Tuesday 16 December 2014

Personal Service Has Left the Building...

Learning -to-drive-in-nottingham

It's the end of an era at my local dealership.

I've always been happy with the service I got at my garage. I knew who I was talking to on the phone and they knew who I was. Most importantly they knew I was a driving instructor and no car means no job for me. I enjoyed a really quick turnaround on work and often would only need to cancel 1 or 2 lessons to get it serviced. Repairs were always done quickly to get me back out on the road. Now times have changed.
   My usual garage has been bought out by a much larger dealership. It took me a few phone calls to realise that I wasn't actually talking to the garage but to a call centre. The person on the other end didn't really understand what I was on about. When discussing a previous problem that was on file you could tell she did not have even the most rudimentary knowledge of cars so it was hard work trying to get her to understand what I needed. When I did get to speak to the people I know it was obvious that there is a more rigid structure in place and things were going to take more time.
   Time is the important thing when you have to get back out there on the road. The worst thing about the new style set up is how much longer the jobs take. I only had to ever wait a day for a clutch and this time it was almost two. I sat there on the second day for about 4 hours waiting for it to come out of the garage, cancelling lessons as and when. This is where a driving instructor loses money as well as inconveniencing pupils, not something I like to do. I ended up cancelling the last one because they insisted on washing it even though they knew I was waiting. Most expensive car wash ever I think.
    Today I sit writing this having cancelled the working day. My power steering has been sorted but they are baffled why the nearside door mirror won't tilt sideways, only up and down. It's not the wiring, switch or motor so what could it be? It's not worth a full day off work so I probably won't get it done. I can just poke it with my finger if it needs tilting sideways.
   It's sad that there has been this big shift towards the corporate. Seems to be happening everywhere I suppose. It's a big thing to be on good terms with your garage when you're a driving instructor. It can save a lot of time and hassle. Especially if you've got driving tests coming up. In an hour or two I'll go and pick up my car with the faulty mirror. Hopefully the whirring noise from the steering will have gone. Still! Christmas soon and then a Happy New Year!

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Friday 5 December 2014

Zombie Pedestrians Invade Our Roads!

Road Safety Pedestrians Nottingham

It's like I'm scared to turn left sometimes.

I swear the problem of distracted walking is getting worse. Driving lessons this week have been an exercise in dodging the texting person walking out in the road without even a glance at what's coming. It's so easy to get involved with a text conversation and that's fine when you're sat in a chair or stood in the middle of a field. When it comes to stepping out in front of moving traffic though it's another case entirely.
   Research from a car insurance firm has shown that a great number of motorists have had to swerve or brake hard to avoid a phone zombie while other drivers have admitted to actually hitting them. There has been a great deal of outcry regarding the use of a mobile phone while behind the wheel of a car and rightly so. Perhaps it's time to have a closer look at how pedestrians can do their part to keep the roads safe and sound.
   We are all pedestrians some of the time. I had the Green Cross Code drilled into me when I was a youngster. I am not the best in the world at crossing the road but I do at least look and wait if something's coming. My kids think I'm a bit paranoid when it comes to road safety, but rather that than bouncing off a car bonnet and straight into hospital. It's got to the point that my learners are having to brake and check that the pedestrian is going to look and see us before we make a turn. The person just about to step out in front of us is staring at a screen a lot of the time and it makes me nervous. Pedestrians do have a duty of care towards themselves and it can't always be considered as the driver's fault if an accident does happen.
   It seems the problem is a global one. I read that in New Jersey there are on the spot fines for people caught texting while walking. Could be a good deterrent. Nothing people hate more than losing cash. It's worse than putting yourself in danger to some folk. In China they have installed a walking lane for people who wish to text and walk. The lane next to it is for walking without using a phone and that tends to move much more quickly. The same sort of thing was carried out by the Philadelphia Mayor's Office as an April Fool's day prank. Good way to get the point across I think.
   What is the point of wandering across the road about 10 yards away from a pedestrian crossing when it's busy? There is no point at all. But if you are staring at your phone you may not realise that the crossing is there let alone the car which is just about to hit you. A couple of times this week I have seen people wearing headphones and jogging down the middle of the road over the hatched markings. Pathetic really and I bet they would blame the driver if they got hit.
   Time for us all to wake up and put the phone away when we're near the road. The text message can wait and if it can't then just stop, get the text sent and then start walking again. I believe this kind of action would be a major contribution to road safety and you can quote me on that.

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Monday 24 November 2014

Driving Lessons On Star Rated Roads


Personally I like the idea of safety ratings for roads.

I've just been reading about how the government is thinking of implementing a star ratings system for Britain's roads. I think this may actually be a good idea.  If it gets drivers to think about risk and consider the dangers of the road we could be on to a winner.
  You could argue that the experienced driver should have enough skills to deal with whatever they encounter on the road safely and smoothly. As the vast majority of people take no further training at all after the initial L test this is sadly not the case. The star ratings could be used by route planning devices which can then guide motorists around these accident hot spots. Trouble here I think is that more traffic pushed onto other roads makes those roads less safe owing to higher traffic volume. Lengthening the journey also increases risk. Driving on a road with a high risk rating may prompt the driver to pay more attention and plan further ahead should they choose not to avoid the risky route.
   One thing it will achieve I think is to encourage local authorities to maintain standards of road signage and markings. Faded road markings are one of the biggest dangers in my experience. When the give way line is hardly there anymore and is totally invisible when it's raining then you can't really blame a driver for missing it. Positioning is difficult when lane markings are faded and nobody knows which lane they should be in. Signs are often hidden behind over hanging bushes in the summer and cannot be seen at all. Dangerous if it's a hazard sign for a tight bend ahead. If authorities are encouraged to solve these issues in order to receive a higher star rating then that's a good thing.
   Perhaps the rating system could be used for planning routes for driving lessons and tests in the future. Teaching hazard awareness on roads with different ratings and using these differences as a teaching tool could prove interesting. If pupils leave with a greater understanding of risk after passing the test then that's a good way to improve standards in young drivers. Driving test routes could be planned to include the different star ratings and provide a chance to make sure test routes are as standardised as possible across different test centres.
   All in all this could be a winning idea. It puts driving risk in the spotlight. It may make drivers consider the routes they take and more importantly, how they drive on them. Bringing risk into the public awareness may lead to improved driving standards and perhaps prompt people to take extra training to improve their skills if they use roads with a high danger rating. I daresay that the ratings will be based on accident statistics so will not paint a full picture. Ultimately it will be an alert, well taught driver with a good attitude towards risk who does the most to improve road safety.

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Monday 10 November 2014

Will We Ever Really Have Driverless Cars?


