Third gear: finding The One for the road
Your driving instructor is one of the most important teachers of your life. But too many parents are guilty of focusing on the money side, and not finding The One - the perfect person to teach your child the skills to stay safe on the road.
If your 17-year-old daughter told you she was off out in a car with a 45-year-old bloke you didn't know - how would you react?
You probably wouldn't feel too happy about the situation even if it was someone her own age, and you'd want to give them both the third degree. So why do we let it happen when it comes to driving lessons?
Any parent wants to know who their child is getting into a relationship with, and as this is a relationship that's going to have a huge impact on your son or daughter's future safety, it's never been more vital.
How you should approach finding a driving instructor
Sadly, driving instructor speed dating hasn't taken off quite yet. The best way to find the right driving instructor is to go by recommendation. If you know a family of 4 children who have all been taught by the same instructor and never had a crash, that beats a fancy website hands down.
Just keep in mind that everyone learns differently - so one instructor might be perfect for one person but not right for another.
If you can't get a recommendation, check the list of DVSA-registered instructors on GOV.UK.
Check the qualifications
"Oh, my mate's big brother is going to teach me" - oh no he's not. Being late for the test because the 'instructor' didn't set an alarm? Not a good start.
Anyone giving driving lessons must be a DSA-approved Potential Driving Instructor (PDI) or Approved Driving Instructor (ADI). If they're taking money without these qualifications, they're breaking the law.
Your child won’t ask for ID and proof of qualifications. As an embarrassing (caring) parent, you can and should.
Look for the green hexagon saying Driving Standards Agency Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) or pink triangle saying Driving Standards Agency Licensed Trainee. They must have this badge displayed in their car window.
Choosing a trainee instructor isn't a bad idea: they've got fresh knowledge and will be very keen to get some good references under their belts. You could also get a lower rate while they're training.
- When was your last standards check? How did it go?
- What qualifications do you have apart from your ADI badge?
- Do you have First Aid training?
Get the paperwork
A driving instructor should have Terms of Business. This document will involve a cancellation process, the way you'd go about making a complaint and various other legalities. Someone who can produce this is a good bet. Someone who says "No one ever asks for that" isn't.
Asking for paperwork is a rare thing when it comes to finding a driving instructor (it shouldn’t be, but it is) and you can use it to weed out the ones you don’t want teaching your child how to stay alive.
Ask for testimonials
Asking "What's your pass rate?" just isn't the done thing anymore. For one thing, a driving instructor's pass rate is likely to be close to 100% - just not all first time passes. But then a first time pass isn't necessarily the thing you want.
You want to hear from people who may not have passed first time but have gone on to be safe and confident drivers - or at least from their parents. Knowing an instructor is calm, friendly and supportive is much more valuable than an unsubstantiated percentage.
Gasp! I know: human contact. Any good driving instructor will be happy to offer a free introduction which will just be a short chat about how they work, what their terms are and what you can expect from their approach.
Take advantage of meeting a few instructors to ask for the advice on things like how many lessons to have each week and when they suggest beginning private practice. They're the experts!
Don't jump at the cheapest
A driving instructor has many costs before they take a profit. If an instructor is charging a lot less than the average £24 an hour, where are they cutting costs? Budget tyres? Not attending courses? It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Some instructors will offer a discount if you book several lessons at once, so ask upfront. However, it’s best not to buy a block straight away as you’ll want to be sure they’re the right person.
There aren't many ways to make this part of learning to drive cheaper, but bear in mind that you'll save money in the long run if your child has the RIGHT instructor who will teach them efficiently. A cheap instructor might be good now, but if it takes longer for your child to pass their test, it’s a false economy.
Don't forget the practicalities
The life of the average 17-year-old is a whirl of exams, sports, Amy's house, leavers' parties and who knows what else. Making sure you know how flexible a driving instructor is will prevent expensive schedule clashes.
- Where will you pick up and drop off - is college or work OK?
- What happens about holidays, sickness or cancellations?
This information should all be in the Terms of Business you so smartly asked for but it's better to get a feel for how lenient they are BEFORE you need that last minute lesson switch.