Saturday, November 29, 2014

The British Driving Test - getting easier or harder?

I'm just reading here about plans to shake up the British driving test, once again. I have nightmares about my own driving test experience way back in the dark ages (1979, to be exact). Bloody hell that was a difficult test and it seemed to go on forever.

It's different now, and possibly more difficult if statistics are anything to go by - apparently only 43% of people pass the driving test and 51% pass the theory test. The theory test (lasting a whopping 57 minutes) is in two parts - the multiple choice part, and the Hazard Perception part. The driving test is also split into two - the off-road and on-road modules. There's also a section called the "independent driving section" where you're expected to get to a destination following verbal instructions or traffic signs.

When I did it, you did the whole thing in the car - with the examiner asking questions that were seemingly half made up, and then holding up signs and asking for explanations. In my test, it seemed to go on longer than most of my A levels (3 hours), but the examiner then started asking me where I was going to university, what I was going to study etc. etc. "Surely he won't fail me after being so nice at the end" I remember thinking. And he didn't, I'm pleased to say. The relief was huge though.

The changes they're now toying with are to make the test "better reflect real life driving".

Scrapping the three point turn. - Not sure whether this is good or bad since I'm known to do this maneuver a lot! However, if it shortens the test, I could probably live with the change.

Scrapping reversing round a corner - This is the one that failed me first time. I was reversing quite nicely round a wide, curved corner, and stalled the car. You can't actually fail for stalling, as long as you maintain control (put the car into neutral, switch it off and start it up again.) I managed all that very well, but automatically put it into first gear, turned around to look out the back window and moved forwards. If there had been someone crossing the road it could have all ended quite differently! Gulp!

Asking safety questions on the move - Isn't that contradictory? They're talking about asking someone to switch on the rear windscreen heater while driving. It's one thing to switch on your own heater when you know you need it, but quite another to have to take directions from the examiner when you're already perspiring with stress. On the other hand, if you have kids or a back seat driver, this might be a good reflection of reality.

Extending the independent driving section from 10 to 20 minutes. - Hmmm. If the examiner is giving verbal instructions, this might be okay although I am still unsure why it's important to know how to get from A to B in a driving test. There are many people who drive the same routes day in and day out. Why waste time testing stuff that really has little to do with actually driving the car, and that many people don't need? Especially if......

The directions are on Sat Nav (GPS).  - Seriously? I avoid my Sat Nav whenever I can. I have one that comes up from the top of the dash board and half the time I can't stop it from shutting again never mind actually getting it to tell me where I am! And what about dysgraphic people who can't read maps? (They do say they will make accommodations for people with any kind of challenges like this. Hmmm...) Again, the ability to read a map isn't integral to being able to drive. People who know they can't do it make plans, like learning the route beforehand, writing down instructions in sentences, or having someone in the passenger seat who can direct them.

Anyway, it all contrasts hugely with the American driving test which, quite frankly is a joke. There's one multiple choice test, and you can fail quite a lot of the questions on it and still pass, if you get my drift. The driving portion can last as little as ten minutes total, if, like my daughter's examiner said, "you look like you know what you're doing". They don't test parking, reversing, hill starts (which would be difficult where I live), emergency stops or anything other than driving round an uncrowded area, puling in between cones that are about 50 feet apart and stopping at STOP signs.

I could say "It's no wonder......", but I won't.


  1. I'm wondering if they should re-test everyone at certain points in their lives. I sometimes feel I could do with brushing up my driving skills, and I'm only 50. What will I be like at 70?

  2. In the county where we live in Michigan we had to do all the tricky driving maneuvers, so it must vary in different parts of the country. My daughter failed the parking maneuvers the first time---I say who cares if you can parallel park as long as you can walk from the spots further out?

  3. I'm from Michigan, too. They require that you go to Driver Education when you're 15/16. There is lots of in class and in car instruction. Then you have a requirement to drive a cerntain amount of hours with a parent before you can take the second stage of instruction. When youve completed that you have lots of restrictions on whom you can drive with and what hours.

    I think they don't make the final test very difficult as they know what you went through in order to pass the Drivers Education course.

    I found this high-level explanation here.

  4. Ooops, somehow that didn't work. Here's what I tried to post.

  5. Carol - the Drivers Ed is the same here. The kids have to do a lot of classroom time and then a number of hours of lessons plus 50 hours of parent-supervised hours. However, if you're over 18 you can just go and take your test, which is possibly the part I find alarming as it's clear some people around here really have no idea - especially when it comes to parallel parking. It's a spectator sport for those of us who can actually park.

  6. Iota - not a bad idea but I don't think many 70 year olds could pass the current test. However, it's worrying (at least here) how many 90 year olds are still behind the wheel.

  7. I think the test would be much harder now and many experienced drivers would probably not pass.

    I'd like to see anyone trying to drive round a corner round here. There is parking bumper to bumper and all the corners are blocked.
    So there are many people who don't know how to park for one thing!
    Maggie x

  8. Regarding unsafe older drivers in the US: in many states, relatives of the person in question can request that the driver be retested. These older drivers often fiercely resent this process, but it's a good idea all the same.

    And, of course, in many areas of the USA, the roads are far less congested (something of an understatement here in Montana). Here, that means that most fatalities occur in one-car accidents.

  9. ... Most auto accident fatalities here in Montana specifically, I meant to say.

  10. I have a nephew who has just failed the theory test which seems to have become quite a big deal here. I often wonder if I would pass my test now, and, like all of us I suppose, I think I am quite a good driver!

  11. This reminds me very much of the driving test in Germany back when I lived there. Most of the Americans I knew failed the theory part the first 2 or 3 times, and many failed the driving test as well. I think after driving 3.5 years in Korea, I would do quite well on all the tricky maneuvers like backing and parallel parking, but the SatNav part would probably be my downfall - I refuse to use it, since I have this unreasonable belief that looking at a TV screen while driving is inherently dangerous. We've been debating about whether or not to buy a car when we move to Bristol - with all these changes, the point may be moot, since I might not even be able to pass the test.

  12. I'm wondering if they should re-test everyone at certain points in their lives. I sometimes feel I could do with brushing up my driving skills, and I'm only 50. What will I be like at 70? >driving test

  13. Found your blog. Its really nice on driving lesson. I appreciate your article. Its important to get quality driving lesson to learn driving properly. So thanks for sharing all that important information.


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