I originally wrote this back in 2010, but it gets a new raft of hits each year, usually around the start of Ramadan.
I had a pupil fail her test a while back, and on the way home she mentioned that Ramadan had started. She insisted that she felt OK, but I couldn’t help wonder if it might have had some effect on her concentration otherwise she wouldn’t have brought it up.
Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims. During it, participants abstain from eating and drinking between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Technically, those fasting are not even supposed to drink water (there are exceptions for pregnant women or those with specific illnesses), and some participants take it more literally than others. At least one reader has had concerns that Ramadan has affected their driving, and in 2016 it was unusually long at 32 days. In 2017, it ran from 26 May to 24 June, and in 2018 it spanned 17 May to 15 June. In 2019, it ran from 5 May until 4 June. It’s pretty much a full month anyway.
Some years ago, I worked in Pakistan – in Karachi – for a short time, and was there during Ramadan. Some people ate during the day, but very little, and some fasted properly. But in the main, they just got on with things and worked normally. I have vivid memories of the sights and smells of street food when I went to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s tomb one evening.
At the other end of the spectrum, when I worked in the rat race over here, Ramadan and other such religious festivals were used by some (not all, I must add) simply to avoid work. Some of my shop floor staff tried it on regularly, but I knew what they were up to – having a smoke outside when you’re supposed to be praying is a bit of a giveaway.
I used to have the (bad) habit of getting up at 8am or earlier, drinking only a cup of tea, not eating anything until I finished work in the late evening, then pigging out on kebabs or curries. Occasionally, during the day, I’d crave something to eat there and then, at which point I could easily put away four Mars Bars and drink a litre of Lucozade! Someone who is very slight would probably not be able to get through the day without being affected at least a little – and this must also apply to those fasting during Ramadan.
If you are teaching Muslim pupils it’s worth discussing the subject with them – and just be open about it: they don’t mind talking about their religion (it’s people who think they do who have the problems). I’ve had several pupils in the past who were suffering during fasting, and in several cases we postponed lessons until it was over. A few years ago, I had a small pupil who was very nervous and jumpy in the car, and we were both worried Ramadan might affect her (she raised the topic herself). So we agreed to do her lessons later in the evening (that was my idea), and although I will admit I thought sunset was a little earlier than it actually was when I agreed to it, we did lessons at 9.30pm once a week for a month so she could keep driving.
Whether it is for Ramadan or any other reason, not eating could affect your concentration on both lessons and driving tests. And you might not realise.
Advice I’d give to anyone fasting during Ramadan is to take lessons or tests in the morning or late evening (if your instructor will do it), and to eat properly when not fasting the night before. Alternatively, just put your lessons on hold until Ramadan is over.
As for the question about whether you should be driving or not,you need to be realistic. I’d say that 99% of white, non-Muslim UK drivers drive when they’re not feeling 100%, and Ramadan hardly turns most participants into hospital cases. So there is no automatic reason why people who are fasting for Ramadan shouldn’t drive. Just use common sense.
Can I take my test during Ramadan?
Of course you can. However, you should consider how fasting affects you and your concentration. It might be better to plan ahead and avoid booking a test during Ramadan altogether. Alternatively, try to book an early test at a time just after you have eaten – or rather, before you start to get hungry.
Fasting during Ramadan affects my driving to work
Someone found the blog on that search term! The answer is simple.
If you are having problems, either don’t drive or don’t fast. There is no Magic Pill that makes it everything OK – if you’re fasting, and it affects your concentration, don’t drive. And that also applies whether you’re ill, drunk, menstruating, or anything else. It’s just common sense.
Originally posted in 2009. Updated annually, so here’s the 2023 version. It’s the start of March and wintry showers have started (heavier snow in some places). The papers are full of dire warnings about the coldest winter since 10,000 BC (the last Ice Age). Same as every year. The original article follows.
Further to a post about cancelled lessons due to weather, I noticed on one forum a couple of years ago someone getting all excited about how there might be a market for specialised snow lessons at premium prices. As of October 2018 (and it hasn’t got even close to snowing yet), some instructors are already going on about not doing lessons.
Let’s have a reality check here.
