Tuesday 15 November 2016

Teaching Driving in Your Own Back Yard


Driving Lessons are happening further afield for me in Nottingham these days.

Strange how things work out. For the whole summer I have been delivering driving lessons in my own area of Nottingham. Enquiries in this area have dropped off recently in favour of more enquiries from the city centre and other areas. Not to my advantage at all but you've got to roll with it I suppose.
   To be honest there are pros and cons to both for me. If everyone is 10 minutes away it's super convenient in terms of coming home for a coffee in between lessons. The long working day can seem much easier when there is time for multiple comfort breaks and I must say I have gotten used to it. There is time to answer those text messages and sort out all the emails on my phone without having to start all that when I get home after work. Knowing I can come home at the end of the day with everything sorted is such a high.
  The many road works and traffic jams have had little effect on me this summer and arriving for driving lessons on time has been no effort at all. The mileage driven in between lessons is at a minimum reducing the amount of fuel I use and the time between servicing the car is extended meaning I am quids in.
  The down side is that it can all get a bit stale. Doing driving lessons on the same streets five times a day can be a bit of a drag. Sometimes when I come home I simply don't want to go back out again which means the day has no momentum and can seem to go on and on. Sometimes it's good to have a bit of a rush on, but not too much obviously.
  Now I seem to be working more out of my area. If the first lesson is a bit far out then it's an earlier start to the day. One lesson was taking me 40 minutes to get to instead of the usual 10 minutes. That's half an hour of unpaid work and more petrol being used. Getting through that school traffic is stress I don't need. If the lesson is in a busy area at the wrong time it can be a nightmare getting to the next lesson on time. I pride myself on my punctuality and hate being late even by a couple of minutes. The mental stress of being in traffic that just isn't moving while the minutes tick away is enough to make my head pop.
  On the brighter side it does add some variety to the day. It's good to see areas I haven't been in for a few months. Structuring lessons to fit in these areas and cover the learner driver syllabus properly gets me thinking on my feet, making the day go by much quicker. Finding new streets I haven't driven down before to create new short cuts is always enjoyable. It's good to increase one's local knowledge in case you ever want to drive a taxi. Knowing more of the city helps me deliver interesting lessons and stops pupils thinking we're just having a bit of a drive around the same old streets.
  I hope that the enquiries pick up in my own area before the weather gets really bad. When the roads are snowy it's good to not have to fight your way through between lessons which can get a bit exhausting. A mixed bag of local pupils and lessons further out is good as long as it's the first lesson and the last one that are nearby. Nothing worse than that long drive home after work. We all need an evening to relax don't we?

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Monday 4 July 2016

Chasing Those Pesky Phone Payments.


You always know where you are with cash. Sometimes the old ways are the best when paying for driving lessons.

Keeping track of payments can get to be a very time consuming process with the bank transfer over the phone payments. My heart always sinks a little when at the end of a first lesson the pupil asks to pay by phone instead of with cash right there and then. They always seem to want to pay latter and never there in the car at the time. If they are paying for a block of lessons then there seems to be less of a problem and the payment is usually prompt. if on the other hand they are paying for lessons individually then it can all get a bit tedious.
   There seems to be a laissez faire attitude with phone payments. People don't seem to see the problem in paying late or letting it slip their mind altogether. With cash people seem to see the importance of prompt payment. There's nothing worse than making small notes in the diary about who's paid and who hasn't. After a full day on the road then coming home and answering texts and emails the last thing I want to do is start checking the online bank and then start firing out reminder texts to people who have not paid.
  It makes for an untidy account book to have lots of smaller payments listed instead of the one big one at the end of each week. I wouldn't even consider the card machine where there is a tariff for using the machine. I wouldn't want to put lesson prices up just to cover that. Still, spending half a lesson looking for a working cash machine can be a bit of a bind as well. Better if people just got prepared and had enough money to pay for the lesson when they turned up. I suppose that's asking a bit much in our modern society.
   On a totally unrelated tangent I see that there has been the first driverless car fatality. The car didn't malfunction or have any kind of fault. It simply couldn't see the lorry that was in front of it because the lorry was white and the sky was bright. The guy on the telly was saying that 'driverless cars' is the wrong thing to call them as there will always need to be a driver on board at any given time. Looks like people will have to pass a driving test anyway, even if they want a self driving car. Good that our jobs look safe for the immediate future. Trouble is that people may pass the driving test and then never really gain any real experience and so never become skilled at driving. Not exactly the best route to road safety but there you go. Hope I didn't sound too whiny there.

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Saturday 21 May 2016

Pitfalls of Arranging Driving Lessons by Text


There are advantages to actually talking.

