“Sometimes young people can brag to their friends when they get behind the wheel of a car, I think,” says Farideh Sarvari, a 44-year-old driving instructor who works for AA and lives in London. “I was once in the car with my student when we saw these young men in an Audi in front of us. They were speeding in a residential area when the car suddenly rolled over, spinning and we saw them try to crawl out the windows. It was awful, shocking, but also a good lesson for my student. You have to teach the learner drivers all the dangers on the road.
“And unfortunately there are many. Another time, one of my students got hit by a small roundabout. A car came from the other side. My driver had to brake, and she did. But the car behind us hadn’t maintained a safe distance. He hit us, the car was damaged and the police were called. My student had a neck injury.
“I would say it’s not women or men who are necessarily the better drivers, or young or old; it is that Careful Driver. Our job as instructors is to teach drivers to be careful. I came to England from Iran 24 years ago, where I graduated as a teacher. I trained as a driving instructor here because I love communicating with other people. Teaching people how to be safe on the road feels very valuable to me.”
The key to long-term success for any driving instructor is prudence. Stephen Bawa, a 41-year-old Londoner who teaches for My Four Wheels in Manchester, manages to instill a Zen-like calm in his students.
“If I’m doing my job right,” he says, “then I should be the most relaxed person in the world. I used to be an elementary school teacher and have always enjoyed helping people gain the satisfaction of understanding something and being able to do it to the best of my ability. I spend most of my time observing my student – but of course I’m always observing what’s going on outside the car as well.
“But you can tell a lot by looking at a person’s face and what they’re doing with their hands and feet. You can learn how to anticipate how to read the road and how timely their actions are. When I have to, I intervene verbally, and when that doesn’t work well enough, I intervene physically. My main task is to be many steps ahead of them.
“You know, the road doesn’t have to be dangerous, but there’s a lot of reckless driving out there and a lot of road hype. When I was younger I might have had a bit of road rage myself if someone cut me up, but not anymore. You must remain calm.
“Someone once slashed my pupil, no signal, no warning and as a result they capped our car. We had to stop. I calmly explained to my student what to do and also how to behave legally. I told them to lock themselves in the car while I went out to take care of it. If they had to communicate with the other driver, it would be through a gap in the window and accept no liability whatsoever.
“The other driver became very hostile. He was angry and wanted to tell us even though it was his fault. After that, the disciple was very upset, but I said to them: Well done for doing everything I asked you to do. Then we talked about what had happened. When something like that happens, you see the ugly side of humanity.”
Enduring such regular outbursts of anger from the rider can affect the balance of even the most able instructors.
“As a self-employed person I don’t get paid if I don’t work, but if my mental health is poor then my ability to do my job is affected. So I don’t work all the time, no. Also, I’m six foot four. I don’t want to spend too much time in the car.”
Neither does Farideh Sarvari. “I’m waiting for back surgery,” she says. “My Peugeot 208 is a beautiful car and I love my job, no complaints but my back means I’m not always comfortable. When I’m done with work, I like to take a 40-minute walk before going home. I like the exercise, the fresh air.”