“I Want to Complain About a Driving Examiner”

complain-about-a-driving-examinerIt’s a question we occasionally get asked – “How do I complain about a driving examiner?” Thankfully, we are hearing of fewer and fewer instances of people having issues with examiners’ bad attitudes towards driving test candidates and driving instructors. We have personally found most examiners to be very friendly, professional and approachable. This is likely to be down to the DVSA’s increased emphasis on providing excellent customer service. In this article, we explain how driving examiners are trained and continually assessed. We also look at how you can express your concerns or even complain about a driving examiner, should the need arise.

Firstly, let me share a true story…

Whilst sat in a Driving Test Centre waiting room one day, several nervous driving test candidates awaited the arrival of their examiners. Increasingly loud footsteps prompted their arrival, one by one. Each called the name of their candidate, whilst each instructor anxiously hoped their pupil wouldn’t get… ‘John’. John was the examiner notorious for his extraordinary ability to transform a reasonably calm and confident pupil into a gibbering, nervous wreck within seconds of him meeting them.

John walked into the waiting room, standing tall and firmly holding his clipboard, with his air of authority and self-importance. Without even looking around the room to smile and pleasantly greet the instructors in the room, as all the other examiners did, John called the pupil’s name. “Ben Smith. Can I see your driving licence?” Ben promptly stood up from the seat next to his mum, who had gone with him to the test centre. Clutching a flimsy A4 plastic sleeve full of, mainly unnecessary, documentation such as; his car’s purchase receipt, MOT certificate, insurance policy, theory documents, Highway Code and other paperwork Ben nervously handed John a DL-sized transparent plastic wallet, which held his photo card and counterpart driving licence. In his nervous haste, he dropped the entire contents of the A4 plastic sleeve all over the waiting room floor. As Ben scrambled around the floor to pick up his paperwork, the examiner tossed the driving licence, still in its transparent wallet, onto the table in front of Ben, and said, “Take the licence out of that.” The examiner then turned to stare blankly out of the waiting room window, still clutching his clipboard. driving-test-anxietyAs the seconds passed, he glanced impatiently at his watch whilst Ben gathered his belongings. By this point, Ben was visibly shaken, sweat forming on his forehead, blushing, and rippling with fear. Hardly able to keep his hands steady as he did so, he removed the paper counterpart and plastic card from the DVLA stamped plastic wallet and handed it to John.

As soon as the door to the test centre closed behind the last examiner and test candidate, Ben’s mum looked over at all the instructors in the room and said, “Wow – what a horrible, horrible man. Is he always like that?” We all nodded in agreement – Ben had drawn the short straw.

Why is it that the vast majority of driving examiners can be pleasant and able to put pupils at ease, whilst a very small number of others can turn the test candidate into a fearful mess before they even get into the car? How can it be fair? And as instructors, can we, and should we, do anything to complain about a driving examiner?

driving-examiner-bad-dayWe all have bad days

It’s true that we all have our bad days – we all have personal ‘stuff’ going on in our lives that can sometimes negatively impact our mood. I’m sure that being an examiner can be quite challenging at times. Some Approved Driving Instructors might say that it’s the same for us. In an ideal world, we would all keep our personal stuff hidden – ‘fake’ a good mood so that our personal baggage doesn’t impact on our work. But let’s face it, we’re all human and from time to time, others might notice our aura of discontentment.

But that is not what this article is about. We’re discussing those examiners that have a reputation for instilling fear in test candidates or those that show little respect towards driving instructors – those who could at times be described as negative, condescending, arrogant or even rude. Thankfully these examiners are few and far between, but we’ve received enough feedback about it to take some time to provide you with an insight into how examiners are trained and assessed in terms of providing a positive customer experience, and what you, or your pupil, can do about it if you feel particularly aggrieved by an examiner at your test centre.

“How are examiners initially assessed and trained in customer service?”

dvsa-training-academyDuring a recent visit to the DVSA’s Training & Development Centre in Cardington, Bedfordshire, we learned more about the examiner training process and we asked a senior trainer to what extent personality traits and attitudes are taken into account when examiners are trained. We also learned how the DVSA openly welcome feedback from driving instructors and driving test candidates, especially when someone feels the need to complain about a driving examiner due to their attitude or general manner.

We were pleased to learn that potential candidates for the position of driving examiner are assessed on their personality characteristics and customer service throughout the whole process, from the initial application form through to final test centre placement, and beyond.

All trainee examiners must undertake Situational Judgement Tests during training – some of these are scientifically designed to highlight any issues in respect to personal thought processes and responses. In addition, job-related role play assessments take place, in which professional actors are used in problem scenarios to see how the trainee examiner responds. This, again, highlights strengths and weaknesses in their ability to deal with members of the public.

Throughout their time at the Training & Development Centre, trainee examiners are continually assessed against 4 core competencies:

  1. Control of the test
  2. Assessment of the test
  3. Completion of paperwork
  4. Customer service

dvsa-customer-serviceThe ‘customer service’ element looks at how the trainee examiner relates to, and communicates with, everyone else during their 4-6 week training course. In life beyond the course, everyone that examiner could come into contact with in their working life is defined as the ‘customer’. This, of course, includes learner drivers and their instructors.

Trainees are closely observed on how they communicate with the test candidate during role play driving tests and to the trainers providing feedback and classroom training throughout the programme. Communication and behaviour during social gatherings, meal breaks, and even smoking breaks, is subtly scrutinised – this includes the trainee’s relationship with their fellow candidates, trainers and other staff members at Cardington, even extending to the cleaners, canteen and hotel staff. Nothing goes unnoticed.

