, by the local test centre manager, as too as too dangerous for test candidates.