Not for a very long time I think

I've been reading up on driverless cars and I must say I'm a bit skeptical. Maybe it's because I rely on teaching people to drive for my living. Maybe it's because I think that the skills used in good driving cannot be replicated by a computer. There's a lot more to it than number crunching as you well know.
   There's a big trial starting next year which checks out two different types of vehicle. Completely driverless cars and cars where the human driver can take over at any time. According to the Transport Minister they can improve safety, reduce congestion and be better for the environment. There's no explanation of how but it must be true. Two thirds of British motorists are against the trials taking place on British roads and nine out of ten drivers saying a front mounted incident camera should be mounted so liability can be established in the event of an accident. If it's the car's fault then who is to blame in an accident?
   This shows a skeptical attitude towards the new technology and I must say I share this view. After all a computer can't think. There is so much more to safe driving than not hitting whatever object is in front of you. How will the cars communicate with each other? Drivers use a wide range of signals and gestures to communicate with each other when a situation arises that is not clear cut. A great deal of co-operation is required to get through those tight meeting situations where priorities aren't clear. How can a computer anticipate what will happen next? Forward planning is essential to a good driving. I suppose that there is software that takes care of it for us. 
   Talking about software, there are people working behind the scenes to make sure the robocar will have all the latest map info so it knows where it is in the world. What about roadworks and temporary diversions? That's a lot of info. As the car can't think it can't figure it's way around something that's not already programmed in to it's brain. Whoever is doing the roadworks would have to upload the data on where and when the roads will be blocked and the information would have to be accurate. Sounds like a lot of work to me.
   I can't see this driverless car thing happening any time soon. I like it when people learn new skills and take some responsibility for themselves and others. It's all part of life and growing up I suppose. Constantly handing over our life choices to new technology is a disturbing trend. Or maybe I'm just old fashioned.

Sunday 2 November 2014

Concessions For Choosing Autonomous Emergency Braking


But not for further driver training.

I see that calls have been made for Autonomous Emergency Braking to be fitted to all new cars. It has been suggested that those who choose a car with this technology fitted should be rewarded by having some of the cost covered by a government concession. All very nice. If a person decided to take an advanced driving course to improve their level of competence and minimise risk would they receive a cash incentive? I think not. In a world where it is estimated that three quarters of all UK drivers would fail the standard driving test this reliance on technology can be a dangerous thing.
  What is Autonomous Emergency Braking anyway? I've been looking at how it works on the make of car I drive. A front mounted radar detects vehicles up to 80 metres ahead which the car may hit unless some action is taken. If the device thinks a collision is likely then an audible warning is given. If the driver doesn't respond then there is a braking jolt to again warn the driver. The brakes are prepared so when the driver does brake then the correct amount of braking pressure is automatically applied. No action from the driver means the device will do the braking on it's own. The autonomous braking only works at low speeds up to 30kph. At 30 to 80kph there are warnings if it detects a stationary object but no braking. At speeds above this there are warnings and some partial braking with brake assist for the driver. It's good for stopping low speed shunts then. 
   The technology has it's limitations though. The object in the road needs a certain degree of radar reflectance or the device won't see it. Also if the sensor is obscured by dirt or snow and doesn't have a clear view then it's effectiveness is seriously reduced. Hardly a foolproof device if all that's needed is heavy spray like you get on motorways to render it ineffective. The device can be switched off with the mode stored on the key fob. If two people are using the car then one person could turn it off without the other one knowing. Presumably there is a warning light to tell you whether it's on or off.
   Don't get me wrong I'm not against new vehicle technology at all. I'm all for progress. What I am against is drivers who wouldn't pass the L test thinking that new technology excuses them (or me) from our responsibilities as drivers. Improving your driving  skills, particularly in regard to hazard awareness and planning would help reduce accidents more than any device can. Especially one that can be rendered ineffective if it rains or your car got dirty. In the event of a collision could the device be blamed for not working properly? Would a driver pay less attention to the road if they think the device will take over for them?
   The most effective safety device you can get is a well trained driver who is paying attention to the road and anticipating what will happen so that early action can be taken. Let's have some financial incentives for people who wish to make the roads safer by reaching the highest driving standard they are capable of. 

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Driving Schools Annoying the Locals


It's all about live and let live.

I've been reading those driving instructor trade magazines again and there have been some interesting pieces about how locals get wound up by driving school cars using their area to practice and the shocking behaviour of some driving instructors. It's always something I think about when practising manoeuvres or getting a new learner going on those quiet streets.
   In the fair city of Nottingham there is a lot of development going on all the time. New houses going up and more supermarkets than we'll ever need. This means that the quiet areas of land I once used when starting a new learner are disappearing with first lesson pupils now starting out on the road. There are a few areas where it is possible to start out and obviously these are popular with driving instructors. Wide roads, no speed bumps and little traffic mean we can put a nervous pupil at ease without them panicking about getting in everyone's way.
   Unfortunately a few locals seem to resent this enough to start complaining to test centres and local authorities. Nothing better to do it seems. As instructors we must do everything we can to make the situation as peaceful as possible. If I see two driving school cars on a stretch of road then I'll go elsewhere. I find it embarrassing when we're all bunched up together. Some don't though and will happily become the third, fourth or even fifth car on the road to be parking or whatever. Not very diplomatic and sure to wind people up.
  Manoeuvres can be tricky and finding a suitable place to practice is all important. I won't do a left hand reverse on a road that means we will be hindering traffic. On test a candidate may be asked to manoeuvre on a reasonably busy street but on lessons I don't think we should. I see main roads on an estate I use being blocked by pupils practising the turn in the road when just round the corner is a road with hardly any traffic on it. That makes me wonder what's happening, so the people who live on the street are bound to be annoyed. Makes it look like we don't care what they think. When doing a reverse parallel park I always tell my pupil not to pull out and start if there is a car within view coming down the road. If someone comes round the corner and you've already started, that's one thing. If you blatantly pull out and force them to stop when you could see they were coming then that's something else. Ignorant if you ask me but I've seen it done.
   On  the odd very rare occasion I've had people come along and ask us to move. I just act all polite and professional and then move as asked. I don't like it and I am well within my rights to refuse but in the interests of diplomacy and people putting bad things on the internet I comply with their wishes. I've read reports of instructors giving the locals verbal and throwing litter out of the car windows but that must be a real small minority who give such a bad impression of us all.
  There you are. There's only so much space on the road and it's getting more crowded all the time. Let's keep things nice and cosy eh?

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Wednesday 8 October 2014

Where's Your Learner Driver Head At?

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Now let's not get into an argument.

There are many factors in driving that an instructor can teach. Control skills, procedures, road traffic law, hazard awareness and the like. When we fall into the realm of attitudes and preconceived ideas things can get really messy really quickly. It can be an effort to keep a professional lid on it when personal issues and opinions come in to play which go against what an instructor knows to be right. How far should we go to confront negative attitudes in learners?
   Some pupils find it hard to pass the driving test. Most people pass first or second attempt but a few will take repeated attempts before they are successful. Sometimes it's pure nerves getting in the way. What happens when it is how someone thinks that's the problem? For the first time in thirteen years of teaching I'm thinking of referring a pupil elsewhere to see if a different approach is the key.
   When a pupil blames 'that stupid roundabout' for things going wrong there's not a lot of places you can go with it. Appealing to reason was my first choice. Explaining that a roundabout can't be stupid because it's just a roundabout, the same one everybody else is driving around without trouble. My words are greeted with laughter and no thought given to how the driving might not be up to standard. Not much chance of thinking how to put it right then.
   Turning up late every time when they know I'm in an area covered in double yellow lines shows a certain lack of basic respect. When a pupil just doesn't see this and is repeatedly late it get's difficult. Asking to be dropped off at different places is fine with me. Just let me know earlier than 2 minutes before the lesson finishes. Again a basic disregard for others that doesn't show up on the pupil's radar. It's like simple courtesy is an alien concept to them.
   When a pupil regales you with tales of friends who are obviously really bad drivers while laughing like it's the best thing they've ever seen you know it's going to be an uphill struggle. Explaining the moral obligations of being insured to drive can soon get tedious when your learner just doesn't care. Other's do it so why shouldn't they? My pupil started to break the speed limit. When I pointed this out I was told by my pupil that 'my friends drive much faster than this'. Six points in two years here methinks.
   This pupil is actually a really nice person. As we discuss these issues I can feel what should be tuition descending into argument. I don't ever want to get shouty with a pupil so I keep my breathing nice and slow while I put my side across. There is much more emphasis on attitude coaching in driving instruction these days. I don't think we have much chance of changing those attitudes that are deeply ingrained and constantly supported by others outside of driving lessons.
   In an age of complaints and people taking offence over any tiny thing we need to tread carefully when arguing the point. Pupils are paying customers and expect to be treated well during lessons and quite right too. There does come a time though when pressure has to be applied in the nicest way possible. Before I tear what's left of my hair out. Ha.

