Passing your driving test - Journey of a SuperDriver Customer
1 January 2017
Joseph (pictured right) has given his permission to feature in a journal of how he learned to drive from an instructor’s perspective.
Joseph’s parents all drive, he has been a passenger many times. He has limited road sense through cycling.
Joseph’s 17th birthday was in July. His parents applied on his behalf for his provisional driving licence (link). You can apply 3 months before your 17th birthday and it can be done online. The DVLA used his photograph from his passport and the shiny new photocard arrived within a couple of weeks.
Joseph’s parents booked his driving theory test (link) for his 17th birthday! Surprise! Joseph completed his A level exams by early June and he had time on his hands so instead of Xbox and sleep, he read the Highway code (link), Driving the Essential Skills and practiced answering theory test questions using Theory Test Pro (see link below). Just an hour or so a day and then Xbox and sleep! He scored over 30 on his first ever mock test, after all, over half the questions are common sense aren’t they? The rest took a little more time and soon he was answering correctly over 40 and then high 40s. Theory Test Pro is really good, if you get questions wrong, it adds them to the next test until you get them right. Hazard Perception was easy for Joseph, he’s good on his Xbox!
Joseph’s birthday came and off he went for his theory test. In Sheffield the theory test centre is on Leopold Street at Orchard House, next door to Virgin Money. He scored 48 out of 50 on the questions and 65 out of 75 for hazard perception. Not as good as his Dad! But don’t all Dads say that and strangely cannot provide the evidence. So the theory was passed without even having driven. Not really recommended as driving instructors can give context whilst driving and this helps retain the information provided in the books. The books whilst informative and essential reading are quite dull. How do you make rules and regulations sound interesting?
On to the practical. Joseph chose a brilliant driving instructor – Me! Why did he chose me? Because I’m local, highly rated, have a high pass rate and I’m competitively priced. Learning to drive can easily cost over £1,000 these days. Tests are not cheap either (link).
I arrived for Joseph’s first lesson, I checked his eye sight by asking him to read a number plate from 20 metres and checked his licence. I then drove Joseph to a safe area, it was about 5 minutes drive. We swapped seats and discussed setting the car up ready to drive it, the controls and how to move away and stop. This is a typical start and I go into as little detail as possible but it still takes 30 minutes or more to do it properly. In my opinion time spent here saves it later on. These are the basic routines that will be used every time he sets off. Prepare, Observe, Move Off. Joseph found the discussion a bit boring, he prefers practical and learns from doing but I cannot allow him to drive until it is done for his safety and mine.
We set off at snail pace, then pull over. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. Braking was typically hard at first and the more we slowed and stopped the smoother it became. Operating the brakes is not dissimilar to those on a bicycle. If you brake hard on your bike, you fall off. In the car you head butt the windscreen if you brake hard. The clutch was up quick, so we practiced clutch control and finding biting point. Bringing the clutch up fast is a sure way to stall.
At this point as an instructor I was hoping that he could steer or understand the pedals without looking. Normally it’s one or the other that customers struggle with. Joseph was okay at the steering but wasn’t getting the clutch, this can take time and in the early stages I used my dual controls to help out. I don’t want him to lose confidence by stalling all over the place.
In these early stage we practiced in the leafy suburbs of Dore, perfect and quiet. I really don’t like starting training in a car park but I do if a customer feels particularly nervous. Home work for Joseph was steering, using a Frisbee he learned the pull push technique. The pull push technique is a great way to steer, it’s not the only way. It’s a common misconception that crossing your hands is not allowed on test. It is. But if you lose control, you fail… or crash… or both.
In subsequent lessons we learned turning left and right at various basic junctions practicing Joseph’s steering, clutch control and braking. We moved out of Dore but reminding Joseph that all we were doing was moving away and stopping and taking a few corners. We were actually doing more but I like to make my customers feel like we are keeping it simple even when we are not. As he got onto the busier and faster roads I asked how speed affected the steering, how the brakes feel and reacted to his input. The roads were busier, I asked if he was bothered. Some people are, some not.
By the third lesson we had moved on to Pedestrian Crossings, this is a chance to build on the mirror work used in the earlier lessons. If you see someone approaching, near or on a crossing, check your interior mirror. I used Abbeydale Road, Chesterfield Road, Woodseats, Abbey Lane and Woodseats for this. A circuit that I have used many times. These are busy areas and to keep Joseph calm I reminded him that all we were doing was moving away and stopping.
We drove to areas where pedestrian crossings are close to junctions. The top of Twentywell Lane. Another example is on Abbey Lane, there is a zebra crossing not even a car length from the roundabout. Soon Joseph was looking further ahead, checking his mirrors and gaining confidence with the clutch.
Next lesson – crossroads. Crossroads was chosen because of where Joseph lives. He lives near lots of them. Driving lessons are not always in a pre-described order. If a customer lives near roundabouts, they will be introduced earlier for example. Abbeydale Road and London Road are perfect for Crossroads. Again to keep it simple I remind Joseph that all we are doing is practicing steering, brakes and clutch. I introduced the concepts of near side to near side and offside to offside. I mainly concentrate on right turns for crossroads. Customers don’t like waiting in the middle for oncoming cars and can sometimes be hesitant. Often position is too far forward. After an hour Joseph had got the hang of it.
