Driving school sector trends

Man in passenger teaching girl how to drive a car

(last updated July 2019)

Changes to the driving test

The UK driving test underwent a shake-up during the late 1990s. A new written theory test was introduced in 1996 and then the practical test was made tougher in 1999. Test fees also went up quite substantially. 2002 saw the introduction of a new part to the theory test, covering hazard perception, and 'eco-driving' questions were introduced in 2007. 2010 saw further changes to the practical test with the introduction of a requirement for candidates to drive and find directions independently under their own initiative. And the practical test was made harder in early 2012.

During 2016 the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) consulted on proposals to make the driving test more like real-world driving conditions. These included:

  • increasing the independent driving section of the practical test from 10 to 20 minutes
  • providing the option for directions in the independent driving section to be followed by using a satnav
  • replacing reversing round a corner and the three point turn with entering and leaving parking bays
  • testing knowledge of vehicle safety

These changes to the driving test were made in December 2017. In June 2018 learner-drivers became eligible to drive on motorways in a dual-controlled car with a professional driving instructor.

Changes to the Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) test

Recent years have seen the DVSA encourage instructors to move away from a more formal, structured approach to driving instruction in favour of using coaching principles instead. These involve taking a more open-ended approach and giving pupils plenty of feed-back.

In 2014 the DVSA replaced the old 'check test' with a new ADI standards check, under which instructors are graded A, B or fail instead of receiving a grade of between 1 and 6.

At the end of 2017 the DVSA introduced changes to parts 2 and 3 of the three-part ADI test. This was to reflect the changes made to the car driving test.

Demand for driving instruction

Demand for driving instruction is very closely linked to trends in the number of teenagers and young adults. Numbers increased during much of the 2000s, boosting demand for driving lessons. A generally strong economy helped too. Unfortunately for the industry, the number of teenagers and young adults in the UK is no longer increasing. And with less money in their pockets due to rising living costs and not much in the way of wage increases, many young people are putting off learning to drive until they are older.

Rising test fees and an ever-tougher driving test are further disincentives for many. Soaring fuel prices from 2011 to 2014 forced instructors to put up their lesson rates or cut back their profit margins to the bare minimum. Fortunately the situation eased when fuel prices fell in 2015 and into 2016, reaching their lowest in February 2016. However, prices have started to increase again and are not forecast to fall significantly during 2019.

It's not all bad news though - toughening attitudes towards careless driving, increasingly challenging test requirements and tighter regulation of professional drivers may open up new opportunities for instructors who are willing to take them.

The number of registered approved driving instructors has risen quite considerably in recent years, although it's currently falling back towards mid-2000s levels. It's likely that the economic downturn during the late 2000s and early 2010s prompted many to turn to driving instructing as a second career following redundancy. Also, bear in mind that as a general rule, when demand for driver training increases so too does the number of active instructors. So competition is always likely to be strong and is likely to grow again if the predictions for increased economic uncertainty surrounding the UK's exit from the EU are borne out.

Keeping up with developments

Reading a trade journal regularly is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry. ADI News is an online resource for UK driving instructors.

Joining a trade association is another good way of staying in touch with your industry. Many trade associations also publish industry journals. Trade associations representing driving instructors in the UK include:

  • Motor Schools Association (MSA)
  • ADI Federation
  • Driving Instructors Association (DIA)

Visit their websites to find out more.

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