As one year draws to a close and we head into a new one, we tend to find that January is one of our busiest months. There are lots of you who received driving lessons vouchers for Christmas, and there will be lots of you with the New Years Resolution to finally learn how to drive. We appreciate that it can be a nerve wracking thought though. For many people, the thought of being in control of a car is a terrifying one, there is a fear of the unknown, and the potential danger, not to mention to worry about having to spend time, in a car, one on one, with someone you don’t know. What if they don’t like you, or shout at you, or expect you to be able to do things. It’s scary when you don’t know what to expect, particularly if you’re going into an environment that is well out of your comfort zone, and that you have, literally, no idea about. Hopefully this post will help to take away some of those fears and help you to look forward to that first driving lesson.

What do I need to bring with me?

Almost everyone panics about this, and we always get texts about it, either the night before, or on the day. The only thing you definitely need is your provisional licence. You, legally, need to be in possession of a valid, UK, provisional licence before you can drive a car for the first time. Your instructor will check the licence at the start of the lesson, and will take down the details from it, either at the start, or, more commonly, at the end of the lesson, depending on your instructors preference. You don’t need to bring your licence every lesson, but we need to check it before you can drive. Apart from your provisional though, the only thing you will need is money, to pay for the lesson (Unless you have already paid by bank transfer beforehand, or, of course, you received a voucher for Christmas!). If you’re a more experienced learner, who has, maybe had a previous instructor in the past, it is always useful if you bring any progress reports you may have. There’s no need to worry though if you don’t have that.

Will we start on a road?

To be honest, that fully depends on where you live. We try, where possible, to start people on the roads, but its important that we take you to an area that is appropriate for your experience. If there are roads near you that are quiet, and relatively wide, then we will start there, if that isn’t possible, then, a carpark may be more appropriate. If you’re a complete beginner, your instructor will drive once they have picked you up, and they will chat to you about what experience (if any) you have, how much you already know, and how confident you are feeling. As instructors we’re trained to assess the situation, and we wouldn’t ever put you into a situation that would result in potential danger.

I don’t know anything about cars or driving, will I look stupid?

Absolutely not! Never lose sight of the fact that that is exactly why you are there. One of the first things I always say to new learners, on their first lesson, is, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Never be afraid to ask questions. The more you ask the more you learn. It also makes our job so much easier if it is obvious what you understand and what you don’t. The more open and honest you are about that, the more you will get out of, and enjoy your lessons. Remember, if you don’t understand something, we haven’t taught you properly yet.

What will we be doing on my first lesson?

Again, that depends on how much you already know, how quickly you take in new information, and how well you pick up the basics. If you are a complete beginner, the first part of the lesson will generally involve going through the basic controls, ensuring you are comfortable with how to adjust things, and what they do. First lessons can either be 1 hour, 90 minutes or 2 hours. Whatever the lesson length, you should be driving on your first lesson. The aim will be to have you fairly comfortably setting off, pulling up and changing gear. If you are doing a longer lesson, or pick it up really quickly, then you may well be tackling some corners, basic junctions, or even roundabouts. As I said earlier though, as instructors, we are trained to assess your level, and we will never ask you to do something you don’t feel ready for, or comfortable with.

Having said that, if you do have some experience, or know your way around a car, don’t be afraid to let us know that (Even if the experience you’ve picked up wasn’t strictly legal!). If you can already do something, you don’t need to be sat for ten minutes being told all about it. If you’ve driven on a car park, or are doing mechanics at college, or have a background, in the dim and distant past, of joyriding (We wouldn’t recommend that!), then you have valuable experience before you start.

What if I crash?!

This is, without question, the biggest worry that we hear when we pick people up for their first lesson. Let me tell you, in 10 years, with, at varying points, over 30 instructors driving for Weelz Driving School, no-one has ever crashed on the first lesson, and we have no intention of letting you be the first. Everything you do will be done in a quiet area, and all of our cars have got dual controls. That means, essentially, that your instructor has a brake pedal, so whatever crazy thing you may do (and believe me, whatever you do, you won’t be the first), we will always remain in control of the car. Remember, its our car that you’re driving, so we don’t want to crash, just the same as you!