Until February 2009, it hadn’t snowed to any appreciable extent in the UK for around 26 years! We had two bad winters, but since then they have been relatively mild ones with almost no snow. Even when we get a little of the white stuff it is usually gone inside a week or two at most. Snow – and especially in the UK – is usually extremely localised. The media talks it up so it sounds like the whole country is blanketed in a metre of the stuff, especially if a few wet flakes fall in London. This is enough to have people cutting down each others trees for their wood-fired stoves, and panic buying Evian at the local Waitrose. It can keep the BBC news bulletins going for days at a time.
Every year, incompetence and bureaucracy at local councils typically means that every time there is any bad weather, it’s like they’ve never experienced it before. This – and the media hyping it to death – makes things seem a lot worse than they really are. Having a ‘specialised snow Instructor’ in the UK (especially in England) would be like having a fleet of icebreakers sailing the Mediterranean: bloody stupid! Back here on Planet Earth, I will carry on doing things the way I always have done: use whatever weather comes to hand as a teaching opportunity if it is appropriate, and charging normal lesson rates for it.
One bit of advice. Make sure you have the right mixture in your wash bottle, and a scraper for removing any frost or snow. A further bit of advice. Never, ever, ever be tempted to buy a metal-bladed ice scraper. Always plastic. Trust me, I’ve tested metal ones for you, and you are welcome. Don’t use metal.
Will my driving lessons be cancelled due to snow?
It depends on how much of it there is, how far advanced you are with your training, and your instructor’s attitude to teaching in snow. There is no rule that says you mustn’t have lessons in snow. In fact, it makes a lot of sense to do them if you can to get valuable experience. But beginners perhaps shouldn’t because it’s just too dangerous for them. It’s your instructor’s decision, even if you want to do it.
Do driving lessons get cancelled when there is snow?
Yes. It depends on how much snow and how advanced you are as a learner driver. If your instructor cancels then you should not get charged. If you are, find another instructor quickly.
If the police are advising people not to travel unless it’s essential, having a driving lesson in those conditions is a bad idea. That’s when they’re likely to be cancelled.
Also bear in mind that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning with the AA, BSM, Bill Plant, or any other driving school. The decision is down to your instructor based on the weather in your area.
Will my instructor tell me if my lesson is cancelled?
Yes. If he or she doesn’t (or just doesn’t turn up without telling you), find another. But why take the chance? Just call or text him and ask.
My instructor says he isn’t insured for icy weather
Someone found the blog on that search term (February 2018). I’m telling you in the most absolute terms possible that this is utter nonsense. I have never heard of insurance which says you can’t drive in certain weather, and especially not driving instructor insurance. If anyone tells you this, find another instructor quickly.
Do [driving school name] cancel lessons due to bad weather?
Cancelling lessons due to bad weather is down to the instructor and not the driving school they represent. So it doesn’t matter which school you are with. But yes, lessons can be cancelled for bad weather.
Any decent instructor might cancel lessons due to too much snow – either falling, or on the ground – making driving dangerous. They might also cancel due to thick fog, strong winds, and heavy rain/flooding. The decision lies solely with the instructor. If you disagree with their decision, find another one.
Will I have to pay for my lesson if it’s cancelled due to snow?
There is no specific law which says your instructor can’t charge you, but if he or she does it goes against all the principles of Common Decency. You should not be charged for bad weather cancellations initiated by your instructor. If you are, find another instructor as soon as possible.
However, if it’s you who wants to cancel, but your instructor wants to go ahead with the lesson, it’s a little more tricky. You being nervous is not the same as it being genuinely too dangerous. I had someone once who would try to cancel for light rain, bright sun, mist, and wind when she didn’t feel like driving. You’ll need to sort this out yourself, but as in all other cases, if you’re not happy just find a different instructor – being aware that if the problem is you, the issues won’t go away.
I want to do the lesson, but my instructor said no
You need to be realistic about the conditions. Just because your test is coming up, for example, and you don’t want to have to move it doesn’t alter the fact that the weather might just be too dangerous to drive in on the day of the lesson. When I cancel lessons in snow it’s usually with my newer pupils who I know can panic and brake too hard. On the other hand, if the police are advising against travel, or if the roads are at a standstill, I will cancel a lesson no matter who it is.
