Your driving or riding instructor will nurture you through the formative period of your driving education, so you need to choose well. Sometimes they will need to boost your confidence and other times they will need to bluntly tell you where you have a surplus of confidence over your actual driving ability.
Given that this is one of the most important things you’ll ever learn to do in your life, how do you choose what driving instructor to use?
All driving instructors must be an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI), or a Prospective Driving Instructor (PDI) before they can charge for their services. This means they have been tested and registered by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA, now DVSA). However, you can get free tuition by anyone of the age of 21 who has held a full licence in the class you are learning for at least three years.
There is no law saying you must use an ADI, but it is advisable because free tuition will come from people who will pass their bad habits on to you. Approved Driving Instructors often have vehicles with dual controls, too, which means that they can brake for you if they feel you are in danger.
Approved driving instructors must display an octagonal green badge in their windscreen; trainee driving instructors (PDIs) must display a triangular pink badge in their windscreen.
Driving instructors are graded with either A, B and Fail. Grade A means a mark of 85% or more and Grade B means a mark of 60% or more.
You are free to choose a driving instructor of either gender, depending on your preference. If you feel more comfortable with a female instructor, choose a female instructor; if you prefer a male instructor, choose a male instructor. If you want one where you’re not too sure because it’ll be a good story for your grandkids, good luck with that…
If English isn’t your first language you can find an instructor that speaks your native language. Although, if you’ve got this far in this guide, you probably have a good enough grasp of English.
All lessons should be derived from DVSA instructional material. The instructor might also provide separate materials such as worksheets, DVDs or other study aids. Find out if these are provided as part of the fees, or whether they’re extra.
Meet with a few driving instructors to interview them and see which one suits you best. You will be looking to have some rapport (connection) with the instructor as continuing lessons with someone you don’t like will give you a bad first experience of driving.
Type of vehicle
Learning to drive in a manual vehicle will give you more options. However, if you only want to drive automatic vehicles, you can choose an instructor with an automatic.
If you are very tall there are cars that might be difficult for you to fit in, so try out the instructor’s car for size before you commit to a lesson. Similarly, if you are very short, or you are disabled in some way that prevents you from reaching or operating the pedals you may need to find an instructor who can accommodate your physical requirements.
Sticking to a regular time slot is preferable for an instructor because he or she can block those slots for you over several weeks. The instructor should be able to meet you at a place that is convenient for you, and will be reliable and punctual.
It is preferable for you not to choose on price. Cheaper instructors might be cheaper for a reason – they’ve discounted their prices because they have a poor reputation or poor results. You might end up having to re-sit your test or pay for extra lessons, in which case going for a cheap instructor is a false economy.
Ask if the instructor will provide the first lesson free or at a discount. Some will give a full lesson, some will give a taster (shorter) lesson, and others won’t.
Bear in mind that you might need to have up to 80 hours of lessons, depending on your natural aptitude, your ability to learn and the quality of instruction, so be sure that this is within your budget.
Make sure you know the cancellation policy. Some instructors are lenient on cancellations where others will expect to be paid if the lesson isn’t cancelled within a certain time before it is due. We would say that if you book a lesson and cancel any less than 48 hours before the lesson, you have a moral obligation to pay for that lesson unless the instructor can fill it. Being a driving instructor is a job and they need to earn money, too.
Find out how long the lesson will be. Instructors will tend to want to offer longer lessons because this minimises their wasted driving time between students. If they suggest two hours, this can be quite long for a novice driver and it could be too tiring. You will need to assess how you feel. Some instructors recommend you start with one hour for the first few lessons then build up to two hours as you gain confidence, while other instructors recommend you dive in and start with two hours because you can cover a wider range of driving experiences (this is especially relevant if you live in a central city area and need to get out for rural driving, and vice versa).
Ask the instructor whether they pick up other drivers while you are still on your lesson. This can be distracting for you and the instructor, however, it does make it more practical for the instructor because the instructor can have the other student drive you home. This might make it slightly cheaper as the instructor then doesn’t waste time driving between clients. This is called piggy-backing and, while being practical for the instructor, it is frowned upon.
Finding an instructor
Reviews and social proof
Ask around to find out who is the best instructor in your area. Look at reviews on online review websites (though, be aware that it’s easy to make fake reviews, both good and bad).
Use Directgov’s postcode-based search to find an instructor near you, or if you’re in Ireland you can use this site. For example if your postcode is PE22 0SL (which was mine when I was growing up), enter that into the form, click ‘Find Nearest’ and you’ll see a list of local Approved Driving Instructors – name, phone, email address and distance from your location. If the email address looks like it’s a personalised website (i.e. not a Yahoo, Hotmail or Gmail address), you can probably deduce their website so you can check that out before calling.
Independent driving instructor, or a driving school?
Some drivers work independently and you will deal with them directly. Others work as part of a school with several drivers. Make sure to talk directly with the driving instructor that you will use to make sure you feel comfortable.
Remember that you can be taking practical driving lessons while you are also using our website to learn your theory – click here for the car questions for free. An instructor will help you with any areas that you find difficult, giving you real-world examples in a driving situation. To practice the theory tests, click on the links for car, motorbike, HGV or PCV tests at the top of this page.
Darren has owned several companies in the automotive, advertising and education industries. He has run driving theory educational websites since 2010.