Will it be awkward sat in the car, on my own, with a strange person?

Well, we hope not! Remember though, we’re also sat in the car with someone we don’t know, we’re in this together. As driving instructors, we spend a lot of time, on our own, in cars with people. We meet people of all ages and backgrounds, and most driving instructors will tell you this is one of the things we enjoy most about the job. We have conversations about any number of subjects, every day, and we are genuinely interested in learning about you, and helping you to achieve your dreams. We don’t want you to feel nervous, and, in all honesty, our job is so much easier when the pupil is enjoying their lessons and wants to be there. Everyone learns in different ways, and the early lessons are all about us pinning down what is going to work for you. The more feedback you can give us, the more we can help. If you like something, tell us, if you didn’t understand something tell us, if you want to learn faster, or slower, let us know. Its your lesson, and you are the boss! We genuinely feel that way, we need you more than you need us, we never become complacent and lose sight of that.

It’s easy for us to say, but there really is nothing to be nervous about. Come along to your first lesson, excited, and eager to learn, and you’ll amaze yourself with what you can achieve!

The theory test was first introduced back in 1996, and the hazard perception element was added in November 2002. Some 16 years on though we still find that many people who are preparing for the theory test don’t really understand how it works. Almost all of the revision material available, be it websites, apps or CD-ROMs, contains practice clips, but most contain very little explanation of how the hazard perception element of the test actually works. Worse still, when pupil’s fail on the hazard perception, it very often becomes clear they didn’t really understand what they were looking for, or how the scoring works. As with many things in learning to drive, there are a lot of myths and fallacies attached to the hazard perception. Here, I will try to make it a little clearer, and help you understand what you need to do to pass the hazard perception test with ease.

What is the point of the hazard perception test?

The theory test itself is designed to drastically improve a potential driver’s knowledge of things they may encounter whilst driving. Whilst this is all really useful, it is quite easy to get caught in a trap of viewing the theory test like a paperwork exercise. Knowing the answers to questions that appear on a screen is one thing, but its important that knowledge can be transferred to help in real life, driving situations. The idea of the hazard perception test is that a learner driver watches a real life driving situation, and “reads” the road ahead, identifying potential hazards, and reacting to them in good time. This is a skill that is vital to driving in the “real world” and Department of Transport Research suggests that, since the introduction of the hazard perception test, there has been an 11% reduction in accidents amongst new drivers.

How does the scoring system work?

It is really important to note that the hazard perception test is not looking for you to spot every single hazard, or potential hazard. It is a test designed to gauge your reactions to developing hazards, so, before we go any further, it is vital that you understand what that means.
A hazard is generally defined as any situation which, could, make you react, by changing speed or direction. So, there are any number of hazards. A parked car, a pedestrian, a sharp bend, a large puddle etc. All of these would be hazards, but that is not what you are looking for during this test. At some point during the clip a hazard will develop into something that will cause you (or the driver in the clip) to need to take action. Points are awarded for reacting to these situations rapidly.
If we take the example of parked car. As you approach it, it is just parked up, stationary, so at that point, there is no need to click. As you get closer though, the car may apply a right indicator. At that point the hazard has started to develop, so clicking now would get you maximum points. As you get closer still, it may start to edge out, before eventually pulling out in front of you causing you to stop, or swerve. If there is no reaction before that happens, you will score no points for that hazard.
Each hazard has a maximum score of 5 points available. If you click as soon as a hazard starts to develop, you will score 5 points, this then decreases through 5-4-3-2-1 as you get closer to the hazard. If it does develop before you’ve reacted, then you will receive no points for that hazard. When sitting your actual test you will watch 14 video clips, and will see 15 hazards across those clips. This means that each clip contains 1 scoring hazard, but 1 clip will contain 2. This is designed so that you keep watching each clip to the end, rather than just deciding you’ve found the hazard in that one clip, and then losing focus. Like in a real driving situation, you never know what is coming next!

To pass the hazard perception part of the test you will need to obtain a score of 44 out of 75, and you will need to pass both the questions, and the hazard perception test, at the same time to obtain a pass certificate.