As an example, one day in 2016 it began snowing heavily about 30 minutes before I was due to pick someone up late one morning. The roads quickly got covered and traffic began to slow down. His house was on a slope, and it was clearly becoming difficult to drive without slipping. I made a choice there and then to cancel the lesson. The snow lasted for about as long as his lesson would have, but was gone by the afternoon. Cancelling was the right decision.
Do lessons in snow cost more?
No. If you’re charged extra for normal driving lessons in snow, find another instructor immediately.
I’m worried about driving lessons in snow
Don’t be. You’re going to have to do it when you’ve passed, and it makes sense to learn how to do it now while you have the chance. A lot of people never see snow until they’ve passed their tests, then they don’t know what to do and end up crashing, like the red car in the picture above.
You should never drive in snow
That’s total rubbish. Unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’, doing lessons on snow or ice is extremely useful for when you pass. Partially melted snow is ideal for doing ‘snow lessons’ if you have the right instructor. The one thing you do need is to make sure you are suitably equipped in case you get caught out. A scraper, de-icer, the right liquid in your wash bottle – and perhaps a pair of snow socks.
But irrespective of that, no matter how much snow experience you have, your test could easily be cancelled if there is snow at the time. Just accept it.
Do YOU do lessons in snow?
Generally speaking, yes – as long as I feel it is safe to do so, and unless the advice is ‘not to travel unless it is absolutely necessary’. I do not do lessons in snow because I am desperate for the money – I will happily cancel if I believe it is too dangerous. And sometimes it is. For example, in this 2021 update, I cancelled two late afternoon lessons on the day it began snowing hard (after finishing the one I was on while it was coming down), because the first is trigger-happy with his foot at the best of times, and the other would have been after the slush froze (and it froze bloody hard). And I didn’t know how long it would snow for, or how much we’d get.
Why do YOU do lessons in snow?
A while back, not long after I became an instructor, we had two winters where it snowed properly for the first time in around 26 years. I had not experienced it as an instructor before, and I cancelled a lot of lessons. After several weeks I realised I was being over-cautious. It was one of those head-slapping moments, and I recognised that I could actually use the snow as a teaching aid. Not with the beginners or nervous ones, but the more advanced ones definitely.
Basically, if the snow is melting and main roads are clear, there’s no reason not to do lessons. We can dip into some quiet roads and look at how easy it is to skid. If the snow is still falling and main roads are affected by lying snow, then doing lessons carries a much greater risk. A bit of common sense tells you what you can and can’t get away with.
I can state with absolute certainty that every single pupil has benefitted from driving lessons on snow if the chance has arisen for them.
Will my driving test be cancelled due to snow?
It is very likely. You need to phone up the test centre on the day using the number on your email confirmation and check. Otherwise, you must turn up – even if they cancel it at the last minute. If you don’t, you’ll probably lose your test fee – or end up having a drawn-out argument over it. Make life simple and follow the guidelines.
At one time, tests wouldn’t go out if there was any snow at all in Nottingham. In February 2018 during the visitation by ‘The Beast from the East’ (aka the ‘Kitten in Britain’), I had an early morning test go out with substantial snow on the side roads, repeated snow showers, and a temperature of -4°C showing on my car display. My wiper blade rubbers were solid, and making that horrible sound when they bounce instead of glide. I was amazed (but the pupil passed anyway). You can never be certain, but be prepared.
If my test is cancelled, will I have to pay for another?
No. They will send you a new date within a few days (or you can phone them or look it up online). And it will not count as one of your ‘lives’ for moving your test.
Can I claim for out of pocket expenses if my test is cancelled?
No. Neither you, nor your instructor, can claim any money back. And you shouldn’t be charged for your lesson or car hire that day if your instructor is in any way reputable.
It’s happened to me several times on pupils’ test days. If a test is cancelled due to the weather, I do not charge them. I can’t really see any reason why yours should, either. If they do, you need to start asking yourself serious questions about them.
Will snow stop a driving test?
YES. Snow can easily stop a test, or prevent it from going ahead. It doesn’t matter how you phrase the question, or who you ask, if there is snow then the test could easily be affected. They tell you all this when you book it.
