Author Archives: Dave Shannon

Dave Shannon

About Dave Shannon

I own and run Drive Ahead School of Motoring. We're a driving school based in Stoke on Trent and North Staffordshire, and at present have 6 driving instructors including myself. We offer learner driving lessons to pupils of all standards, as well as post test tuition, and most recently we now have fleet driver trainers Visit us www.driveahead.co.uk

Driving Lessons Return!

We’re Back!

After over 3 months of lockdown, driving lessons have been given the green light to restart from the 4th July 2020. Our driving instructors are keen to get going again and I’m sure our learners are too. However, the world re emerge into is different than the one we left. With Coronavirus still an ongoing issue, the safety of our both our instructors and our learners alike is our biggest concern.

What to expect on your driving lesson

To try and create a safe environment in our cars we have put the following procedures into place:-

  • Your instructor will message/call you on the morning of your lesson to confirm you, your family, or anyone you’ve come into contact with does not have or had coronavirus or any symptoms (however mild) in the last 14 days.  If you have, then your lesson will not go ahead.
  • When your instructor arrives for the lesson they will not come to the door.  Please look out for them.  On arrival the instructor will wipe down all contact areas in the car so please keep your distance to give them time to do this. Please wash your hands before you come out for your lesson.
  • Face masks must be worn for the duration of the lesson.  You may bring your own, or we can provide one at the start of the lesson for £1.
  • The instructor will provide hand gel for you to use at the start and end of the lesson.  – The windows will be kept open wherever possible to provide good ventilation throughout the car.
  • At this time we will not be accepting cash for lessons.  You can either pay your instructor by bank transfer (this must be done before coming out for the lesson) or by card (this will be done outside the car).

These procedures will remain in place until the government or the DVSA issues alternative guidelines.  If you have any queries then please contact your instructor directly, or email us – info@driveahead.co.uk

Driving and Theory Test Update 15th June 2020

The Driving Test

When the country first went into lockdown back in March, the DVSA rescheduled every upcoming test that was booked. Initially some of these were booked for May and June, but as the length of the lockdown increased these tests were again rescheduled for later in the year.

So what’s the latest?

After weeks of speculation as to when driving tests will actually go ahead, the DVSA have finally made an announcement. Due to the unique social distancing challenges that the driving test presents, the DVSA have decided to cancel ALL driving tests with immediate effect. They have several reasons for this:

  • the dates given may not have been suitable for either the candidate or the instructor
  • the DVSA cannot be certain how many examiners they will have available when testing begins
  • it is uncertain as to the testing capacity of each test centre (for example, it’s not uncommon to see 5 or 6 tests going out at one time in regular conditions – 6 candidates, with 6 intructors and 6 examiners – 18 people in a very small room can’t social distance!)

What happens next?

Once the DVSA have decided on when tests will resume and what the availability will be, they will then invite the candidates who have had tests cancelled to rebook. This will be done in small batches to avoid overloading the system. When all of these candidates have rebooked their test the system will then be opened up to the general public to book their driving test. At the moment we have no further information as to when tests will begin again.

What if I’m a critical worker?

Critical/key worker tests will still go ahead as planned. If you are classed as a critical worker you can still make an application for a test by visiting https://www.gov.uk/apply-emergency-driving-test

The Theory Test

At present theory tests are suspended until the 3rd July 2020. The DVSA have been postponing the theory test by just a week or two at a time so this date may change. If you have a theory test booked before this date then the DVSA will contact you directly to rearrange. The DVSA is still taking theory test bookings which you can do at www.gov.uk/book-theory-test.

What about driving lessons?

We hope you and your family are all staying safe during this time, and we know it’s frustrating for those who want to have lessons and get their driving licence. At the moment the only people that are allowed to take driving lessons are critical workers who already have an emergency test booked. Anyone else is not permitted to take a driving lesson with an instructor. There is no guidance yet as to when lessons may resume, we will update you again when we no more. We appreciate your patience during this time and as soon as it’s safe to do we’ll be back on the road!

10 years as a driving instructor!

Today, 12th September 2015, marks 10 years to the day of me giving my first lesson as a driving instructor. I can’t remember the actual date that I qualified, I think it was about the 25th August 2005, but I remember both the preparation and trepidation of being ready for that first lesson. When I first started, I worked for a local school called Wheels Driver Training. Jim Rowley was the owner, and he helped me so much in those early days. From showing me local routes (my knowledge of the Stoke on Trent area was limited), to helping with questions I had about teaching, if it wasn’t for Jim I doubt I’d still be a driving instructor today. Jim was a very laid back character, much like myself, and a lot of what he did in his business has transferred to how I run mine today.

