I'm a driving instructor in Darwin (Northern Territory, Australia).
This article (or blog) is intended to be read by visitors to certain UK driver instruction & training forums in the UK, in response to discussions about out-sourcing or privatising UK driving tests currently performed by the DSA (Driving Standards Agency).

8th April 2012
  • Licensing sequence
  • Certificate expires"
  • So why am I happy?
  • RTOs and the AQF
  • Aligning with an RTO
  • "Now We Test You"
  • Production line licensing
  • Too scared to drive?

12th April 2012
  • Implementing the system

13th April 2012
  • Quality instruction?

6th May 2012
  • A month later

20th May 2012
  • More feedback

8th April 2012.

As of the 6th of March this year, I can no longer assess my own students for a driving licence, they now have to take the public driving test with a government licensing examiner ... and I'm relieved !!!!

First I'd better explain the licensing sequence in the Northern Territory:
  1. At age 16+, pass a written or oral road rules test then an eyesight test, and be issued with a Northern Territory Learners Licence. The holder can drive a class-C vehicle (car) accompanied by a full licence-holding supervisor, wearing L-plates and limited to 80kmh/50mph, with ZBAC (Zero Blood Alcohol Content).

  2. After 6 continuous months on the Learners Licence, eligible to attempt a VORT (Vehicle On Road Driving Test) with an LTO (Licence Testing Officer) from the MVR (Motor Vehicle Registry, our equivalent to your DSA). Successful candidates receive an NT Provisional Licence allowing them to drive a class C vehicle with P=plates up to 100kmh/62.5mph with ZBAC, unaccompanied.
    Or ...

  3. Or enrol in a certificate course, on completion receive Certificate TLIC107C "drive car" and present it to a state/territory licensing authority to receive a Provisional Licence.

  4. After 2 years (1 year if age 25+) receive a full class-C licence with no speed restrictions (other than safe & legal of course), with a BAC of 0.05% or less.
Option 3. is no longer available because TLIC107C "expired" in March and there is no replacement certificate course on the horizon.

So why am I happy about it?
No more phone calls along the lines of: "my friend did 3 lessons with instructor 'X' and got a certificate for their licence, can you do it too?" Or, simply: "I know how to drive, I want you sell me a certificate".

Further explanation:
To conduct a certificate course under the AQF (Australian Quality Framework) an instructor must either be an RTO (Registered Training Organisation) or train/assess on behalf of an RTO, because only an RTO can issue an actual certificate.
Individual NT instructors don't opt to become an RTO as it is a long-winded and extremely expensive process which could take a year or more, only cashed-up companies tend to go that route.
The certificate system is under the Australian Federal Government whereas each state or territory government is responsible for licensing & vehicle registration - a nightmare situation.
Instructors aren't checked in any way except for their qualifications (which often aren't worth the expensive paper they are printed on).

The RTOs are strictly audited on a regular basis, many operators come close to a nervous breakdown as audit time approaches.
However the auditors are usually workers from state/territory education departments and their only qualifications in the driver training/assessing area is that they probably have a driver's licence.
Auditing is done for "compliance" - paperwork only - no auditor goes out into the field to watch trainers at work. Note: the auditors don't have qualifications or experience in the various disciplines being trained & assessed.

A few years back I was training/assessing in cars & heavy vehicles for an RTO.
I was sent to a remote area for a while and shared accommodation with fellow trainers from other disciplines.
I remember one trainer saying that he was uncomfortable assessing and certifying local indigenous people in roofing houses, as his own qualifications were in concreting only - not roofing.

In Darwin I, along with a few other instructors, aligned with an RTO based in Queensland.
I chose to work with this RTO as the ex-policewoman owner seemed keen to do things properly, she told us she wanted to run a tight ship with no hanky-panky - quality training only!
The training package she produced required an 18-question written assignment, comprehensive behind-the-wheel training including night time and under-bonnet checks, and a 50-question test at the end.
Sounds good doesn't it? However, the package had problems - badly laid-out paperwork, blurry multiple-generation photocopied diagrams, etc.
Some of the questions in the multiple choice test included a list of possible answers where none of them were actually correct!
And the record sheets for the behind-the-wheel sessions only allow for 8 hours in total, no kidding.
When the RTO owner briefed us on the course she would make comments like "When they've done their 8 lessons and are ready to be signed off ..." (!!!)

As you can imagine, many ADIs took to the system like a duck to water, two driving schools proudly displayed "NOW WE TEST YOU" sign written in large letters on their cars.
I found out that one rather dodgy ADI (many of ours are dodgy in one way or another) solved the written test problem by giving the student a test paper already filled out - all the student had to do was sign it.

A large RTO seemed to run a production line system, you booked in and did a one day theory class (the instructor often coming in hours late) followed by a test, then a drive in a car on one of the following days.
If you weren't up to standard - and believe me their standards are low, I know this because some of my students gave up tying to pass a test and went to them for a quick solution - you might do one or two lessons before being signed off.

Because my colleague & I would not short-cut our training, most students went to the other schools or the large RTO. I only completed 5 TLIC107C students in the last year, my colleague refused to do any at all - whereas some schools made their living doing mostly certificate work on a "train with us and get a quick licence" basis.

