Tuesday 19 April 2011


I have been driving for the last 33 years and thought I had seen every example of idiots behind the wheel. I was wrong! Earlier this evening driving through Suburbia I was aware of an ambulance on an emergency call behind me. There was quite a bit of traffic and so I took the first available opportunity to move to one side as did everyone else.

When the ambulance passed me I did the usual of trying to move back out into the line of traffic, maintaining position, as did everybody else. Fortunately I had my wits about me because there was a mini tailgating the ambulance! Travelling at high speed overtaking all the traffic which had given way to the ambulance completely ignoring other drivers.

She stopped about half a mile further on at some traffic lights and when I passed her to turn right she was busy looking pretty and lighting a fag. I must admit that I was absolutely livid and nearly wound the window down and gave her a mouth full of abuse. Had I still been a police officer I would have subjected her to every possible vehicle check and lectured her on the crass, stupid and downright dangerous behaviour that she had just demonstrated.


Friday 15 April 2011

Cheap lessons?

What's the cheapest way to learn to drive? In these hard times everybody is looking to save money and that includes those learning to drive. It has always been relatively expensive to do so, now more than ever and therefore people are looking at any way to reduce the cost. Beware though because there are real issues and dangers with doing this.

It is no coincidence that the DSA recommend approved driving instructors and in spite of rumours to the contrary it's not to make money for the government. It's because they recognise that to learn to drive properly you need some amount of proper professional tuition. Although Uncle Joe or Aunt Flossie might be able to teach you to drive so that you can get through your test, it does not mean that you will be a good driver. I and a lot of my colleagues are in favour of the DSA requiring that everybody has a minimum number of lessons with an approved driving instructor before being allowed to take a test.

Furthermore, if Uncle Joe, Aunt Flossie or any other person who is not an approved driving instructor charges you for lessons, they are breaking the law and the penalties are severe!

The other problem is cheap lessons. It is so easy to opt for the company which offers lessons for the cheapest rate. I often see offers such as 5 lessons for £75 which look like a very good deal. However, there are a two things to consider with these offers. What conditions are attached to the offers? What price do you pay once the offer has been used? If you pay £15 for the first 5 lessons and £22 for the next 15, you will pay £405. If you pay £20 per lesson for 20 lessons, you pay £400. So cheap offers don't necessarily lead to paying less overall.

However the single most significant issue with the overall cost of learning to drive is the number of lessons you take. 20 lessons at almost any cost with a top quality professional instructor is a far better deal than 100 cheap lessons with a crap instructor. And yes I have heard of people who have had 100 lessons!

The most important question to ask a potential instructor isn't about pass rates or prices or special offers or even their grade, it's how many lessons on average do THEIR pupils take to pass their test. Then you can get some idea of how much it is likely to cost you. Don't be fobbed off with the average from the DSA (which is about 45-50), it's their rate that is important.

So ask the question of your instructor and make sure you get the best possible deal for you as a customer. Remember deals are designed to be seductive and make you think you are getting something for nothing (or less than you should). Don't be fooled, do your research and make sure you don't get conned.

All the best.


Google has lost its way

Google used to be great because you could type in your search criteria and find genuine, useful websites which appeared because they contained what you were interested in.

Now you get presented first with websites where the owner has paid for it to be presented, followed by those where the owners have manipulated the site so that it appears high up in the list, whether or not it is relevant to you. It is this last part that really annoys me. There are masses of sites which bear absolutely no relation to my search criteria but are there because someone has overloaded their webpage so that their site appears on the first page of search results.

I understand the desire of Google to make money by advertising but whereas it used to be a useful tool for navigating the web, it is now a massive advertising mechanism for the rich to exploit so they can become richer. It is a real shame that Google has departed from its original principles and an absolute disgrace that they don't do something about it.



I get a large number of phone calls and emails from companies trying to sell me one kind of marketing or another. Some are upfront about it, usually because they have no choice, some are more subtle. However, they are all basically selling the same thing - promoting my business.

Hence I find it staggering that most of them have given absolutely no thought whatsoever to the nature of my business. It is generally accepted that 95% of business for a driving school comes through personal recommendation, usually from a family member or friend. Therefore any marketing thrust is effectively working for 5% of your pupils. They also seem totally oblivious to the idea that in order to justify the cost of their advertising, you work out the cost in terms of pupils. For example, if the cost of the advertising is £100, that equates to around 5 lessons. On that basis I won't even start to make money until the 6th lesson with that pupil, unless I get more pupils from the same advertising cost.

Of course none of these companies will give any kind of a guarantee of business coming my way. They will say that they are confident that I will see a lot of business as a result of their promotion but they never actually guarantee it. Every time I get in the car with a pupil I put my money where my mouth is but it's interesting that marketing companies never do the same. Is that because I know I am good at what I do and I don't rip my customers off but they know they are crap and the con is what they are about?

I have advertised in local newspapers, magazines, digests, shop windows, community noticeboards, flyers, Yellow Pages, Thomson Local, Google Adwords and Facebook. The most successul of all of these has been shop windows where I have picked up 2 pupils over the last year - it also happens to be the cheapest! For most of the other methods I have seen absolutely no results at all, in spite of some of them being very expensive.

All the rest of my pupils past and present have come through personal recommendation and contact e.g., seeing the sign on the car, talking to people in social settings.

My view is that marketing is a complete waste of time and money in this profession UNLESS you are willing to pour lots of money in on a long term basis - i.e., multiple thousands of pounds over years. Of course as a single independent driving instructor, this is something I simply cannot afford to do.


Speeding and complaining

I am continually amazed at the fact that some of those that speed complain when they are caught in a speed trap. The comments are many and varied. "I was only going x miles over the limit". "It was 2 in the morning and there was no-one around". "I hope I get away with it, I need my licence". "It's a stupid speed limit - no-one sticks to it".

The issue for me is simple. If you don't want the fine and the points on your licence, then don't break the limit. Speed limits are there for a reason and whilst there may be some that are wrong or stupid, the law is the law and if you break the law you are taking a risk. More importantly, limits are in place because going faster is likely to endanger you or other road users. There are places to enjoy speed on the open road but exceeding speed limits is not the way, wherever you are and whatever time of day it is.

The best approach? Don't speed ever - it's simply not worth it.

p.s. And before anyone observes that they bet I speed from time to time. If I do, a rare occurrence, it is always an error of judgement and I reduce my speed as soon as I realise.