Private Practice Hints and Tips

A little advice and encouragement for those who are brave enough to become an accompanying driver!

The following are some of the common issues, driving methods being used in lessons, and general advice from previous “volunteers” and their experiences.

It has the intention to help keep you safe, give the learner maximum benefit from your trips out, and answer some common questions which may occur. You are a qualified and experienced driver, this is purely to help you avoid some of the common errors and misconceptions!

The Rules and Regulations

The accompanying driver (you)  must be Over 21 years of age having held a full car licence for 3 or more years.

You are equally in charge of the vehicle. ALL driving rules apply to you as well as the learner, and so do the penalties! You must not be over the alcohol limit, use a mobile phone, sleep, etc. So they are not a cheap taxi back from the pub, sorry!

The Learner must possess a provisional Cat B licence and be insured on the car (you don’t have to be, but it can help get you out of sticky situations!), which must be displaying L plates clearly at front and rear. NOT in the windows but attached to the vehicle, and visible to cars NOT helicopters! It is recommended that L-Plates should be removed when the Learner driver is not driving. Not doing so can result in you being pulled over – especially on motorways. Learner drivers are permitted to drive on all roads EXCEPT motorways – unless they are with a fully qualified driving instructor in a dual controlled car.

A learner driver can carry passengers, but these can result in increased stress and distractions so be selective.

If you are taking out insurance, make sure it is adequate. Does it cover the driving test? Does it cover paid for tuition? If they pass in that can can it be driven home? We recommend Marmalade Insurance who tick all these boxes

Some common errors
Many of these are purely due to the evolution of cars and roads since you learnt to drive.

The speed limit on dual carriageways is 70mph.

Block changing of the gears (4 to 2, 3 to 1, 3 to 5 etc) is recommended and generally expected, especially when slowing down. Why should you not work through the gears? Modern-day disc brakes work better than older-style drum brakes and can be relied on, so the saying goes “Brake to slow, Gears to go”.

Indicating is not required to “overtake” a parked car, or bus, as long as your road position is adequate to provide a clear signal of your intention. The same goes for leaving the kerb, if no-one is going to benefit from the signal – why give one? (And more importantly, if the need to signal is a question, then you have to look properly to make the decision!). You might also find that an unnecessary signal mislead other road users, for instance if you signal right to go around a bus and there is a junction on the right as well.

Road position – You will be used to sitting on the Right-hand side (drivers seat), so the car may look close to the kerb in the passenger seat. If you genuinely think that they are poorly positioned then look for the ‘dirty line’ down the centre of the road and keep yourself just to the left of it and the vehicle’s wheels either side of it. Alternatively, you position the car in a ‘driving position’ in a quiet road. Get in the passenger seat and note (or mark) the position of the kerb.

The system of car control used by Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) examiners and DVSA Approved Driving Instructors (ADI). This is something that the Learner will be used to using, and may well help you feel safer on the approach to junctions. Speak to the learner in case their instructor uses something different, for example my preference is Look – Tell – Do (I never can spell Manoeuvre!)

MSPSGL (This is an extension of the good old Mirror – Signal – Manoeuvre (MSM) routine)

M – Mirrors  – Should be checked on change of speed (Centre) and direction (Left/Right).

S – Signal – Indicators, Brake Lights, Reverse Lights. Is a signal required?

P – Position – Where in the road? What is it telling others?

S – Speed – What should the speed be for the junction?

G – Gear – Which gear will they need for the junction? (No Coasting, Engage the Clutch!) – Not all instructors use the ‘G’

L – Look – What for? Why?

The Learner SHOULD be able to talk you through this.

Don’t tell them (Unless its safety critical), Instead ask questions, and encourage the Learner to commentary drive
If you are wondering “Have they seen it?” “Why are they not slowing down?” ASK! If you have spotted it early enough try to say “What can you see?” or “What are you going to do about the ….?” or “Talk me though your routine” You and I both know 99% of driving is Observation & Planning, help them develop this by seeing if they see what you see. If they do something wrong always ask Why? Sometimes you will be surprised at the answer! And it helps you explain why they are wrong (A common error is to “exchange views” on this when driving, if in doubt stop and discuss it).

If you are driving encourage them to join in, asking you why or telling you what they can see ahead, “back seat commentary driving” you might say!

Save yourself time and money! Sounds good doesn’t it? And it is simple!

EVERY trip out should be driven as if it was a driving test or lesson. Don’t let the bad habits creep in and we won’t have to spend time breaking them. Excessively crossing hands over, coasting, NOT checking the blind spot before moving off EVERY time, skipping mirror checks are the common ones. It’s never just a quick drive, it’s a short practice for the test.

Pull over randomly at the side of the road

The test route consists of 40 mins, 2 or 3 manoeuvres and 6-8 random stops (hills, pulling away at an angle, selecting a stopping place) It is the drivers responsibility to pick a stopping place that is a Safe Convenient And Legal Position (SCALP), let them make the choices and explain why. It can be very tempting to make it easy and spoon feed them the answers but remember this will help no one.

DVSA test routes are no longer available on their website and it is always important to bear in mind that the examiners can change the route as they see fit, and that we are trying to encourage the Learner to become a safe driver rather than just to pass the driving test.

Not sure? Want advice? Worried about something?

Talk to the Learner’s driving instructor! They are there to help the Learner get through their test, that means helping you as well. So call, text, or email. If they don’t get back to you ask us and we will get back to you as soon as we can either with an answer, or to arrange a time that we can meet and talk it through. If you have any serious concerns we may be able to, with the Learners agreement, arrange for you to come out on a lesson to see what we are doing. We welcome feedback on your observations, pupils often develop habits they don’t do on lessons and we can then work together to correct these rather than let them continue.

The Tests

Theory Test – You cannot apply for the Practical until the Theory has been passed. Therefore our advice is get stuck in and BOOK IT NOW! Figure out how long it will take to learn and pass, then go onto the website and book it. You can take this on your 17th birthday onwards (16th you qualify under disability legislation) and the certificate lasts for 2 years.

We provide 1:1 Theory Training via Zoom through Theory Test Explained which aims to teach the theory rather than just try to learn the answers. With experience teaching those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and other needs this can really make a difference. For advice on learning materials give us a call or check out theory training pages.

Practical Test – Once the Theory is passed we can advise you on when to book the Practical test. In the current climate this is really challenging! We don’t want people taking it when they are not ready, but waiting lists will be long for a while. Work with your instructor to make the best plan and stay flexible, moving the test if needed. What we know is that experience is key. Making use of private practice will make you safer and more likely to succeed.

Be aware: The cost of the Practical test is a payment to the DVSA. It does not cover the Instructors time and Car.

A final note

I am often asked how long it will take to pass, a question that I cannot honestly answer, especially in these challeging times. We promise to give the best advice for the Learner, and limit the time and cost of learning to a minimum. But every pupil is different, and taking a test before you are ready is an expensive exercise.

I am also often told that parents passed after 5-10 hours practice.

I would point out that this was when the road were quieter, safer, and tests are now comparitively harder! Not a bad thing if it is keeping people safe. The DVSA quote having surveyed PASSING candidates, they averaged a total of 56 hours of professional tuition – this didn’t include private practice! It may be less, but it gives you an idea of the commitment involved. You don’t want your son, daughter or loved one to be a danger to themselves or others once on the road. Neither do we, so work with us to ensure they get the best start in driving for life.

Chris Bensted
Better Driver Training

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