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Changes To The Driving Test Practical

Changes To The Driving Test Practical


Automotive Journalist and Swansway Group featured author, John Swift, talks through the upcoming changes to the Driving Test Practical Exam.

Safe Driver vs. New Driver

The government has come in for some stick over its move to overhaul the driving test, but for once I’m on the side of the authorities; in fact, I’ll go further and say that before a novice can rip up their provisional licence and get a full one, the pass standard should be higher than even the new test will demand.

You may know that from December the practical part of the test will become harder or, as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) says, more relevant to today’s driving.

There are four main changes:

  • The most significant change is that the independent driving part will double in time from the current 10 to 20 minutes and take up about half of the whole test.
  • The second is that sat-nav will be introduced and you’ll have to use one to navigate your way to a destination set by the examiner. To avoid any advantage you might gain by practising with your own you sat-nav, the candidate will only be allowed to use the one provided on the day and set up by the examiner.
  • The reversing manoeuvre will get a little tougher and I think it’s good that candidates will also be asked to get into and out of a parking bay without scraping anything. How many times do you see someone struggling to do just this at a supermarket or retail park and thinking to yourself `Can they drive a car or not?’.
  • You’ll also have to do some of the basic `show me/tell me’ stuff while driving such as telling the examiner how you would check the tyre pressures before setting off (for example, if one tyre looks flatter at the bottom than the others it needs looking at to check for a puncture) or how to operate the controls such as the windscreen wipers.

What won’t change is the scoring method or pass mark. In other words, you will still be allowed up to 15 faults, unless one is so serious it puts your car or another road user/pedestrian in danger, in which case it will be an instant fail and the examiner will tell you to drive back to the test centre.

What this probably adds up to is that the failure rate for the 1.6 million or so L-drivers trying to get their full licence may rise. As things stand fewer than half pass so it looks as though hundreds of thousands of candidates will have to bear the extra cost of a re-sit, have the extra wait and be reliant on family or friends for lifts that bit longer.

Is this a bad thing? I would argue not and the basis for saying that is that we have a licence to drive, not a right. If someone can’t demonstrate the necessary level of skill to control what could so easily become a ton of unguided metal then they should not be behind a wheel. End of.

But as I said, I would like to go several steps further.

We rightly teach our kids things like sex education or the safe use of the internet as part of the life skills curriculum in schools, so why not safe driving too? With the classroom technology, today I’d have thought it quite a simple thing to demonstrate the dangers involved and how to avoid them. Remember, the biggest cause of death for under-25s is being involved in a car crash.

And then we have the PassPlus system, an excellent scheme that gives newly qualified drivers extra tuition. Six modules of about an hour each look at driving in town, in different weather conditions, on rural roads, night time driving, on dual carriageways and motorways although if you live in an area where there aren’t any this is done as theory. There isn’t an exam and you don’t take a test, but you are assessed and the reward for `passing’ is significantly lower insurance premiums because you are (rightly) judged to be a much lesser risk to yourself and others.

But, doesn’t this raise an obvious question; if PassPlus is so good – which it undoubtedly is – and if it takes drivers to a higher skill level – which it undoubtedly does – why aren’t those standards the ones demanded of those with a provisional licence looking to qualify for a full one?

Those under 24 years old account for around 7% of all full licence holders in the UK, but account for almost 20% of road users involved in an accident causing injury.

I wonder how many of those could be avoided if we remembered that we don’t drive by right, but by licence and getting one of those means being able to prove we have a certain skill set.

In which case, why settle for lower ones…

View more articles by John Swift

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