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.

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