Driving Force

Becoming a driving instructor can be a great route to self-employment. So where do you start?

Cast your mind back to the day you passed your driving test. For many people, learning to drive is an important rite of passage – and it’s a fantastic feeling when you finally have the freedom of the roads.

As a driving instructor, you can help other people learn to drive safely and responsibly. Like any teaching job, it’s a rewarding and often enjoyable career; it can also give you the opportunity to run your own business. 81% of men and 61% of women now hold driving licences – so the business is out there.

IS DRIVING INSTRUCTION FOR YOU?
As anyone who watched the BBC television series Driving School will realise, you need patience and an even temper to be a driving instructor. For obvious reasons, you also need to be on-the-ball and to have quick reactions; you will use a dual-control car and will need to judge when to use the controls and when to gently but firmly give clear instructions to your student.

All the skills of being a good teacher apply to driving instruction; in other words you need to be an effective communicator, to be able to inspire your pupils, and to assess how they are progressing. Your students also need to feel confident in your abilities and, of course, you must have excellent driving skills, an understanding of how cars work and comprehensive knowledge of the Highway Code; you also need to have held a driving licence for four out of the past six years. Having professional driving experience can be helpful when it comes to passing your qualification exams – but it is not a necessity.

According to the Driving Standards Authority (DSA), there are two qualities that former Forces personnel can bring to the job of driving instruction – you will be able to communicate well with your pupils and you could bring a disciplined approach to instruction.

QUALIFYING AS AN INSTRUCTOR
Before undertaking training to become an approved driving instructor (ADI), you need to complete a Driving Standards Agency application form and submit two character references. Once your application has been accepted, you can start training for the qualification exam, which comprises three parts: a computer based theory test, a practical test of your driving ability, and a practical test of your ability to instruct. You need to pass each test in this order before you can take the next and you have to complete all three within two years.

It is possible to take the tests independently without paying for training, but the majority of people complete a training course, either with a driving school or with a specialist training organisation. The DSA produces a list of training providers which have been inspected and verified to be of a good standard – the Official Register of Driving Instructor Training (ORDIT). However, as ORDIT inspection is voluntary you shouldn’t assume that just because a training organisation isn’t on the list, it isn’t any good.

After passing the theory test and the driving ability test, you can apply for a trainee licence, which gives you the opportunity to get some experience teaching people to drive. The trainee licence last six months, and during that period you are allowed to be paid for driving instruction – although the primary function of the licence is to give you teaching experience in the run-up to your final ADI test.

PAY AND PROSPECTS
Once you’ve qualified as an ADI you could either set up your own business or become a franchisee with a driving school. There are pros and cons to both options.

Franchising brings many of the benefits of having your own business because you can choose the hours you work and are effectively your own boss. You will pay a weekly fee to a driving school (such as BSM or the AA Driving School) and they will provide you with a car, which will be in good condition and should be replaced regularly. Depending on the franchise agreement, you can either find your own students or the driving school will put you in touch with them, and the fee you pay will vary accordingly. But as with any franchise, you will benefit from the high profile of the franchise brand.

Alternatively, you could set up on your own. You will have to buy and maintain your own car and advertise for students, but all the money you make is yours, once you’ve paid expenses and taxes. As with a franchise, your income will vary according to the number of hours you work but the amount you charge for lessons will depend on your reputation, as you cannot rely on the prestige of the franchise brand. You could also face stiff competition if there are lots of other instructors in your area.

When it comes to career progression there are a few options – you could become a senior instructor or driving school manager – or you could specialise in a particular area, for example teaching people to drive LGVs or PCVs. The Police and Fire Service employ driving instructors, and if you find you’re missing military life you could even look into working for the Defence School of Transport, which employs civilians as instructors.

DRIVING FORCE
As a driving instructor the hours can be long, and you will probably have to work evenings and weekends. But you can choose the hours you work and – whether you have your own business or operate as a franchise – you’re in control. As the DSA put it, you also have the opportunity of “starting new drivers on the road to a safe and enjoyable motoring career.”