Trainee Driving Instructors

Failed tests cost millions as driving schools take pupils for a ride

pass rates are lower among those taught by trainee instructors

14 December 2010

Up to 27,000 extra driving tests have been failed in the last year by learners taught by trainee instructors – while most pupils did not even know their instructor was learning on the job, AA investigations reveal.

Much lower pass rates among those taught by trainee instructors* have cost learners over £1.7 million in additional test fees over the past 12 months, with millions more believed to have been spent on extra lessons needed to reach test standard.

The AA findings follow an expose by BBC One's Rip Off Britain revealing that some major driving schools are charging pupils full-price for lessons without telling them their instructor is a trainee.

Few learners realise that trainee instructors are allowed to give lessons unsupervised without having passed an exam on their ability to instruct.

One in seven

a qualified instructor will display a green badge Yet the number of trainee instructors has soared in recent years – more than doubling in two years, to more than 7,600 by June 2010 – according to Driving Standards Agency data. This means one in seven instructors is now a trainee.

A major government study 10 years ago found that learners taught by trainee instructors are 25% less likely to pass their driving test. It found that learners had little idea their instructor could be a trainee, yet they were generally charged full price. The study called for a major campaign to raise awareness about trainee instructors and their lower pupil pass rates.

Yet a recent request by the AA for up-to-date pass rates for trainee instructors was declined by the DSA on the basis that it would take weeks of work to create the necessary database.**


AA President Edmund King says: "It is a decade since officials found that thousands of learners were failing needlessly at the hands of instructors they didn't even know were trainees. The number of trainee instructors has since surged, yet public awareness remains low, and it is unclear if the authorities are taking this issue seriously.

"Most disturbingly, it seems officials no longer even try to track the impact on learner drivers. Now, more than ever, learners must be given an informed choice of instructors. Driving schools must be made to come clean when they use trainee instructors to teach young people to drive."

Key research findings

The AA is lobbying ministers to introduce new rules requiring driving schools to tell learners, at the time they book lessons, if their instructor will be a trainee. The campaign has overwhelming support from AA members, backed by a number of key research findings:

  • An AA investigation this year revealed that one in ten learner drivers – 75,000 in the past year – are unwittingly taught by an instructor they do not know is learning on the job. In most cases they are charged full lesson rates.
  • In an AA/Populus survey*** of over 13,000 AA members, fewer than 0.5 per cent said that if they were given a transparent choice, for lessons charged at the same rate, they would choose a trainee.
  • The only legal requirement to disclose that an instructor is learning on the job is for the trainee to display an official pink badge in the windscreen. However, only 6% of AA members knew that a pink badge means an instructor is a trainee. Nearly three times as many (16%) wrongly believed that it means the instructor is fully-qualified.
  • 97% said driving schools should be required to tell you if your instructor is a trainee.
  • Nearly a third believed pupils of trainee instructors would go on to be less safe drivers than those taught by fully-qualified instructors.

Though trainee instructors are entitled to work in the industry, a trainee has yet to pass the exam testing their ability to instruct. The pass rate of this exam is about 30% – so there is a good chance that the trainee instructor you have entrusted yourself to (in most cases, without even knowing it's a trainee) will NEVER be judged suitable to instruct.

Case histories

Concerning cases that have been brought to the AA's attention include:

  • Reports from former trainee instructors with a major driving school that the school banned them from telling pupils they were trainees – even though it charged learners the same as for lessons with a fully-qualified instructor. One says he was told to "make things up" if asked about the official trainee's pink badge in his windscreen.
  • A learner who was told by one driving school to look for a pink badge as the benchmark of a top-quality instructor. The green badge, signifying that an instructor is fully-qualified, was not mentioned.
  • Pupils of some driving schools who were passed between up to three trainee instructors in rapid succession, as each trainee left the school suddenly after failing their instructing exam. In some cases, pupils' pre-paid lesson fees have disappeared with the trainee instructor.
  • A pupil who came to the AA after failing to progress with two previous instructors at another driving school. Unbeknown to her, both were trainees. Relatives recommended the local AA instructor. Meanwhile the second trainee, who twice failed his own instructing exam, grew unhappy with the training he was getting from the driving school and he too switched to the AA. So the AA instructor went on to teach both the pupil and her former instructor, who under AA policy will take no more pupils until he is fully-qualified.
  • A 17 year old on her first-ever lesson who was placed with a trainee instructor giving his first lesson. She says the instructor seemed even more nervous than she was and, after 15 minutes, he expected her to drive without further instruction. She stalled 40 times then ended up on the pavement heading for a lamppost. The trainee instructor failed to use his dual controls, and a crash was averted only when the car stalled again. The learner had no idea her instructor was learning on the job until she investigated afterwards. She said later: "If they had told me my instructor would be a trainee I would have said no!"

How to spot a trainee

AA advice for identifying a trainee driving instructor:

  • Ask, when booking, whether your lessons will be with a fully-qualified, government approved instructor.
  • Beware of phrases like 'DSA-approved' – trainee instructors are approved as trainees by the DSA; and 'Qualified instructor' – trainees are partly-qualified, but have yet to sit the key exam on their ability to instruct.
  • Look for a green badge in the windscreen of the driving school car – this means your instructor is fully-qualified. A pink badge means they are a trainee.
  • AA Driving School, and some smaller local and regional schools, are committed to using only fully-qualified driving instructors.

Join the discussion in the AA zone

* Raising the standards of approved driving instructors (No.15), based on research carried out in 1998/99, Department for Transport. This report found that the average pass rate for pupils of trainee driving instructors was 35%, compared with a national pass rate at that time of 46%. Applying this difference in pass rates to the modern situation, with one in seven instructors a trainee, gives a total of 27,000 extra failed tests in the last year.

** In response to an AA request, under the Freedom of Information Act, for updated pass rates for trainee versus fully-qualified instructors, the Driving Standards Agency responded on 3 September 2010 that: "...This would involve creating a new database to join up the different sets of data to find out driving test statistical information. This would take a number of weeks to complete. We therefore consider this information as exempt from release under section 12 (1) (cost of compliance exceeds appropriate limit) of the FoIA."

*** AA/Populus Survey responded to by 13,489 AA members between 2 and 16 October 2009.


14 December 2010