Sunday 21 September 2014

Publish Driving Instructors' Pass Rates? No Thanks!

Driving test pass rates only tell a fraction of the story.

I was reading an interview with a driving instructor in the DIA Driving magazine the other day. I found the tone of the interview somewhat elitist and disagreed on many points. I do feel strongly about one particular point though, the publication of an individual instructor's pass rates.
   Like many driving instructors I get the odd pupil now and then who just does not respond well to being on test. They can drive to a suitable standard technically but nerves get the better of them on the day. These pupils who take many attempts to pass are the ones who require us to do the job as instructors. They need a lot of support and encouragement and the knowledge that their instructor will stick with them until they succeed.
  It is these very pupils who I enjoy a good working relationship with. They are the ones who give me good online reviews and recommend me to other people who want to learn to drive. I get a great deal of satisfaction from seeing them succeed after so much work and it's good to have my teaching skills tested. We can all teach those who have natural ability and confidence.
   Ironically it is these pupils who need the most support who are bad for my pass rate. If I have to protect myself against a low published pass rate I will have no choice but to ask these pupils to leave and find another instructor. I won't be able to risk more fails going on to my record and so will not be able to do my job properly. I read an excellent letter from an instructor once who taught in an automatic car and specialised in teaching elderly people and those with learning difficulties. His pupils took several attempts to pass and so his pass rate would be very low indeed. Does this make him a bad instructor? I would say not but the public may view him as such after seeing such a low pass rate published online.
   I would say pass rates are only a useful indicator I the extremes. If an instructor has an extremely high pass rate compared to others in the area it may indicate they are particularly good. An extremely low pass rate may show an instructor who is not up to scratch. The middle ground doesn't say much at all. If the public was to choose an instructor because his pass rate was a few percent higher than the next that would not really be an informed choice.
   Test centres have different pass rates. Mostly due to the difficulty of the traffic situation in that particular area I would say. I don't believe it's because instructors are better in quieter towns than they are in major cities. Pass rates are therefore a poor indicator of a driving instructor's ability. The public would be much better off using word of mouth or online recommendations when choosing who will teach them to drive.

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Sunday 14 September 2014

How Many Driving Lessons Will I Need?

Become a safe driver

How long is a piece of string?

People always ask how many driving lessons they will need to get a licence. This question is impossible to answer. They never ask how many lessons it will take to become a good driver or a safe driver which shows where the real priorities lie for most people. Parents who passed years ago after 10 lessons don't really help matters as they expect their kids to do the same without realising how much driving has changes over the years and that the test has changed in accordance with modern driving.
   A couple of case histories about someone who passed quickly and another who took a long time usually does the trick. To pass in fewer lessons a person will need to have some natural driving ability. This becomes apparent on the first lesson. If a new driver can move the gear stick and operate the clutch smoothly then that are in for an easier time than someone who is lacking in manual dexterity. A good memory for procedures is handy as well as a willingness to put in some extra study in between lessons.
   Parental support is a big factor. The learner who can get private practice with friends or relatives will need fewer lessons and receive a big boost to their confidence. I think the confidence gained outweighs any bad habits or negative attitudes that might be picked up so it's always something I encourage. These things can always be put right anyway.
   At the other end of the scale there are people who have very little in-car experience even as a passenger. They look at the dashboard like it's the cockpit of an alien spacecraft and have difficulty handling the controls with any degree of finesse. Some folks haven't even ridden a bicycle so there are hardly any reference points we can use to begin teaching. Now we're looking at a person who will need more lessons.
   There is a certain pressure on driving instructors to get people through the test in the minimum number of lessons in order to keep costs down. I find that if the pupil is made aware of their progress and each lesson is well structured then this pressure disappears. Learners relax and are willing to take a reasonable number of lessons if they see that they need them to become safer drivers. A mock test at the right time can really put things into perspective.
  I always tell people that they will be driving for decades so what does a few more lessons now matter? Money spent learning to drive safely is money well spent in my book and will reap rewards with a safe and long driving career. Fewer insurance claims and prangs means less financial outlay and driving smoothly means your car will last longer and need fewer repairs. It's win win all the way.

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Sunday 7 September 2014

Saying Goodbye to ORDIT

Being-a driving-instructor

Has the Instructor Training Industry all but disappeared?

I've been on the Official Register of Driving Instructor Training for a good few years now. It's either 6 or 8 I'm not quite sure. My current registration expires in a month but I don't think I'll be renewing it. There's the cost to consider. After buying a new set of books and paying for the inspection it'll come to three hundred pounds easily. I don't have a trainee at the moment either to do the inspection with. I'd have to ask one of my previous trainees to stand in and probably pay them for their time.
   Whenever I do take on a trainee driving instructor they are very rarely starting from scratch. some have been with an instructor they know personally who is not ORDIT registered for the bulk of the training. The lack of knowledge and skill shown after paying for 40 hours of training can be quite shocking. The trainees don't seem to mind that their trainer is not on the register and in some cases don't know the register exists at all. Maybe it doesn't carry the weight I think it does. Several prominent schools I know offer training without being on the register and nobody seems to mind at all.
   I think most people from outside the industry tend to go with the most high profile advertising. The national schools will always win on this front. TV adverts showing driving instruction as a relaxing job where you work the hours you want and still earn a packet give the wrong impression. Perhaps my honesty about what you can earn and the difficulty of the qualification process put people off.
   It seems that paying for a complete course up front appeals to potential instructors. The thought of making one payment and getting it out of the way certainly makes sense. This is something I am loathe to do. Fees are generally non refundable after a certain time. Company policy is a good thing to hide behind when refusing to give someone their money back but as a solo operator I would definitely have to return the money. Not something I would want to do if it's already sitting in my bank.
   I thought at first that potential ADIs would make for reliable customers compared to learner drivers but this has not always been the case. I have had plenty of short notice cancellations which included a lot of booked hours. Many trainees don't even tell me when they have passed so I can keep my records up to date. Of course the record books have to be printed at home at my own expense. This can be a real pain after a full day's work. It's something I'm not going to miss. I'll consider all things over the next month until the registration runs out but I don't think I'll miss being an instructor trainer.


Sunday 31 August 2014

The Curse of the Phantom Traffic Jam

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Seven and a half hours from Newquay!

