We’ve tried to cover everything a prospective On Fire learner driver might want to know here, but we may have missed a few things, or you may have a very particular requirement.
If you don’t find precisely what you want to know, simply call or email us – we won’t try to flog you a course of lessons. We will purely answer your questions, honestly, and let you make your own decision.
On Fire’s Guide on How Long Till Your Practical Test
One of the most frequent, and natural, questions we’re asked is ‘How long, i.e. how much money will it take, to get me to test standard?’
The answer you get from us, and from any driving instructor with integrity, is, ‘That depends on you.’
We’ve had folk, who’ve done their background work, who have done it in 20 lessons from scratch, but they’ve taken to it like a duck to water. A few have passed in just 15 lessons, but that was because they’d been driving off-road beforehand. The DVSA UK average is around 46 hours of formal lessons, plus 20-30 hours private practice.
On Fire’s average is around 25 hours of formal lessons for someone between 17 and 25, if coupled with regular practice in the family/a friend’s car. We must underline that this is our average – depending on learning speed, some may get to standard this quickly, but some may take more time to settle in.
Getting the Advantage
Driving is grown-up stuff, and if you’re prepared to read around your subject, understand the responsibilities of a modern driver; watch online vids of learners getting into pickles; gradually memorize the Highway Code, Know Your Traffic Signs etc., you’ll get on much faster. (This’ll also help you breeze through your Theory Test, btw!)
Likewise, if you’re a more hands-on type of learner, organise insurance and road time with a friend or relation – you’ll be able to practice everything you learn in your On Fire lesson, and again, get on much faster.
Gauge Your Learning Speed
Think about machinery you operate without thinking; a keyboard or typewriter; a video gamepad; a sewing machine; a bicycle and so forth. Think back to how long it took you to get to that ‘unconscious operation’ stage, and what you did to get there. Mistakes were part of the learning process – falling off the bike; sewing your thumb to the hem of your jeans, or sliding Lara Croft off that cliff, with that inevitable scream and cringy impact.
Starting to drive is exactly the same – you are practicing operating a piece of machinery, until you cease to think about the machinery. A car being a complex piece of kit, the ‘not thinking about it’ bit will likely come quite late in your driver training, as you need to also think about what everyone’s up to outwith the car. You, your instructor and the car are unable to respawn. Soz.
So have a think about how you have learned in previous ‘machinery usage’ situations, and you’ll get some idea as to how long it’ll take you to pick it up.
On Fire for Driving like to avoid the ‘Lara scream/death plummet’ stuff. So we spend quite a bit of time first-off on basic controls and junctions. Once you’ve got that down, you can safely make the essential learning mistakes without worrying about totalling us/yourself/the lovely car. As you work through this process, you’ll be glad to know. We’ve Got Your Back.
On Fire’s Guide on What To Expect On Your First Lessons
We fit in with how you want to learn – it doesn’t matter what age you are, teaching driving is firstly about instilling the practical skills and learning to trust your instructor.
Once that’s in place, it’s all about accessing your natural abilities to detect, and react safely, to a constantly changing landscape. And trusting yourself.
On Fire like to make the first lesson longer than normal – we won’t be watching the clock. We recognise that you need a fun, relaxed opportunity for you to get to know us, and us to get to know you. Basic car controls in a quiet place, where you can go as fast or slow as you please. We won’t push you if you’re nervous, and we won’t hold you back if you’re rarin’ to go.
We’re experienced instructors, who can identify the development points of ‘fast learners’, and identify the times to go gently, or even sometimes push, the more cautious.
We’ll expect you to ask questions – lots of ‘em! You’re paying for our expertise, so don’t be shy and lose the opportunity to pick our brains. Your relationship with your Instructor is, to a certain extent, a two-way street – we learn things from our students too! It doesn’t matter if you think a question is stupid, because you’re the one driving; your mind may throw up insights and interesting points that may not have occurred to us, or we may not have thought about for a while.
As far as time is concerned, we generally recommend that each of your lessons last at least 1.5 hours; this allows you to settle down, learn something new, and then practice it. So you don’t have to go over it again.
“I had some road experience on a motorbike, but knew driving a car would be like doing it all over again. After my first official lesson, pottering around Barrassie at 15mph doing junctions, John suggested that we ‘go for a drive’ on my second lesson. If I’d known it’d involve Stanecastle roundabout (ok, with full guidance!), and straight up to 40mph, then 60mph on the B769 to Stewarton, I’d have bottled it! I thought he was utterly bonkers, but the drive gave me a huge confidence boost, and I wasn’t the least bit scared – it reminded me that I could control a vehicle, negotiate a road, recognise signs and hazards etc.
