Speculation or fact
There has been a lot of talk about the return to work for driving instructors. Much of it just speculation, dressed up like fact. In truth, nobody really knows the specifics relating to driving tuition. I have spent some time reading and re-reading the documents from the government as I seem to have a different view to a lot of people. I seem to see different things. Well known for seeing the fact not the fiction, I decided to read as much as I could. For example, I hear people say ‘you can’t go back to work if you can’t social distance’ but I see ‘you must go back to work and keep to social distancing where possible’. It’s the ‘where possible bit’ I wanted to evaluate.
Let me state, I am in no way saying driving instructors should go back to work, nor am I saying they should not. Far be it for me to tell any self-employed business what to do. This is for the business owner to decide and to evaluate the risks to their business versus the economics. And I think this is where we have the dilemma. Many self-employed driving instructors are looking for someone to tell them what to do. I am not surprised though, there is a huge amount of finger wagging coming from within the industry, even from associations. I am trying to look at all the facts objectively.
People are looking towards the DVSA for advice, but they are in the dark too. They postponed driving tests, only to have to postpone them again. Like every business, they are constantly changing and following the advice of the experts. I am led to believe they are having a meeting soon, if it’s not already happening but this will be to look at their responsibility, the testing. Some instructors are saying it’s pointless starting driving lessons until the DVSA resume testing. Surely that supports my argument that many instructors just teach pupils to pass a test. We teach a life skill; the test is just part of that. Also given that it can take many months to teach someone to drive, surely, we don’t need the DVSA to open first. (remember, I’m not saying go back to work)
The government say in their report ‘This is not a short-term crisis. It is likely that COVID-19 will circulate in the human population long-term, possibly causing periodic epidemics. In the near future, large epidemic waves cannot be excluded without continuing some measures.’i
This makes me think maybe we need to be thinking more along the lines of not when we go back to work but what can we do to reduce the risk ‘where possible’. All health and safety advice and recommendations come with that caveat, ‘where possible’. It means, people recognise there is no one size fits all and sometimes things are just not possible. If you were to build an extension onto an old business premises today, you would need to install disabled facilities ‘where possible’. You would look at every angle as to how you could do this but if your building was too old, or for any reason it was not possible, then you could still build the extension. (Subject to the proper regulations). The report goes on to say, ‘Many measures require the development of new safety guidelines that set out how each type of physical space can be adapted to operate safely.’ I see this as each employer (and you are your own employer) need to look at this new risk to their business and evaluate what you need to do in all reasonability to protect yourself and your customers. Each driving school will need to look as to what they can do to protect their instructors, and the pupils of those instructors. ii
‘Many businesses across the UK have already been highly innovative in developing new, durable ways of doing business, such as moving online or adapting to a delivery model. Many of these changes, like increased home working, have significant benefits, for example, reducing the carbon footprint associated with commuting. The Government will need to continue to ask all employers and operators of communal spaces to be innovative in developing novel approaches.’iii
The government support
Many self-employed businesses simply cannot afford to stay home much longer. The government initially gave out grants to some businesses with premises, then rolled out the furlough scheme followed by the self-employed scheme. There were many who found they did not fit any criteria for support, and I think some will still be disappointed in the support they get. Now the government have rolled out the ‘bounce back loans.’ There is a clue in the name really that the government are looking for businesses to start to go back. We are also hearing the possible reduction in the 80% to 60%. It is impossible for any government to sustain continued support at the rate it has for too long. Like our own finances, we might be able to cut back and defer payments for a while but soon you cannot defer, and the wolves are at the door. Many people are reporting that those companies who deferred payments are now starting to ask for them. There are some out there who have the luxury of not having to go back to teaching. For them the choice is easier. I know a few of my instructors trying to manage on their partners low income of Universal Credit alone. Either way, it’s a difficult choice.
When will it all end?
