Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by BSM (TEA 07)


  BSM is engaged in both learner and post test driver training and operates its business through some 2,150 franchised driving instuctors working from 106 centres throughout mainland UK.

  Some 130,000 new pupils commence lessons with BSM instructors each year, representing approximately 20 per cent of annual provisional licence applications.

  The business is well represented geographically with BSM centres and franchised instructors stretching from Inverness to Truro. The business is proportionately stronger in metropolitan areas.

  On average pupils take 26 lessons with BSM instructors but, given that 48 per cent are partly trained or have previously failed a test, the total training hours taken by pupils may be somewhat higher than our own statistics show.


  1.  BSM welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence relating to the administration and expenditure of the Driving Standards Agency (DSA).

  2.  BSM congratulates the DSA on the new touch screen theory test, which was introduced in January 2000. We have found it to be accurate, reliable and user friendly for our candidates. We are also impressed by the booking service for the theory test, which is performing strongly. In addition, BSM has developed a good working relationship with DSA on a number of issues including Pass Plus.

  3.   However, our evidence focuses primarily on service standards, which, in a number of areas are not satisfactory at present. In this respect, we welcome the DSA's recognition in its annual report and accounts that improvements must be made in this area, indeed, we have found that, when we have raised particular matters with senior officials in DSA, they have been resolved speedily and to our satisfaction. However, we believe a number of improvements are still to be made so that day-to-day operations run smoothly. We outline our points of concern below and are happy to provide further written evidence, or to appear before the Sub-committee, if required.


  4.  Given that this enquiry is related to the administration and expenditure of the DSA, BSM wishes to express its concern with regard to the rise in fees that the Driving Standards Agency has introduced in recent years and the implications that this has for those learning to drive, especially for those on lower incomes. Indeed, as table A shows, the costs imposed by the DSA have increased disproportionately when compared to the cost of training provided by the private sector and the retail price index. Given that DSA finances are in considerable surplus, BSM would strongly recommend that any future price rises are held at less than the prevailing rate of increase in retail price index for the next five years. BSM believes that the DSA can gain efficiency improvements through the better use of technology, which will ensure that this price constraint does not adversely affect the financial resources of the Agency (see below).

Table A

Sept 1990
Sept 2000
Driving lesson18
Driving test practical19
Retail price index


  5.  BSM is also concerned about the wide variation in pass rates between centres on all tests carried out by the DSA. We believe that pass rates may vary by up to 30 per cent and that this may have been brought about by a reduction in supervision of examiners as staff are moved to non-core activities (see education programme below). Fluctuating pass rates not only raise questions with regards to standards but also lead to considerable road safety implications. We are keen to see the DSA address this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure that all examiners are adequately monitored so that they maintain their standards.


  6.  BSM is extremely concerned about the service levels at DSA centres around the UK. Although there are some significant variations, overall the service levels are unsatisfactory. We highlight our concerns for both learner drivers and instructors below.

Automated Booking System

  7.  BSM believes that the DSA's automated booking service, introduced over the last 12 months or so, has performed particularly poorly. The process seems unduly lengthy for all customers and experience has shown that more unusual requests are not easily accommodated. Indeed, from the delivery of the software, which was perhaps poorly specified in the first instance, administration costs to the private sector have increased with no discernable benefits. In sum, we do not believe that, in its current form, the system offers good value for money. Moreover, BSM still does not have any direct access to the booking system, although this was promised some considerable time ago. Indeed, we were initially consulted on this project in 1998 and subsequently a presentation was made to our staff in the summer of 1999. We have been waiting and have been prepared to participate in a pilot scheme of this system for over 15 months. Such access would reduce the demand for DSA resources and would help BSM ensure that the needs of our customers are met.

Practical Learner Driving Test

  8.  Waiting times in many of the DSA's test centres far exceed the DSA's own six weeks target. While the DSA's average waiting time for 1999-2000 is held at an average of 7.3 weeks, our own research, conducted in September this year, has found that, in many centres that handle a high proportion of learner drivers, waiting times far exceed the average and are excessive (see table B).

