Niall Conneely driving instructor

The Life Of A Driving Instructor

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.

Home time.

Niall Conneely driving instructor
Niall uses a Volkswagen Up in his driving school

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.

The Volkswagen Up

Volkswagen Up 1.0-litre Review (2015)

The Volkswagen Up
The Volkswagen Up

The Volkswagen up! is the smallest car in the Volkswagen range, slotting in below the Polo, and since it was launched in 2012, the up! has been the car to beat in the city car class. I have driven quite a few small cars, but this was my first time to drive the up!, and because it's widely regarded as the benchmark in this class, I was curious to see what it would be like.

The up! shouldn’t be cool but it is. It’s a petite car, almost like a little cube, save for that small bonnet at the front. It's VW in miniature but with a bit more fun, like that oversized VW emblem on the front flanked by large headlamps. My car is in Club up! trim, hence the glitzy exterior – silver door mirrors, decals and ‘Club’ sticker, rear tinted glass, and a unique alloy wheel design. But in any spec, the up! has a charm all of its own.

The boxy square shape on the outside allows for a very efficient use of space on the inside. The up! packs in a 251 litre boot, which is not far off some superminis. The boot is typical of a city car in that it’s narrow, but it’s deep because you can remove the false floor.

The up! is sold as a 3 or 5 door, and there are just 2 seats and seatbelts in the back so the up! is strictly a four seater. But because of the high, square roofline towards the rear of the car, headroom is the best it can be in a car of this size and the legroom is very generous too.

Watch my Volkswagen Up video review:

Inside the 2015 Volkswagen Up

But where the up! really shines is from the driver’s seat. You think you’ve seen a good cabin in a city car and then you sit into the up!, and you realise you have to rewrite the rule book all over again. It’s simple and basic in terms of layout and gadgets, but the quality of the materials and the standard of the finish is so good, even in the less obvious places like around the gear stick and the doors.

Naturally the up! is ideal for town and city driving because of its small size. Visibility is brilliant all round and it’s very easy to judge the position of the four corners of the car.

But the up! is very good at the stuff beyond its intended purpose too. I don’t like to use clichés but I have to use one for the up! - it feels like a bigger car. It doesn’t suffer from any of that small car bounce or jitter. It’s very settled and comfortable, and even at motorway speeds, it’s not exceptionally noisy. The steering is light but it’s responsive and there’s something very pure about the feedback that’s being transmitted from the contact with the road to the steering wheel, so on the road the up! feels very playful and very agile. It’s definitely up for a giggle!

Inside the 2015 Volkswagen Up
Inside the 2015 Volkswagen Up

What's under the bonnet?

Power comes from a 1.0-litre three cylinder petrol unit with 75bhp and it’s a non-turbo unit, which is normal in this class, and it’s cheap to run too. It’s definitely one of the more energetic 1.0-litres that I’ve driven and blends quite seamlessly over town/city driving, motorway and rural roads, without feeling too breathless. You do have to work it a bit to pick up speed quickly but you will enjoy doing that because the five speed manual gearbox has a nice snappy action to it and the engine sounds nice when you rev it too.

With its small 1.0-litre petrol engine, the up! will cost €190 to tax per year and will return up to 67.3mpg.

There are four trim levels for the Irish market: Take up!, Move up!, Club up! and High up!, but for alloy wheels and air con you will want to go for at least the Move up! trim. Club up! adds front fog lights and the exterior updates listed in Design, while on the inside there is a leather trimmed steering wheel, a body coloured dash panel and very cool tartan seat covers.

The range topping High up! has a lot of kit and includes a ‘Maps & More’ infotainment and navigation system  with a Bluetooth connection. But with Volkswagen Ireland now offering Maps & More for free as part of special offers on the other three trim levels, you will find most of what you need for less money elsewhere in the range. All models have the City Emergency Brake function as standard,  which allows the car to automatically apply the brakes if sensors detect the likelihood of a low-speed collision.

The 2015 Volkswagen Up on test for Changing Lanes
The 2015 Volkswagen Up on test for Changing Lanes

Did you like the 2015 Volkswagen Up?

The brief for a city car is this: a cheap to buy and own runaround for trips into town, with the small dimensions that make it easy to manouvre and park in space-starved cities.

But the Volkswagen up! does so much more than that. The up! is a city car with few limitations, other than the obvious ones in terms of size constraints in order to qualify as a 'city car'. The combination of a settled ride, accurate steering and excellent refinement mean that you won't be dreading taking it out of town for longer trips down the motorway or into the countryside.

With qualities like that, it's no wonder the up! has this cool and unassuming aura about it, almost as if it doesn’t really have anything to prove - not even its price. You see as you start to go up the trim levels to get more equipment, the up! can start to look pricier against some of its rivals.

But be clear about what you’re getting. For a fun, robust city car, with a gutsy 1.0-litre engine and a quality cabin that makes you feel that little bit special, I think it’s a price worth paying.

The Up is a high quality small car from Volkswagen
The Up is a high quality small car from Volkswagen

Caroline Kidd

Model tested: Volkswagen up! Club up! 1.0 5dr 75bhp
Price (OTR): 
€15,510 (up! range starts at RRP €12,325)
1.0-litre, three cylinder petrol
13.2 seconds
67.3mpg (4.2l/100km)
CO2 emissions:  
Tax band: 
A3 (€190 per year)

OTR – On The Road Price

RRP – Recommended Retail Price