Can I only click once per clip then, or will I be disqualified if I click too often?

Absolutely not. In fact, the number one piece of advice I always give to my own pupils who are preparing for the test is, don’t be scared to click. You are only looking for 1, or possibly 2, hazards in each clip, but there may well be more things in the clip that you perceive to be a hazard. To put it simply, every time you see something that you think may be a hazard, click the mouse. Only the first click within the “scoring zone” will actually score you points, but you will lose nothing for clicking anywhere else in the clip. I also advise, when you do see the hazard, that you think is the scoring hazard, click straight away, click again as you get close, then click again when you are right on top of it. That way, if you slightly misjudge it you are still going to score 1 or 2 points rather than none. There is no limit to the amount of times you can click during a clip.

Having said that, the hazard perception test does include cheat detection software, so its also important that you understand what that is designed to prevent. When the hazard perception test was first introduced, it quickly became apparent that you could “cheat” the system by just repeatedly clicking the mouse, then you were guaranteed to get a click within the scoring zone. To combat this, the DVSA introduced a system which detects any pattern in your clicks. If it does detect a pattern if will display a message on the screen telling you what has happened, and you will score no points for that clip. This will cost you a possible 5 points, or in a worst case scenario, 10 points, if it was the double clip.

It is important though that you don’t see this as deterrent to stop you clicking. As long as your clicks are in response to things you are seeing in the clip, there should be no pattern. In demonstrations to my pupils I have had over 30 clicks in a single clip without being disqualified. Remember too, the pass mark is quite low, so even if you are disqualified on 1, or even 2, clips, its not the end of the world, and you could still get a comfortable pass.

What is the best way to “revise” for a hazard perception test?

I think that this is a really important question, and there are a few things to take into account with this. Firstly, the DVSA do not release the actual hazard perception clips that they use on the test, so there is no way at all of seeing the clips in advance. This is important though, because it is a test of your ability to read and react to a situation, rather than how well you can remember a clip. As I said earlier, most revision software does include sample clips though, so it is important that you work on those and prepare for what to expect. This allows you to review the clips too, so you can see where the “scoring zones” start and end, and that will help you know what to expect. It is definitely possible to ‘over-practice’ though. If your software, for example, contains 10 practice clips, and you do each clip 4 or 5 times, you will know exactly where the hazards are, and you’ll know, in advance, when they are coming. You will, inevitably, in that case, get really good scores, which will make you feel really good, but you will not, necessarily be any better, you will just have learnt those clips.

Also, in 2017, the DVSA changed all hazard perception clips to CGI (Computer generated images). This makes the clips much clearer. Prior to this though, they were actual video clips, filmed in real life situations. The complaint was that these were not always clear, (particularly when practicing on a phone) and that put pupils at an unfair disadvantage. A lot of the revision software still uses examples of these old video clips. These are still useful to practice on, but be aware that the clips you will see on your test will not be in this form. Ultimately, its important that you understand how the hazard perception test, and its scoring, works. Practice, so that you can familiarise yourself with the technique required etc, and to make sure you aren’t triggering the cheat detection software. When you are fairly confident with it though, don’t overdo it, and lull yourself into a false sense of security.

Is the hazard perception test changing?

Yes, it has just been announced that, from December 2018, the CGI hazard perception clips will include night time clips, and clips in different weather conditions, such as snow, rain and fog. I think that this is a really good development and will really help to prepare new drivers for some, inclement, driving conditions that they may, otherwise, not experience. More information about these changes, along with some examples of how the new clips will look, can be found on the DVSA’s own website, on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hazard-perception-test-now-features-more-weather-conditions

It is a very common thing for learner drivers, who are preparing for a driving test, to be nervous about it. They will ask friends and family members for hints and tips on how they can help themselves to pass, and what they should expect on the test. Whilst, I’m sure, a lot of that advice is really good, there are a number of stories, that have been around for years, that are simply not true. Most of you will have heard a number of these, and they are things that, as instructors, we get asked about all the time. Here, I will address some of the most common myths and explore if there is any truth in them at all.

