Trainee driving instructor question
8th June 2023
What really counts is not always counted
15th June 2023

Purposeful questions

You are a recently qualified driving instructor, providing driving training on the subject of the “Emergency Stop”. You feel comfortable knowing the subject well. But you have this nagging feeling in the back of your head, that when you “cover” this subject with previous pupils, you seriously doubt how meaningful the learning is. You feel quite certain that your pupils know how to do it, you know that they would know precisely what to do in the event that it came up on a driving test. It is not a subject that any of them like to practice because it tends to spike stress and anxiety levels, but as long as you can get them to remember to do the blindspot checks before moving off, they generally do ok on it. 


You have thought about this subject many times before but never seem to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Why can’t the DVSA organise a traffic cone to controllably come out in front of the car in the test centre – if they set the speed of the vehicle, and have the cone enter from out of sight at a set distance, it would be so much more of a meaningful assessment. If the learner hits the cone, they fail. Many test centres are big enough to accommodate that quite safely with no risk of collision. It could still be 1 in 3 tests if the DVSA desired. If the test centre is not big enough to accommodate it, then revert back to the existing assessment. 


You think that talking about skids is pretty academic if there is no skid pan to help the pupils feel what happens in a skid. There really is no substitute for appreciating what a skid FEELS like as a driver. The gap between what you know, and what your pupils know troubles you.


How many pupils come out from your training, meaningfully realising the increased risk of passing parked cars at 40mph compared to 30mph compared to 20mph? 


And so, you have these nagging doubts. The weight of responsibility bears heavily in your mind. You want your pupils to be sufficiently well-trained so that emergency stops don’t crop up at all while they drive. Or at least, not cropping up due to any causes they create. 


Consider the type of thought that this question to a pupil triggers – “What affects how quickly a car stops in an emergency?” 


Compare the above open question with the following – “Last time we were practising together, I asked you to try and specifically remember the distances in car lengths of how long it takes to stop a car at 20mph and then at 30mph when the road is dry” 


Compare both of these with the following – “Do you remember I told you of the horrible pile-up on the motorway many years ago, there was a golden rule that those drivers were ignoring – it starts, You must be able to stop…..” 


Is the question being asked trying to check the understanding of a subject, the knowledge of the pupil, or whether the pupil can apply learning to real situations? Here at BIG TOM we know that if a question is too easy to answer, the pupil has learnt little, whereas when a pupil thinks hard and deeply to answer a question it will make for more permanent learning. So it really comes down to what purpose any given question being asked serves.  



A natural response to the above is to consider how reasonable it is to expect all pupils to be able to engage in the above questions. This does raise an interesting point about what capacity of knowledge and understanding is needed to pass theory or practical tests versus to be a safe driver on the roads. At its core though, one would have to question how safe a pupil will be when driving alone if they have not grasped the increased risk of passing parked vehicles at 20mph compared to 40mph, and the potential consequences of this increased risk. 


Pretty much anyone can physically drive a car once they have the controls sorted, but that does not mean they have a right to be driving on the roads. The right to drive on the roads is a product of a trainer being satisfied the pupil will in fact be safe. A significant element of trust in your judgement as a driving instructor will be the questions you set that helps the pupil demonstrate their right to drive on the roads alone. The responsibility for outcomes is placed squarely on the shoulders of the trainer, which is why BIG TOM surveys customers on the quality of the training provided post-test. 


To discover more about how the BIG TOM franchise provides meaningful driving training, call us now on 01928 508 833