Driving tests: past, present and future

The motoring industry is changing all of the time as technology develops and more extensive safety features are added to new vehicles. But are drivers equipped for the new changes? Together with Pass N Go, a provider of driving lessons in Sunderland, we take a look at how the driving test has changed over time and what the future could hold for those learning.

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The first driving test

When the first driving test was taken in 1935, it cost only 37.5p — £61.63 less than what a test costs today! But, aside from the cost, what else has changed since the first driving test was taken?

First of all, there was no theory test involved in gaining a license. This meant no separate questioning on road signs, how to alert other drivers and other general rules of the road. This was introduced in 1996, and before this, questions were asked about the Highway Code during the practical test by the examiner.

The Highway Code that was written in 1931 did not mention the use of mirrors to ensure safety on the roads and drivers were encouraged to sound their horns when overtaking drivers. Imagine if this was still the case now — you wouldn’t be able to hear yourself think on the motorway. Nowadays, the use of your horn is only to be used while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. You shouldn’t sound your horn out of aggression, while stationary and when driving in a built-up area between 11:30pm and 7am.

In a national attempt to reduce car accidents and subsequent injuries or fatalities, the test has become harder to pass. In 1935, there was a pass rate of 63% and in 1950 this fell to 50%. Statistics on pass rates from April to June in 2017 showed that 49.2% of people passed their practical tests and 51.1% passed their theory test.

Following changes to driver behaviour and technological developments in the motoring industry, new changes to the test were introduced in December 2017. To encourage learner drivers to be able to follow road signs and reach a destination without instruction, the independent part of the test was doubled to 20 minutes (around half of the test). For the first time, satnavs were introduced into the testing process. One poll discovered that 52% of people behind the wheel use electronic satnavs to get from A to B and therefore it’s important that drivers know how to use them safely. After December 2017, four out of five driving tests are conducted using the satnav as part of the examination. The latest changes were designed to tackle the issue of the high number of fatal collisions that happen on high-speed roads, with these types of roads being included in tests. Two manoeuvres were removed from the testing too — ‘reverse around a corner’ and ‘turn-in-the-road’.

What does the future hold?

As road safety campaigners call for tougher testing procedures and newer advancements coming into play, what does the future look like for the learner driver?

Many accidents are caused by human error and the inability to react quickly to an obstruction or approaching hazard. Some people are calling for it to be compulsory for drivers to have regular eye tests which in an attempt to address the number of collisions and casualties. In many US states, an eye test is carried out that examines a driver’s field of vision to check whether they can see and respond to what is happening around them within a safe reaction time.

It’s possible that learner drivers may eventually have to pass two practical driving tests to graduate with a full-licence in the future. This is after road safety campaigners, Brake, have been calling for a Graduated Driver Licensing programme to be introduced in the UK. It also comes after questions and debates in parliament regarding the number of serious accidents that have been occurring on the roads.

Brake proposes that a two year ‘novice’ driver period should be introduced for learner drivers. This would mean that newly qualified drivers (those who have been passed for less than two years) are unable to carry passengers under the age of 25 in their cars unsupervised. The exceptions of course would be parents and carers.

There are suggestions being made that these novice drivers should not be allowed to travel between 11pm and 6am unless they are supervised or are travelling from home, to work, or to school. These drivers could see restrictions imposed on the engine size of the vehicle that they are driving too, disallowing them to drive cars with an engine over a certain threshold.

We are also seeing the introduction of autonomous vehicles on our roads too. In fact, 10 million driverless cars are expected to be on the roads by 2025. When it comes to learning to manage these vehicles, the future is unknown. Could it be possible that driving tests and licenses will soon become a thing of the past as we let the machines do the driving? Only time will tell.


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