Driving tests cancelled due to snow [insert year here]…
It doesn’t matter if it’s 1821, 1921, 2021, or any other date. If there is snow on the roads and/or it is icy then your test may well be cancelled. It doesn’t matter what you, your instructor, or your mum or dad says, or – in 2021, 2022, or 2023 (and counting) – that there’s a long waiting list for test dates due to COVID. It is up to the test centre to decide.
Why was my driving test cancelled because it snowed?
Driving in snow is dangerous even for experienced drivers. The side streets will likely be covered in sheet ice and compacted snow and you will skid if you even drive carefully on them. You could easily lose control. That’s why there are so many accidents in snow and icy conditions. You are a new driver and you probably haven’t driven on snow before. DVSA cannot take the risk, and you have to accept it.
PHONE YOUR TEST CENTRE TO FIND OUT IF TESTS ARE CANCELLED AT THAT TEST CENTRE BEFORE YOU SET OFF – YOU WON’T FIND THE ANSWER GOOGLING FOR IT. DECISIONS ARE MADE MINUTE-TO-MINUTE AND YOU CAN ONLY FIND OUT BY CALLING THEM.
In the past, I have had 8.10am tests booked in the middle of winter and sometimes I know for a fact that when I pick the pupil up at 6.30am the conditions are so bad the test is going to be cancelled. Even heavy frost or mist/fog is enough to cause a cancellation, and in winter those things are frequent. But until the examiners get in just before 8am there is no way of checking. That’s why I advise against my pupils booking early tests in winter – cancellations are far more likely when it is cold and icy, and it is more likely to be cold and icy (and foggy) first thing in the morning before the sun has come up properly.
The only advice I’d give is not to book very early tests in winter months, because the risk of a postponement is much higher.
Well, I did have a test this morning, but the pupil had been contacted by the test centre to inform her that there wasn’t an examiner available, and that her test had been rescheduled in a couple of weeks – albeit at the God Awful time of 7.50am. Bastards.
The thing to remember is that not all examiners are in the prehistoric union, and not all those that are will be taking action. The problem is no one knows which ones will, and the dates of action are not known.
This article was first published in 2014, but it has become popular recently. It was due another update.
I touched on this topic back in May, 2010, following a run on searches based on the questions “what test time is easiest?” and “why do they do tests at odd times?” The topic appears to be quite popular again, so I thought I’d update it.
There isn’t an “easiest” time to do your test. All times have their pros and cons, and if you can handle all traffic conditions competently, then you stand a good chance of passing your test whatever time you do it. Learn to drive properly and it doesn’t matter when you do your test.
But let’s take a light-hearted look at the supposed pros (+) and cons (-) of different test times, bearing in mind that one person’s pro is another’s con.
Early Morning Tests
The rush hour is at its peak from before 8.00am (-). The morning school run also occupies this period (- – -). As a result, average traffic speeds are low (+), and routes into the city or town centre will be almost at a standstill (++). However, examiners are not going to drive straight into a traffic jam, and they will most likely head off in the opposite direction away from the city and into the estates (-). Wherever you go, you’re almost certainly going to be in slow-moving traffic (+), so you’ll have more time to think and react when dealing with other road users who are idiots (- -).
From about 9.30am everyone who was going to work is there now (+). But many of the mummies who earlier divested themselves of their older kids on the school run will now be off to do their shopping with their toddlers (- – -). Pedestrians will come out and populate the shopping areas (-), as will some older drivers (- -). There will be more lorries and vans, particularly couriers and Amazon drivers (- – -). The average speed of traffic will increase just because it can (-), and having your test go through the city centre is a definite possibility.
Lunchtime starts to ramp up from 12.00pm. It marks the start of a two-hour period during which all the mummies-with-toddlers and white van men head for the nearest McDonalds (- – -). Traffic volumes increase (-) and average speeds come down again (+). The number of pedestrians also increases (-).
Lunchtime finishes around 2.00pm (+), but the afternoon school run and evening rush hour gradually build up as the day progresses (-). It is always a gamble predicting how heavy traffic will be. Late afternoon, once they’ve picked up their kids from school, the mummies will head for McDonalds again to buy dinner (- – -), as will all the local school kids (–).