Are Examiners only allowed to pass a certain number of people?

This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most common thing we get asked about the driving test. The simple answer is no. Examiners are employees of the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency), which is a Government office, responsible for, amongst other things, conducting driving tests. Their performance is regularly monitored, to ensure that all examiners are working to the same standard. It would be massively unfair if an examiner had a set “quota”, and when that was gone, it was gone. In that situation, a candidate could drive absolutely perfectly, and would need to be failed, and similarly, a candidate may do something really dangerous, and still need to be passed. I can assure you all that that simply does not happen. If you drive safely, you will pass. If you make a mistake, then it is the examiner’s job to decide how serious that mistake was.

Are there certain times of day when you are more likely to pass?

I think this is a myth that goes hand in hand with the previous one. I’ve heard people say that they need to book a test in the morning, because if the examiners pass everyone in the morning, they fail everyone in the afternoon. Similarly, people sometimes look to find a test at the end of the week, or the month, for the same reason. Again, this is completely untrue. I also would counter that by saying, even if it was true, by that logic, if the examiner failed everyone in the morning, then surely, everyone in the afternoon would have to pass?!
Having said that, there are certain factors which may mean there is some element of truth in this myth. It is fair to say that if you take your test between 8 and 10 AM, or between 2:30 and 4:30 PM, then the roads will be much busier as people make their way to and from work or school, there will also be things like School Crossing Patrols (Lollipop Ladies) working too. Of course though, if you are capable of driving confidently and independently, then none of that should matter.

Are some examiners harsher than others?

Again, the simple answer here, is just no. A group of Weelz instructors attended a training day in Cardington earlier this year, and we looked at the way examiners are trained. I can assure you that it is an intense, residential training course, with a very low qualification rate. The majority of the course is looking at the way examiners are assessing faults in a bid to make them as consistent as is humanly possible. Every examiner working across the UK, is trained to the same exacting standards, and, as I alluded to earlier, they are assessed regularly to ensure that those standards aren’t wavering.
It is true that most test centres have 1 or more examiners who have a bad reputation, often with nicknames that spread round colleges, and Blackpool is no different (Although I’ve got no intention of sharing those here!). I also think that, if we were being completely honest, most instructors would have examiners they prefer over others. It is quite telling though that changes from instructor to instructor. What is absolutely fact though, is that every examiner passes people and every examiner fails people. Some may have a friendlier demeanour, or may deliver bad news in a happier tone, but ultimately, they are all doing a very difficult job, to an exacting standard. You can’t choose which examiner you get, so it does you no favours at all to go into a test with any preconceptions about examiners, either negative, or positive. Again, if you drive well, all examiners will issue you with a pass certificate.

You want to set your mirrors slightly “off” so that the examiner can see you checking them?

There are lots of “helpful” little tips like these around, and again, most of them aren’t that helpful at all. Most of these seem to come from an older generation of either parents or grandparents, so I suppose it may have ben true in a time when examiners weren’t trained to such a high standard. Your instructor will help you to drive safely though throughout your driving lessons, in preparation for the driving test. If your driving is good, then the worst thing you can do is try to change that to “play a game” to impress an examiner. If you check mirrors in pairs, it is nigh on impossible to do it without an examiner noticing. They are looking at you side on, so they see even the slightest eye movements. Other similar rumours include things like you are never allowed to cross your hands, or you need to change down gears individually rather than “block changing”. None of this is true, but if you do have any concerns with your general driving, raise them with your instructor who will be able to advise you.

Will I fail just for stalling?

There is no easy way to answer this question to be honest. What I will say though is that there are very few situations on a driving test that are black and white. An examiner is trained to assess each fault individually. They will look at how quickly you recovered the situation, whether it affect any other road users, whether there were any extenuating circumstances which may have led to the situation etc. Obviously, by the time you get to driving test standard, a good level of basic car control should be a given, but, everybody can be affected by nervousness, and there isn’t a driver on the road who hasn’t stalled a car. The basic answer is no, you won’t fail for stalling, as long as you rectify the mistake, and get going again as safely and as quickly as is appropriate. However, if you stall in a dangerous situation, or panic and can’t get going again, then yes, that could result in a fail.