I got back from a fantastic holiday in Newquay yesterday. What a lovely place. Less lovely was the journey to and from. Not being a regular when it comes to long motorway journeys I had never experienced the horror of the phantom traffic jam before and can now add it to my portfolio of driving experience.
   The journey down to Newquay was not too bad. I followed friends' advice and set off at around 3.00am. This would allow us to avoid any nasty snarl ups on the country roads near Newquay. I have to say it was sound advice and the only time we had to stop was for breaks at service stations. I won't bang on about prices at these places. We were well tired and lost all sense of time for that day but not to worry. We were on holiday.
   The drive back was a different story. I knew there were road works on the M5 and these didn't seem to present a problem as the speed limit was reduced top 50mph but traffic was still flowing nicely. The M42, however, was a total nightmare. Time and again traffic came to a complete standstill for significant lengths of time. I thought there must have been an accident or that lanes had been closed for whatever reason. After sitting there for 20 minutes or more the road would clear as if by magic and we were off again. A lot of drivers sped straight up to 80mph or more to make up for lost time only to come to a complete stop again 5 or 10 minutes later. I couldn't figure it out. It was totally frustrating.
   I now discover that the phantom traffic jam can be caused by the actions of just one motorist. Heavy braking can cause a ripple effect with each following motorist braking harder than the last one until traffic completely stops. Poor lane changing can cause others to brake harshly kicking off the ripple effect. I saw plenty of this with a few motorists making me wince as they darted from one lane to another right in front of another vehicle. Late or non existent signals didn't help. Insufficient following distance was a big factor and I saw plenty of tailgaters slamming on when there wasn't really anything to brake for. More distance between cars and the problem would have been avoided.
   Large vehicles and cars towing caravans take absolutely ages to overtake and I sometimes wonder why they bother at all. The centre lane owner driver who sits in the middle instead of pulling back into the left lane does not help one bit. trouble is we all suffer for the sake of a few bad drivers. There is definitely a need for mandatory motorway training as part of gaining a licence or as a post test training course. It's sad to say a lower speed limit on the motorway might help. We are obviously not equipped to drive at high speed and keep traffic flowing. It's nice to be home and now it's time to was all the dead flies off my car ready for the return to work tomorrow.

Sunday 17 August 2014

And the Oscar for Learner Driver Goes to ....

Teaching to drive

Developing role play when teaching potential driving instructors.

Here we are with the last post on the National Standards document. It's been a long journey through but I feel truly enriched for taking it. As an ORDIT registered instructor trainer this last section is of interest to me. Hopefully it will be of interest to you.
   Units 6.6.1 and 6.6.2 offer guidelines for using role play during training. It can often seem uncomfortable to trainees who are always aware that the trainer has knowledge of the subject even when acting like they don't. As we are not trained actors the role play will never be truly convincing but we can do enough to train people effectively. We need to identify when role play can be an effective learning tool. I don't like to use it too early on in the training course as this can be a bit weird for a brand new PDI. It usually comes into play when running through the pre-set tests where a candidate will need to accept role play from the examiner. It is easier a first to demonstrate common faults without trying to be someone else.
   Attention to routes is important for role play. One can't really pretend to be a new learner in the middle of a city centre. All you would need to role play would be total panic. The route must be in accordance with the role you are playing. Easy routes for new learners, getting harder as you play a more experienced pupil. Simulation must not put yourselves or others at risk. This is a bit of a problem as learners will actually put people at risk and a PDI must be ready for this. I won't hit any parked cars during training but a learner would if action is not taken. The trainee needs to be briefed on this so as not to be taken by surprise in a real life situation.
  The role play needs to be tailored to the needs of the trainee. So easy to overload and throw too many faults in there. Try not to play the worst learner in the world. I must admit I can sometimes be a bit sloppy when it comes to telling the trainee when I am in and out of role. It can be very confusing when a trainee doesn't know who you are supposed to be. This needs to be made clear. The role needs to be pertinent to the subject being taught. Keep faults on track and don't start throwing the kitchen sink in.
   I enjoy role playing certain attitudes which the trainee may come across. Being a bit arrogant and questioning everything a trainee says can really show weaknesses in the PDI's knowledge. You have to know what you're talking about and be able to convey it with some authority at times. This can calm down even the most boisterous of pupils and help build trust in the instructor.
   It's important that you show improvement during role play. If the trainee is working hard and not getting any positive results it can be demotivating. Once a fault has been dealt with in a satisfactory manner it can't occur again in role play as it may in real life. As the trainee sees improvement taking place it will build confidence and show which techniques work with learners.
  That's the end of the document. A lot of good stuff in there and some material which is perhaps not so helpful. I would recommend any driving instructor take a look and see how it can improve your performance and make this a more enjoyable job.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Develop Your Skills as a Driving Instructor

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Evaluating your performance in the search for improvement.

We're getting towards the end of the National Standards document and what a journey of learning it has been so far. I'm going to skip unit 6.4.3. as it relates to health and safety issues in the workplace and seems more geared towards larger organisations rather than the solo driving instructor. Besides keeping your car clean and well serviced there's not a lot to be done within our working environment.
   Unit 6.5.1. Is much more useful as it relates to the continued professional development of driving instructors. A subject close to all our hearts. the first item of the performance standards column tells us we must identify the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to be a driving instructor and evaluate our performance against this standard. I take my criteria straight from the official texts such as The Driving Instructor's Handbook and the official DVSA books. If you're teaching this then you can't go wrong. I hear some instructors argue against some of the points made in the books and choose to do things differently but that's not for me. Methods of teaching will differ between instructors but the overall syllabus must remain a constant I say. We've all got to conform to legal requirements too or there'll be trouble ahead.
   Keeping up to date with changes in the industry and adapting to any changes is extremely important. I tend to get my information from the driving instructor trade magazines which can often be found lurking around the test centre. There's a lot of repeat content in these magazines so a quick scan read usually picks up any points of interest. the main changes have been in the areas of marketing and client-centred learning in recent times. 
   We need to get feedback on such matters using training records of previous pupils. I don't keep mine. When they've passed I throw the records away. My scruffy writing makes for hard reading and I'd never look at them again. We can get advice from managers if we have a manager or from our instructor colleagues. I find instructors are loath to criticize or offer advice to each other. Most talk in test centres is anecdotal and tends to back up an instructor no matter if they are right or wrong. Nobody likes to be confrontational.
   We need to identify any gaps in our knowledge and set objectives for our ongoing development. I'm all for a bit of self improvement but as we all work in isolation it can be difficult to see where the gaps are. I tend to seek feedback from pupils by letting them set the agenda for the lesson. They come up with some good ideas sometimes which I take on board. There are plenty of training events conducted nationwide but they are usually on a working day and tend to be far away making them difficult to attend. I really must make the effort to attend one of these roadshow events at some point. 
   Keeping a reflective log is a technique used in many a professional environment. I tend to keep a small notebook handy. I write down a quick note of anything of interest that I've seen or heard which then gives me blog ideas. I try to learn by writing this, see. It means I have to do a bit of research and find things out. You could say that this is my reflective blog!

Saturday 2 August 2014

Good Learners Gone Bad.

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The threat of violence against driving instructors.