If it’s cold and icy (or snow) there’s an increased risk of tests being cancelled at short notice (- -). This is especially true if you book early tests due to fog and frost or frozen snow (- – -). Very early tests will go out at near sunrise in mid-winter, and the sun will be low in the sky (-). The same is true for late afternoon tests, where the sun will be low on the other side of the horizon. The risk of poor weather is higher overall (-), and snow is slippery (-)
If it’s very hot, early morning tests go out during the coolest periods (+). From about 10am onwards it can get uncomfortable (-). You may need to use the aircon, which can be a problem if you wear contact lenses (-), your car doesn’t have it (- -), or your instructor won’t have it on (- – -). Open windows increase the risk of insects getting inside (-). Summer rain can be torrential and involve thunderstorms (-). Fallen blossom in spring/early summer is slippery when it gets wet (-).
Watch out for the local University Open Days and Inductions if the test centre is nearby. There will be increased numbers of mummies and daddies pootling around who don’t know the area (- -), A few weeks before that, the overseas students are inducted, and they haven’t a clue how British roads work at that stage (-). Consider that British students still don’t have a clue after even three years, so the bar is quite low to start with (- -). Fallen leaves are slippery when they’re wet and ground up on the road (-).
If you have large sports or concert venues, then traffic can be very unpredictable if there’s a show on (- -). Pedestrians attending these also unpredictable (- – -). When Forest are at home, it’s like driving through the baboon enclosure at Longleat (- – -). International cricket matches at Trent Bridge also attract similar people, especially when the game stops for lunch. Both venues are on test routes in Nottingham.
Every time has its good and bad points, but every good point is countered by a bad one (and vice versa). Just think positively and forget the ‘what ifs’.
Speaking personally, I detest getting up early and will light-heartedly swear at anyone who books a 7.50am or 8.10am test, because it means I have to get up at 5.30am (I normally get up between 8am-10am these days by choice). But it’s their test, not mine, and if 8.10am is what they book, it isn’t a major issue.
If you can drive, the time of your test does not make any difference to your prospects of passing. Don’t let your nerves – or anyone else – convince you otherwise. And don’t think that it is wrong to be somewhat nervous. It isn’t. It’s completely natural.
Why are tests at odd times?
Somewhere in the past, DVSA conducted a time and motion study and concluded that an examiner could fit x tests in a shift if they had y minutes between each one to do all their paperwork, and z minutes for lunch, etc. Add x, y, and z together and you get 8.10, 8.20, 9.38, 2.32, and all manner of weird times.
The instructor, a 46-year old woman, and the pupil were taken back to the test centre where the police questioned the instructor. They seized her Green Badge and reported her to DVSA.
Looking at the photos, there is evidence that the car had been rear-ended at some point in its recent past.
I’m not going to speculate (I’m sure some people will do that on the forums), but I bet the pupil isn’t happy. Having a clean sheet up to the point the test was terminated is no guarantee of having the same next time around.
And as for the instructor, it’s a perfect display of how to throw a career away. In monetary terms alone it would have been cheaper to have MOTd and insured the car rather than pay the inevitable fine this is going to result in. Factor in lost Green Badge, lost income, and increased insurance premiums – and probably extra travel costs as a result of a likely ban – and the full cost is almost incalculable.
Just a word of advice to anyone who is starting driving lessons.
Right now, in Nottingham, if you wanted to book a practical driving test and there were any not yet taken, you would be looking at March 2023 for your test date. It’s six months – and when new dates are added each week, they disappear quickly.
You cannot book your practical test until you have passed your theory test. The waiting time for these is much shorter, and I am advising my new pupils to pass it as soon as possible so we can book a practical test and work towards it (six months is usually more than enough for most new learners). I point out that each week they delay booking their theory test just adds another week to whenever their practical test will be once we can get one booked.
Driving tests are government-issued events. They are not like candy you buy from the store.
