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Learning to drive: choosing the right driving instructor
Everyone remembers learning to drive. It’s as part much of growing up as a first date or a first proper job, writes Ray Castle of motors.co.uk. But driving lessons can be horribly expensive, costing (depending on which part of the UK you live in) up to £25 per hour.
How many you’ll need depends on how quickly you learn but 45 hours is typical even if you pass first time. Do the maths and that’s £1125, without the £106 you’ll currently pay in fees for your first test.
Spending that much makes it important that you find someone that’s competent and who you’ll get along with, too.
Don’t rely on mum, dad - or a friend to teach you
Learning to drive is a nervy business for the newbie driver and (potentially) for the teacher as well. Unless you and co-pilot are supremely calm types, the stress and fear of a novice lesson will soon have you both shouting, crying or worse. And even if you manage to keep tempers cool, there’s a real risk you’ll pick up bad habits that your teacher dsn’t even know he or she has.
You should also consider the cost of insuring the L-driver, which may boost your premium costs by several hundreds of pounds.
Remember that only registered instructors can charge for tuition
It’s the law. He or she should be approved by the Driving Standards Agency. Look for a green DSA badge on the windscreen of the car. This means he or she has undergone at least 12 months training and has passed a tough exam. They’ll also undergo regular assessment by DSA inspectors who ensure that their teaching is up to standard.
Some instructors take pupils while still undergoing training. If this is the case they will carry a pink DSA sticker on their car screen. If this is the case, they should charge a reduced rate for lessons.
No-one else should charge for tuition; even a few quid on the side is illegal.
When choosing an instructor or driving school
Here’s a list of questions we’d suggest you ask:
Are you DSA approved?
How long have you been teaching?
What’s your first-time pass rate?
Will I get a full hour’s tuition?
Will it always be in the same car?
Do you carry other pupils as passengers during my lesson?
How to find someone that’s right for you
Try several. Most driving schools want to sign you up for a course of lessons and will offer a big discount if you pay up-front. But the saving is no good if you’re unhappy with the instructor or if the only time slots available for lessons don’t suit.
Start with instructors that friends have used and liked. Try the big driving school chains and the one-man or –woman businesses, too. Don’t expect to do much driving during your first lesson but do ask plenty of questions. Ask what we’ve suggested above but also quiz them about how the tuition will be structured and whether you can have lessons at the same time every week.
Once you’ve had a few lessons
Get plenty of practice if you can in friends, parents or relative’s cars. Do check first that you are insured to drive their cars and once you’re on the move do remember that you’re in a regular car. Driving school cars have dual controls which allow the instructor to take control of the car to avert a crash but other cars you’ll drive don’t, of course, have these.
A word about cars with automatic gearboxes
With so much to cope with at once, it’s tempting to make things easier by choosing to learn in a car that picks its own gears. And, indeed, some schools offer this option. The drawback is that you will, of course, earn a licence that allows you to drive only automatics. We’d strongly advise that you learn to use manual gears.
Not every driver can legally accompany L-drivers
To do this, you need to be at least 21 years old and to have held a full licence for a minimum of three years. To stay legal, the supervising driver must be sat up front. And, if you are stopped on the way home from a bar the police will breathalyse the L-driver and his or her co-pilot. If either is over the limit a driving ban will follow.
On the day of your test
Your instructor should give you an hour’s lesson immediately beforehand, accompany you to the centre and wait while you take the test. Don't forget to take your driving licence with you. Afterwards, pass or fail, he or she should give you a debrief.
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