If your children or grandchildren are learning to drive – or indeed, if you're learning later in life – you might be interested in the revisions to the driving test that came in December 2017.
A driving test that didn't address demands on today’s driver
By 2016, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) was rightly concerned that the current driving test didn’t accurately reflect the changing demands on the driver.
Road traffic accidents are responsible for a quarter of all deaths of young people aged between 15 and 19 years of age. It's worth noting that the vast majority of driving tests are taken by 17-19 year olds, so the question is whether the current driving test is doing enough to ensure their safety, once they're allowed out on the road without supervision.
Although the total number of road collision fatalities and serious injuries sustained by drivers and passengers in the UK in 2013 was less than half that of 2000, the number of young people being killed is falling at a much slower rate.
They are also twice as likely to die or be seriously injured in a car accident as any other age group.
These are the worrying statistics that prompted the DVSA to take action.
The DVSA’s Chief Executive, Gareth Llewellyn, said: 'Great Britain’s roads are among the safest in the world. But there’s still more that we can do to keep road users safe - particularly newly qualified drivers.
Making sure that the test better assesses a driver’s ability to drive safely and independently is part of our strategy to help every driver through a lifetime of safe driving.'
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A revision of the driving test
The DVSA opened an online consultation that asked various groups of people their opinion on the proposed changes to the driving test.
Among them were approved driving instructors (ADIs) and highly experienced drivers, as well as learner and recently qualified drivers and vulnerable road users like cyclists, motorcyclists and horse riders. Also consulted were road safety and ADI representative organisations, as well as recognisable names like Transport for London and BRAKE. The consultation ended in August 2016 with 3,953 responses.
The changes are as follows:
The independent driving element of the driving test increased from 10 to 20 minutes. 88% of responders agreed that this was a good move, with the overall comment 'This is a realistic exercise that helps in planning a route and is good practice for driving independently after the candidate has passed the test.'
Candidates are asked to follow directions from a sat-nav. 78% of responders were in support of this, although some commented 'Drivers should still be able to navigate using maps and road signs.'
How do sat-navs work?
Traditional driving manoeuvres like reversing around a corner have been replaced with scenarios that better reflect real life, like parallel parking at the side of the road, parking in a bay - either driving in and reversing out, or reversing in and driving out (the examiner will decide which), and pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for two car lengths and rejoining the traffic.
Bear in mind that although reversing around a corner and turning in the road manoeuvres will no longer be tested, learners will still be taught how to do them correctly during the course of their driving lessons.
78% agreed with this change, although some people wanted to keep the turn-in-the-road manoeuvre, as it was considered to be something carried out in regular driving after the test is passed.
One of the two vehicle safety questions will now be asked while the candidate is actually driving, testing their ability to multi-task. These questions might include more practical elements such as turning on the rear screen demister or the headlights. 78% agreed with this change, commenting that the exercise would help candidates learn how to deal with distractions that were inherent elements in driving.
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A common sense move
DVSA Chief Driving Examiner, Lesley Young, added: “Candidates will be given more responsibility for making decisions during the test.
“We want them to show they can cope with distractions and assess risk without the intervention of their instructor or examiner.”
With drivers increasingly relying on high-technology safety and convenience features, testing their ability to use them safely seems like a common sense move.
As Kirsty Quartley, the UK Product Manager for Garmin, puts it: “Sat navs form a part of modern day driving so it makes a lot of sense to educate new drivers about how to use a sat nav in a safe and responsible manner.
“It’s important that learner drivers develop good habits early on and we can’t think of a better environment than in situ with a qualified driving instructor at hand.”
Interestingly, in December 2016 Transport Minister Andrew Jones announced plans that would allow learner drivers to drive on motorways with their instructor using a dual-controlled car in lessons taken prior to their test. From June 4, 2018, learner drivers could take lessons on a motorway so long as they're accompanied by an approved driving instructor and driving a car fitted with dual controls.
Before June 2018, a learner driver could pass their test and immediately drive for the first time on a motorways unsupervised, so this move should help to equip new drivers with the skills they need in the real world of motoring.
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