DO NOT search for how to do it on Google or any other search engine. If you are really so stubborn as to insist on doing so, go to GOV.UK – and nowhere else – and do it from there. Because if you DO go anywhere else, you will be scammed – at least out of some money, and quite possibly by not even getting a test. If you book through the government website, you get a test immediately (if any are available – if they’re not, you can’t book). If you are told they will ‘get back to you’ then you have been scammed, and it’s your own fault. Only GOV.UK can officially provide driving tests.
Yes, it is possible you might find a cancellation date sooner than six months hence. But this is in no way guaranteed – more people are looking for them than there are cancellations, so getting one is a matter of luck.
And yes, you can sign up to a cancellation checking service, but with these you have less control over the date and, in many cases, the venue. People who use them often get dates before they are truly ready to pass, often at as test centre they aren’t familiar with, so they fail, and then have to go through the whole process yet again, spending more money (and taking longer) than they might have done if they’d have just stuck with a normally booked driving test date at the test centre nearest to them.
It is also worth noting that DVSA is trying to block many of these services. After all, the dates available have to come from somewhere, and if the cancellation checker has them, you – and the tens of thousands of others learning to drive – don’t unless you pay the cancellation checker for them.
My only conditions concerning accepting cancellation bookings, however obtained, are:
it must be at Colwick, Chilwell, or Watnall – you can forget Derby and Loughborough
if it’s at Chilwell and you live in Hucknall, you’re not doing 1-hour lessons anymore
likewise, if it’s at Colwick and you live in Long Eaton, change it or find another instructor
if it overlaps with another test, I can’t do it
it must be when you are test ready – not before
if you’re crap with roundabouts right now, think twice about cancellations at Watnall
you are not just ‘going to have a go’ in my car
I don’t give a damn what your mum or dad has said
I am opposed to these services for the same reasons as DVSA. They are unfair on the majority, and they mess up learning schedules. I tolerate them – but not if the original test date of next year, which gave me time to teach someone to drive doing 1 hour a week, has been switched to three weeks away and they’re still beginners. And especially not if they then cancel their next two lessons (and yes, I blocked someone a few months ago for precisely that).
So, in summary. When you start your driving lessons (this is current for October 2022):
start revising for your theory test as soon as possible
book your theory test as soon as possible
do regular driving lessons
as soon as you have passed your theory, book your practical (assuming a 6-month wait)
do not book a cancellation date – you can try that later
accept that it takes time to learn, and six months is not that long once you live it
About a month ago I was rear-ended by some idiot at a pedestrian crossing. As a result, my car went in for repair and I had a replacement/courtesy car supplied – which was totally different to my normal car. It took me a few days to properly figure out how it worked (absolutely everything was controlled from a touchscreen system). It scared some of my pupils shitless.
I had one pupil whose test was approaching. She was away with the fairies as far as lane discipline was concerned – she simply had little or no awareness of them when she was driving. But we’d already postponed her test once as a result by over six months, and to be fair I had managed to improve her a lot. But I still wasn’t 100% happy.
But she didn’t like the substitute car. She texted me and told me she was going in her own car as a result. I fist-pumped and shouted ‘yesss’ when I got that text. We did a few more lessons and I made sure she had everything she needed to give it her best shot. And she only went and bloody well passed! Quite a high number of driver faults, it has to be said, but at least my badge wasn’t involved.
Then, I took on another pupil. He’d been taught by his parents and his driving was outstanding – seriously good. The only significant issue was the manoeuvres, none of which he had been taught, and his theory test (which he hadn’t done). So I got him to book his theory, and started covering manoeuvres with him. We did four lessons, during which he passed his theory first time, and then I got him to book his practical – which was in November.
I got a text a couple of weeks ago and he’d got a cancellation date. But it coincided with another test I had booked (ironically, I turned up for that one today and then discovered DVSA had cancelled it and moved it to August), and it was at a test centre outside of Nottingham, which I didn’t cover. So we agreed he would go in his own car with his mum. My only concern was we hadn’t polished the manoeuvres, but I pointed out that apart from that he had a bloody good chance of passing.
And he passed with a clean sheet! Zero faults. In a place he’d never driven before.
His parents are singing my praises and have already referred someone to me as a result. I’m happy with that, of course, but I am quick to point out it was his parents who actually taught him (and the whole family is really nice) – I just polished a few rough bits, aided immeasurably by the fact he was an outstanding driver. And he’s going to do Pass Plus with me.