Next Up – Roundabouts. Joseph lives about 10 minutes from Meadowhead and there are plenty of roundabouts to practice on. This can be scary for some as we quickly go from smaller roundabouts to multi-lane monsters. We had a lengthy discussion, used routines we had learned earlier for approach and discussed signs and lane discipline. I like to explain what can go wrong based on former customers. Number one is staring right on approach, it can lead to loss of position. Number two is having stopped at a busy roundabout, customers only look right – they need to look all around. Forgetting which lane and which way they are going also happens. Joseph did well at his roundabouts. Spiral roundabouts and where lanes split into 2 or 3 lanes took a little more time. Roundabouts lasted several lessons. Not only did we tackle Meadowhead, we needed mini roundabout practice so we went to Dronfield and then city centre roundabouts and then off to Handsworth for our nearest test centre.
So you see I stayed local to build up skills, and then moved Joseph around Sheffield and Dronfield depending on the lesson. We then practiced what we learnt on roundabouts that could come up on his driving test. For me there are 4 troublesome areas that could come up. Parkway to Prince of Wales Road, Catcliffe, the Tricky 4 (starts at Coisley Hill, finishes at Asda) and crossing the M1 where it meets the parkway. These roundabouts are not nice and need to be remembered. If Joseph can do these, he can do any. I use google maps and describe what to do. Sometimes I demonstrate them by driving. Sometimes I help with the steering. Whatever it takes.
During all these lessons we had now dealt with speeds in excess of 50mph, the changes in steering at speed and it was now time for a Dual Carriageway lesson. It’s a 2 hour lesson ideally and off we went to Mansfield. We could have used the parkway in Sheffield but the speeds are lower and it’s all over in 5 minutes. The trip to Mansfield and back incorporates 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70mph roads so if you’re not looking ahead…
Joseph really wasn’t bothered with speed, he did fine with minimal drifting. Overtaking was good and he kept his speed up. Roundabouts through Chesterfield were handled fine and these are tough.
Next Up – Meeting Situations. We had already encountered this so just a quick reminder of priorities. Why do customers think priority depends on who is going up the hill? That’s just one factor.
Most of Joseph’s lessons were 2 hours, we completed several short burst 1 hour lessons. These can be done locally. How to Emergency Stop, Parallel Park, Reverse around a Corner, Turn in the Road and Bay Park for test. We also learned how to park forwards into a bay, a taxi style U turn and parking on his drive way. Well learning to drive isn’t just about passing a test is it?
The hardest part of learning to drive and getting ready for the test is consistency. Whilst I know my customers can deal with most situations, they need to do it right every time. Second time is no good. This I find is what takes up the majority of time. Where do you learn this consistency? Everywhere is the answer. Drive everywhere. Follow signs, sat nav, take directions just like on test. Drive at different times of the day. Drive to customer’s workplace and other places they go. Build up experience. Every day as a driver we learn something new, we never stop learning. The same road may need to be handled differently on 2 separate occasions.
Most customers do something in their training that makes them memorable to an instructor. Joseph is memorable for not stopping at Red Traffic Lights requiring me to take action. In our discussions about this he said he “did not intend to go through a red light”. My response not sarcastic at all was “that’s alright then, if you tell the police that when you are caught having gone through Red and caused a massive accident, they will just say - its fine since you didn’t intend to do it”. Not!
Practical test waiting times are long in Sheffield. Over 2 months. A good instructor will ask the customer to book the test 2 months before they are ready using our psychic powers. Obviously we get it wrong sometimes and either more lessons have to be squeezed in to make the grade in time or the test is rescheduled.
Joseph’s first test was rescheduled. He wasn’t ready. His test was in mid-December. Unfortunately for him I changed cars in early December but there was ample time for him to get used to it. Changing cars when a test is around the corners is not ideal. Its psychological. The difference in car can put some off.
The pressure was on. Why? Joseph is my step son. He had to pass first time and pass well. I would never live it down with my peers. He would never live it down with his.
So yes, Joseph and I are related. That complicates things. Teaching your relatives anything is a tricky business. We had attitude and strops, I also felt he was a bit immature for driving. But it was business as usual for me apart from Joseph getting extra sarcasm and me not getting paid. His lessons were a birthday and Christmas present.
We digressed. Back to test day. It was a mid-morning test. Joseph was fairly relaxed about it, we did a little practice and then went to Morrison’s for a hot chocolate. I love hot chocolate just before my tests. We had a last minute chat and I tested him on his safety check questions. The safety check questions were completed with Mum. She had to do something after all.
On arrival at the test centre Joseph completed an awesome bay park and we walked towards reception. The examiner came out and asked for Joseph. Joseph didn’t want me to sit in on his test so off they went. At no point did I mention that we were related. That’s too much pressure. 40 or so agonising minutes later and my car returns. The engine is turned off and the result is given. He PASSED. First time with just 2 driving faults. OMG he was speeding on his test. The examiner commented on what a good drive it was and I said it should be since I’m his Dad.
Joseph didn’t drive home, I drove. I showed him how to drive properly!!!
So Joseph passed his test just before Christmas. Did we buy him a car as a Christmas present? No. Whilst I believe you can buy a decent car for not much money, car insurance is a joke - £1,500. He doesn’t need one at the moment anyway and after he has held his licence for 1 year hopefully the cost will reduce and we will think again. He can drive my tuition car anytime as long as I am there.