Things that can go wrong

Cancelled lessons
One of the most common problems facing Driving Instructors is cancellations. It is a fact of life that you will get these no matter how professional you are or what safeguards you take. Like a pub landlord who has ullage, a shop keeper who has petty theft and the baker who throws good cake away at the end of the day. You will have to accept this as part of your profession. Do not let cancellations get you down or worried. Build them into your working model and budget for them. Cancellations can account for around two lessons a week. However that is not to say we cannot try to reduce them.

image of text reminder

Texting pupils the night before a lesson can often remind them. Use a simple text template that says something like;
This is to remind you of your lesson tomorrow, if there are any problems please text me back.

Ensuring you always turn up and on time will set the standard too. Fill in the pupil’s record card with the next date of the lesson too.

“All associates for 1st 4 Driving have an on-line record keeping widget for their pupils that is filled in on-line or their phone. The pupils can access this information through their on-line login and view how ready (or NOT) they are for test. Pupils and parent alike love this little app. If they do cancel, you will both have a record. All pupils get automatic text messages the night before too reminding them of their lessons. This service alone helps cut down massively on cancellations.”

Try to find a regular slot that fits in with each pupil’s other activities so they have the same time and day every week just like their college lessons. However, how you handle the actual cancellations can really make or break your future as a Driving Instructor.

When they cancel, and they will, do not immediately charge them. Ring them the night after and show concern, ask them if they are ok. Show regret by saying ‘I am sorry I missed you is everything ok?’ They will explain the reason. Sometimes valid, sometimes foolish, however the important thing is to get them back in the car next lesson. Simply re-arrange the next lesson and ensure you send a text to confirm. On that next lesson mention nothing until after the lesson. Say how you are enjoying teaching them and here is where you can politely remind them of any cancellation clause and inform them next time you will have to charge them. Nine out of ten times there will be no other problems. Let’s see how this works;

Scenario one
Pupils cancels on lesson ten and you ring them up and say they will have to pay double next week. The likelihood of the pupil showing for that lesson is slim.
Outcome one
You will lose payment for lesson ten and all the subsequent 40 lessons.

Scenario two
Pupil cancels on lesson ten; you ring up and show concern then book in lesson eleven. They will most probably show.
Outcome two
Lost payment for lesson ten but will get payment for the subsequent 40 lessons, in fact you will still get the payment for lesson 10 as they will still need that lesson sometime!

I would go so far as to say how you handle your cancellations can actually increase your business, as instructors who handle their cancellations fairly but firmly will attract pupils. You have to look at the bigger picture when handling cancellations not just at the immediate lesson.

Christmas cancellations

A note on the most cancelled lessons of the year, Christmas.

The first year I worked as an instructor, I worked over Christmas, well when I say I worked I mean I was available. All my pupils were asking me ‘am I working over Christmas?’ as they said they would all like lessons. Each morning I would get up, shower and dress only to find one by one my pupils were cancelling, sore throats, sick children and even dogs were amongst the excuses. One day I had 4 lessons and already 3 had cancelled. When the 4th called and before she had chance to say anything, I was quick to tell her if she wanted to cancel too then go ahead, I was a little short and suddenly felt very guilty as she asked, ‘was I working’ as she really wanted her lesson. I apologised and said of course I would be there, and I did the lesson and did not have the heart to charge her, sorry Leanne if you ever read this.

Now at the time of writing this, as I have explained there are more pupils than driving instructors can deal with. It is becoming common place to just get rid of a pupil for any reason and replace them. This might seem the easiest option, but I want you to consider, is it the best option long term? Could this have a negative impact on your school later? One day, the pupil lesson demand will return to normal, and I see the amount of driving instructors is increasing. So be careful here and think right.


When I say breakdowns, I refer to the car not the driving instructor. Breakdowns can happen at the most inconvenient times (is there ever a convenient time?) and are sometimes unavoidable; however, there are steps you can take to avoid them or at least limit the consequences. Having your car regularly serviced is, I would have thought, obvious, but do not forget those daily and weekly checks. As a safety net I always used to do every ‘show me, tell me check’, with the pupil as I picked them up for their driving test. That way if something did blow on the way to a driving test the pupil knew it was ok before. It also gives you a chance to fix anything at the last minute, this was on top of my usual morning walk around the car before lessons. It is surprising how many cars are refused on tests because of simple faults like bulbs blown or nails in tyres, all of which must have happened on the way to the test centre according to the instructor! In a post recently, I saw an instructor complaining that the examiner was refusing to take his car on a test because it had a 4cm cut in it. I found it difficult to believe this would have happened ‘en route’. But I was more concerned how instructors thought that the attitude of the examiner was being unreasonable. It is not uncommon for instructors to advise sticking chewing gum or blue tac in the cut and painting over it or turning the tyre around so the examiner can’t see it. The mind boggles as to why they are in a profession that is supposed to be about road safety.

A good idea is to carry spare bulbs (kits can be bought for each vehicle relatively cheaply). Also ensure you have any tools needed to change the bulb as some vehicles have special fixings. Practice changing the bulbs in case it happens to you on test as the examiner will give you a couple of minutes to sort it out. It is impossible to change bulbs quickly on some vehicles, so find out if yours is one of them. Spare fuses are a good idea too; fuses can often be blown when changing a bulb. Disposable gloves to keep your hands clean and some cleaning rags can be useful as well.

Never try to cover up information lights on the dashboard, this has been tried before and the examiners are wise to it. If the information light is glowing, then have it checked out. I heard of one example where the instructor covered the airbag warning light with a postage stamp!

Carry spare bulbs, kits can be bought for each vehicle relatively cheaply.

If you find any of this useful, my book Excellence In Driver Training, How to be a Good Driving Instructor has so much more and is available on Amazon