So, apart from not getting official DVSA credit for the passes (especially the clean sheet), I’ve avoided the higher faults of one against my name, and got what is likely to result in a lot more work from the other.
Originally published in 2014, but updated due to numerous recent enquiries.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of people looking for test route information. Once upon a time, official test routes were published by DVSA (when it was still DSA) and available for download. They stopped publishing them in 2010, but that didn’t prevent people who had already downloaded them circulating them. In later years – even right now in 2021 – certain unscrupulous instructors and money-makers were even selling them at silly prices.
One major problem with test routes is that they change over time as DVSA adds new ones or removes others. They can even change on the day of the test for reasons such as roadworks or road closures. And unless they are being officially published you have no way of knowing if ones given to you are correct – or if someone has just cobbled together some old information into a crude list of road numbers and names and perhaps charged you a tenner for it. I can absolutely guarantee that many of those advertised on old-fashioned HTML websites are these original out-of-date lists. The other major problem is that deliberately trying to teach just test routes doesn’t get better pass results, but it does produce less able drivers.
You don’t really need to know the precise test routes used. All you need is a general awareness of key features where pupils might have problems.
It isn’t difficult to work out where the examiners go on driving tests, even without using technology. They’re never going to travel more than about 20 minutes away from the test centre in any direction, so all the roads leading to the test centre are going to be involved (minus motorways in most cases). If you know the examiners to look at, you’ll see them from time to time during your lessons, so you now know they use that road or location. You can also ask your pupils where they went after their tests, and although this can produce more confusion than it does answers, you might be able to extract a bit of useful information. The examiner will often give you some details in the debrief, especially where faults were committed. And finally, you can sit in on tests (when there isn’t a pandemic) and actually watch where they go. You can quickly work out which specific areas to concentrate on by putting all of this together into your lesson plans.
The best way, though, is to use some sort of tracking device, which logs the precise route taken by the car. These days, most satnavs have a feature which allows you to do this. Personally, I don’t like that method because it tends to be tied in with the satnav software, be satnav-specific, and it can be a right pain trying to download it and manipulate it on standard mapping software. The other problem is that you’re unlikely to be able to leave it running while someone is out on test, because the examiner will be using theirs, and thinking back to my old satnav years ago, it didn’t always get a signal if it wasn’t stuck on the windscreen. I’m not saying they’re like that now, but they are designed to be used in that position – and not in the glove box. And the other weakness is that the satnav is the recorder, so you have to wait until the test is over and you can grab it before you know where it went.
Dashcams are another way. The better ones also record GPS data, though often – like satnavs – you can only manipulate this within the camera manufacturer’s specific software. And again, you only get to see it after the event.
A third option is to use one of any number of apps for smartphones. These log routes in a format that mapping software understands. I’ve tried them, and they do work – with a few limitations. Firstly, you would need to leave your phone in the car when it went out on a test, meaning you’d be phoneless for the duration. A spare phone would work, but obviously this feature uses data, so you’d need a separate phone account. And when I tried them, the free versions of apps tended to be restricted to sample rates of 20-30 seconds – and that could mean a route through a junction and roundabout system might show as a straight line across a field or lake. If you wanted a 5 second sampling rate, you had to subscribe.
My solution was to use a dedicated tracker. I use a ProPod tracker from Trackershop. It’s a small device the size of a matchbox, which I keep in the car. The main feature for me, apart from logging accurate position and even postal locations, is that it broadcasts its location in real-time. This means that at the test centre, I can watch the car moving on a map overlay (either on my laptop or the Trackershop app on my phone). It also means that if a test were abandoned for some reason – and that hasn’t happened yet – I’d know exactly where to go to find my car and pupil.
The picture at the top of this article shows an old test route for Chilwell Test Centre (click on the image for a larger view). This is my tracker dashboard ‘history’ view, with a specific historical time period displayed (the duration of the test in question) on a map overlay. The picture just above (click it for a larger image) is the same route with the satellite view enabled. You can zoom in almost to the level where pedestrians would be visible.