Looking at unit 6.4.2. of the National Standards Document I see that most of the Performance Standards information is directed towards organisations rather than individual instructors which most of us are. I have been with a couple of franchises over the years and neither had any kind of policy regarding threatening behaviour towards instructors. The terms and conditions documents mainly focussed on the financial and time keeping aspects of the job. There were never any guidelines about what to do if attacked.
   It would have been useful to have had a policy to present to learners upon beginning a course so they are aware that threatening behaviour will not be tolerated. The DIA code of conduct doesn't mention this either. It is purely the instructor's obligation towards the pupil. Perhaps we should put more emphasis on the pupil's obligations towards their instructor?
   The knowledge and understanding requirements raise some interesting questions. I have never read a health and safety in the workplace document that was much use to people who work in vehicles. I've never had a fire extinguisher or first aid kit in the car once. I don't know if I'm legally obliged to do so. Perhaps I should go and find out.
 The extent and limits of our obligation to protect learners from the risk of physical or verbal violence during sessions is an interesting one. Does it mean a threat from third parties? I don't know what I would do if a learner was attacked by another angry driver. I like to think it would never happen. You can be in real trouble if you physically restrain someone these days. Where would you find out what is acceptable? I wouldn't know if I'm prepared to put myself in harm's way for a learner or if I'm even obliged to. I like to think my bravery would save the day.
  Interpreting body language and tone of voice is second nature to an experienced instructor I would say. Sometimes a pupil can tense up and then it's just time to lay off the instruction for a while and have an easy drive. Let things cool down. I find pupils always apologise during the next lesson if they think they've been difficult. There's usually a reason behind it that has nothing to do with driving lessons. There are limits to how much we can defend ourselves but I don't know what these are either. No info on where I would find out which is a downfall in this document. 
  A lot of difficult situations can be avoided just by the instructor being calm and consistent themselves. Takes a bit of effort sometimes. There are times when I can hear annoyance creeping into my voice and I have to control it. Nobody wants an angry instructor. We set an important example by how we act in the car. By keeping it relaxed and professional we can go a long way towards avoiding any unpleasantness. Happy days.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Driving Instructor or Amateur Psychologist?

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How much can instructors be reasonably expected to understand about the psychology of their pupils?

Following on from my last post about unit 6.4.1. of the NSDRT document we focus on the knowledge and understanding requirements of minimising risk. This segment would have been much more helpful to instructors if it had some some reference materials listed so we could obtain the specialist knowledge required to fulfill the new criteria. I'm sure you'll see what I mean.
   We must know and understand the signs that a learner's fitness may be impaired by alcohol, drugs or prescription medicines. How do we do this? Apart from using your eyes and ears, combined with the gut feeling you get from experience I don't think there's a lot to go on. Pupils are regularly tired, irritable or have other things on their mind which all adversely effect driving performance. When a pupil gives the signs of any of these I ask if they are OK to drive and I suggest we make the lesson less demanding than previously planned. The signs would be more or less the same if a pupil was under the influence of drink or drugs. So what specific signs are we looking for?
   Item b) tells us we must know the signs that a learner may be suffering from a physical or psychological condition making them unfit for the lesson. This includes conditions that the learner may be unaware of or trying to hide. We are not trained doctors, we are driving instructors. How am I supposed to know that a person has a psychological condition they are unaware of? This is not my field of expertise and I find it unfair that these requirements are being imposed on us without any real support. Physical conditions would be easier to spot but you would hope the learner would be aware this and not try to hide it.
   What do you do if you believe a learner is unfit to be trained or has a permanent physical or psychological condition they have not revealed. I would stop the lesson certainly. Other than that I would talk to them as best I could given my skills and experience as a driving instructor. Other than that I don't know where to acquire the specialist knowledge the document seems to hint at.
   Knowing how far you are responsible for the health and safety of yourself and others is somewhat abstract. How far and on what scale? What is the criteria for this. We know we are sharing responsibility so we're not 100% responsible. How far is too far or not enough? This item doesn't make sense to me.
   Knowing what action we can take and how to use dual controls brings us back into the real world. I expect we all know how to use dual controls and move the steering wheel etc. They're the basics of our everyday working lives. I've had a problem with a small number of clients when it comes to feedback on risk-related issues provoking a fear based response. Some learners and their parents just don't want to know about real life and expect to drive around as if in a huge ball of protective cotton wool. This is unacceptable. We've got to make people aware of the risk or we are not doing our jobs properly. If you're old enough to drive then you're old enough to deal with the issues around driving I say.
   Once I encountered deliberate behaviour that placed us at risk. A disturbed young man aimed the car at a lamp post before swearing at me. Don't know why he did it. He just exploded in rage. I kept calm, drove him home and made sure we were all square money wise. I bade him goodbye and left. That's all you can do really. We must demonstrate consistent attitudes ourselves so when we do say something of a serious nature it is not taken as being frivolous. I've enjoyed writing this post. I feel I've got a lot off my chest.


Thursday 17 July 2014

Managing Risk on Driving Lessons

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Maintain Command of the on-road environment.

I was going to write about the unit on teaching in groups but that stuff just isn't for me. I find it all a bit uncomfortable to be honest and wouldn't be in a position to comment. Much more appealing to me is unit 6.4.1. which is all about Managing the on-road environment to minimise risk. A subject dear to all our hearts or we wouldn't even be here.
   In the performance standards column we find we must be able to take reasonable steps to make sure that the learner is fit to take the lesson and what to do if they aren't. You'd think that learners would not go out on Friday if they have a lesson on Saturday morning but with some this is not the case. You can tell as soon as they start moving the seat and setting up that something isn't right. I keep a close eye on things and usually it all becomes obvious very quickly. Recently I asked a pupil what time he'd been up drinking til and it was 4.00am. Lesson is at 8.30 so probably over the limit. Time to end the lesson there before we set off and get into trouble. Perhaps driving instructors should be able to legally breathalyse pupils if they suspect that they are under the influence of alcohol? Red eyes and wavy steering is probably cannabis as it was one Saturday morning. 3 hours of sleep and plenty of joints the night before is not good prep for a driving lesson. I always let them know they will have to pay for the lesson as I drive them home.
   Making sure a learner understands how you will share responsibility for the safety of themselves, the instructor and other road users is a tricky one,. It all depends what stage they are at and the subject being taught. The level of responsibility shared with the learner could go up and down depending on the environment and experience of the subject. As the learner gains in competence they will take on a greater share until they eventually reach total responsibility upon passing the test. Too much responsibility too soon can be detrimental to the learning process whereas too little too late can lead to a sense of stagnation and boredom. Sometimes leading to the pupil finding another instructor.
   Clear instructions and directions are the very basics of the job and I don't think many instructors would have difficulty with this. I like to become a bit less formal if I've got to know a pupil but I like to maintain clarity. Explaining when we may jump in with instructions or helping with the controls is good to explain just before the first move off. It goes a long way to helping the learner feel safe. 
  Staying one step ahead of the learner is paramount so we need to scan the environment for hazards and keep the other eye on what the pupil is doing and providing training inputs at the same time. No wonder it's a tiring day. This can all be done with ease after a few years of experience. Because we are so alert and on it we can take timely action when there is a hazard that the learner is not aware of. Simply bringing it to their attention should be enough. Physical intervention or talk through will be required when we encounter a hazard that the pupil does not know how to deal with.
   We need to take a client-centred approach to all this so the pupil is better equipped to deal with the hazards independently should they crop up again. If the learner becomes unfit to drive then timely action is required. I ask the pupil if they are ok and invite them to end the lesson themselves if they feel they can't go on. It's not often this happens but the learner has always communicated a sense of relief knowing they can stop when they want. The requirement to record specific details of situations and the risks that arise occurs more in fleet training I find. The assessment form should record such details to present to the company and to help the driver to deal with the hazards safely in the future. More next time.


Wednesday 9 July 2014

The Coach Has Arrived

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It's the one we've all been waiting for!