As an independent driving instructor in Nottingham I have to keep admin time down to a minimum. I'm sure you know what I mean. When getting home after a full day's teaching I can't face 10 phone calls as well as sorting out emails. It would take all night. In response to voice messages I have a standard text I paste in which thanks the person for their message and asks where they are and when they are available. This helps me to filter out people who are too far away or need lessons at times where I am not available. Helps keep the fruitless phone calls at bay. If someone specifically asks me to phone and talk then I will. People do prefer to text rather than talk anyway it seems. If someone texts and I call them straight back chances are they will not answer even though they must still have their phone nearby.
   There are disadvantages to texting though. Many people don't read them properly and so only tell me when they are available and not where they are. I don't get to ask the questions I would like to ask and neither do they get to ask me anything.
   I arranged a lesson by text for last Thursday morning. After driving out to Carlton and locating the new person we set off only to find that she required an automatic car and I only have a manual. It was her partner who had arranged the lesson so we had not communicated at all. I showed her the texts I had received and pointed out that there was no mention of an automatic vehicle. I dropped her off back at her place and drove home. I couldn't charge her for the lesson as it was a genuine misunderstanding. I bet if we had spoken on the phone then the subject of an automatic car would have been mentioned.
   One good thing about texts is that if someone turns up at the wrong time then you can use the text message to show that you turned up as per the message and prove yourself right. It's a satisfying feeling to be right and know that you can prove it. Ha.
   You can never be sure that a text has been received. If on the very rare occasion I need to cancel a lesson and I send a text I always imagine the person stood on a rainy street corner waiting for me because they haven't seen the text. Lots of people do receive texts but ignore them. The youth are very good at this. I have asked people if they want a driving lesson and don't get any reply at all. When I asked a pupil if he realised I was waiting for a reply so I would know if I can book someone else in he told me he never realised. They can forget that there is another person waiting for a response. I suppose in these times of social media and suchlike the amount of pointless noise they have to screen out is pretty amazing.
   You really can't beat the personal touch of actually talking on the phone. I think with all the time pressure and amount of information we have to deal with nowadays it may become a thing of the past.

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Friday 13 May 2016

The Subtlety of Inter-Driver Communication


Some things just can't be found in the Highway Code.

I've noticed recently how difficult it can be for some pupils to grasp the idea of communicating with other drivers by means of signals, speed and position. Many pupils need something definite they can use such as a fixed distance from a junction to put on the indicator rather than considering what they are actually telling other drivers. Many pupils find it difficult to look directly at other drivers and thus miss out on looks and gestures that would give them quality information on what another driver intends to do. They will even miss thee obvious flashing of headlights and so miss the gap that was being offered. Apart from 'Mind Driving' by Stephen Haley there aren't any learning resources which deal with this kind of thing.
   A pupil recently had an issue on test with the timing of indicator signals. When changing lanes he will look into the door mirror with his fingers on the indicator stalk expecting other drivers to know telepathically that we want to move over to the right. I explained that putting the signal on can influence other drivers into doing what you want them to do which is either hold back and let you in or get passed quickly and allow you in behind them. No signal means no response so they will just sit along side you and prevent the lane change. Get that signal on before you try to move. There is no set time to put on an indicator. You have to look at the overall traffic situation and consider the message you are putting across when you signal. This is something learned by experience.
   When manoeuvring some pupils will keep moving in and out of reverse gear for no good reason. They do not consider that the revering light is being turned on and off so any driver sat waiting won't know what we are doing and may assume that we are abandoning the manoeuvre and driving on. They may get into gear and prepare to move off only to find the light is back on and we are actually continuing to reverse. I can see how this would be annoying.
  Pupils who tap the brake on and off instead of using one smooth application of pressure fail to realise that the brake lights are on and off which is confusing to following drivers. Brake lights are probably the most important signal there is when it comes to preventing accidents. Getting the brakes on lightly and early gives more warning to the following driver and increases safety.
   Flashing headlights is a bone of contention for me. I always teach pupils that it is only a warning of your presence and can be interpreted in many ways. The vast majority of pupils when asked believe that flashing headlights definitely means someone is letting you through and would proceed if someone flashed their headlights. Totally wrong and potentially dangerous but that's what people think.
   Eye contact is important. Being let out of a junction is easier if you turn your head and look at other drivers. Such a simple thing as this adds a touch of the personal I find and people are much more willing to let you out once they know you are looking at them. Pupils on driving lessons tend to avoid eye contact as a result of nerves and miss out on opportunities to proceed as a result. Arm signals from cyclists would be a welcome addition to the world of signals as they seem to be something of a rarity.
   So there. Have a good think about how you communicate with other drivers and explore how it can be improved. it makes driving a much easier and pleasant experience and fosters a friendlier attitude on the road. Word up.

