Monday, 25 November 2013

No one to protect interests of learners

Since sharing my story I have heard and become aware of lots of similar situations with other learners who have also run into incompetent or poor driving instructors and companies. It seems to me that there is very little protection for the learner, especially the young and easily intimidated learner in these sorts of situations.

I have come across instructors who shorten or share lessons, who are creepy/lecherous, who overcharge, who have unclear pricing schemes, who take learners only on one route (that one sounds familiar!), who stretch out lessons unnecessarily, who shout, who terrify their students, who do not explain why you should do certain things in certain ways, who sit and chat for an hour rather than teach you, who have filthy badly maintained cars etc. I know of someone who spent her first six 'free' hours sitting in a local carpark because the offering of the free lessons meant the instructor had to cut down petrol etc costs so he was reluctant to go any where. I have heard of instructors nodding off in the passenger seat, using learners to get them from A to B to do errands, taking extraordinarily long toilet breaks every lesson,  touching up the seventeen year old student next to them, teaching bad habits and generally just not caring.

Now I know there are some excellent, meticulous, enthusiastic, caring instructors out there, I was lucky enough to get one the second time around. But in an industry that makes the majority of its money out of teenagers and young adults (who are also statistically more likely to have a car accident) avenues for complaint and redress are few.

Everything is weighted towards the livelihood of the driving instructor, their right to be able to continue to earn money. There is very little consumer protection and this has shocked me, especially with companies starting to offer more and more intensive driving courses which are a)hugely expensive and b) come with very restrictive terms and conditions. Essentially you have to choose wisely otherwise you have lost a lot of money, to teach an intensive course well is a skill (not possessed by Steve Eggleton). So where is the help out there to help us pick a competent driving instructor?

The DSA? Well you have seen from my previous posts how much I rate their evaluation system. You just have to turn up on the day and pull out all the stops and thats all you are rated on. You need lots of complaints for action to be taken against you.

Driving Schools? You would think that driving schools would endeavour to only recruit the best driving instructors to ensure their joint name is not sullied and their reputation is kept high. A driving school that can offer only the best quality instructors has the market sewn up. But driving schools are merely a convenience for the driving instructors. They merely manage bookings and provide a more visible presence. They are after the money, service comes further down the line.

Review sites? Still in their infancy and barely used. Nippers have 30 or so reviews on the biggest one. There are very few for individual instructors.

Impartial driving test websites? Lots of these websites offer lists of instructors in addition to test resources, but there is very little out there on how to choose a driving instructor, what the key points to look for are. Perhaps not a problem if you only (!) stand to lose the cost of a few lessons if you make a mistake and a bad choice, but what if you are investing hundreds of pounds in an intensive course?

So here are a preliminary list of things I would look for in a GOOD driving instructor:

-Clean (This sounds silly but Steve was often filthy, his car was filthy and it wasn't pleasant to drive the car. This was also reflected in the maintenance of the rest of the car)
-Well-organised and on time (So, so important)
-Student focused learning (being adaptable to the needs of the student is vital. No point plugging along doing the same things over and over and over following the same plan and route for every student)
-Calm (goes without saying really, doesn't it. Nothing worse than an angry or aggressive passenger to make a learner nervous)
-Has plenty of resources (if a student doesn't understand you need to have other ways to show them, not repeat and repeat and make the student feel stupid)
-Takes lots of notes (otherwise ten minutes of the lesson is spent rehashing and reminding. Pam leapt into the car with her folder open to my page and always noted down concerns, problems and issues as we went along so were always focusing on weak spots)
-Patient (as with calm, somethings take time to learn)
-Willing to explain (if you don't explain, how can you stop the person repeating the original problem?)
-Does not shout or humiliate (counterproductive, Steve Eggleton)
-Ensures you get the time you pay for (if you pay for an hour, you should get an hour. Any toilet breaks taken by the instructor, late arrival, early departure etc should be caught up. Five minutes doesn't sound like much but over 60 hours I lost a lot of money to Steve. I also lost money as I was paying to sit in front of the test centre for forty minutes before each test, just chatting. UNACCEPTABLE)
-Is willing to practice certain things over and over again to boost confidence (yup. just once isn't enough)

There is probably more but time for another little reminder of why I started this blog:

Steve Eggleton of Nippers School of Motoring, Clacton, failed to teach me to drive because his method was to sit in the car and chat, mock, gossip and shout at other motorists. He thought it was OK to take a learner around London and on the A12 for 6 solid hours with no food or drink breaks for anyone because he wanted to get the paid for hours out of the way. He failed to teach even the basics and cost me over £1000. I had to start from basics with a new instructor as he hadn't even taught me cockpit drill. He was regularly finishing early, took up five to ten minutes of each lesson with extended toilet breaks and didn't give me (or complete) a single bit of paperwork.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Winter sun

Having learned to drive in the summer the winter is providing all sorts of new challenges.

