26 January, 2017

How to choose a driving instructor

It’s not an easy thing to do, unless you have a cast iron recommendation, so we’re here to give you some information on which you can make your own decisions. We’ll tell you what to look for, questions to ask and the sales tricks to watch out for!

Find an Instructor Near You!
Prices and Lesson Length:

The price is always the first question we are asked, and the average price for a one hour driving lesson around the UK at the moment seems to be between £20 and £30.

If you are taking longer lessons (eg 90 minutes or 2 hours) you should pay less than the hourly rate because these lessons save driving instructors money – a 1 hour lesson has to include 20-30 minutes travelling time for which an instructor isn’t paid.

Giving 6 lessons for an hour will involve the instructor being out of the house travelling to and from lessons for 9 hours, but giving 3 lessons of 2hours, the instructor will only be out of the house for 7.5 hours. Don’t pay double the 1 hour price for a 2 hour lesson!

Just watch out though – having the 2 hour lessons is only better value for money if you can concentrate and actively learn for 2 full hours. If your concentration isn’t so good you may find that 90 minute lessons are better value.

1 hour lessons are often too short. If you live any distance away from the training area for the subject you are covering, then you will spend a lot of your precious lesson simply getting there – and though a good driving instructor will make sure that it is constructive, your actual “new learning” may well be only 30 minutes (half) of your paid lesson.
With a 90 minute lesson this “new learning” time will be 1 hour (2 thirds) of your paid lesson.

Prices and Special Offers:
There are loads of these around – the daftest that we’ve come across is 4 lessons for £5!
Watch out for these though – the one above was actually 4 half hour lessons, and you had to take them all at once! Personally I give a 90 minute session free as a first lesson which introduces myself and my car and lets people see what it is all about.
If a lesson price is substantially cheaper than £20 an hour you should be very wary. Even with a small cheap car, the running costs per hour which an instructor has to bear will be anywhere from £8-£13 or more (car, insurance, advertising, training, fuel, phone, maintenance etc….you get the picture), so will they try to save a little on fuel by not letting you drive so far? Are they qualified? Why are they so desperate for work that they are so cheap?

Good offers are those that help both you and the instructor. My personal favourites are:
Paying in advance – this helps you by being cheaper, and helps me because you are less likely to cancel last minute because I already have your money. So reliable customers can save around 10% with me by doing this.

First Lesson Free – this allows us to get to know each other and you to get to know the car. With the first lesson often involving more paperwork (licence and eyesight checks and explanations of the track record etc), I feel that this is a great way of encouraging people to try me without risk.
Remember that a good quality instructor will never be consistently cheap, but will often save you a lot of money in the long run:

  • 40 hours at £25 will cost you £1000
  • 80 hours at £18 will cost you £1440
    …..and take you twice as long to get through your test. It’s your choice.

Driving Instructor Qualifications:
All driving instructors must be on the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s (DVSA) register, either as Trainee instructors (PDI) or as Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs).
Fully qualified instructors will have a green badge in the window, which proves that they have passed the test of instructional ability to a competent standard – in other words – they have proved that they can teach reasonably well. Trainee instructors (who have a pink badge in the window) may be good, and certainly their enthusiasm can often have a huge effect on the learning experience, but be aware that they have not been assessed on their teaching ability, and may not pass this final exam. If they don’t pass this final exam within 6 months of starting to teach on the trainee licence they will have to stop teaching you.

If you know a trainee instructor and want to learn with them – do so, you will be helping them to gain valuable experience, and because you know them you will be comfortable learning with them.

If you do not know an instructor who is a trainee, there is no reason not to try them out – but don’t pay full price. This is like getting a hair cut from a student hairdresser – there is no problem with it and it is likely to be reasonably good as they are trying their very best, but you shouldn’t be charged professional salon charges for it. According to the statistics, trainees have substantially lower pass rates than qualified instructors.

Once qualified all instructors have to go through a grading process every few years. The grades are a reflection of how well they performed on a 1 hour standards check (formerly check test) lesson – usually a normal lesson which is conducted with a representative from the DVSA observing it.

New Grading System: A/B or Fail:
Grade A: Grade A instructors have proven that they can provide safe instruction, ensuring that it is suitable to their customer and that progress is made during the session.

Grade B: Grade B instructors have proven that they can provide safe instruction. They may show some weaknesses or deviate from best practice in planning and carrying out the session in a manner that is most appropriate to their customer.

Fail/Ungraded: Currently, driving instructors who fail to achieve the 60% pass rate, or the minimum safety requirements on their standards check can re-apply for another standards check. If they fail this three times, they will be removed from the register and no longer be able to provide tuition.

Old Grading System:
Grade 6: The best grade possible. Around 6% of instructors were grade 6, a slightly higher percentage achieve the new highest Grade A. On the lesson observed, a grade 6 instructor has proved that they can give the best quality instruction.