Ultimately, the best advice is to focus on become a safe, independent, consistent driver. Once you’re at that standard, and your instructor agrees you are ready for a test, then concentrate on doing your best. You are much more likely to make a mistake if you are focussing on negatives. If your driving is always at that standard, then the driving test should be a fairly easy test to pass. Stay calm and do your best. Don’t approach a test focussing on what could go wrong, or you’ll end up failing because you were scared of failing!

How Many Lessons

As driving instructors, this is probably the question that we get asked the most, and, in all honesty, it is one of the hardest questions to answer. Contrary to popular belief, there is no law, or legislation in place setting a minimum amount of hours that is necessary, so there is no black and white answer. The honest answer is that it varies massively from pupil to pupil, but there are a lot of factors that can have an effect, and I will try to address some of these now.

How will you decide when I’m “test ready”?

To pass the driving test, you need to be able to deal with any situation that you may encounter on the roads. You should be confident that you can drive into any situation, completely independently, and deal with in a safe and confident manner. At the start of your lessons, your instructor will help you to assess situations, and decide on the best way to deal with them, as you become more experienced, we will hand over more and more responsibility to you to make your own decisions. When you get to a stage where your decisions are generally correct, well timed and confident, the your instructor will start to discuss your driving test. The ultimate decision of when to book that will generally be a joint decision between the learner driver and the instructor. A lot of people just want to get through test as quickly as possible, but it is important that you remember, the test is just the start of your journey. Once you’ve passed and got that driving licence, you will be out on those roads on your own, so it is important that you have the skills and the confidence to be able to stay safe.

How long do most people take to pass?

As I said earlier, it varies massively between person to person. I’ve seen people pass their test, first time, in as few as 15 hours, but equally I’ve known people who’ve been learning for over 3 years and passed at their 5th attempt. Both of those are extreme ends of the spectrum though, so the average person will generally lie somewhere between the 2. The DVSA (The people who set the test) publish this chart, which gives a rough idea of the average amount of lessons people may need. They generally advise that the older you are, the longer it can take to learn, because the mind isn’t as accustomed to learning new things. Again though, this is a massive generalisation.

How many lessons

What affects how many lessons I need? Can I make it quicker?

There are a lot of factors that can have an effect on how long it takes to learn. Overwhelmingly though, the biggest factor is you. How quickly do you pick up new things? Are you good at retaining information? Do you learn well from making mistakes, or do you get frustrated? How confident are you? Are you nervous about the roads and other traffic? These are all things that make up your personality. The people who learn quicker tend to be really confident, they don’t worry too much about making mistakes, instead they learn from them, and quickly correct what they’ve done wrong. They are focussed and committed, and generally retain information really well. Most of this is generally out of your control though. To put it bluntly, some people are just more natural than others. General advice would be not to put too much pressure on yourself, learn at your own pace and allow that confidence to develop.

There are a few things that you can do to help the process though. Private practice is a great help, if you have that option available to you. Once you’ve had a few lesson and got up to speed with the basics, if you have the option to get insured on a car to practice between lessons, that can really help to bring on your confidence. You will need to accompanied whilst you practice, by a family member or friend, but anyone over the age of 21, who has held a driving licence for over 3 years is legally allowed to accompany you. Ask your instructor for advice about insurance, or what to work on if that is what you are thinking. Also, think about how many lessons you are doing. A lot of people learn by dong an hour a week. Whilst that is fine, if you can get 2 or 3 hours a week (or more), you’ll generally find it much easier to retain that information, as you are practicing more regularly. Finally, the other big stumbling block we often see, is your theory test. You cannot book a driving test until you have passed your theory test. If you hoping to fly through your lessons quickly, you really need to be starting work on that as soon as you start to learn. Get that passed as quickly as you can. Not only will that mean it can’t hold you back, but it will also give you much more knowledge of the theory, which will really help you to learn much more quickly.

In summary, my top advice would be to enjoy your driving lessons. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, don’t compare yourself to other drivers, just take your time and allow yourself to be confident. Remember, mistakes are the most important part of learning.