I've been looking forward to this particular unit of the National standard for driver and rider training. 6.3.1 deals with the subject of coaching which is the most important single element of the new approach for my mind. Funnily enough this unit is a lot shorter than some of the others which didn't seem to be dealing with much. Let's take a look.
   Driving instructors must be able to listen when the learner tells us about the obstacles they experience that prevent them from applying  practical driving skills and understanding the theory. I find that this takes a bit more than listening. Sometimes a little bit of questioning is required to find the obstacles. Often the learners themselves do not know where the obstacles are coming from. I recently had a pupil trying to drive through red lights and never knew what the speed limit was. After a question and answer session it turns out he used to ride a motorbike and that's the reason that he stares at the road surface. He is so used to looking for potholes and things as you do on a bike. Once the problem is brought into awareness then we are in a position to put things right.
  Sometimes learners are embarrassed to say what the problem is. Pupils who have been involved in a crash which has left them feeling nervous seem loath to admit it. This happened recently with a pupil of mine who burst into tears recounting the crash. When she saw there was no ridicule or judgement coming from me then she calmed down and the driving improved. Pupils who have difficulty reading may not wish to admit it which can lead to problems passing the theory test. Simply listening without judgement can be the most powerful way to help learners overcome obstacles.
   Working with the learner is the main thrust of coaching rather than just telling them things. We need to help them reflect on their experience of the lessons. How our feedback is helping them or not and also the feedback of other training providers. If the pupil feels that a previous instructor has been unduly harsh or critical it can be a problem. The instructor may not have been harsh but if the learner thinks they were then that is what makes the obstacle. I find feedback must contain at least a couple of positives even if the actual driving performance on the lesson was poor. Parents can also give unguarded criticism which can destroy confidence. Again, talking it through seems to work wonders.
   Some pupils are reluctant to take ownership of their learning and actively want the instructor to be in charge right up to the test. I tell my pupils I am teaching them to be independent and the worst thing an instructor can do is make a learner reliant on them. As soon as they are ready we've got to transfer the responsibility. Not forgetting that at all times we are responsible for the safety of ourselves, learners and other road users.
  When it comes to formal assessment I take it this means the driving test. I always agree with the pupil when it's time to book it. I never recommend me going out on the test with them. It's not something I enjoy but I let the pupil know I will go out if they want me to. It's mostly people from overseas who want me out on the test it seems. After the test we need to help the learner reflect on the outcome. This is more important if they failed so we know what needs to be done in order to pass next time. A high degree of positivity is needed so they don't give up altogether. Most instructors will already be practising the recommendations in this module I would say. Next up is the unit all about group based learning. Not something I've ever done but worth a look nonetheless.


Sunday 6 July 2014

Lets Have a Demonstration!

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Demonstrations are an important part of driver training.

In unit 6.3.2. of the National standard for driver and rider training we look how to explain and demonstrate skills and techniques. This unit will seem familiar to most driving instructors who do this sort of thing every day. Like most instructors I mainly give demonstrations when it comes to manoeuvres or junctions unless I think there's a need to demonstrate on another subject. I find pupils are reluctant to request a demonstration so I always tell them I'm happy to demonstrate anything they want if they think it will help.
   \Regarding the performance standards of this unit we must be able to select suitable locations for a demonstration. Pretty easy if it's a manoeuvre. The suitability of a location would seem to be obvious. If you want to demonstrate roundabouts then it will have to be where the roundabouts are. However the difficulty level of the location must be taken into account. What may be manageable for the instructor may be too demanding for the pupil.
   We must provide timely and appropriate explanations and demonstrations of the required skills. Most of the time this is simply talking yourself through the subject while you put it into practice in front of the pupil. Sometimes it pays to perform the skill a little slower than if it was a natural drive to allow for a clearer talk through. I like to do one with just me talking and then see if the learner has any questions. I'll then do a second demonstration based on what has been asked. That way it's not just me showing off that I can do it.
   We must make sure that the learner understands any theory that links to the demonstration. I find the best time to demo something is right after a briefing with a diagram. That way the info is still fresh in the pupil's mind. After the demo we need to make sure that learners have enough opportunity to practice. No point doing a demonstration at the end of the lesson. As the learner practices we need to give feedback. This is a more straightforward unit as the vast majority of driving instructors will be putting these things into practice anyway.
   Where possible we need to be able to encourage learners to practice in a structured way outside of lessons during private practice. To facilitate this I made videos which can be watched on You Tube. Each video contains an explanation and a demonstration for that particular topic. That way learners can remind themselves in between lessons. parents and other accompanying drivers can also check that they are teaching the right stuff. Next time we will be looking at the element on coaching. Should prove interesting.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

The Car is the Classroom

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There are things we must know and understand.

Continuing with our look at Element 6.3.1. of the National standard for driver and rider training we must not hesitate to take a look at our knowledge and understanding of teaching driving head on. To kick off we need to make sure we are communicating properly with our pupils. With more people from overseas taking lessons it's important that we can assist in getting through the language barrier. Making eye contact is something I approach with a small amount of caution. Some people just don't like it. In a car our faces are pretty close together and it can seem a little threatening or overwhelming to some. It's good to offer eye contact and if the pupil does not reciprocate I just stop doing it and look at the diagrams instead. Worst of all are the ones who make eye contact while the car is moving at speed. I find this a bit scary and address the issue at once.
   Using consistent language is a good way to start a course of lessons. Especially when it comes to giving directions or referring to the controls. I like to keep these consistent but it's often better to talk to the pupil naturally once you have got to know them I think. Relating to people informally at times can help deepen the instructor pupil relationship. All my reviews come from the people I got chatty with rather than just using instructor language. It's all about adapting to your pupil. 
   When it comes to breaking subjects down and using diagrams I'm a big fan. I don't really consider a subject covered unless there's been some diagrammatic input but that's just me. I find that questions go hand in hand with a diagram. Inviting the pupil to draw on it to show what they think is a good technique.
   Setting out guidelines on acceptable behaviour in the car is not something I have considered doing. Most people behave themselves and I think I'd find it a bit patronising towards the client. What would be unacceptable behaviour anyway? You can't tell people how to dress or what words are unacceptable really. I suppose poor behaviour means smoking and eating. I'll allow for cigarette breaks during lessons if that's what the pupil wants but not in the car. Don't bring chips either.
   We are really entering the new age of awareness with the next item which is the effect of our own assumptions on particular groups and how they effect our ability to deliver effective learning. I am so guilty of doing this but like to think that I still do the job properly. There are certain areas of town where I pick people up who look a certain way and I'm already deciding that this is going nowhere. I'll just turn up one day and they won't be in. Not even bothering to call and cancel. Unfortunately these gut feelings often turn out to be true. As we are all people there will be these unspoken assumptions. It's part of who we are and how we view the world. I think if you are aware of your attitude towards others then it's quite easy to get round it and deliver a worthwhile lesson.
  There are a few more points which either repeat what has already been said or simply read as management gibberish before we reach the last point about exterior influences on the learner's attitude. This can be a big problem and unfortunately often comes from parents. They only had a certain number of lessons so that's all they're willing to pay for which makes me rush things. I've said something about real life driving and danger which has upset their precious offspring. it's stuff they need to know and if they can't handle a bit of reality then they shouldn't be driving at all. I have a job to do to produce safe and intelligent drivers and I aren't going to do it by avoiding the real life issues. So there. Next time we move on to the next element which is all about skills and techniques. Should be good.

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Tuesday 17 June 2014

A Change in Climate for Driver Training


Create a positive relationship with learner drivers.

