learner driver

Understanding how the UK has changed its driving test

Motorists across the UK have now had over a year to get used to changes made to the nation’s driving test. When sitting a practical examination, learner drivers must now follow directions provided to them by a sat nav, showcase their ability to perform different reversing manoeuvres, answer a vehicle safety question while they are driving, and complete the independent driving segment of the test for 20 minutes.

Have these changes been warmly received by learner drivers and driving instructors? Used cars dealership Motorparks investigates, as well as offers insight into what we can learn from other driving tests sat worldwide to determine further alterations which can be made to the examination in the months and years to come…

The changes made to the UK driving test

Four changes were made to the car driving test taken across England, Scotland, and Wales on December 4th 2017 by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). These alterations are “designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving”, acknowledged GOV.UK.

An extension of the independent driving part of the driving test from ten minutes to around 20 minutes was the first change. Those sitting a test would need to show that they can drive adequately during this time without any turn-by-turn directions from the driving examiner.

Those sitting a driving test will also be requested to follow directions given to them by a sat nav when taking part in the independent driving segment of the practical examination, in another alteration. Learner drivers don’t need to worry about bringing their own gadgets either — the examiner will provide a TomTom Start 52 sat nav, even setting it up and setting the route. Take note too that someone won’t fail a test if they go the wrong way to the directions advised by the sat nav, unless it results in a fault being made. Those sitting a test can also ask the examiner for confirmation about where they are going when following a sat nav’s directions.

There have been quite a few changes made to reversing manoeuvres too. A learner driver will no longer be tested that they can successfully reverse around a corner or make a turn in the road. Instead, they will be requested to perform one of these three reversing techniques:

  1. Parallel park at the side of the road.
  2. Park in a bay, which will go one of two ways and be selected by the examiner:
    1. Drive in and then reverse out of a bay
    2. Reverse in and then drive out of a bay
  3. Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, before reversing for two car lengths and then rejoining the traffic.

One other alteration is that an examiner will now quiz those sitting a driving examination with a pair of vehicle safety questions throughout their test. There will be a ‘tell me’ question at the beginning of the test ahead of any driving, where someone will need to explain how they would go about carrying out a safety task. Once driving has commenced, a driving test candidate will then be asked a ‘show me’ question in a manner where they will need to demonstrate how they would conduct the safety task.

Have the changes been well received?

“The DVSA’s priority is to help you through a lifetime of safe driving. Making sure the driving test better assesses a driver’s ability to drive safely and independently is part of our strategy to help you stay safe on Britain’s roads,” acknowledged the DVSA’s chief executive Gareth Llewellyn in a speech provided as the driving test changes were being revealed.

“It’s vital that the driving test keeps up to date with new vehicle technology and the areas where new drivers face the greatest risk once they’ve passed their test.”

Britain’s Transport Minister Andrew Jones was quick to throw his support behind the alterations. He stated: “Our roads are among the safest in the world. However, road collisions are the biggest killer of young people. These changes will help us to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads and equip new drivers with the skill they need to use our roads safely.”

When they were being proposed, many members of the public supported the changes as well. Ahead of the alterations being put into place, a public consultation involving more than 3,900 people occurred. During the consultation, 88.2 per cent were behind the move to increase the independent driving part of the examination. 78.6 per cent were in favour of the adjustments to the reversing manoeuvres, 78.4 per cent backed the introduction of a show me question while someone sitting a driving test was behind the wheel, and 70.8 per cent gave a thumbs up to candidates having to follow directions from a sat nav.

Have attitudes changed about a year since the alterations were put into practice? In their Driving test changes in 2017: impact summary report, the DVSA recorded that 81.2 per cent of new drivers believed the driving test now prepared them for driving on Great Britain’s roads. The report also acknowledged that 86.3 per cent of new drivers now use a sat nav at least some of the time when they are driving. 86.2 per cent felt confident that they can drive safely while following directions provided to them via one of these gadgets.

Proposals for changing the driving test in the future

Driving tests taken worldwide can act as inspiration should the DVSA be keen to make more changes to the driving tests carried out across England, Scotland and Wales. Here’s three ideas…

1. Have learner drivers check for car leaks

Learner drivers in South Africa can fail their driving test before they have even stepped inside their vehicle. This is because one reason for failure is a driver forgetting to check under their car for any leaks. A motorist in the south-east London district of Chislehurst certainly could have benefitted from carrying out this procedure, after The Express reported that the driver was fined more than £1,000 for damage after their car leaked oil when it was parked up.

Don’t just look for oil leaks either. Motorists should also be regularly checking that their set of wheels isn’t leaking antifreeze, fuel, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windscreen washer fluid or water.

2. Ensure examiners are trained to assist candidates who are very nervous

Some form of anxiety disorder affects more than eight million individuals throughout the UK, according a major report completed by the University of Cambridge and published in the medical journal Brain and Behavior. Taking a driving test can obviously be a stressful time, with chief driving examiner Lesley Young offering these words of advice to The Sunday Times’ Driving segment: “It’s normal to be nervous before your test, but if you’re properly prepared and your instructor thinks you’re ready, then there’s really no reason to worry. Your examiner’s not trying to catch you out; they just want to make sure that you can drive safely.”

The Netherlands may have a better solution for providing a huge helping hand to anxious drivers. Driving test candidates across that country can request a faalangstexamen — an examination that is carried out by an examiner who is trained specifically to deal with those sitting a test who feel very nervous.

3. Have learner drivers complete night-time driving sessions

Commuting from work, driving back from a shopping trip and heading home after a meal or visit to the cinema could all see us having to drive after the sun has set. However, road casualty statistics reported on by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reveal that 40 per cent of collisions will be recorded during the hours of darkness.

In Sweden, compulsory night-time driving sessions are required by people who are learning to drive so that they can get used to being on the road after sunset. Even if they pass their driving test during the summer, many motorists in this part of Scandinavia will seek out a driving school throughout the winter months to undergo a night-driving course.

4. Learners using electric automatic cars

Electric car use has grown substantially in the UK over the past few years, with a small percentage of tests being taken in an electric vehicle. In 2012, a student from Hull became the first UK leaner to pass their test in the Vauxhall Ampera. Since then, electric vehicles have been a popular choice for learners – particularly those sitting the automatic test. The UK has seen a boom in new EV registrations over the past decade, as well as an increase in related services such as EV charger installation and charging points. As electric car use continues to grow in the UK, we can expect an increased number of electric vehicle specific driving schools too.

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