Grade 5: Good instruction given. Around 20% of instructors were grade 5. The pass rates across the country show only a very small variation between grade 5 and grade 6 instructors.

Grade 4: Competent instruction given. A grade 4 instructor may be excellent at other times, but like many of us is not keen on being tested! Or on the other hand this may be the best they can do. If you have a grade 4 instructor with a good attitude you will be fine – feeling comfortable with a grade 4 instructor will usually mean you will probably learn just as much as feeling a little uncomfortable with a grade 6.

Ungraded: Find out the reason for this – if an instructor has recently qualified then they will be ungraded, and may well be excellent so ask them what mark they received on their final exam (it is graded twice, so it will be between 4/4 and 6/6 with the grades being similar to the above). However, it may mean that on their last check test they did not achieve the “competent” grade 4 standard. Or they may be a trainee.

There are loads of other qualifications – here are a few:
Fleet Driver Trainer – (orange badge as well as the green one) experienced in training people who have already passed, may be useful to mature learners or people needing to retake their test after a ban as they have experience with older drivers.

ORDIT Driving Instructor Trainer – (lilac badge as well as the green one) their knowledge and experience will be high, and their methods will be good.

Dip DI (Diploma in Driving Instruction) – their technical knowledge and knowledge of training techniques will be excellent.

IAM member – Institute of Advanced Motorists members will have passed an advanced driving test – not really sure how helpful this is because we have to pass an advanced driving test to become instructors!

RoSPA - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents run advanced driving tests and accredit training such as that from our colleagues at Beyond Driving.

There are lots of instructors with alternative qualifications which help them in their area of specialism. If you have special needs, look for these.

Pass Rates:
Take absolutely no notice of pass rates at all. They are so easy to fake, twist and abuse they should not be taken as any guide to how good the instructor is. If an instructor is prepared to show you the report they recieved from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, then you can have a good look at it and make your own mind up, but even then it may not be an accurate reflection of their performance as instructors can decide whether a forthcoming test will go on their record.

A 100% pass rate may mean that the instructor has got all of his customers through their test. What it doesn’t say is that out of the 10, 9 of them took it more than 3 times in order to pass! Or that they have only had 1 customer. Or in the worst cases their first customer to test has passed, so for the rest of that year they have removed their badge from the window so that as far as the DVSA can tell they only had 1 customer all year.

Another problem with pass rates is that many excellent instructors specialise in nervous drivers who have much more trouble with the “test” than others.

Some excellent women instructors whose customer base is predominantly female have campaigned against the publishing of pass rates, because female candidates traditionally have a lower pass rate than male candidates – this doesn’t mean that female instructors aren’t as good as the men!

If you read of a guaranteed pass course, or see pass rates substantially above 70% ignore them. The “guarantee” will be worthless, and the figures will probably be twisted.

The Car:
This shouldn’t make a lot of difference, though as a preference I personally would avoid anything much larger than your typical family car (a Ford Focus?) – people carriers and 4×4’s can become harder to manoeuvre in small spaces.

The other big one is Petrol or Diesel, I always used to advise going diesel as they were are harder to stall and easier to control at very low speeds (on manoeuvres) than petrol cars because of the way they work. However, with recent changes to engine management systems there are less differences between diesels and modern petrol cars (though older petrol cars may be easier to stall). Diesel cars cost more but are more economical, with the current cost of diesel being higher than petrol, instructors with diesel cars may charge slightly more.

Dual controls are usually essential for driving instructors because without them no insurance company will touch us – so if your instructor does not have these, don’t get in the car until they have proved to you that they are insured to train you in this car. I have heard horror stories of instructors using the family car for lessons because their training car is in the garage – completely illegal and seriously dangerous for you.

A good driving instructor will not want to use the controls at all, and won’t need to. If your instructor is doing things for you, you will not be able to take responsibility for your driving, and will never know how much of the driving is you or them. If the instructor regularly needs to use them to avoid accidents ask yourself whether they are trying to give you the correct instruction for the conditions – weak instructors will use the pedals much more regularly than a strong instructor.

As far as fashion is concerned – go with what you like, but be aware that an instructor with a “cool” car is either going to have to charge more to cover the costs, or is making up for weaknesses in other areas!

How do I choose a good driving instructor then?
Do the research, try to find them from recommendations, whether personal or through online forums and social media. Alternatively, talk to them on the phone before handing money over, find out about them, and see if you get on. If they offer a free lesson – take it up so you can find out whether you feel comfortable. Don’t pay hundreds of pounds up front to an office when you have never spoken to the instructor – this is a recipe for disaster. Even instructors with bigger companies will be happy to call you to discuss their qualifications and your needs.

Speak to them, try them out, and remember - the vast majority of the work is up to you!

(Originally published through Beyond Driving.)