In the middle of April, details of a new style driving test were announced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). The changes to the driving test will take effect from December 4 and, according to DVSA, are ‘designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving’.
Sounds sensible, of course. But what are these changes, and will they help young drivers?
There are four changes to the driving test. Firstly, the independent driving section of it, which in current tests lasts around ten minutes, is going to be doubled in duration so that approximately 20 minutes of the test is devoted to it. This may prove a challenge to young drivers because they won’t be given fixed directions to follow in terms of where to turn by the examiner, so they will be left to their own devices somewhat.
Some drivers will thrive in this freedom; others may find the lack of instruction alien to them and find it strange. Nevertheless, it reflects the reality of driving if and when they pass their test and become qualified. When the L plates come off, there won’t be an instructor beside them guiding their journeys.
Another change is that sat nav systems will be introduced, during the independent driving part of the test. Again, this reflects the reality of modern day driving. The driver taking the test won’t need to install the sat nav, or set the route up – that will be done by the examiner – but obviously has to follow the spoken instructions. DVSA say that one in five driving tests won’t use a sat nav – those tests will require the driver to follow traffic signs instead.
The luckier drivers? Surely the four out of five who have sat nav. After all, this is how the majority of drivers in the future will find their way around when on the road. Understanding traffic signs and reacting to them is a different skill set and may prove a tough challenge.
The best development could be the third change. Anyone who has learned to drive in the past 20 or 30 years will be aware of the dreaded reversing around a corner manoeuvre (has anyone needed to reverse around a corner after passing their test?) and the three-point-turn. The three-point-turn was always difficult and embarrassing; essentially turning a car around in the middle of a road, in three stages, always running the risk of causing other vehicles to slow down and wait until you completed the complicated and unrealistic move.
Well, neither of those manoeuvres will be deployed in the new style driving test. Instead, it will be one of three – parallel parking at the side of the road; parking in a car parking space; or pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for two car lengths and then re-joining the traffic. Neither sound particularly daunting, even though the parking in a bay one requires either driving in and reversing out, or vice versa. At least it’s a manoeuvre that will be used frequently.
The last change is that a question will be asked while driving, instead of when parked up. Drivers will either be asked how to do something during the test – as the Telegraph says, an example of this might be activating the heated rear windscreen while driving. Other tasks could be turning on the windscreen wipers or the fog light, perhaps.
So, will these changes help younger drivers? It’s hard to say – they might not necessarily make the test any easier, though they will certainly modernise it. They’re being introduced in an effort to improve road safety, by preparing drivers better for the everyday environment they will encounter. “It’s vital 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,” said DVSA Chief Executive Gareth Llewellyn.
What won’t change is that practice and preparation is still crucial. Driving test tips from RAC roadside assistance include sourcing a good instructor – by recommendation or by consulting the approved driving instructor page on the DVSA website – and undertaking at least 20 hours of additional practice on top of lessons.