Well the simple fact is, probably not for a long time if ever. The virus is here and whilst eventually some medication might suppress it, the fact is, this or some other virus is likely to be around for some time. The report say ‘For the foreseeable future, workers should continue to work from home rather than their normal physical workplace, wherever possible’ and follows with ‘All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open.’ When I first read this I thought, that’s conclusive. Driving instructors need to go to work and use social distancing ‘where possible’ but it’s not possible so maybe they just limit the risk with Personal Protection Equipment PPE. But you need to dig a little deeper. A section in the report say’s ‘All workers who cannot work from home should travel to work if their workplace is open. Sectors of the economy that are allowed to be open should be open, for example this includes food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. The only exceptions to this are those workplaces such as hospitality and nonessential retail which during this first step the Government is requiring remaining closed.’ This list can be found at;
Now there is no ‘specific mention of driving schools or instructors but we are clearly not in the list of exceptions. These exceptions seem to relate to what might be called key workers, or roles that require keeping transport and logistics running. Whilst we are not a specific retail trade, we are not any of the others, so I have chosen retail as the closest comparative. If driving schools are looked upon as retail, then we might fit with the June 1st phase of re-opening. Providing we can meet the new COVID-19 guidelines.
‘Opening non-essential retail when and where it is safe to do so, and subject to those retailers being able to follow the new COVID-19 Secure guidelines. The intention is for this to happen in phases from 1 June; the Government will issue further guidance shortly on the approach that will be taken to phasing, including which businesses will be covered in each phase and the timeframes involved. All other sectors that are currently closed, including hospitality and personal care, are not able to re-open at this point because the risk of transmission in these environments is higher.’
I would be looking to work towards limiting the risks and the report seems to support this. Some might say it’s the governments way of removing their responsibility, but it amounts to the same. Business owners, self-employed need to make the decision. I would strongly advice, unless you’re in a position where you can afford to stay home, to look at ways of reducing the risk. The government will release more guidelines soon and as each organisation and representative body states their case, more guidelines and scenarios will become more involved and more situations covered. I would like to see our associations more looking towards the solutions rather than the problems. Or if they are, more publicly.
If we are not classed as retail, then the final stage is for large groups such as food establishments where people gather and the virus can be communicated to a large group over a short time. I don’t think this applies to us but could be wrong. In a food hall, you need to remove a face covering to eat, there is greater risk of transfer and lets not even go with hot sweaty night clubs with hundreds on a dance floor where any form of social distancing will be a blur at the bottom of an alcho pop. (Do they still do them LOL) The opening of such sectors is likely to take place in phases during step three, in July but if that does happen, lets enjoy the summer as best we can.
What can we do in the car?
Well by far the best advice is the hand washing. Everything I have looked at, read and seen shows strong evidence that good hand washing can break the chain of transfer. Difficult in the car, but good alcohol-based cleaners and maybe more regular stops could help. The government are now leaning towards ‘face coverings.’ I have seen a lot of evidence showing why this has not been recommended before. Partly it gives a false sense of security in people thinking they don’t need to social distance because they’re wearing a mask. But I think the government are truly scared they won’t be able to supply the hospitals if we all go out and buy the medical masks. This is only an idea but, in the report, they say, not to buy medical mask and reserve them for hospitals etc.
‘Face-coverings, as more people return to work, there will be more movement outside people’s immediate household. This increased mobility means the Government is now advising that people should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops. Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically’
The wearing of face coverings by instructor and pupil would go a long way towards reducing risk. I read that the virus is less likely to be transmitted in well ventilated areas, so here’s another step that can be taken. It is very possible to message pupils before lessons to do small health screenings. In fact, I think my school could integrate this into an automated message along with the lesson reminder. Cleaning the inside of the car with an anti-bacterial cleaner would be wise too.
Now all these things are basic and won’t completely eliminate risk. Someone needs to be doing research into this and coming up with a plan to offer the government to state our case as instructors and driving schools to show we are pro-active and taking the COVID-19 risk assessment seriously. But those that should, seem to be more in line with doom and gloom and how we will not be back to work until July, no September, no next year or if ever……………
Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI (or Driving School Dave) is the most qualified driving school owner in the country, after completing his Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education in 2011 at Middlesex University. He also holds a diploma in Driving Instruction and is a Cert Ed. qualified teacher. Dave is the founder and Managing Director of 1st 4 Driving Ltd, and also looks after over 15 driving schools across the country on a consultancy basis.