james debate
james debate

Sunday 31 August 2008

Well my driving lessons are finally over. Whatever happens when I take my test, there is nothing left for an instructor to teach me, and now it is simply a matter of taking it until I pass it (hopefully first time, or so I would expect).

Having been through all this, which has been a bit more of an ordeal than it ideally should have been due to some irritating interruptions as a result of exams and uni, I feel that I am now in a good position to offer a few words of wisdom for anyone still to get their license.

At the end of the day the KEY thing I would say is simply, don't use BSM.

Before I took my lessons I myself was advised to stay away from the big heartless companies and find a nice private instructor, and I bloody well wish I had listened now. Let me tell you why.

The truth of the matter is that a big company like BSM doesn't give a damn about you or passing your tests, they just want your money. As a result they will keep you taking lessons with them as long as is humanly possible, and not express a whole lot of care in aiding your progress.

On top of this they have a truly bizarre payment policy. They charge an extortionate 35 pounds an hour and if you need to cancel or rearrange a lesson you have to call them to give notice at least 3 days in advance, leaving absolutely no room for error with illness or any unexpected commitment. Even if you wake up on the day of your lesson delirious with fever you won't get a refund, they still charge you.

Conversely the exact opposite seems to be true for instructors, they can just not turn up and no action is taken (though you do get refunded for this fortunately!).

All the while the customer service you have to constantly deal with on the phone never treats you with dignity or makes you feel like the consumer. Instead they just sound annoyed every time you have to contact them and completely uninterested in any questions or problems you might have.

And the instructors themselves... well maybe I was just unlucky but I had the experience of two different instructors, one main one and then a substitute for a few days while my main instructor was ill.

My main instructor, to be frank, shouldn't be teaching this sort of thing. It was clear from the start how much of a kick he gets out of creating a real preschool teacher/student relationship. This sort of condescending, incessantly critical behavior might be typical of people trying to teach lazy inter-city 16 year olds with an attitude problem, but in my education, at Eton and now Imperial, I am used to teachers treating you with respect and dignity. I may look like a kid, but no way in hell would I put up with being treated like one, somehow I doubt he adopts this same demeanor with any older students he gets.

Even when I was 16 I wouldn't have put up with this kind of bullshit, and there's no way in hell I'm going to put up with it when i'm doing an optional driving course from someone who clearly just likes being in a position of authority. And it's not even like he's critiquing my driving technique, he would start bollocking me for administrative issues that weren't even anything to do with me; he would give me condescending speeches in a 'how many times do i have to tell you, silly child' tone about things before even asking if i knew the answer beforehand, which normally I did.

Not that he was all bad. In long lessons he would eventually tire of his teacher persona and act like a real person, at which point the lessons were even fun. But time and time again he would go back to his apparent superiority complex and exert his authority just for the fun of it, chastising me incorrectly (and later apologizing) taking the wheel in the middle of the road whenever he changed his mind about what he wanted to do; at one point in a narrow one way road some douchebag in a van was attempting to speed around me over the speed limit, despite the road not being nearly whide enough for that. My instructor responded by having me stop short at a junction and wait there an unnecessarily long time holding up traffic, seemingly just to piss off the guy behind me.

What made it far worse was that when he got in these stupid moods, he would throw completely inane comments my way. For example occasionally I would get a theory question wrong (most often only partially wrong, like forgetting one out of the many things that differentiate different kinds of crossings) and he would respond with an unnecessarily personal put down and actually be pedantic enough to try and get me to rise to the bait and respond, to capitulate to his whim. Eventually I just had to tell him to stop being a child.

My substitute teacher was less vindictive than the main one, but he was just an idiot. The number of times i corrected him during my lessons was staggering. And then there was the time he made me double park on a busy road while he went into mcdonalds to get a burger. With this guy you really could tell that he didn't give a fuck, and was just there to collect a paycheck.

I'm usually pretty positive about the various services I deal with, but as people who remember my incident with eBay back in Easter will recall, i'm not one to lay back and take it when a company has no clue what it's doing. It's almost excusable with eBay, a company which more often than not doesn't have to deal directly with customers, but with BSM that's pretty much all they do, and it's a bit of a disgrace to be perfectly honest.

In conclusion, it got the job done, but don't waste your cash on this, go find a proper teacher. The only benefits you get from BSM is the special guidebooks they send you, but even those you can get in shops now.

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