In learning about customer service, trainee examiners are taught the need to be fully aware of, and adapt; their body language, the way they observe the candidate, their seating position, respect of the candidate’s personal space, suitable levels of eye contact, appropriate tone of voice, etc. A large part of customer service training is centred around how verbal and non-verbal communication can be interpreted, or misinterpreted. Therefore, all qualified examiners should be aware that it is how their verbal and non-verbal communication is interpreted by others that is important – more so than the intention behind that behaviour.

EXHIBITION-(1)When training and assessing candidates for driving examiner positions, senior training staff at Cardington are looking for people with specific personal characteristics and customer service skills. They need to have a calm confidence, especially when in confrontational situations. But they equally need to be reassuring when dealing with test candidates who have emotional outbursts.

“Yes, but what happens after placement at a driving test centre?”

It’s all well and good for a trainee examiner to be able to demonstrate good customer service skills whilst in the presence of senior trainers at the DVSA Training Centre, but what happens when they’re out there in the real world? Isn’t this when the problems start?

dvsa-cardingtonThe training team at the DVSA acknowledge the fact that no matter how many assessments, role plays and Check Tests are conducted during training and whilst out there on the job, trainee and qualified examiners are often able to ‘play the game’ when being assessed. Their actual conduct whilst out there on the job could be something entirely different. During a trainee examiner’s initial training programme, the environment at the Training Centre is very positive, and as such, the trainee examiners’ behaviours are positively influenced by those around them.

This same influence will affect them after they are placed at a driving test centre. They will continue to be influenced by their peers – if a more long-standing examiner, working closely alongside them, has poor attitudes, then the new examiner is much more likely to mimic their behaviour.

For the first 9 months, which includes the 4-6 week training period at Cardington, each new examiner is on probation. They are very closely supervised by either the LDTM (Local Driving Test Manager) or an experienced examiner at that particular test centre. During the first month, each new examiner has one day per week devoted to development – this takes the form of 4 supervised practical driving tests, 16 in total for the month, and time for discussion after each test. Assuming all goes well on those 16 supervised tests, each new examiner will continue to have one development day per month for the next 3 months, equating to a further 12 supervised tests.

In addition to the above, each new examiner will shadow another more experienced examiner from time to time, and be routinely assessed by a member of the QUAT (Quality Assurance Team) to ensure the new examiner is continuing to demonstrate the 4 core competency skills.

Outside the above 4 month period, all examiners will have a minimum of 6 check tests per year, assessed by their LDTM, plus further QUAT assessments. In total, most examiners will have approximately 12-15 check tests / assessments per year. And to think – we ADIs often moan about having 1 or 2 in every 4 year period!

“How do I complain about a driving examiner’s poor attitude and customer service?”

An examiner may appear to come across, intentionally or otherwise, as; negative, condescending, ignorant, rude, malicious, intimidating or bullying. Most of these examiners may be totally unaware of it. Their fellow colleagues may feel that they are not in a position to challenge it for fear of reprisals. Nevertheless – it still needs addressing. Do not be afraid to be the one to complain about a driving examiner to the DVSA – if nobody says anything, nothing will change.

dvsa-call-ldtmIf you or your pupil have an issue with an examiner’s customer service skills, the first point of contact should be with your LDTM. If you are unsure who that is, check on the local notice board in your driving test centre. If it is not there, you could either ask another examiner for the contact name and number of the LDTM, or call the DVSA on 0300 200 1122 and ask the advisor for the information.

Once you have your LDTM’s contact details, either have a telephone conversation with the LDTM or arrange a meeting with them to discuss how you, or your pupil, perceived the examiner’s behaviour. Express your concerns honestly and respectfully, remembering that the examiner concerned may not be intending to come across in that way. It’s important that your issues are conveyed in the right manner and for the right reasons. Remain calm and professional.

Listen to what the LDTM has to say – they should follow up your discussion by speaking directly to the examiner concerned about how their behaviour is coming across. If after having done so, you still experience issues with that particular examiner, put your complaint in writing. Written complaints MUST be followed up by senior management, so rest assured that your issue will definitely be addressed.

Remember – unless ADIs and/or customers express their concerns about such examiners, nothing can be done.

We do find that instructors often avoid complaining about a driving examiner’s conduct for fear of retribution from that examiner. We know this has happened on some occasions but thankfully, such problems are very rare. If an examiner does have an undesirable attitude, there’s likely to be little change unless the DVSA are made aware of it.

happy-driving-examiner-dvsaThankfully, Claire and I have personally found examiners’ customer service skills to be excellent, on the whole. On the rare occasion that we have encountered issues, we have never been afraid to confront this issue, either directly with the examiner themselves or by contacting a more senior member staff at the DVSA. Incidentally, we have never defined the reason for our contact as being a ‘complaint’ – instead we discuss our ‘concerns’ or ‘observations’. Each time we have done so, the senior examiner has been very grateful for our feedback and has followed up on our concerns. In each and every case, we have found noticeable improvements, with no open detriment to that examiner’s attitude towards us.

down arrowHow do you find customer service at your local test centre?
Do you have an examiner with a notorious reputation for his or her attitude?
Have you, or one of your pupils, ever felt the need to complain about a driving examiner?
If so, how have you dealt with it?
Might you handle things differently in the future as a result?

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*Please note that the names within the story above have been changed to protect their real identities.

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