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Tuesday 12 April 2016

Long Wait for a Driving Test in Nottingham


The wait is so long it even made the news.

Some of my pupils are booking driving tests online and are getting dates for the lovely month of August. It is fast approaching the middle of April. A waiting time approaching four months. This is less time than it takes some people to learn to drive from scratch. It's a situation which brings many problems for a driving instructor.
   I encourage my pupils to get the theory test sorted from the very beginning of their training now. I explain the length of time it will take after passing the theory to get to the practical test so the earlier they can book and pass it the better. I suppose it adds some pressure to pass, as a fail would push the possible date for a practical test back by a further 3 to 4 weeks. If they do fail or wait until their driving is of a reasonable standard before taking the theory then some decisions have to be made.
  Many people understandably don't want to pay for months of lessons they don't believe they need. Who can blame them? Driving lessons are not cheap and a three month wait really adds to the cost of learning by a significant amount. We can argue that the extra training is never wasted but people only have so much money to spend. We then have to explore other options.
   They can pack in the lessons until nearer the time of the test. I don't book so far in advance as I find it causes problems with existing pupils if they suddenly can't have their usual time because someone booked it in advance. I tell the test person that I will do what I can nearer the test but I can't guarantee fitting them back in. The best solution would be to keep up the lessons and look online every day to see if a cancellation can be found. If they do find one they have to grab it straight away before someone else does. If they check with me first you can bet your bottom dollar it will have gone by the time they get back online.
   Some people keep up the practice with parents which can lead to some poor habits forming and a general drop in the driving standard. Others want to take a lesson every two weeks which I won't do because it leaves spaces which are hard to fill as most people want a weekly lesson. Others look to book tests in other towns which would take most of the day to get there and back as well as not having any knowledge of the test area.
   A fail on the driving test is now a much more serious drawback. Pupils know there is a long wait for a second attempt which only adds to the pressure on the day. If they need a driving licence for a job then the four months wait could seriously scupper their plans. If you know you can take another test in three weeks then the pressure is not so great.
   To overcome this I find people are looking for driving lessons after booking a test some time in advance. Problem is they try to start lessons with only a few weeks to go before the test date. The pupil is then full of false expectation that they will be ready. When they see it will take more time than they have left themselves they pressure the instructor to get them ready and work a few miracles. The whole situation is a sorry mess.
   Three weeks should be the maximum amount anyone should have to wait for a driving test. At the moment the waiting times are making life hard for everybody. Poor planning on behalf of the DVSA in allowing examiner numbers to fall is a major factor I would say. Hopefully things will improve soon.

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Friday 1 January 2016

No More Web Woes for this Driving Instructor!


Taking control feels good.

2015 was a year of dealing with problems and overcoming them. Not a bad thing as I have learned a lot about how to complain properly and take positive action even if it means a lot of time and effort. Last piece of the puzzle was getting my website away from incompetent people who refuse to acknowledge phone calls, texts and emails.
   A couple of months ago I found that I just could not update my website. All kinds of errors popped up and as it's an important part of my business I simply couldn't let the situation carry on for too long. After about 6 texts, 3 emails and a bunch of ignored calls to my web designer and his imaginary team I decided it was time to migrate my site to another host. 
   I've read some nightmare stories about migrating websites. It can really mess things up but I had no choice but to take this route. I contacted the people at GoDaddy and bought a hosting package. I was told migrating would be easy and nothing to worry about. The problems started immediately when the website failed to migrate. Seems the old company had put blockers on it to prevent escape. I tried to back up the files myself and do it manually but to no avail. 
   I contacted the excellent customer services at GoDaddy and stayed on the line while they migrated it for me. A nice guy talked me through the whole process and it was done. I didn't realise my URL was still pointing to the old site which is what I was looking at through the browser. Took me a few days before I noticed actually. Another phone call got the URL pointing to the right place and no website. Just an error message. Back on the phone to disable the plugins so I could finally look at the migrated site.
  I've got to say my heart sank. Lots of bits missing and hyphenated text that didn't fit on the page and pictures all over the place. After a small time spent in contemplation I decided to do a redesign and make an even better website. A new header image and text for starters. Picking my way through each page and re-spacing things to fit took a fair few hours of laborious and tedious work. The end result is well worth it I think.
  So here I am with complete control of the website. No more phone calls when the hosting runs out and the website goes down. No more errors getting in the way. When a website is your main means of bringing in new business things have to be right. Driving Instructors are busy people so the less time spent worrying over things the better. Now all i have to do is suss out the website email so it goes straight to my phone and I can then deal with it in between lessons. That way it's one less job when I get home. Happy 2016