Obviously, most folk are starting from scratch, but what impressed me was that John took the time to listen to me, took into account my experience, and had the instinct to know that ‘pushing’ me at that point would get me over that ‘OMG it’s a car, not a bike – I can’t see squat’ thing, which moved me on much faster in later lessons.”Pauline, Irvine
On Fire’s Guide for the Nervous Learner Driver
Anxiety is naturally going to pop up in any new situation, and starting to drive is like stepping into a room full of strangers …
They have unfamiliar rules, assess you in a different manner, and their behaviour can often be unlike most you’ve encountered before in life.
However, those beings you glimpse behind the windscreens of other vehicles are human. Even if you don’t know it now, you will be able to deal with them effectively using your natural ability to read other people. Luckily, you have your instructor by your side to guide you, and stepping through this particular door is never going to be as awful as you imagine.
Preparation can help enormously when you’re nervous; On Fire’s Founder, John, has written a number of absolutely basic, blow-by-blow guides on how to get a car going, (and how to stop it!) for one of our favourite sites, Driving Test Tips. Read through, and then have a look at it all in action: LDC’s Bob teaching Bobby Jo
The Three Types of Nervous Beginner Driver
Type A: ‘I’m nervous, yet excited.’
You’ll have no problem settling in – your nerves will keep you sharp, and your achievements will build your confidence. Honest … we know what we’re talking about.
Type B: ‘I’m hopeless at this sort of stuff, I’ll crash the car and damage it, maybe even kill someone.’
Not if we have anything to do with it. This kind of anxiety seems to be based on an imagined possibility – perhaps you’ve seen other drivers crash, know someone who’s crashed, or just seen too much negative stuff on You Tube! This is not your reality now.
A trust must be built between the pupil and the instructor from the get-go; we don’t abuse this trust by putting someone who is nervous into a situation where they might set back their progress. Oh, and like any good driving school, our cars have dual controls, so if you’re about to get it a bit wrang, we can intervene and keep everyone safe. You will make mistakes, and you will learn from them, naturally. And safely.
Stepping out of your front door, to be with the World, entails an element of risk. A very low risk, for sure, but a risk, nevertheless. If you are so very afraid of these imagined outcomes, why do you want to take driving lessons? For a job, for your own mobility, or to help someone perhaps? Fine motivations. But all contain an element of risk. Are you sure you’re not hiding behind ‘OMG, I’ll get daft and crash!’ to avoid changing your view of yourself as someone who always plays safe? Or to avoid the consequence of making mistakes? Think on it.
Type C: ‘I might cock it up, and then everyone will laugh at me.’
It’s really hard to arrive home after an hour+ of driving, when you’ve done all sorts of daft things, and answer ‘How did it go?!’ with a chirpy ‘Great!’. But the reality is that you’ve had an hour+ of road time, and the cock ups were a tiny percentage of that drive time. Don’t get so down on yourself!
Driving involves developing your ability to make your own decisions, based on your judgement and knowledge of the road. This requires you to firmly ignore others’ opinions, take an adult approach and make mistakes. You will stall. You will do weird things to the gearbox. You will take the odd corner so fast your brain will make ‘meep’ noises and you’ll want your old teddy oot the loft.
This is how you’ll learn to be a good driver; someone who relies upon their own expertise, not others’ ideas of what is smart. Someone whose confidence is built, not on others’ random opinions, but on trust in their own skill.
Your On Fire instructor will be your companion on the journey, not your critic*. So take a deep breath, jump in, and enjoy the new experience!
*Until you get to Test Standard, then we get really crabbit :-)
On Fire’s Guide for Parents of Learner Drivers
Paying for your child to achieve a driving licence is a handsome, life investment; we know that you want assurance that your money is being well spent!
Most teenagers have a completely different view of, well, everything. And they tend to keep this view private from their parents and other adults. Which makes gauging any achievements difficult, e.g. ‘How did the lesson go?!’ ‘It was alright. What’s for dinner? I’ve got to get Ryan at six.’ Shouting queries up the stairs, with muffled, and increasingly irritated replies, doesn’t give one much to go on …
On Fire provide each pupil with a log, in which we can record their level of competence at the end of each lesson, and agree targets for the next. Which could change, with reflection. We also keep our own record and notes, which we’re happy to discuss with you, either at the end of the lesson, or by telephone/email.
Please bear in mind that your son/daughter would probably view this as ‘nag material’, rather than keeping you informed! As mentioned elsewhere, different people learn at different rates, so your teenager may steam ahead in one aspect, but take longer to acclimatise in another. As older adults, we often take for granted wisdom, and a patience that has to be learned.
Some clients thrive on a measured, even-paced and more controlled teaching. Some take more control themselves, working with us to set goals and analyse their own areas for improvement. Our end goal is always to turn out responsive, competent drivers equipped with skills that will give them a lifetime of continued learning on today’s roads.
Now and Then
Any experienced driver will know that driving on today’s roads has changed a lot since we learned to drive! The roads are busier, the pass standard is higher, and the cars are more powerful and responsive. Which requires us to teach a greater personal responsibility that all these factors imply.
