The UK’s driving test — changes made & suggestions for more alterations



We have recently marked the one-year anniversary since several changes were made to the UK’s driving test. The alterations have resulted in learner drivers needing to follow directions provided to them by a sat nav, get to grips with different reversing manoeuvres, answer a question about vehicle safety as they drive and undertake the independent driving part of the test for 20 minutes.

To understand how the changes have been received by learner drivers and driving instructors alike, used cars dealership Motorparks investigates. Should the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) have plans to alter the UK’s driving test further, the car dealer has also provided three suggestions using inspiration from the examinations already in place in other nations across the globe…

Understanding all the changes made to the UK’s driving test

Four changes were made to the car driving test which is carried out throughout England, Scotland, and Wales by the DVSA on December 4th 2017. 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.

One change is that the independent driving portion of the test has been extended from ten minutes to around 20 minutes. Those sitting a test will need to show that they can drive adequately during this time without any turn-by-turn directions from the driving examiner.  

Learner drivers also must now follow directions which are provided to them via a sat nav. This forms part of the reworked independent driving segment of the practical examination. 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.

Reversing manoeuvres are approached quite differently during driving tests now 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:
  3. Drive in and then reverse out of a bay
  4. Reverse in and then drive out of a bay
  5. Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, before reversing for two car lengths and then rejoining the traffic.

Those sitting a practical driving test must be prepared for an examiner to ask them two questions related to vehicle safety at some point during their examination as well. 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.

Did the changes go down well with learner drivers and driving instructors?

“The DVSA’s priority is to help you through a lifetime of safe driving,” stated the DVSA’s chief executive Gareth Llewellyn as the changes to the driving test were being announced. “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.

“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.”

Throwing his support behind the changes soon after they were revealed was Andrew Jones, the Transport Minister of Britain. He commented: “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.”

There was also plenty of support for the alterations when they were being proposed by members of the public. 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.

Is there still a lot of support for the changes now that people have actually begun to get to grips with them? 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.

Suggestions to improve the UK’s driving test further

The DVSA would be wise to study driving tests taken in nations across the globe if they are looking to make more changes to the UK’s examination. Here’s three ideas…

1. Introduce night-time driving sessions

Driving in the dark is common for motorists throughout the UK. Your commute from work, a drive home after a meal or cinema trip, or the return journey following a shopping spree could all see you behind the wheel 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.

Learn to drive in Sweden though and it’ll be compulsory for you to participate in some night-time driving sessions. This is 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.

2. Have examiners be trained to help nervous candidates

Eight million people in the UK suffer from a type of anxiety disorder. This is according to 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.”

Nervous drivers may feel they will get a bigger helping hand if a strategy that’s used in driving test across the Netherlands is introduced throughout the UK. 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. Encourage learner drivers to check for car leaks

Did you know that you can fail a practical driving test in South Africa before you’ve even entered a 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.

Oil leaks aren’t the only issue you should watch out for though. 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.

4.  Encourage automatic learners to take the test in an electric vehicle

Data shows that more people than ever before are opting to take their practical driving exam 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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