Reflections of a driving instructor Pt 2 Ep 3 The End Goal
2nd September 2023
Reflections of a driving instructor Pt 2 Ep 5 UK Road Safety Data 2023
6th September 2023

Reflections of a driving instructor Pt 2 Ep 4 Bread and butter work

Reflections of a driving instructor Pt 2  Ep 4 Bread and butter work 

How happy is your average driving instructor these days? If you consider how many are leaving the industry per year (as discussed in the introduction), then you might think not very much. When you also consider that only 14.7% of registered driving instructors felt valued enough to complete the DVSA driving instructor survey this year, it is another negative indicator. Bear in mind that the general view these days from the public is that they have to be on a waiting list just to get access to the services of a driving instructor; this is despite 30% of instructors stating in the survey that they have immediate availability for new pupils.  

Here are some of the factors that affect our opinion of how satisfied we are as driving instructors: 

  1. Job security – how much does being an independent driving instructor leave me feeling like I have a reliable, dependable income 
  2. Wellbeing – does my work make me feel happy, do I enjoy what I do, am I mentally and physically satisfied 
  3. Flexibility – is the way that I organise my workload assisting me in my personal life 
  4. Earnings – how much does the job offer me financially 
  5. Growth – do I feel that my skills and competence is improving with time 
  6. Risk – Are there ‘threats’ to this job that loom large in my mind 


Judging by the turnover of instructors it seems evident that all is not well. For sure, there are going to be feelings at both ends of the spectrum and I guess we should always be mindful of how reading things in the press or social media or listening to the gossip in test centres can skew our opinion. But if you have many people turning their back on the industry, then it does not signal positivity.  

One of the key differences with training to become a driving instructor is that the funding for the training comes directly out of the pocket of the PDI if not in advance of the training, as the training occurs. As such, PDI’s often feel pressure to qualify just so that they can begin to recoup some of the qualifying expense. So there is a tension whereby the training providers want to help PDI’s to develop a broad range of skills so that they can create a successful business but the PDI’s priority is on satisfying the qualification criteria so that they can start earning revenue as soon as possible.  

Our pupils of today often suffer with difficulties relating to anxiety, stress, nerves, autism, ADHD, co-ordination etc. I imagine many people would argue that it has always been the case that some pupils will not find learning to drive as natural and easy as others. There is a tendency these days to look for a named cause for difficulties that arise. A parent recently asked me in my experience how long does it take for a person to learn to drive. So I responded by looking beyond just the passing of the test and developing skills in pupils that help them to continue learning and improving post-test. I could sense the parent was getting a bit frustrated with the reply and desired a figure to work on. I tried to assist by mentioning the average figures quoted by the DVSA for practice with an ADI and private practice but again, she wanted me to nail down a figure that I thought. But when I dared to suggest that if she asked the same question of 15 ADI’s, and got the same answer from 14 but 1 ADI said that he can do it in half that time, what would her response be to that, the parent put the phone down on me. It seems quite clear to me that had I suggested to that parent that it normally takes me 20 hours of instruction for a pupil to pass a test, not only would that parent feel disappointed if it took longer, but imagine the pressure that could be exerted on the son/daughter, AND ADI, should they not be passed within the 20 hours. Rather than take heed of the survey data involving thousands of passed pupils across the UK, this parent appeared to be wanting to ask each individual ADI how long they think it takes, until eventually hearing the answer that they wanted. 

 One question that springs to my mind is why does a pupil (or their parents) have an expectation of passing a driving test in LESS than the average figures if the pupil suffers from nerves, anxiety, learning difficulty or lack of confidence? Parents can project their own insecurities around aspects of driving on to their children over many years, and then once they turn 17, have an expectation that the son or daughter is going to take to driving with no inhibitions whatsoever. It is a curious thing that I have witnessed many times over the years. A parent hates doing a certain manoeuvre, or they are very nervous about speed or lorries or reversing, perhaps they never travel on motorways – there can be many possible issues that the parent has. The parent openly projects these worries and troubles on to their son or daughter all through their teenage years, and then expects the teenager to learn how to drive in LESS than the average time – it is really quite bizarre. 

The reason why I make this point is because if a parent or funder of training has an unrealistic expectation for how long it will take and at what cost, then this rarely makes for good outcomes. Pupils have quite enough to work on with learning to drive without the added pressure of a parent having an unrealistic expectation. And in some cases, this tension between parent and pupil spills over into the learning environment and driving instructors are then trying to help mediate between both parties. If this is not handled effectively, the instructor stands to be losing a valued customer really for no other reason than a parent with an unrealistic expectation. 

Part of the problem as I see it is that the benefit of learning to drive is so great that parent and pupil are heavily emotionally invested in it. Regular conversations that concentrate on passing the driving test develop a mindset that is centred entirely around skills to pass the test rather than life skills for driving safely. Take the driving skills needed to drive safely on country roads as an example. I take all driving training seriously but this topic of driving training features high in my priorities because the consequences of a driver getting this mode of driving wrong can be fatal. I think it is a shame that the DVSA did not think the subject worthy of inclusion in their topic of “Coping with challenging scenarios” in Section 3 of The Official DVSA Guide to Better Driving. A pupil could practice on country roads near to the driving test centre and develop ability based on nothing more than familiarity of the road. But that does not equip the pupil with reading the conditions on all country roads with the wide range of technical challenge that they cause. So if an ADI is aware that a parent is wanting their pupil to go to test as quickly as possible, how likely is the ADI to cut short the number of hours practised on a range of country roads, so as just to get used to the road characteristics near the driving test centre? There can be a tension between the goals of the customer versus the DVSA with the driving instructor in the middle trying to run a business – perhaps many ADI’s feel disillusioned with this tension and leave the industry.  

The DVSA have been making efforts of late to engage with pupils and parents by sending automated emails to pupils who have booked driving tests and also creating the Ready to Pass? Campaign. And while this is undoubtedly good at raising awareness levels, the jury is still out as to how influential such information can be at overriding the strong emotional drivers of ‘passing the driving test’. One of the downsides of becoming fixated on statistics such as the driving test pass rate is when the goal of achieving higher test pass rates features more importantly than the goal of providing breadth and depth to driving training – a fact that is not lost on many ADI’s, nor this author!