Now that certificate training & assessing has stopped when TLIC107C expired, at least one ADI is in dire straits.
He is a rather nasty piece of work, known for hitting his students on the arm.
I was once parked up in a quiet carpark getting a student ready to drive on her first lesson, the ADI in question entered the carpark with a student of his own - he was behind the wheel - and zoomed past at a dangerous speed missing us by mere centimetres (the wind blast made my car move on its suspension a bit).
On another occasion a student pointed him out and asked who he was, when I questioned her she said her husband was following behind his car on a motorcycle when the ADI had flipped a lighted cigarette out the window (I think he smokes with students in the car too).
The RTO owner had a phone argument with him about unpaid RTO fees, she told me that he threatened to stab her.
Sweet guy! But many of his immigrant students love him because they can get a licence easily through him (or rather, they could up till now).
Others are angry that he didn't teach them properly, we get a lot of feed back in this regard.

We also hear about students who failed their test but went to an RTO to get their licence quickly - some of the youngsters are too scared to drive as they don't feel at all confident, and I'm often told by my students that they have friends who were licensed via the certificate system and they are "awful drivers", some refuse to be driven around by their friends for this reason.

12th April 2012.

My main criticism of our system is not so much the system itself but how it's implemented, especially in the Northern Territory.
We have a relaxed, laid back lifestyle here but our "slack" attitude permeates into every aspect of our life - including driver training and how government departments handle their business.

I once had cause to visit a local ADI to discuss the certificate system, we were both training/assessing for an RTO and wanted to work out the best way to handle the paperwork that the RTO required (sending in the paperwork after signing off a student involved at least 50 A4 sheets of paper!).
This ADI took me to task for "setting training standards that are too high" - he complained that I and my colleague were making it hard for the rest of the NT instructors by "teaching unnecessary things" adding that we don't have to teach much at all because the student will teach themselves over time once they are out driving by themselves (implying that it is quite OK to sign a student off very early).
God help us!!!

13th April 2012.

Today at a suburban corner store, the young man serving me saw my shirt driving school logo and confused it with that of another ADI who is no longer training in the NT (both logos feature L & P plates).
Oh, he said, are you working for "X" Driving School?
I replied that no I don't work for anyone but myself, adding that I would have refused to work for that particular instructor even if he asked me as our standards differ.
Yes, he replied, he's the instructor who "gave licenses to just any kid, wasn't he?"
The ADI in question was well known, he trained in a very powerful turbo-charged Japanese sports car and was famous for getting his students up to 100km/h as soon as possible (often on their very first driving lesson).
I used to dread taking on his ex-students as they had no concept whatsoever of how the clutch is used and how it affects the car.
One of his students told me that he often complained that "L plates attract the Police" (I myself have never once been followed around or hassled in any way from NT Police while training) - any instructor with an ounce of sense would know that a powerful sports vehicle used as a training car would surely attract the attention of the Police.

The ADI stopped doing driver training for the NT Government's DTAL log book program and worked with another instructor (mentioned above) signing people off on the certificate system.
A lot of their clients were youngsters who failed their driving test then decided to get their licence the easy way.

Recently I delivered a theory class to a group of students on one of the NT's training programs.
Known as "2nd Theory", the class is for students who have reached a certain stage of their training i.e. about half way through their log book.
One of my students said enthusiastically that his instructor is the best.
He told us how the ADI always arrived for a lesson with the radio on loud and let him do whatever he wants including having the radio on (as long as any music was the type the ADI liked).
I've heard the same about other instructors too.

I think I know where the ADIs got this idea from - the Australian Federal Government's keys 2 drive (k2d) program - and they have completely misundertood it.

Most of the NT ADIs attended a workshop where we were introduced to this excellent program which provides information coaching and support for learner drivers, their accompanying drivers, and their instructors.
One of the features of k2d is ensuring that learners are ready to actually drive safely when going solo after passing their driving test, as many learners are unprepared for the abrupt transition between "I do as I'm told" to "I'm able to find my own way".
A training technique used when the learner is close to their test is to introduce distractions such as conversation or radio, and to encourage the learner to think for themselves e.g. planning a route to a particular destination then driving it safely and efficiently.
This is of course implemented in the final stages of the training, not from day one!

6th May 2012.

It's been a month since the demise of TLIC107C, and instructors now have to present ALL of their students to MVRs for class C (car) licence tests.
An LTO (Licence Testing Officer) told me that the fail rate has gone up at least 10%.
He told my colleague that the quality of some of the test candidates is apalling, some can't even get out of the car park safely and driving tests are now getting quite scary!
A possible reason for this (and an the obvious one in my mind) is that undertrained candidates who would otherwise have simply been given their certificate, now have to pass a test with an independent examiner.

20th May 2012.

I visited the shop again for a diet cola, this time I was served by another young man who noticed the driving school shirt logo and asked me if I had a student called X.
I said no and asked if she was a friend of his. He said he'd asked because she'd told him that her instructor lost his temper and yelled at her.
I get this type of feedback about various NT instructors quite often.

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