Typically car insurance gets cheaper on your 25th birthday, and I was not 25 for another 5 days, so Jim kindly let me teach in his Vauxhall Corsa for the first week so that I didn’t have to pay over the odds for my first years insurance. My first driving lesson was with a lad called Brett. The lesson went ok, I think I was as nervous as my pupil was, but we managed to get most of the things done you’d expect on a first lesson. Over the course of the week I gradually gained confidence in my teaching and started to settle in to being a driving instructor. On Saturday 17th September 2005, I was finally insured on my brand new Mini and started my lessons the following week with great excitement. The Mini was a great teaching car, and really good for business. Almost every learner that rang Wheels was asking for lessons in a Mini which helped me to have a really busy start to this new career.

After a couple of years of working 60 hour weeks, I wasn’t sure if being a driving instructor was something I wanted to do long term. So I studied from home to qualify as a mortgage advisor – just as the recession started – good timing eh! I left Wheels as I was now generating enough work to keep going on my own, alongside working part time with Butters John Bee as a mortgage and insurance advisor. Due to the recession, the time needed to make the transition into financial services a full time job after 18 months of trying, and with 2 young children, I had to make the decision to stick with being a driving instructor.

During that period my Dad had also qualified as a driving instructor and was working independently, so we decided to work together and ‘Learn with DAD’ was born. Not the greatest of names, it actually stood for ‘Learn with Dave and Dave’ (if you haven’t guessed, my Dad and I share the same name). After a couple of years we were both really busy. I made the decision that I wanted to grow the driving school and take on other instructors on a franchise basis. ‘Learn with DAD’ wasn’t going to be a name that would be attractive to the wider market so I embarked on finding a new name. I asked pupils, friends and family for suggestions and then picked a shortlist of 5 names which I asked my learners to vote on. The winner was ‘Drive Ahead School of Motoring’ which was the name my wife came up with (she still reminds me of this to this day). So in August 2010 Drive Ahead School of Motoring was born and we launched the website www.driveahead.co.uk. In the early days I wasn’t too sure as to what I was doing, I learned to code and created my initial websites from scratch which was very time consuming, but also very satisfying. I’d never run a business before so many things were guesswork. Things like advertising on Google was done by trial and error, and admittedly there was probably a lot of money wasted in those early days.

In the April of 2012 I took on my first paying franchisee, Martin Molyneux. Martin joined me from Red Driving School, and I’m pleased to say is still with Drive Ahead today. Over the next few years, the business slowly grew and I continued to learn more and more about how to run a successful business.

In February 2013 I attended the Fresh Start conference run by Marc Ford. I saw several great speakers that day, the most memorable being Dr Julia Malkin. If you ever get to meet Julia, or get the opportunity to listen to her as a speaker, then make sure you take it. The work she has done for the driving school industry is astounding, and her knowledge of learning difficulties is absolutely amazing.

Later that year, I decided I wanted to take my business to the next level so I contacted David Holland from www.resultsrulesok.com. For those that don’t know David, he’s a very successful business coach who works with multi national companies and is much too expensive for me – his words not mine. He gave me some great advice and some recommended reading to get me started, and advised that I get in touch with Marc Ford. At this point Marc had just started to hold quarterly business meetings called Fresh Plans which I began to attend. I’ve been attending these meetings ever since, and I also work with Marc on a 1 to 1 basis on all aspects of my business.

So here we are on September 12th 2015, working with Marc has made my business more profitable and I don’t work weekends anymore, so I’m not sharing my 10th anniversary with my learners. Instead I’m spending quality time with my family, which I’ve been able to do much more of lately. Drive Ahead has now grown to 6 instructors, with another currently in training, and I’m still looking for more instructors. There’s so much more to tell, so many more details in between, but I haven’t got all day to write it (and I’m sure you don’t want to spend all day reading it). I want to thank everyone who has been part of my journey so far, and I’m looking forward to the next 10 years with the exciting challenges it may bring…

What’s the difference between a pint of Peroni and a driving instructor?

It’s been said many times that if you were to line up 5 driving instructors and ask a learner to choose, how would they know the difference between them? In the end, we all do the same job. We take a nervous 17 year old who has limited driving knowledge and experience, and we train/instruct/coach them to be a competent driver who we hope will be safe on our roads. How the heck are they supposed to choose and know the difference between us?

What’s normally the first question you get when you answer the phone with an enquiry about driving lessons? – How much are the lessons? – If you’re charging above the average rate, I can hear your sighs now. For those who are charging the industry bottom prices (I heard of someone recently charging £14 for a driving lesson!) you’ll be rubbing your hands together when the price question rears its head – yeah well done, you got them. You won them over by being cheaper than everybody else – well done you – how many hundred hours a week do you work?