  9.  Indeed, in some centres, BSM has found that it is virtually impossible to book a test and once the waiting time goes beyond a certain time limit, a test cannot be booked, even as far ahead as three months. This has certainly been the case at Oxford where one of the test centres was closed down and Nottingham. No dates could be given for other centres as well. This puts the DSA's call centres under extra strain as they receive increasing numbers of calls from both BSM and individual customers who are seeking to book tests. We believe that test dates are not given so as not to reveal the extent to which the centres fail to comply with the targets set by Government.

Table B

DSA test centre
Waiting Time (weeks)
No dates offered
Elephant and Castle (London)

18 BSM prices vary across the UK. The figures provided are an average and are based on statistics from our training centre in Bury.19 BSM prices vary across the UK. The figures provided are an average and are based on statistics from our training centre in Bury.

  10.  Such a situation has considerable implications for the learner driver and BSM when trying to plan a course of lessons, which on average should take no longer than 12 weeks from start to finish. Faced with such a waiting time, learner drivers are forced to have a long time without any lessons and this may impact on their ability to pass their test. Indeed, in the intervening time, they may lose some of their confidence and ability in the car. This situation is compounded if the learner driver does not have access to a car in which to practise and may mean that the learner driver has to pay for extra lessons just to maintain their driving skills.

ADI Tests

  11.  BSM also wishes to highlight the poor service standards with regard to ADI tests. Typically, instructors have to wait even longer for their tests than learner drivers, who are seen as the priority. Further, as lower grade examiners are routinely used to supplement the normal Supervising Examiner ADIs for vocational tests, these staff are required to go back to the L-test, when shortages occur. This then exacerbates the pre-existing problems with the ADI tests. BSM believes that the DSA should address this issue of deployment of resource as a matter of urgency.

  12.  The long waiting times can cause particular problems when instructors are waiting to take their Part III exams and are forced to apply for a temporary extension, as they cannot complete all stages within the time limit set by the DSA. This creates a considerable administrative burden for both our franchised instructors and for BSM generally. Further, granting a temporary extension in many ways is self-defeating since the DSA creates even more administration, placing a strain on existing resources for all parties.

  13.  Moreover, the fact that the learner driver takes priority over the trainee instructor is not fair practice given that all trainees depend on passing the various stages of the ADI test for his or her own livelihood. Indeed, incomes may be dependent on passing the test.

  14.  We are also concerned that the DSA is not meeting its targets on ADI check tests. Anecdotal evidence from our own instructors indicates that at the moment these checks are seldom carried out, if at all. Given that part of the ADI fee is supposed to provide this service, such a state of affairs is unacceptable. Moreover as the check test is the only way in which poor quality ADIs are brought to task, there is a clear need from a road safety point of view for checks to be performed as promised and for poorly performing instructors to be re-appraised as soon as possible. Check tests, together with the introduction of mandatory continuing professional development of instructors will be the most effective way of improving the quality of instructors on the ADI register.


  15.  In light of the DSA's failure to deliver against its targets in its core commitment, "to ensure high and consistent standards in the assessment of drivers and driving instructors throughout Great Britain," BSM has some reservations about the DSA's plans to expand its education programme to involve over 90 examiners in 2000-01.

  16.  The stated aim of the programme is to reduce accidents involving young people. However, given that the 50-minute presentation is to cover eight topics, it is difficult to assess the extent to which the programme can deliver. Moreover, we would question the ability of DSA trained examiners to deliver such a programme. BSM believes road safety education is more effective when delivered by teachers or by road safety officers who have been specially trained for this purpose. Indeed, our own schools programme, Ignition, run in over 1,500 schools throughout the UK, adopts this approach. Therefore, BSM would recommend that the DSA make its resource available to teachers and RSOs so that they can deliver the DSA message within the classroom. This would also ensure that examiners could devote their time and energies to fulfilling their core activities.

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