Time to give Driving Instructors a little respect!

Unite driving instructors demanding a little respect

Laura Broxson: Driving is a life skill. Whether you want to get your own car or not, having a driver’s licence gives you options both at home and when on holiday. But when you took your driving lessons, did you give any thought to what’s involved in being an ADI (Approved Driving Instructor)? I know I didn’t, and it’s more complex than you would think.

A common question I get asked is: do we work for the RSA (Road Safety Authority)? No. We just do our exams with them, like members of the public would for driving tests. For those that don’t know, the RSA is a state agency formed by the Irish Government to promote road safety within the Republic of Ireland.

Becoming an ADI can take around to six to eight months, assuming you pass all three exams first time – a theory test, a driving test, and a teaching test. We then have to repeat the final test every two years, a ‘Check Test’, in order to keep our jobs.

Once we are fully qualified, we can choose to work for a driving school, become a franchisee, or teach as a sole trader (self-employed).

“The Covid-19 pandemic has been an eye-opener in terms of seeing how disrespected workers are”

The Covid-19 pandemic has been an eye-opener in terms of seeing how disrespected workers are, and how the government time and time again drag their heels when it comes to the simplest of things, which could be easily fixed.

Driving instructors, despite mostly being sole traders, haven’t escaped this disrespect – which is why a group of us joined Unite and formed our own branch. When the country opened up after the first lockdown, ADIs first heard that we were classed as ‘essential workers’ and could resume working, during a government announcement on the RTE News. There was no prior contact or engagement from either the RSA or the Dept. of Transport with us, nor were we provided with any health & safety protocols or advice on how we could get back to work safely. So, we made our own protocols and cleaning routines.

“In the height of the pandemic, we had nowhere to wash our hands”

At this point, we were made aware that the RSA test centres would be prohibiting ADIs from entering their buildings, as part of their Covid-19 safety protocols. This was despite the fact that learner drivers hire our cars for their driving tests, and therefore we are their (legally required) accompanied driver for their test – meaning any contamination we would bring is already right there in the car anyway. This absence of logic meant that, in the height of the pandemic, we had nowhere to wash our hands, no access to a toilet, and nowhere to shelter from the rain while we waited for our students to return from their driving tests.

Numerous emails to the RSA and the Dept. of Transport ensued, as well as the issue being brought up by TDs in the Dail several times, and to this day, over a year later, we still have not been given access to hand hygiene or toilet facilities. To me, this issue is an easy fix – portacabins/portaloos at every test centre in the country until the pandemic is over, and this would mean we could continue working safely. But why is such a basic issue such a huge obstacle for the Dept. of Transport?

We’re expected to be working to full capacity to help clear the enormous driving test backlog (most people need additional driving lessons prior to a driving test, to get them up to test standard), yet we still don’t have access to something as basic as a sink to wash our hands in.

“One of the main ongoing problems is lack of engagement”

One of the main ongoing problems is lack of engagement. We have no direct line of communication with either the RSA or the Dept. of Transport – if we have an issue that needs immediate attention, we generally have to wait weeks for a response, and that response is usually a standardised email or a referral to someone else. No one seems to want to engage with us or take our issues seriously, let alone be willing to step in to resolve them.

Throughout the country, there are less than 2000 active ADIs, a lot of whom would work part-time. Considering our industry is relatively small, it seems bizarre how blatantly the government are willing to ignore our easily-fixable pleas for help.

” The RSA and Dept. of Transport need to give us an equal seat at the table”

Apart from the current Covid-19 related issues, there is a lot of reform needed within our industry, and both the RSA and Dept. of Transport need to give us an equal seat at the table going forward. Road safety is what we specialise in, obviously, and whereas the RSA conduct the driving tests, we are the ones who build that skill and ensure our students put safety first at all times.

The current EDT (Essential Driver Training – the 12 mandatory lessons all learners are required to take) program is not fit for purpose, and needs a complete overhaul. Many people are under the false impression that all it takes to develop the skill required to pass a driving test is to take the 12 EDT lessons, and that simply isn’t true – most would need at least triple that, combined with their own practice sessions. If they don’t have their own car to practice in, they would need considerably more lessons to get up to a safe standard. Sponsor hours, which is the practice driving you would do with a fully licensed driver, are also not mandatory in Ireland, like they would be in other countries.

“‘Check Tests’ are also an archaic way to ensure ADIs are still competent in their jobs”

‘Check Tests’ are also an archaic way to ensure ADIs are still competent in their jobs. It’s a pass / fail test which judges our ability to teach. Every ADI would have a a slightly different way and manner in which to convey the same lesson, and surely the RSA realise we would be out of work if we weren’t good at our jobs! We would like the Check Test replaced with classroom based training to upskill instead.

We would also like a greater say in road safety matters. We’re the ones on the roads with people all day, we see the problems, we see where things could be improved or signage made clearer. We want to be able to put forward our ideas to help save lives in Ireland.

For a small industry, we play a big role in peoples’ lives by taking the responsibility of ensuring they are safe, competent drivers not just for their driving test – but for life. Is it really too much to ask that Minister Eamon Ryan and Minister Hildegarde Naughton step in and give us somewhere to wash our hands during a pandemic? As for the RSA, solidarity and engagement from them, on all of these issues, is urgently needed. After all, we have the same goal of keeping people safe on our roads, so why not let us be equal members of the team?

Laura Broxson is a feminist, an animal rights and social activist, and a driving instructor.

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