Our motoring landscape is changing all the time. Rising numbers of cars are matched only by increases in the amount of technology within them. To ensure young drivers have sufficient skills to cope, the driving test needs to be kept up to date. And that’s why the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has made changes to the test from December 4, 2017.
What is the main change to the driving test?
The independent drive part of the test has been doubled in time. It will now last 20 rather than 10 minutes, making up half of the 40-minute test. For the independent drive, the candidate will be asked to get the car to a defined location, perhaps a neighbouring town or village. In four out of five tests, they will be asked to follow guidance from a satellite navigation system. The remaining one in five candidates will have to follow signposts.
What about the satnavs?
According to the DVSA, 52 percent of car drivers now have sat navs. The government wants to ensure that these can be operated safely once the candidate has passed the test. The examiner will supply the sat nav, a regular TomTom model, and set it up. It doesn’t matter if the candidate gets lost. They will only fail the test if they make the kind of mistake that would fail them anyway.
No more three-point turns
The turn in the road and reversing round the corner will still be taught but they won’t feature in the driving test. Instead, drivers will be judged on more real-life manoeuvres such as driving into and reversing out of a parking bay. They might also have to pull onto the right side of the road, reverse for two car lengths, then pull back into flowing traffic on the left. But this scenario, although considered true to life, has caused some dispute.
Why the controversy?
Driving instructors claim that pulling onto the wrong side of the road breaches rule 239 of the Highway Code. This states: “Do not park facing the traffic flow.” One instructor, Antony Cove, has set up a petition against this change and currently has more than 3000 signatures. Driving instructors have also threatened to strike on December 4 and 5 over the changes. However, the DVSA countered that the test simply reflects the way people drive in the real world.
Candidates are already asked a couple of vehicle safety-related questions. These are known as ‘show me, tell me’ questions. From now on one of these, such as how do you turn on the heated rear window, will be asked during the drive.
Why have the changes been made?
The most vulnerable car drivers on the road are people who’ve only just passed their driving test. Government figures show that one in four 18-24 year olds will be involved in a crash within two years of passing their test. And while 17 to 19-year olds make up just 1.5 percent of drivers on the road, they are represented in 9 percent of crashes.
The ‘independent drive’ section was identified as important for young drivers. When learner drivers were canvassed, they said that having the confidence to drive on their own was crucial. DVSA chief driving examiner Lesley Young added: “We want candidates to show they can cope with distractions and assess risk without the intervention of their instructor or examiner.”
And many industry professionals have welcomed the changes. Head of driving school BSM Mark Peacock said: “These changes, particularly the extended independent driving and use of a sat nav, should help to produce better, safer motorists.” And AA president Edmund King added: “We know new drivers are a higher risk on the roads, therefore we need to better prepare them for real-world driving. These changes will test drivers in a more realistic manner which is essential to improving their safety once their L plates are removed.”