-ice on the windscreen in morning. No longer can I just jump into the car and zoom off. The first time it took me a while to cotton on to why the windscreen wipers weren't clearing the screen before I set off. Not looking forward to having to clear off snow in a few weeks, especially from the car roof.

-dazzling from the lower winter sun. I have been shocked by how much visibility decreases in these conditions. Add in a wet road and the lines and markings are so much harder to see, I've been going a bit slower in these conditions.

-I'm actually using the demisters and am getting good at working out how they work and when I need them. Theoretical knowledge is no replacement for being in the situation and I never had to use them whilst learning to drive. Another reason I wish I had spread the lessons about a bit so I could have experienced a range of conditions with a competent instructor.

-cars get cold. My kids don't like getting cold and a cold steering wheel is grim. So I now need to remember how to work another set of knobs and dials that I didn't need in june, July and August!

Weirdly I had 27 visitors to this site yesterday, hello!

By the way, if you get right up behind me and start pressurising me to go faster when I am doing the speed limit, then I'm slowing down. Generally I am in no hurry and I am certainly not getting a speed ticket for you. If I get six points I have to retake my test. Not going to happen!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Been a while

It has been a while since I last posted, life ran away with me somewhat. Not only am I now a student, I am now a volunteer!

So, a recap.

I paid Nippers an awful lot of money and got a totally shit instructor and severely dented self-esteem. Steve Eggleton failed to teach me to learn to drive, put me in a dangerous situation on several occasions, was generally unpleasant to be around. Nippers School of Motoring were no help and customer service is poor. DSA fobbed off my complaint.

The last few months have been a steep learning curve, driving at night, driving in adverse weather conditions, driving on motorways, learning to navigate whilst driving. It has been simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating. I have been joking with my husband that a new driver needs a sticker book with stickers for each new achievement like:

My first sneeze whilst driving
My first motorway
My first drive with the radio on
My first navigation software
My first M25 toll
My first night drive
My first moving of the hands away from the 10-12 / 9-3 position on the wheel
My first 'crossing of the hands' rather than push pull.
My first rude gesture
My first aggressive move
My first turning the headlights on whilst driving
My first demisting
My first drive in a pair of shoes that aren't 'driving shoes'
My first drive with an annoying passenger
My first near miss with a bloody stupid wild animal
My first drive without my nose placed against the windscreen

Low point was driving on the A12 in driving rain and spray, seven 'o' clock at night, dark dark dark, really busy. Had to prise my fingers off the steering wheel at the end but I did it. With kids in the car as well, tired kids who squabbled. I figured if I can do that I can do anything.

After three months of driving in all sorts of conditions and all over London and motorways etc:

Number of accidents: 0
Number of injuries: 0
Damage to the car: 0
Times reversed around a corner: 0
Times reverse parked: 2
Times parallel parked: 1
Times done a three point turn: 80 million
Times driven forwards into car parking space: Many Many (WHY DON'T WE GET TAUGHT HOW TO DO THIS!!!)

I am much more confident behind the wheel and my confidence and competence is improving everyday.

Anecdotal statistics:
We live on one of the main driving test routes and see 15-20 driving school cars everyday just when we are out and about. The majority are Castle and Mutlows, I would say 75% of the cars I see are from these two companies. I have seen quite a lot of one man band independents and also Hansons, Panda, Ellis ABC (I recommend these as well as Pam Sinclair, I have heard good things about them). In the last month I have seen just two Nippers cars, neither of them Steve Eggleton, hopefully this reflects their poor reputation. I have come across two other people who have had bad experiences with Nippers, that is now six....or seven, can't remember, not really keeping track any more.

So, I shall return and burble some more when I next find a few minutes.