I've got to say since I started studying the National Standard document and began putting it's ideas into practice I have really enjoyed how it's changing the way I deliver lessons. My pupils seem to respond well to the client centred approach and it's made for some very enjoyable sessions. Maybe it really does work. This week I'm into unit 6.3.1. Let's have a look at what it's all about.
   Learners who are not actually engaged in the learning process and just sit there absorbing information are not equipped to drive safely after the test it seems. I can understand that. Get people thinking for themselves and you're on to a winner. The performance standards section tells us that we must establish an efffective method of communication, verbal or otherwise that is free from discrimination. This may mean avoiding words which could be taken the wrong way or be considered offensive. This can be a bit of a minefield in these times of everyone taking offense at the least little thing. Any good instructor should be able to talk to someone and be able to avoid areas which may become tricky. If you stick to talking about driving then not much can go wrong really. I'd say the main danger is when the instructor and learner enter into general conversation.
 We must not exploit learners and collude in risky behaviour or attitudes. I've had a few young male drivers who have tended to brag about their illegal driving days and the things they got up to. I try to be diplomatic about this. Challenging attitudes about speed limits and driving under the influence of drink or drugs need to be handled with care so the atmosphere in the car does not become confrontational. If a learner decides that they don't like the way you talk to them they will just go elsewhere for their lessons. This is obviously bad for business. If you can bring them on side and make them think then they are more likely to accept good advice and refer you to other people.
   The learner must understand the requirements of the learning programme. I take it this means the DVSA learning to drive syllabus. On the odd occasion I have recommended  the Driving the Essential Skills book but the uptake on people reading this is very low indeed. Pupils tend to think that the instructor knows what to deliver and they just accept that this will happen. I like to make sure that the learner knows that we work in partnership as they learn to drive and this does help create a friendlier atmosphere. It works wonders with pupils who may have a problem with authority and generally being told what to do.
  The learner needs to understand what other opportunities and resources are available for them to include in their learning process. This I think means guidance when practising with parents or using online materials outside their formal lessons. You Tube videos are becoming increasingly popular in this regard. When it comes to practising with parents there can be a sometimes be a problem with conflicting information. On occasion I have had a chat with parents who were simply teaching out of date methods. It's a long time since they took their test and they too can benefit as they help their children to drive.
   I like to write my notes on the lesson at the end of the session in the car and include the learner in the process. This gives a level of transparency and grows trust with the pupil in my experience. This way I am explaining how I monitor and evaluate the training and gives me a chance to agree on the content of the next lesson, fulfilling item 8 in the column. All good stuff this. Next time I'll be looking at the knowledge requirements for this module.

Tuesday 3 June 2014

The Joy Of Designing Learning Programmes

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It's all about knowledge and understanding the requirements of Unit 6.2.

This has been a week of study of the National standard for driver and rider training document. Well, not every hour of every day but you know what I mean. Looking in the right hand column of unit 2 we see that item a) tells us we must know and understand the relevant National driving or riding standard. So by reading it I am fulfilling this condition at the same time. That's good to know.
   Moving along we see that we must understand the requirements of acquiring a licence for the tuition vehicle which is straight forward enough. Next item regards the requirements of any formal post test training. I would think this means either Pass Plus or an advanced driving test with one of the motoring organisations such as Diamond or RoSPA. If you are registered as a Pass Plus instructor then all the information is in the pack. I would think many driving instructors will belong to an advanced driving organisation and so should have some knowledge of post test training.
   We need to understand a range of prior-learning inputs and how to feature them in how the learner is taught. Does this mean experience of riding a bike? I suppose practise taken with parents would count as a prior-learning input, as would any study for the theory test. Anything previously experienced that has anything to do with driving could be used in some way or another. It can boost a learners confidence to think they already know something which will help them to drive. 
    Cultural and religious factors must be taken into consideration when arranging driving lessons. Some people may not be able to attend on certain days. I had a refresher lesson on a Saturday with a client who recognised the Sabbath. He could have his lesson but couldn't pay for it. I just waited a couple of days to get paid. No problem. When it comes to fasting there can be some disruption. driving performance does deteriorate when people are fasting in my experience. People get up early to eat before sunrise so lack of sleep can factor into the equation.
  If people don't want to make eye contact then that's fine by me. Sometimes it's a cultural issue. It's not something I insist on and I never find it rude if people don't look at me when I'm speaking. What worries me more is people who do make eye contact when they are driving the moving car. I always advise to look at the road and speak. People from some cultural backgrounds do not like to contradict the teacher. I find questions a good way around this. Answering a question honestly is not actually contradiction even if the answer is a different view from the one expressed by the teacher.
  I don't know of anyone who uses psychometric tools. But we must understand the ethical issues it says here. Where does one go to study these issues? I'm sceptical of these things anyway. People have a certain view of themselves which is personal to them. When this view is combined with a subconscious desire to please or at least be correct the data acquired simply can't be accurate.I can't see much scope for it's use in driver training.
  Now we come to the section on learning programmes. Like many instructors I don't work from written plans or pre-prepared programmes specific to the learner. I make notes and refer to them, sure. The actual lesson content follows the learning to drive syllabus but apart from that the lessons are shaped by what occurs during the drive. Not according to a plan I wrote the night before. Plans change anyway as you respond to your learner's needs. This was an issue on the check test where the instructor would be expected to shift the focus of the lesson if that is what was needed according to the situation at the time. It's all about flexibility.
   Fostering good relationships with parents is important should the need arise. I must admit I very rarely meet or speak to parents. What I like to do though is regularly monitor and review my pupil's progress. I will shape future lessons on the result of these reviews but it's not like I rewrite a learning programme. The instructor, the pupil and the driving test syllabus is the learning programme and everything else stems from this. Have a read of the document to see what else this section says as I'll be moving on to unit 3 next time. Ciao.


Tuesday 27 May 2014

Client Centred Learning in Driving Instruction

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Taking a look at unit two of the National Standard for driver and rider training.

Unit two takes us into the realm of teaching with a focus on designing learning programmes. If like me, you tend to deliver a course which covers the entire syllabus for learning to drive then you've got to be able to readily adapt to the individual needs of the pupil. This can be a bit tricky at times when learners just don't seem to be getting it. Good use of question and answer technique is the best answer to this problem I find. It sometimes takes a bit of detective work to find out where the difficulties lie.
   According to the performance standards you've got to be able to confirm that the learner has a provisional licence, first thing most instructors do I'd say. Also confirm that the learner's eyesight is up to the minimum requirement. I'm guilty of leaving this until later with some pupils. If they're wearing glasses then I assume their eyesight has been tested. I really must start checking this on the first lesson.
   A few questions will enable a driving instructor to check the previous experience of the pupil. Like if they've had lessons before or they've been practicing with friends or parents. It's now a requirement that you can refer pupils with learning disabilities to someone with the appropriate knowledge needed to teach them. I know of an instructor I would send people to if I felt that I couldn't provide the learning support they need. It's probably a good thing to do a bit of internet research and make a note of instructors in your area who provide such a service.
   When it comes to an outline programme I use the approved syllabus for learning to drive broken down into the separate topics. When it comes to creating lesson plans for each session that outline objectives it's a different story. It would simply be too much work for a driving instructor to come home after a day on the road and start writing out lesson plans for the following day's pupils and I don't really see any need for this. I simply refer to the notes made after the previous lesson with the pupil sat in the driving seat and we take it from there. In a client centred approach I would say this is the way to go. The pupil is reminded of previous learning and has a hand in deciding what they want from the current lesson.
   When it comes to learning resources I usually refer people to my website which has all my videos and things on. As they match my day to day teaching style it's a good way to jog the memory and reinforce learning. Include third party resources where this will benefit the learner, it says in the document. Again it's probably worth having a look on the internet and sourcing some good materials so you can give a list of these to your pupils for homework.
   We now need to specify how parents and guardians can support learners with physical and cognitive disabilities. This would take specialist knowledge I think. It's good to include guidance for any pupil who is practicing with parents and suggest the topics that they need to work on as well as the type of roads they are competent to drive on. Don't want things getting too scary when they are out in a car without dual controls. 
   Lastly we must specify how we will review learner progress and programme effectiveness. I like to do a review by driving around a route from the beginning of the training and comparing how the standard of drive has improved from the early sessions. This can be a real boost for pupils who feel they aren't getting anywhere. At the later stages a mock test is effective as a review tool. Next time I'll look at the knowledge and understanding requirements of unit 2.


