Sunday, 15 May 2011

Learning to drive lorries - getting started

This post tells you how to go about learning to drive an LGV. First of all you need to decide which size of vehicle you want to drive. If you passed your test before 1997, you can drive up to 7.5 tonnes on your normal car licence.

If you passed your test more recently than that and you want to drive this size of vehicle you have to do the C1 test. If you are paying for the test yourself and think you may want to drive larger lorries in the future, you may as well just go straight for the Category C licence as the difference in price is small and the test is the same, just in a bigger vehicle.

As the LGV licence is vocational and as a lorry driver you will be spending hours and hours on the road, it is important that your health is up to it. Before you can be given the licence, you have to pass a medical. This is not a very stringent test and anybody in general good health will normally pass it. Anybody with any of these conditions, must inform the DVLA. Once you have your licence, you have to retake the medical at age 45.

Age restrictions:
Basically, the rule for any large vehicle is that you have to be 21 unless you take the CPC. For more detailed information click here.

Useful books:

Useful links:

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Glossary of LGV terms

LGV - Large or Laden goods vehicle. This is the term referring to any vehicle used to transport goods from vans up to articulated lorries.

HGV - heavy goods vehicle. This refers to larger goods vehicles, generally those above 7.5 tonnes for which you need a category C licence, previously called an HGV licence.

MGW - maximum gross weight. It refers to the combined weight of your unladen vehicle, the load on it and any people in it. This is usually on weak bridges to show the heaviest weight the bridge can take.

MAM - maximum authorised mass. This refers to the total combined weight of the vehicle and the maximum load it can carry including people. This is defined by the manufacturer.

Payload. This refers to the total capacity in weight of the load and the people.

HGV class 2 and class 1. These are the old names for Category C and Category C+E respectively.

What can I drive on my licence?

The laws governing what you could drive on a standard driving licence changed on 1 January 1997.

If you want a detailed list of what you can drive on your licence, here is the DSA site for those who passed before 1997.
Here is the DSA site for those who passed in 1997 or after.
The categories which were affected by this change are B+E, C1 and D1 (see below for descriptions). Those who passed their tests before 1997 are referred to as having Grandad rights.

This is the story in brief.
Category A governs motorbikes.

Category B governs cars. This is the category which you automatically have on your licence when you pass the standard driving test at the age of 17 or older and if you passed your test after 1 January 1997 this is the only category you have. This covers any vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes MAM. This is basically up to a small van but it is worth bearing in mind that many standard Transit size vans that you may hire in order to move house, are actually over 3.5 tonnes MAM so you need to be careful. This category also allows you to tow a trailer up to 750kg as long as the total vehicle weight does not exceed 3.5 tonnes. Very few caravans, trailer tents, motorbike or boat trailers come under this weight limit.

Category B+E governs car and trailer. Any category with +E after it denotes a trailer. If you passed your test after January 1997 and want to tow a trailer or a caravan over 750kg you will have to take this extra test. Some normal car driving instructors offer it, but it is generally taught by LGV instructors. The training generally lasts for 20 hours including the time of the test, which follows the format of an LGV test is taken at an LGV test centre, not at a normal car one.

The category C group covers Laden Goods Vehicles - LGV.
Category C1. This covers vehicles up to 7.5 tonnes. If you passed your test before 1997 you automatically have this entitlement on your licence, although you no longer have the entitlement to supervise a novice driver in this category unless you have actually passed a test in this or a subsequent category before April 2010. If you passed your test after 1 January 1997 you have to take a test in this category to be able to drive it. Large vans, ambulances and smaller horse boxes come into this category.

Category C. This used to be called HGV class 2. It covers large rigid vehicles of any size beyond 3.5 tonnes. Some leisure vehicles come within this size category but because they are not laden vehicles, are not covered by the same rules, if you passed your test before 1997. See here for more information.

Category C+E. As I mentioned above +E refers to any trailer so this category covers large vehicles with trailers - basically articulated lorries. To take this test you have to first have passed category C.

The category D group covers Passenger Carrying Vehicles - PCV.
Category D1. This covers minibuses up to 17 seats. Here is the DSA's information site about it. If you passed your test after 1 January 1997 you can only drive a vehicle up to 8 seats including the passenger.

Category D. This covers all rigid buses.

Here are some other useful links:
Licence checking for business
One of many useful motorhome sites

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Learning to drive - Useful links

In this post we are just collecting all the useful links there are out there on the web about learning to drive.

Driving Standards Agency (DSA) sites
DSA learner driver home page
Apply for a provisional licence
Search for local driving instructors.
Stuff about the theory test
Stuff about the practical test

Other useful learning to drive sites.
Most of these are either advertising their driving school or are selling something else. This is fair enough, just bear in mind the information is not always impartial.
This site from LDC has a lot of useful information on it, especially this page about what the examiners are looking for. is a useful site. It appears to be sponsored by Accidents Direct and the AA.
As you'd expect from the biggest school in the country BSM's site has lots of snazzy gadgets to play with.

There are quite a few online databases of driving instructors. They are not comprehensive lists, they are just other ways for driving instructors to advertise and get pupils. The DSA site will have a pretty comprehensive list because all the instructors registered with them are listed unless they opt out. The Driving Instructors Association is a professional organisation that instructors can join and they have a search facility for you to find their members in your area. This is no absolute guarantee of quality but membership would imply that the instructor takes their job seriously.

