Why become a driving instructor?
We speak to former race driver Iain Nicolson about how he got to where he is now.
What, you may well ask, would cause a 55-year-old software engineer to suddenly decide to become a driving instructor?
Good question! Well, for me a number of disparate factors came together to coincide with a tempting offer of a voluntary redundancy package. And so it came to pass that I swapped my desk and computer screen for a steering wheel and instrument panel.
In some ways, my change of career was a no-brainer. A life-long love of cars, which at its zenith saw me compete in Formula Ford 1600, meant that by my mid-fifties I had amassed many years (and miles) experience of most things automotive. And this, coupled with the enjoyment I had taken from training people to pass the advanced driving test, convinced me that I could become a competent professional driving instructor.
That was 5 years ago. Now, as the proprietor of Scorrybreck Driver Training, I regularly put my life in the hands of keen (and sometimes not-so-keen) students 40 years my junior instead of sitting safely behind a nice (stationary) desk.
I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly scary job, but perhaps that’s more because of experience (and possibly a lack of imagination) rather than bravery! In fact, I’m more worried about the actions of other drivers than my pupils. At least I have some form of control over a pupil – in extreme circumstances I have the comfort of knowing that I can grab the steering wheel and take over control of the car. Indeed, that’s something I wish I could do to certain other drivers who seem to have forgotten everything they were taught.
For example, I sometimes wonder if other drivers know what the ‘L’ plates on the back of the car actually signify – to some it seems to mean ‘potentially slow car, for god’s sake get past it as quickly as possible’, usually preceded by following said learner’s car at a distance measured in centimetres rather than tens of metres. Intelligent drivers will, of course, actually realise that a learner driver should be given even more space than normal – for the safety of all concerned. To all those intelligent drivers, I say ‘thank you’.
It may not be scary but it’s most certainly hard work. As an instructor, you don’t just teach – you’re also effectively ‘driving’ the car yourself and constantly comparing the actions of your pupil to your own experience, asking yourself questions such as “what gear would I be in here?”, “when would I start to slow down for this hazard?” and “can we safely pass this parked car without becoming a hazard to oncoming traffic?” And all the while you’re also watching what your pupil is doing, noticing where they are looking, keeping an eye on the time, and working out a route which is not only appropriate to the skill level of the pupil but also allows the lesson to end at the right place at the right time. Blimey! Who says men can’t multi-task?
It’s also quite a challenging job, but I have no doubt that my racing experience helps me to meet whatever challenges present themselves. If you can handle the organised chaos of the first lap of a Formula Ford race – when you not only have to think about getting your braking points, turning-in points and apexes right but also about the gaggle of other cars running in close proximity to you at just about any given point of the compass – then sitting beside a learner driver and keeping them right (and everyone safe – yes, even the guy glued to your rear bumper) isn’t too much to cope with. And at least it all happens a bit more slowly than on track. Usually…
But it’s not all hard work and challenges, it’s also very rewarding – especially when you see a pupil proudly clutching their pass certificate!
So the 55-year-old software engineer has become a 60-year-old driving instructor and waits to see what the next 5 years will bring. Just remember not to drive too close if you see me….!
Scorrybreck Driver Training, East Calder
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