When we took our driving test, we probably had a couple of questions from the Highway code, and were then let loose for half-an-hour, achieving the coveted PASS without too much difficulty. Those days have long-since passed, and now your child will be expected to study hard, and pass a theory test comprising of 50 questions ranged across a number of groups, and a hazard perception video test, before they can even consider booking a practical test!
This all takes commitment and determination; it’s well worth discussing this aspect with your son/daughter, to make sure they are mature enough to understand that driving, although a great freedom, also requires a level of understanding that isn’t all learned behind the wheel. They alone will be responsible for their ‘out-of-car’ study, in order that they not only pass their theory test, but come to a full understanding of all that is involved in modern driving.
We guide and support your child in all aspects as they work toward that all-important goal. Having said that, we do expect them to take responsibility, and use the course notes and online learning aids we provide to help them achieve said goal in a timely manner.
It is hugely helpful (and economical!) if you can arrange for your son/daughter to gain experience, in perhaps, the family car, or a friend or relation’s car. It can be extremely beneficial to go over what they have learned so far, as it fosters greater confidence as well as competence. We’ll happily brief you on areas that need further practice, and the next agreed lesson targets.
We’ve had some very fast first passes using this system, simply because we don’t need to go over the same ground again.
As our students come closer to practical test standard, we talk less, and are more exacting. More critical. The majority of pupils are perfectly happy with this gradual change – they’ve become more self-reliant and confident under our guidance, and now realise this approach is essential to passing their test. A DVSA Examiner says very little! Our students’ confidence in their own skills means they can take being corrected as a positive.
However, as mentioned above, young people often don’t communicate their anxieties and concerns to adults with ease, and emotions can run high as The End hoves into view; underneath the ‘Yeah, it’s going great, I’m going to pass!’ front, may be a a broad array of, often surprising, factors that will undermine them under pressure. Feelings of not wanting to let people down are common, of costing family/friends more time and money if they get a fail, or simply a lack of confidence in themselves in a test situation, may all be lurking underneath the cheerful or confident exterior.
A few, a very few, aren’t able to take direction in the spirit that it is intended, especially in addressing areas to be improved by an assessment or mock test. A measure of understanding is needed from instructor, parent and/or peer at this point; a supportive attitude can help enormously during such lumps and bumps, avoiding backsliding or overwhelming feelings of ‘I’m rubbish!’.
We obviously prefer to avoid these situations – we have sufficient experience to identify a character trait that might create such a response, and head it off at the pass. But timing and mood can throw up unpredictable behaviour in young folk.
Consider: if such a person, having gained a full licence, out there in the rough and tumble, stalled in the middle of a junction (as even experienced drivers do, occasionally). With other motorists honking their horns and pulling angry faces. Would bursting into tears, and Facebooking their friends about how horrible peeps are, help? Would jumping out of the car, and starting a fight with the angriest looking of the inconvenienced motorists, help?
We would say that such a person would not be a safe driver; they might have all the practical and observational skills, but evidently they are subject to too many other pressures or insecurities, and have yet to learn how to deal responsibly with their own emotional state whilst driving.
This is probably the final, and most difficult skill a young driver must achieve. However, given the support of instructor and parent/peer, a confidence in their ability to control not just the car, but the ebb-and-flow of mind and emotions, can create a driver whose skill benefits everyone who shares the road with them. For life.
On Fire’s Guide for Older Learner Drivers
Taking to the road further on in Life can be quite daunting in many ways, but in our experience, it becomes a joy!
There are many reasons why you may wish to learn to drive in later years; a partner may be unable to take the wheel anymore; a change of vocation or location may require a driving licence, or it may simply have been something you’ve always meant to ‘get around to’ doing.
The first question we’re normally asked is, ‘Considering I won’t learn as fast as when I was twenty, how much longer is this going to take?’ The answer, although sounding rather trite, is, ‘No longer than anyone else.’
Simply because your life experience will have given you a greater ability to predict folks’ behaviour, which is a huge part of driving well. Yes, you may take somewhat longer to pick up the car controls to the point that you’re no longer really thinking about them, and getting the more technical stuff, like manoeuvres, may require more practice than others, but the previous point will balance this out.
As we mention on our How Long? page, the national average across all ages is around 40+ hours formal lessons, with 15 to 20 hours additional practice. Our advice to every new learner is budget for around £1000, but we tend to come in lower than this: you’ll cut your costs significantly if you have someone to practice with, and your character and experience may well move things along more quickly. Older learner drivers aren’t afraid of working at the subject: investigating techniques and tips from others and online; memorising the Highway Code and peripheral guides; picking their Instructor’s brain, seeking their opinions, and using their expertise as a resource.
Even the big, national driving schools see very few mature learner motorists, and On Fire are aware that our rather ‘sporty’, youthful image may seem somewhat off-putting for the seriously determined. However, our own little Ayrshire collection of older learner drivers have left our tender care very happy bunnies indeed: with a new skill, and new knowledge, an intact bank balance … and having had a lot of fun along the way!
The On Fire for Driving Team