Tuesday 20 May 2014

Driving Instructors - Meet All Legal Requirements!

Unit 1 of the National standard for driver and rider training.

I thought it was about time I read the National Standard document. It's important for driving instructors to keep on top of new developments, especially in light of the new ADI standards check criteria.
   I usually find official documents hard to read without my mind wandering. The bullet points and dry language used combined with the sometimes vague statements make for hard work. I read a lot of different stuff but hardly ever anything that was written in an office.
   Unit 1 is all about the legal requirements that must be met before teaching someone to drive or ride. Most items are common sense regarding the displaying of L plates, minimum test requirements for the vehicle so it's fit for purpose and making sure that it's insured for learners. I didn't know that having the vehicle serviced to the suppliers recommendations was a requirement. Sure, I get mine serviced as per the schedule and all instructors would I reckon. If a test candidate turns up in their own car can an examiner ask to see the service schedule? If so then a test could be cancelled if evidence of servicing could not be provided. If an instructor is late getting the car serviced then it would mean that the vehicle does not meet the requirements of the National standard. Interesting.
   You must be able to carry out corrective actions that are within your authority. Does this mean that you must be able to change brake light bulbs and such if they are found to be defective? I always carry a spare bulb kit in the boot and I've replaced brake light bulbs a couple of times on the spot so the test can go ahead. I didn't know it was a requirement that instructors know how to do this. I suppose there are some who don't. It annoys me that some cars have headlights that are not user serviceable. You have to take the bumper off to get to them. That wouldn't look good in the test centre car park.
The last part of this unit says you must be able to make other arrangements when a vehicle is not fit for purpose. You need to know what action to take if the documents are not in order, it's not been serviced or it fails any checks. If the matter comes to light at the beginning of a test I'd say there's precious little you can do about it anyway. Far better to make sure that your vehicle is in tip top condition and fully insured before you get there. I might keep the service schedule book I get stamped in the glove box now. Just in case anybody asks. I'll be taking a luck at unit 2 this coming week. What delights could be in store?


Wednesday 14 May 2014

Driving Video Games Help You Pass Your Test!

But you're more likely to have an accident within the first year of driving.

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It's official. A new survey undertaken by a leading car insurance firm reveals that gamers have a 15% better chance of passing the driving test first time. However, 77% of the gamers admitted having an accident within their first year of driving. This figure is higher than the national average.
   It seems the video racing game enthusiast enjoys an increased sense of confidence owing to their simulated experience of blasting round a race track in a high performance vehicle. This same confidence can lead to a false sense of security and an over estimation of your driving abilities after the test, leading to traffic incidents. As anyone who has taken the driving test knows, you need a good deal of confidence on the day. Afterwards you need to be careful and drive within your limits as you gain solo experience.
   As you can see from the photo I pitched an idea for a different kind of game way back in 2003. 2nd place in the Playstation official magazine competition. All light hearted stuff. I'm sure an entertaining game could be made that does actually test real life driving skills. The driving simulators I have seen seem to be very dull like you're driving around in an abandoned world designed by robots.
   I never excelled at driving games at first. I just couldn't get my head round the physics. When to brake and how much eluded me so I never stayed on the track. It was rally games that helped me find my feet. I seemed to be much happier when the car was sliding around. I'd often beat the game clock on the snow and mud then lose pathetically on tarmac. Perhaps I should take a skid pan training course to see if I can do it in real life.
   The chav favourite Need For Speed is one I can handle. The cars drive like the sort of car I might be able to afford one day. The city streets are well constructed as well so it pays to look well ahead and anticipate where the road is going. Essential skills for the safe driver. F1 games I cannot handle at all. I simply can't relate to the simulated high speed and the steering is twitchy. 
   If there's one game I could call myself Master on it was Wipeout3. Racing a futuristic hover ship round a purpose designed track was pure brilliance. There was a definite physics to it making it totally controllable. Nobody I knew could challenge me. I was indeed king. 
   The upshot of all this is yes, enjoy your gaming as I do. Just remember the confidence you gain can work both ways. A little confidence is a good thing in driving but over confidence brings it's own dangers.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

The Rise of 3rd Party Internet Marketing in the Driving Instruction Industry.

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Now I can fill in another profile!

It seems you can't turn your head these days without noticing another directory website for driving instructors. These offer a free service where we can all get together with pupils. Another way for third parties to get involved is through the special offers culture. They offer low cost introductory lessons and take the fee charged to the customer for themselves, passing on the customer to an instructor in the area. Often the price of lessons or introductory offer is already set by the marketing company. A lot of instructors are, perhaps understandably, angered by what they see as an intrusion into the driving school industry.
   I haven't had much to do with these companies myself. I have listings on many driving instructor directories but have never actually been offered a pupil from them. The most successful third party directory for me is Free index which nets me a whopping 1 pupil a year. I did get a text message once from a directory in the form of a code. I had to pay a premium rate to retrieve the pupil information. The information about the supposed pupil didn't make sense anyway. If the code was sent to every instructor on the list then that should have turned a nice profit for the company.
   These marketing people have put forward the argument that they are here to help the instructor who has perhaps not been in the industry long enough to gain a reputation and customer referrals. Also many driving instructors will not know how to market driving lessons so they could benefit from the services provided. Indeed, a good number of instructors must be using these types of service or they would die out pretty quickly. Instead they seem to be on the increase with such schemes run by ADIs hoping to cash in.
   I believe that if this continues to grow it will lead to a public perception that driving instructors are cheap and just not worth paying for. The opening offers are ridiculously low priced. I can't think of any other job where you are expected to work 4 hours for £6.00 and cover the overheads with absolutely no guarantee that you will retain the work after the initial offer period. Many instructors seem to go for it though. I would be interested to hear from anyone who does this successfully.
   One good thing about these schemes is that you only pay for what you take. Over the past couple of years I have paid money on a weekly basis to a couple of different driving school franchises and have not received the amount of work I need to make a living. This resulted in my building up my own website to fill in the gaps. In years passed when the Yellow Pages was the main form of advertising I had no trouble having my diary filled by the school. Times have changed and I don't see franchises as being the safe bet they once were. At least these third parties offer some form of alternative.
   Basically I think that if you don't want to work cheap then you don't have to. Every market has different sectors and there are plenty of people out there who will pay the going rate for what they perceive as a quality service. Any instructor can use Facebook, Google, twitter or any of the other social media tools to market themselves. it's not so hard to learn really. Word of mouth will always be the best form of advertising. I like to think that there will always be a future in the industry for an instructor who tries their best and looks after their pupils.

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