For those of us that charge a higher rate, you know the phone call is generally only going one way.

So how do you go about justifying charging more for driving lessons?

Now, this might sound like an odd analogy, but it came to me one night whilst in a hotel, the night before going on holiday. A driving instructor is like a pint of beer – told you it was an odd analogy! I enjoy a beer, a lager to be more precise, and I’m quite picky, I like a nice quality lager. At my local pub I often enjoy a nice cold pint of Peroni, it’s pricey at £4.20 a pint, but I enjoy it, and I enjoy the atmosphere of the pub. I’m sure I could get it cheaper at the local Weatherspoons, but it doesn’t have the ambience I’m looking for, and certainly isn’t a place I’d go to for a nice drink with my family. Last night, in the hotel bar, I was pleased to see they served Peroni, so I went ahead and ordered one. The Peroni there cost £5.10, roughly 20% more than I’d pay in my local pub.

So why does it cost more?

It’s still the same amber liquid I could purchase from many establishments across the UK. The difference is the package. At my local, my Peroni would sometimes come in the custom glass the brewery made for the drink. Sometimes, if all the good ones had been stolen, I’d get it served in a generic glass, which although it still tastes the same, it’s just nicer in a proper glass. Sometimes I’d be served by the landlord who’s quite chatty, other times it might be the new girl who couldn’t care less. At the hotel, the barmaid was professional and courteous, the hotel bar was spotless, there were free nuts poured fresh if you wanted them (not the same pot everyone’s had their dirty hands in), and the furnishing was comfortable and modern as you’d expect from a nice hotel.

So what’s my point? If you put a pint of Peroni from Weatherspoons, my local, and a nice hotel all side by side, they’d all look and taste the same. The reason the prices are different is because of the service that is offered around the pint. As a driving instructor you are the pint of beer, to the untrained eye you’re no different from the rest of us. The potential learner generally doesn’t know about the ADI grading system. Your driving school is the establishment – your package – and this is the key to unlocking your earning potential. Do you want to be Weatherspoon’s School of Motoring charging £14 an hour, or do you want to be the Nice Hotel School of Motoring charging £30+ an hour?

I know which one I’d prefer to be, and I’m working hard to achieve it so that I, and the other instructors that are with my franchise can earn a decent living. How you go about becoming the top class school is entirely up to you, but think outside the box, think about how you can add value to your lessons, and about how you can exceed your learners expectations – give them an experience they can’t forget!

I wish you all the best with your business, but I challenge you to be the best!

Dave Shannon

Fresh Plans …bringing balls to your business!

Whether you do it now or later, I strongly recommend you watch this 15 minute TED video – it’s not about the profanity shouting teddy bear, but if you want to succeed in business it’s just as entertaining http://www.ted.com/talks/larry_smith_why_you_will_fail_to_have_a_great_career

I’m pretty sure all of you can relate to what Larry Smith talks about in this video. How many times have you been to a meeting or conference, felt utterly inspired, but within a couple of days (a week at most), you have taken not followed up all the things you said you were going to do? Within less than a couple of weeks you’ve probably forgotten you even attended the event. As Larry Smith says, this is why you WON’T have a great career. You need to be passionate about what you do, if you sit on your backside all day hoping your business will look after itself you’re very much mistaken!

In September I’ll be celebrating my 10th anniversary as a driving instructor, and I’ve run Drive Ahead School of Motoring in Stoke for the past 5 years. Although my business has grown, there’s now 6 driving instructors at Drive Ahead, with more training at the time of writing, it wasn’t until the last 12 months that I’ve started to think of myself as a businessman – I’m quite happy to admit I was winging it! For the past 9 months I’ve been working with Marc Ford and a small group of like minded professionals to improve my business and to realise my true potential as a business owner. With quarterly meetings at Fresh Plans I’ve learned so much about running a business and what it takes to succeed. In addition to this I also have fortnightly 1 to 1 Skype conversations with Marc.

For those who don’t know Marc Ford, he runs a small driving school in Worcester, he is a business coach to many, and has years of retail and business experience which he uses to help others succeed. Almost forgot, he’s also just completed one of his biggest achievements – his MBA degree!

