Trainee Driving Instructors

1 in 10 taught by instructor they didn't know was learning on the job

AA Driving School uses only fully qualified instructors

8 July 2010

The AA has renewed its campaign for transparency over driving schools' use of trainee instructors, as a new investigation reveals that up to 75,000 learners have in the last year been taught by an instructor they didn't know was a trainee.

Fully-qualified driving instructors will display a green badge in their windscreen In a survey of 2,000 young drivers*, only 2 per cent believed they had been taught to drive by a trainee instructor. However, recent figures from the Driving Standards Agency show that trainees make up more than 14 per cent of all instructors.

"This means around one in every ten pupils who thought their instructor was fully-qualified, were in fact taught by trainees. With 750,000 people learning to drive each year** this suggests there are up to 75,000 learners a year who do not realise their instructor is also learning on the job," says AA President Edmund King.

In a recent AA/Populus survey***, fewer than 0.5 per cent of AA members said that if they were given a transparent choice, for lessons charged at the same rate, they would choose a trainee.

"Incredibly, driving schools are not obliged to give you a transparent choice. So many charge as if it's a fully-qualified instructor but give you a trainee. There's a canyon between what learners think they are paying for and what they get. The official pink badge trainees are required to display is clearly leaving learners none the wiser. Driving schools must be forced to come clean before more young learners are literally taken for a ride."

Edmund King has written to Road Safety Minister Mike Penning calling for urgent action to guarantee an informed choice for learners and their parents and to highlight motorists' concerns over the way driving schools use trainees.

"We have heard of learners being passed between a succession of failing trainees without ever being told that their instructor is not fully-qualified. These people pay their money in good faith, but with each lesson they are putting themselves in the hands of someone who will never make the grade as an instructor," Edmund King adds.

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 is now teaching 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 identify 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 a number of smaller local and regional schools, are committed to using only fully-qualified driving instructors

Trainee instructor factfile

  • Trainee instructors have passed exams demonstrating advanced practical and theory driving knowledge, but have yet to sit a third exam testing their ability to instruct. The pass rate for the final instructors' exam is around 30 per cent – so many trainees will never be judged good enough to instruct.
  • Up to 7600 trainees – one in seven of all driving instructors – are believed to be working for driving schools across the UK. Driving schools can place a learner with a trainee instructor and charge full lesson rates, without telling the pupil or their parents that the instructor is not fully-qualified.
  • The only legal requirement is for the trainee to display an official pink badge in the windscreen.
  • An AA/Populus poll of over 13,000 AA members revealed that only 6 per cent know that a pink badge means an instructor is a trainee; nearly three times as many (16%) wrongly believe that it means the instructor is fully-qualified.
  • Given a transparent choice, for lessons charged at the same rate, fewer than 0.5% say they would choose a trainee.
  • Fully-qualified driving instructors will display a green badge in their windscreen, confirming that they have passed three exams, covering:
    1. Theory and hazard perception
    2. Their own driving ability, and
    3. The ability to instruct
  • Fully-qualified instructors must pass regular official check tests to ensure that proper standards of driving instruction are maintained.
  • Trainee instructors have passed only exams 1 and 2. Some trainees are granted a licence so they can gain experience before sitting exam 3. This allows them to instruct learner drivers and charge money, but they must work through a driving school and display a pink licence certificate on the windscreen. To be registered on a pink badge they must first have had a minimum of 40 hours of instructional training.
  • A pink-badge instructor must be supervised by a fully-qualified instructor in 20 per cent of all lessons the trainee gives or complete at least 20 hours of additional training.
  • They normally have up to six months to pass exam 3. Some eventually fail to fully qualify and leave the industry. According to the DSA, the pass rate for exam 3 in 2008-2009 was 30 per cent.

* Online survey, by independent research agency Research Now, of 2,000 drivers aged 17-29, conducted April-May 2010.

** Department for Transport: Impact assessment of proposed changes to car driving training and testing, April 2009

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

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8 July 2010