The Trackershop cloud service keeps journey history permanently (as long as you have an active account), and you can download and edit data as necessary whenever you feel like it – you just need to to know the date and time of a past test, for example, then go and find that route in your dashboard. As I mentioned, you can view data in real time on whatever overlay you have chosen, and watch the pointer moving every 5 seconds while your pupil is out on test – I find this useful for knowing when they are due back.
The cloud data can be easily exported and downloaded. As well as GPS coordinates it logs times, speeds, and postal addresses for every data point. The picture above (click it for a larger image) shows the same test route displayed as a KML file rendered in Google Earth (note that I had to physically extract the GPS data to create this, but it isn’t difficult if you know what you’re doing).
As I have already indicated, you should not be doing your lessons across such precise routes. But they do give you an idea of where tests go.
Where can I download test routes?
You can’t download them from DVSA. The sites that offer them are provided by people trying to earn money from something that is otherwise simple to do yourself. Given that test routes change over time, it is probably cheaper to record your own.
Why don’t you provide your test route data?
A point of principle. DVSA stopped publishing them because instructors were trying to teach only the test routes, and I know full well that that’s why people want the information now. My logged routes are for my own use – I don’t stick to test routes on lessons and never have, but I want to know where the routes are so I can deal with any weird stuff.
Should I pay for downloadable test routes?
My advice would be no. DVSA stopped publishing them for a reason, and if someone is trying to profit from selling them then he or she is going against that. There’s a good chance you’re being sold old routes, anyway, and you would never know if they changed unless you kept on buying them every month or so.
How do I know the routes I’ve bought are correct and up to date?
You don’t, and they’re probably not. In fact, unless a local group of ADIs is giving you daily copies, they couldn’t possibly be reliable. In the worst case, they could be totally imaginary and simply cobbled together to be reasonably close to actual routes. Judging by some of the ancient-looking sites that list them, they’re quite likely to be the original ones that they stopped publishing in 2010. As I said above, routes change with time.
Is it possible to record test routes?
Yes. There are free and paid for apps available for both Android and iPhone which use GPS to record journeys. Similarly, there are numerous GPS tracker devices available which do the same (I use a Pro Pod tracker). If you use a phone app as a logger, you have to leave a phone in the car.
Absolutely not. The examiner will give you directions as necessary, or ask you to follow the satnav or road signs. However, if there are one or two awkward features – big roundabouts, steep hills, or so on – your instructor should know about them and make sure you know how to handle them well before your test.
How many test routes are there?
It varies from test centre to test centre, but there could be 10, 20, or more. When they were still published by DVSA (while it was still DSA), one Nottingham test centre had 38 if I remember correctly. You couldn’t possibly memorise all of them even if you knew them all. Being brutally honest, many learners on test might not recognise their own streets when out on test, so how can they be expected to ‘remember’ multiple routes?
Can I use my tablet to log routes?
Potentially, yes. If it has a GPS chip inside, it doesn’t necessarily need to be connected to the internet or a phone network to log GPS positional data, though it would if you wanted to use it as a satnav or monitor it in real-time. However, you’d need some software that could make use of the chip. It would also depend on your device’s specification as to how accurate the data were, but you’d still be able to get decent route maps – they just wouldn’t always be necessarily precisely lined up with the roads on maps you laid them on to. I understand they are accurate to around 6 metres or better.
From what I know of Apple iPads, only the more expensive ones with phone connectivity have GPS chips in them. The WiFi only ones don’t.
The trials will be conducted in Stafford, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Barnsley, Wakefield, Chester, Northwich, Upton, Wallasey, St Helens, Wolverhampton, Gillingham, Bishopbriggs, Gateshead, Durham, and Abergavenny.
I’m all for it – especially if it stops those twats who think they’re good ADIs, and yet who see the test centre car park as some magical place that their little darlings must practice in at all costs. Even when tests are coming and going, and when they have expressly been asked not to.
The first time any of my pupils get to bay park in the test centre car park is on the day of their test. Once when we turn up, and perhaps a second go if they get that manoeuvre once their test commences. The rest of the time I use business and retail parks, or supermarket car parks.
The sooner DVSA implements this fully, the better. But I bet you some instructors will be opposed to it.