Research by the Sunday Telegraph has revealed that sexual harassment claims by learner drivers against their instructors have tripled over the past four years.
Some of the conduct reported in the past includes sexualised language, unnecessary physical contact and the inappropriate texting of messages or images.
Because of these worrying findings, some are calling for lessons to to be video recorded to protect both students and ADIs along with a range of other measures.
Such calls have been made after 247 complaints about sexual harassment were received by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) between April 2018 and March 2019.
It represents a significant increase over the past few years – for instance, between 2015 and 2016, 75 reports were made; between 2016 and 2017, 109 were made; and between 2017-2018, 150 were made.
The complaints led to the DVSA taking action against 42 instructors in 2018 with 10 banned from teaching, 23 instructors issued with warnings due to insufficient evidence, and 130 cases still under investigation.
Some say though that the DVSA isn’t going far enough and wish to see several measures introduced that will help reverse the trend. For instance:
Conservative MP Richard Graham states that instructor cars should be fitted with in-car cameras so all lessons are recorded. He believes that “it would provide proof if anything inappropriate occurred, as well as protect those instructors who have done nothing wrong from false accusations.”
The MP also echoed an existing call for all instructors to be classified like teachers; it would mean that any sexual relationship with a student would become a criminal offence. As it stands, the DVSA has already made it clear that any kind of intimate relations is unprofessional.
“While it’s not unlawful to have a consensual sexual relationship with someone over the age of consent,” wrote the DVSA’s Registrar Jacqui Turland in a blog post , “I see this as exploiting the position of trust the instructor is in – particularly if the pupil is vulnerable… I won’t hesitate to remove any instructor I consider to be a risk to learners.”
CEO of the Driving Instructors Association (DIA), Carly Brookfield, believes that safeguarding training and knowledge should be introduced into the industry as well. She is calling for such education to be made part of the the approved driving instructor qualification process and instructor CPD.
I passionately believe that instructors can actually – with appropriate training and guidance – play a powerful role in spotting, reporting and helping to stop safeguarding issues occurring – rather than us just focusing on the tiny minority as perpetrators.
Trainers get to know pupils well over the course of learning to drive, and our members have shared with us that they have had pupils disclose that they being bullied or abused in some manner by third parties (such as partners and family members) and they want to know how they can help such students without compromising their professionalism.”
– Carly Brookfield, CEO, Driving Instructors Association.
While the news of an increase in complaints is deeply concerning, it is worth highlighting that there are 40,000 driving instructors operating across England, Wales and Scotland, and those accused of serious misconduct make up only a fraction of Britain’s instructors.
As DIA’s Carly Brookfield points out, “the overwhelming majority of trainers conduct themselves in a safe and responsible manner (246 complaints equates to only 0.6% of trainers on the register).
“However, considering the latest stats,” she continues, “we cannot pretend as an industry that there are zero issues with instructor conduct. The rising number of complaints of this nature is a concern and it’s crucial we look at why we’re seeing this increase, and work on how we tackle these issues.”
Knowledge is power
Learners may be unaware of what an instructor is and isn’t allowed to do during their lesson – crucially, when a line may have been crossed. According to the DVSA’s code of conduct, an instructor should:
• Avoid inappropriate physical contact
• Avoid the use of inappropriate language
• Not initiate inappropriate discussions about their own personal relationships and take care to avoid becoming involved in your personal affairs or discussions about your personal relationships, unless safeguarding concerns are raised
• Avoid circumstances and situations which are or could be perceived to be of an inappropriate nature.
DVSA takes the safety of learner drivers extremely seriously and will thoroughly investigate any complaints, involving the police when necessary. We do not tolerate any abuse. Driving instructors found to be threatening the safety of learners will be removed from the Approved Driving Instructor register and stopped from teaching. To help tackle the problem we have encouraged learner drivers to report any incidents.”
– DVSA official response to the Sunday Telegraph report.
Help or hindrance?
ADIs, how do you feel about the recommendations being made to help deal with the sexual harassment issue – are you already implementing them on a voluntary basis such as videoing your lessons or do you feel such solutions are not practical? Let us know in the comments below.
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