Sunday 8 April 2012

Expensive Lessons?

From time to time I hear complaints that driving lessons are too expensive and that instructors are 'ripping off' those who wish to learn to drive.  "£20 per hour is exorbitant - they're making a fortune!".  I've had potential pupils haggle with me, trying to get the price down and occasionally encounter the attitude that they are doing me a favour so I should be grateful.  It's time for the instructor to bite back :-) or at least have her say on the matter.

As with any small business I have running costs.  Fuel is a variable which will change depending on the lesson content but on average I do about 20 miles per hour's lesson.  The fuel consumption of the car is not at its most efficient, as the driver is a learner and there tends to be some over-revving, incorrect gear usage and sitting by the side of the road.  I also have to travel between lessons which sometimes can be quite a distance.  According to the statistics from last year, it worked out overall at £3.90 per hour.  I lease my car, which costs me almost £350 per month but does include servicing and road tax plus insurance at £450 per year, comes to £4.88 per hour.  Other expenses, including marketing, materials and phone comes to £2.58 per hour, in total £11.36 per hour's tuition.  So assuming I get £20 per hour, I will actually make £8.64 per hour.  Of course, in reality, I don't actually get £20 per hour when you consider discounts etc. - the actual amount per hour earned last year was £17.67 thus reducing my earned income to £6.61, not that much above the minimum wage!

In addition, the business of being an instructor starts long before a pupil ever sits down in the car and finishes long after they get out.  Yes, they may only be paying for an hour of my time but the work that I do on their behalf goes well beyond that hour.

I start work on a lesson by reading up my notes from the previous lesson, possibly more than one, and looking at the subject of the current lesson.  The lesson may consist of something new, consolidation of something recently learned, dealing with specific problems, revisiting something learned some time ago, practising roadcraft, preparing for a test or, frankly, anything in between.  This is not something that can be done on the fly - some forethought needs to be applied and that is best done before setting out to pick the pupil up.   I plan the route, at least in part, considering where I want to be to teach the subject matter of the lesson.

Okay, so planning the route is easy, isn't it?  Well, no, not always.  If the most direct route to the target area means going across, say, a horrendously tricky roundabout and the pupil hasn't yet tackled such things, then an alternative route may have to be chosen.  This is not because I do not believe that the pupil would be able to handle the roundabout, particularly with guidance, but because the roundabout may cause the pupil's confidence to be shattered or fear to set in, neither of which will help in the long run.  So, an alternative route may be necessary - the roundabout can wait for another day!

Once the lesson is over, I then have to update the records to show what has been done.  This extends to confirming that the most recent lesson has fulfilled its purpose, making notes about any problems that have arisen, detailing the areas driven and the subject to be covered in the next lesson.

So, having done these 'before' and 'after' activities, all that I then have to do is the lesson itself - phew!  That's alright then. So my £6.61 per hour actually ends up covering probably 2 hours allowing for pre- and post-lesson activities, planning, travelling to and from locations so that's just £3.30 per hour.

Why on earth do I do this job then?  Well it's because I love it.  I get a huge amount of job satisfaction and the joy of helping people to achieve success by passing their test is just brilliant.

So, the next time someone suggests that driving instructors must be raking it in and are charging exorbitant prices, you can now put them right and tell them that we do it for the love of the job :-D

Saturday 7 April 2012

How to stop people speeding...

I have a real problem with speeding!  Speed can be a killer; of this there is absolutely no doubt.  But as humans, we constantly engage in activities that have an element of danger.  The problem with the speeding motorist is that they are not only endangering themselves but other road users as well.

So the authorities attempt to reduce this risk by attempting to enforce speed limits through such mechansims as speed limits, cameras and 'speed reduction methods' (humps to you and me!).  Any such techniques are only ever going to be partially successful.  Everyone has seen drivers who slow down on the approach to a speed camera (sometimes lower than the limit) and then speed up against once they are past it.  To a lesser degree people do the same between speed humps.

Solving the problem of speeding is easy.  Get rid of all the static speed cameras or stop painting them yellow and hide them from sight.  Issue a decree at Government level as follows:-  "Please note that as from today all speed limits are mandatory and absolute.  If you are caught speeding, you will automatically receive a considerable fine and points on your licence.  There will be no mitigation and no excuses.  If you decide to flout the law and are caught, you will receive the punishment, regardless of circumstances."  Then employ mobile speed camera vans and allow them to park anywhere to catch speeding motorists.  Fines should vary depending on the type of vehicle, the excess speed and any previous convictions.  Multiple repeat offenders and non-payers should have their cars confiscated and crushed.

There would be uproar but I am utterly convinced that this would see a general lowering of speeds right across the country.  If drivers simply didn't know where or when their speed was likely to be checked they would be more inclined to stick to the limits.  A few high fines, signficant bans and cars crushed would soon convince the general public that enough is enough and speeding is no longer acceptable.

Hark, what's that I hear?  The 'Human Rights' brigade bleating loudly about their rights being ignored by the Government being surreptitious and harsh.  Well, tough.  The law is the law and it is about time the Government stopped pandering to the speeding minority and did what is indisputably right!

No Respite

Instructors can never be at anything less than their best.  From the moment that the lesson starts we have to be the epitome of 100% concentration - to be anything else is, at best, discourteous to the pupil and, at worst, downright dangerous.  So, if I am not performing at my absolute best, due to tiredness, illness, personal circumstances or anything else, why does that matter?  Well, I may be less observant, lacking judgement or even lazy, none of which is particularly clever when in charge of a lethal weapon - the car, not the pupil :-)  It is so easy to think that it doesn't matter... when actually it does.  Getting too close to the left hand side for example.  It's easy just to ignore it and assume that it will be alright rather than reacting as necessary to avoid a potential collision.  It may be easier not to offer a prompt or guidance rather than doing so, potentially leaving the pupil to make a decision which is outside their skillset.  Alternatively, instructions may come later, too late for an inexperienced pupil.  Being safe on the roads, whether as a driver or instructor, relies on a certain amount of anticipation.  If anticipation suffers as a result of impaired performance, then it must follow that safety is compromised too.

Not only do I have to concentrate 100% of the time, I also have to remain utterly calm in any given situation, allowing my pupil the latitude to make mistakes and not panicking if they do.  When I am expecting the mistake to occur, for example, trying to pull away in the wrong gear, it's not usually a problem.  If it will cause danger or inconvenience to other drivers, then I may try to preempt it with some appropriate guidance, but if it will not, then I may just let it happen.  A lesson is always easier to learn through experience rather than being told!  However, if I am just not paying attention and the problem occurs, it could cause mayhem.

This happened today - the reasons do not need to be divulged but I didn't think I was off form at all.  My pupil made a simple mistake, using 4th gear instead of 2nd at a roundabout and stalled as a result.  I failed to notice the gear problem until after it had happened and then proceeded to issue a series of instructions to get us out of the situation - which unfortunately just made matters worse!  No major problem resulted but that does not excuse my poor instruction in that situation.  I subsequently apologised to the pupil concerned, an apology understood and accepted.

So what of the aftermath?  It has reaffirmed my belief that being anything other than perfect is simply not good enough.  Unfortunately, mistakes happen but the reaction to that has to be to try to do better the next time.  I need to work hard constantly; there is no room for complacency at all.  I need to stay fit and healthy, looking after myself properly, getting enough sleep and being in the right frame of mind.  I am duty bound to give my best to my pupils, other drivers, the DSA and the public at large.  I am determined to do that and if that means that I have to admit a mistake from time to time, so be it.

I have learned a lesson today and ultimately I hope and trust that it will make me a better, more professional instructor.