Founder of Diverse Road Safety and winner of FirstCar Regional Driving School of the Year tells us what's possible in practice
With a motto of “Never say Never and Never say Always”, Jo Webster has a genuine Liverpudlian spirit of positivity and making things possible, but she’s also grounded in the realities of life. Setting up Diverse Road Safety, winners of this year’s FirstCar Regional Driving School of the Year, is a great example of this. Being born and brought up on a council estate in Prestcot, just outside Liverpool, she was doing well in education and was considering going in to Law. Unfortunately, personal circumstances meant she had to drop out of ‘A’ Levels and, instead, get three part-time jobs in order to pay the bills. But the difficult start to her working life has helped her appreciate the importance of aiming high, believing and climbing out of adversity: “I love to see people achieve their goals – especially when they’re about to give up completely!”
I learned to drive when I was 20… I was living in London then, and it seemed the capital of chaos. The roads in Liverpool are now just as busy, if not busier, as the roads were in London back then.
Power steering and spring-loaded gear boxes… I think the driving test is easier in so many ways, but the volume of traffic and poor attitudes of general drivers on the road soon make up for that. There was just seemed to be the ‘Turn in the Road’ back in my day and no theory test – just a couple of questions at the beginning! Modern candidates are generally so much better prepared for life on the road now, they have to be, but some trainers out there leave a lot to be desired.
I wanted to be a Lawyer… I started at college, but now I don’t think my moral code and principles would be able to hack it! In the end I’ve done so many different jobs, from cleaning cars to closing multi-million-pound fuel deals, but eventually got into driving instruction as a view to going part-time when I had children. Unfortunately, the children never happened and neither did the part time.
The driving test is the best it’s ever been… but there’s a problem with consistency. One examiner’s pass is another’s fail, but you can’t regulate opinion, or argue with it either.
The process for learners should be graduated… as with motorbike training and testing, making sure that learners get more experience before passing a final test. Having access to motorways is a great advantage now, especially since only 5% of learners take up post-test training.
Young drivers are rather unfairly singled out… the media and politicians both do it. We work really hard to get learners to a good standard and then, when they go out into the big bad world, they start driving like everybody else. The answer is to make all drivers take refresher training from Fleet registered instructors every ten years, perhaps signed off in order to renew a photocard licence. It would also ensure that as people get older, they adapt their driving style to meet the needs of the roads, as well as their own needs and capabilities.
ADIs don’t really get enough recognition… even the DVLA and DVSA do not take us seriously. If I have a client who cannot read very well, or needs a private room for a theory test due to a neurological condition, I’m not allowed to arrange this – documentation from a qualified teacher or medical professional is required. It goes to show the contempt afforded to ADIs, and a complete lack of respect for the work we do.
FirstCar Regional Driving School of the Year… we were so excited to win. Everyone in the room was very business-like and reserved, then Tina (one of our team) let out a great big scream! Because we’ve been through the whole ‘becoming disabled’ thing, we have an innate understanding of the needs of our disabled clients. Tina herself has ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome, and it’s helped us all understand clients with additional learning needs too. Dealing with clients with varying needs is not easy, but we love what we do and are very proud of each other’s contributions to the team.
Awards like this are so important… raising the profile of the work we do, and get other like-minded instructors to consider branching out too, and we’re always happy to offer guidance or support to them. We often get calls asking for advice, we’re here and help is at hand. For the industry as a whole, awards like this it makes us all sit up and take notice, raising standards and encouraging instructors to be the best they can.
Our philosophy is independence and improvement… helping people improve their lives through driving and realise that things can get better – disability just means you have to find other ways to do things and life can still be good.
ADIs don’t have a strong enough voice… the ‘consultations’ that have been done in recent years have just been expensive paper pushing exercises. I’m so cynical around politics, but it just seems that it’s still a very closed world and so difficult to influence those in power.
The Standards Check and Part 3 changes were a good idea… but it’s probably even easier for some instructors and instructor trainers to coach candidates specifically for the test, skewing the figures. Maybe, like sports drug testing, having to submit 3-4 potential appointments times would help, and then the examiner could just turn up and surprise the PDI/ADI, then we’d see just how good some instructors really are.
Attitude behind the wheel needs to be tackled outside the car first… Looking at different issues in a peer group setting would be beneficial, but also attitudes within the general driving population – lets have mandatory refresher training every ten years. It would help drivers treat others how they’d like to be treated themselves.