This post will no doubt be updated frequently.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Driving Test

The DSA website explains what is involved in the practical driving test. This is what they don't tell you!

Driving tests are taken in the vehicle that you learned in. This is generally your instructor's car. If your instructor does not think that you are ready to take the test and you have booked it anyway, he or she may refuse to let you use their vehicle. Instructors have to maintain their reputations and it is bad for their business to present someone for test who is not ready.

The examiner is employed by the DSA to assess your driving. They do not have quotas, they do not get paid according to the number of people they pass or fail. They are paid a salary and will pass you if you fulfill the criteria and they consider you safe to drive. Examiners also have to maintain their own reputations and that of the DSA as a whole so if you commit a serious or dangerous fault they have to fail you, even if the rest of the drive was perfect.

The driving test is marked on a sheet. The examiner may make marks on the sheet as you are driving. Don't let that distract you! He or she may just be making a note of something to mention and even if he or she is marking a fault, it may not be a serious one.

You are allowed up to 15 driving faults but any serious or dangerous faults will result in failing the test. If you get three driving faults within any particular category that will become a serious fault.

What is classed as a serious fault or simply a driving fault is often dependent on the circumstances. Failing to check a mirror before signalling to turn right may just be a driving fault if nobody is affected, but if a motorcyclist had to swerve or stop as a result of you not knowing that she was there, that would be classed as serious. Equally, in some cases an examiner may wait until the end of the test to see if she wishes to class a fault as serious or not, depending on the rest of the drive. A dangerous fault is one where the examiner felt he had to intervene to avoid a collision. In extreme circumstances the examiner will abandon the test, basically if he no longer feels safe in the vehicle.

Examiners are human beings too! On the whole they want to pass people and want to put pupils at their ease. You get the occasional bad one and there are complaints procedures you can follow. Even though the best you are going to get is a retest without being charged again, it is worth complaining if you genuinely feel that the examiner was unreasonable in case there are problems with that particular examiner and the DSA need to know.

Finally, whether you pass or fail, it is useful for your instructor to hear the debrief at the end. And your instructor will always drive away from the test. This is nothing to do with insurance, it is simply that driving tests are stressful and whether you have passed or failed, the chances are your emotions will be heightened and that is never a good time to drive!

What you can expect from driving lessons

Once you have chosen an instructor and booked a lesson, you are ready to meet your instructor and start learning. Your first driving lesson generally involves being introduced to the controls of the car, learning how to make the car go and stop and maybe some basic steering and gear changes. Some people pick it up very quickly, others take longer but that does not mean that those who take longer are worse drivers in the end.

At the end of the lesson, you should feel confident that you have learned something and that your instructor is in control and has put you at ease. Cars are lethal weapons both for those outside and those inside so you have every reason to be nervous! It is important then that you feel comfortable and safe with your instructor.

How many lessons is normal? According to the DSA those passing their test have had an average of 47 hours of professional tuition plus 20 hours of private practice. This may seem like a huge amount and would cost a lot of money (with lessons costing an average of £20 an hour, it costs around £1000) but what you are paying for is experience both at teaching as well as driving, knowledge, skills and a dual-controlled car! The roads are busy and complicated and you have to learn awareness of the roads and other people's behaviour on top of the control of the vehicle.

See other posts in this topic on getting started, choosing an instructor, learning with a member of the family and taking your test.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Learning to drive cars - choosing an instructor

Choosing a driving instructor is a tricky business. Learning to drive involves being in an enclosed space with someone you don't know for hours over a period of months. In an ideal world, everybody would be recommended a good instructor who was knowledgeable, patient and respectful. Unfortunately this is not an ideal world and while many people get on fine with their instructors and pass quite happily, others have terrible stories of bad instructors and take years to get through their test.

If you are learning for the first time, I would not recommend intensive courses. These are useful in certain circumstances, for example if you learned to drive a while ago but did not get round to passing your test and just want to refresh your memory and get it done then an intensive course would be fine. However, driving is a complex skill and it takes a while for all the things you are learning to sink in. It is always amazing to see how much people learn when they are asleep or doing other things between lessons! Learning for the first time you are much better off having regular lessons with a good instructor.

Choosing an instructor is difficult. Most people are recommended one who taught a friend or the older sibling of a friend. This is a good way to find one as you have the evidence of their success already as well as a referee as to their character. If you don't have a recommendation then there are a few things to consider.

Potential driving instructors can start to teach before they have qualified on a temporary licence and some of the big national and local schools employ a lot of trainees because they are making money from training them too. This is not always a bad thing as some new instructors are very good and many who have been in the job for years have not updated their knowledge and skills but it is worth bearing in mind. However, large firms have the advantage of a choice of instructors so if you don't get on with one, you can just ring up and ask to try out another.

Local firms with more than one instructor are obviously successful otherwise they would not have had to employ a second one. Driving instructors are nearly always self-employed (only the very large firms actually employ instructors, most pay a franchise) so if they are busy then they are probably good.

A very important thing to remember is that if you don't get on with your instructor, you don't have to stick with them! Unless you live in a very small place with only one instructor for miles around, there will be a choice. Even if everyone you know got on fine with your instructor and passed first time, if you don't like him/her, or you don't seem to be learning anything, you don't have to stick with them. We don't all like the same people, sometimes it just doesn't work. That is ok. Learning to drive is stressful enough without being stuck with someone you don't get on with!