During our fortnightly calls we discuss my business, recent progress, plans for the future, and how I’m going to achieve them. Back in April of this year I made a business plan for the next 12 months – I’ve already met and exceeded most of the targets that I set. Over the years I’ve “if’d and ah’d” at getting things done, but on many occasions let things lie or opportunities drift past me. Marc gives me the focus to set these targets and gives me the balls to get things done. Since I began work as an instructor I’ve worked 6 days a week, and even on the 7th day I’d still be doing ‘work’ things. For a long time I’ve said I’ll cut out my Saturday’s and just work Monday to Friday, allowing me a full weekend with my family. Although I’ve said it, I’ve never done it. Working with Marc, this was one of my first targets. Within a few weeks I’d done it, I’ve now had weekends off for the past 3 months, and enjoyed some great times with my loved ones – money can’t buy that. I’ve also had targets for increasing lesson prices which I’ve often put off as fear work will dry up. Following my conversations and guidance with Marc, Drive Ahead now has one of the highest lesson prices in our area with further increases planned for later in the year, and we’ve never been busier.

Im pretty sure I could’ve achieved what I have achieved over the past 12 months on my own, I’m also pretty sure it would’ve taken me much longer. Wby working with Marc, I’m going to defy Larry Smith, I’m going to have a great career, as I WILL get things done. It won’t always be easy, I will make mistakes, and things won’t always go to plan. Are you going to be the one Larry’s talking about? The person who has the great ideas but never does anything about it? Or would you like to have a great career? If you’re the latter then come and see what Fresh Plans is all about. I’m not here to sell Fresh Plans to you, I’m just sharing with you my experiences. The next quarterly meeting is https://www.facebook.com/events/370774156453829/ – Hope to see you there!

Top tips for driving in Snow

Tips for Driving in Snow
Although the snow always looks very pretty from the window, it can often produce treacherous conditions. So to try and help you out with a little bit of advice, here are Drive Ahead’s top tips for driving in snow:

– only drive if your journey is absolutely necessary. There’s no pointing risking driving in the bad conditions unless you have to.

– Make sure your WHOLE car is cleared of snow. Maybe people clear the windows then go. Leaving snow behind on the roof or bonnet is very dangerous. As your car warms up, the snow will begin to melt and could slide over your windscreen or onto the road causing dangerous conditions for any vehicle that may be following.

– Make sure you and your car are prepared. Ensure your tyres are well maintained, and your lights are all working. Put some warm clothes, a flask with a hot drink, a shovel, and some grit in your boot in case you get stuck.

– Stopping distances can be up to TEN times longer in snowy/icy conditions. Be prepared that the car will not slow down as easily as it normally would. Keep your overall speed lower, and start your braking considerably earlier than you normally would.

– If your car begins to skid from the rear, turn your wheels into the skid. Eg, if your back end is going right, steer right to counter the skid.

– Always try and drive in the highest gear you can without the car struggling. Keeping the engine revs down will reduce the chance of the wheels spinning.

– If you’re trying to get up a hill, don’t rev the engine, it’ll only encourage a skid and won’t help at all to get up the hill. Keep the acceleration to the minimum you can.

The Big Learner Relay is coming to Stoke on Trent!

Big Learner Relay
On the 14th November 2014, the Children in Need Big Learner Relay comes to Stoke on Trent. It’s journey began in Northern Ireland on 30th October and is travelling the length and breadth of the country with driving instructors passing a roof top box from one car to the next after taking a learner on a driving lesson. On the 14th November the roof top box will arrive on a driving lesson from Macclesfield, and will meet the Stoke on Trent team at Asda in Tunstall at around 9.45am. After lots of photos and celebrations, Drive Ahead School of Motoring will be leading a convoy of driving lessons from Stoke on Trent to Asda in Stafford where the roof box will be passed on again to continue it’s journey. The Big Learner Relay will come to an end in Birmingham on the evening of 14th November.

How did the learner relay come about?

During the 2013 coverage of Children in Need, Louise Walsh, a driving instructor from the New Forest, was watching with her driving instructor husband. While she was watching she wondered that, surely as an industry, we could all do something to raise funds for Children in Need. This is when the Big Learner Relay was born. Following months and months of planning by Louise and the Learner Relay committee, the Big Learner Relay came to fruition, and the first car left Northern Ireland on the 30th October 2014. Over the duration of the relay, 147 driving instructors will lead a leg of the relay covering over 2,500 miles, and raising thousands of pounds for Children in Need. At the time of writing the relay has already made over £20,000 with 8 days still to go!

How can you get involved?

The Stoke on Trent leg will leave Asda in Tunstall at 10am on Friday 14th November. Cars will be arriving from around 9.30 and we’ll be parked up in a prime position outside the front of the store. Please come along and cheers us on, take photos, and make donations. In the meantime you can donate by texting PASS52 £5 to 70070 (for a different amount just change the £5 to your desired amount) or you can go to our Just Giving page at www.justgiving.com/BigLearnerRelayStoke/