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!

Learning to drive cars - getting started

Learning to drive is an important rite of passage whenever you do it in life. In the UK you can take your test at the age of 17. There have been rumours about the age being raised to 18 for as long as I can remember but they have always been groundless.

First of all you have to get your provisional licence. You can get the forms from the Post Office or you can download one or do it online here. You can apply for your provisional licence up to 3 months before your 17th birthday but it will not become valid until you are 17. You cannot take your theory test until your 17th birthday and you cannot book your practical test until you have passed your theory test. There is nothing stopping you learning to drive before you pass your theory. Some instructors think that it is easier to pass your theory before learning in case it takes you a while to pass and you don't want to be ready to take your practical test, while still waiting to pass your theory. Others think that, since you only have 2 years after passing your theory to pass your practical, it is better to see how you get on with the driving first. There are no hard and fast rules.

Once your provisional licence is valid, you can go out on the road with a driving instructor (ADI - Approved Driving Instructor) or any other person who has held a licence for at least 3 years and is 21 or over. And that's when it starts getting interesting!

I will write about choosing driving instructors and what you can expect on lessons and tests in another post.

Welcome to the Driving Information Bank

The Driving Information Bank is a new blog which aims to be your one-stop shop for all driving related queries. Whether you want to know how often you should check your mirrors to pass your driving test, what categories of vehicle you can drive on your licence or how you should go about getting a job as a van driver, this blog should provide you with the answers.

Over the next few months, I will build up the posts to cover the following topics: learning to drive both cars and big vehicles, driving regulations, driving for a living, driving for leisure, driving penalties and losing your licence and many others.

If you have a driving query you want me to answer contact me via Twitter.