Learning to drive post-coronavirus
What’s it like to take driving lessons and tests in a world that has been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic? We go back to school to find out...
Taking driving lessons can be nerve-wracking for novice drivers at the best of times, but now there’s a whole new set of guidelines for them and their instructors to abide by to keep everyone safe from Covid-19.
Driving lessons and tests have been on hold during England's third coronavirus lockdown, but they're restarting from 12 April. We went out on the road with a driving instructor and pupil last summer when lessons were back on after the first lockdown to see how things had changed.
When lessons resumed in England on 4 July 2020 after being on hold for almost four months during the coronavirus lockdown, all participants were asked to wear face masks and use hand sanitiser before getting into the car. The guidelines from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) also include advice on how instructors should contact their pupils ahead of each lesson and the correct way to sanitise their cars.
While quieter-than-usual roads will help to ease learners’ nerves, the hiatus has created a big backlog of novice drivers who are eager to get behind the wheel, so demand for lessons is likely to be high, and the extra precautions might mean that some instructors aren’t able to teach as many pupils each day. In addition, around 2500 of the UK’s 40,000 driving instructors are thought to have given up on the profession due to the pandemic.
Don Harris, owner of the Hallmark School of Driving and membership secretary for the Association of Approved Driving Instructors, says there was a lack of information from the DVSA on how and when they would be able to get back to work, and that has pushed some instructors to close their driving schools. Trainee driving instructor licences last for only six months, with instructors being required to give lessons during that time, and they weren’t able to do this during lockdown.
Before the lesson
Learners will have to pay more attention to their attire than before. You will be asked to wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and you might want to add an extra layer or two, because all lessons will take place with the car's windows open to maximise airflow.
You can expect a phone call or text message from the instructor ahead of each lesson to check whether you or anyone you’ve been in contact with has had Covid-19 symptoms. If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes’, the lesson will be postponed. The usual short-notice cancellation fee will be waived.
When the instructor gets to your house, they won’t knock on the door. They’ll first wipe down all the frequently touched surfaces in their car, including the steering wheel, gearlever, seatbelts, indicator and wiper stalks, door handles, rear-view mirror and door mirror adjusters.
They’ll then meet you outside the car, and they might take your temperature as an added precaution. You’ll both put on disposable gloves and face masks before getting into the car, and you can expect the instructor to provide an alcohol spray to sanitise your gloves.
During the lesson
Prior to lessons restarting, there was some debate over whether instructors’ cars should be fitted with plastic screens between the front seats. However, there were concerns that they could be dangerous in an accident, especially if a car’s airbags went off, and it could prevent instructors from taking control of the car if necessary.
There were also potential insurance implications, because the screens could have been regarded as modifications to the cars.
Similarly, face visors were considered for teachers and pupils, but these haven’t been adopted by any of the driving schools we spoke to. Instead, instructors and pupils are being advised to look ahead rather than at each other as much as possible during the lesson.
At the end of the lesson
Rather than you being given feedback and tips on the areas of your driving that need work while seated in the car, this will be done outside with the instructor standing a safe distance away from you. And the instructor is unlikely to make notes in a traditional logbook after each lesson.
Because neither of you should handle items such as pens and notebooks and then share them with the other person, you might be asked to photograph comments and diagrams on message boards or tablets using your mobile phone, or the instructor might send you feedback later via an email or text message.
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