Niall Conneely is a driving instructor and in 2010 he set up his business, T.N.C. School of Motoring, providing category B car driving lessons in Galway city and Clifden. I asked Niall a few questions to find out more about his work and the life of a driving instructor.
1. What led you to become a driving instructor?
I’ve always loved driving and cars in general. When I got my own driving licence at 17 the first seeds were sown that maybe driver training was the career for me. I believe that for a young person to have a car outside their door with a full tank of fuel and a full licence is a wonderful thing. The sense of freedom and independence is hard to match. I vividly remember my own experiences when I began driving. Everything is better when you are able to drive; have you ever tried going to the drive thru for an ice cream sundae with a friend at 10pm on a Wednesday night on the bus? I like to think that I’m in a position where I’m helping people gain freedom and independence, as well as a lifelong skill.
2. How did you establish your business?
With great difficulty. I was 22 and had just ploughed a heap of money into expensive training and a dual-controlled Opel Corsa, only to find that insurance was going to be a problem. Many companies wouldn’t entertain me as I was under 25. I felt like I had hit a brick wall. After a couple of weeks of phone calls, I did get an insurance company to work with me.
I’m very grateful to my first few clients as they did take a leap of faith with me. I was fortunate in that I had a lot of support from my locality and the surrounding areas.
3. What car do you use for driver training? Why this one?
I use a 2015 Volkswagen Up! I began my career with a 2007 Opel Corsa, which was fine. It was a good car for instruction as it was easy to drive, good visibility, reliable and soaked up abuse without complaint. The only thing the Corsa lacked was any sense of fun, acceleration, handling, joy, enthusiasm or image.
The Volkswagen Up is super for driving lessons and is also just a great car. It’s small on the outside and big on the inside. It is an attractive machine and it’s light and nippy on the road. My car is the High Up! so it has all the toys. I’m on my second one and there is nothing on sale at the moment that would divert me from buying the same again when the time comes to upgrade.
4. Describe a typical day for you.
Alarm goes off at 7.30am.
Breakfast, shower, and make myself presentable.
I’m normally in the car between 8am and 8.30am depending on where I’m meeting my first client.
I’ll get a coffee en route. This is a key component of my day. It is likely the first of about four or five cups.
I meet the majority of my customers at the driving test centre so I’ll spend the day revolving around there. I conduct most driving lessons in my VW UP but sometimes we’ll be working in the client’s own car.
I try to catch up on calls, texts and emails where I have time throughout the day.
Lunch is a quick sandwich from wherever is convenient at the time or occasionally a nice carvery.
I usually make an effort to finish lessons no later than 8.30pm. Sometimes I’ll be finished earlier.
5. What do you like about your job?
What is not to like? My office is a funky little city car. I get to work with a variety of people each day and help to develop skills which will change their life for the better. There is great job satisfaction to be had from driver training – from day 1 where I meet someone new who might be very nervous about this whole driving malarkey and see them gain confidence on the road, to the day of the test where they emerge from the driving test centre with a smile and a thumbs up.
6. What personality traits do you think make the best driving instructors?
The best driving instructors must be excellent communicators and have plenty of patience.
7. What aspect of learning to drive do you find new drivers struggle with the most?
It varies, but the majority of new drivers would probably find the most challenging aspect would be using the clutch and gears. Moving off smoothly can sometimes be a hurdle or downshifting competently. Even with drivers who have years of experience, you will often see that there is room for improvement with how they use the gears.
8. What are your own memories of learning to drive?
I was doing a lot of practice between driving lessons. I had my first car at the time, a bright red 1992 Honda Civic hatchback. I probably personified the stereotype – young male driver, fast, foolish, and overconfident. A lot of the really educational moments were when I made mistakes – horrific, embarrassing mistakes – but a great learning aid. Two memorable sentences that stayed with me from that time are:
“Those parked cars won’t move for you, but if you keep out and hold your own, the oncoming traffic will move for you.”
“Slow and right is better than fast and shite.”
9. What’s your opinion on driver training and the driving test in Ireland?
I think that Ireland is moving the right way with driver training. The Essential Driver Training course ensures that new drivers have a minimum level of training. There is also mandatory training for motorcyclists and the CPC training (certificate of professional competence) for the truck and bus drivers. Better training makes better drivers and thus, safer roads.
10. What advice would you have for anyone thinking about a career as a driving instructor?
Invest in training yourself. I got my rigid truck licence and bus licence years ago and I feel being on the receiving end of that training helped me develop my own service. I also completed a course on Training and Development in 2015 and I feel that also provided me with a few new tools in my toolkit. Oh, and caffeine. Be prepared to spend a lot of money on coffee.
Thank you to Niall for taking part in this interview. Niall also blogs as Motorbanter and you can read his blog here.