Testing times ahead for learner drivers

There was a time when the most complicated thing about passing your driving test was mastering the three-point turn and squinting to read a number plate from 50 yards.

Driving instructors are opposing the new test over safety concerns
Driving instructors are opposing the new test over safety concerns

But these days anyone wishing to become a king of the road needs to hone a whole new set of skills.

From December 4, learners will need to be able to follow directions from a sat nav and answer road safety questions while on the move.

It is all part of the biggest changes to the test in decades, which will see a total of five new manoeuvres – and two old ones removed – in a bid to create what the RAC Foundation described as a 'far more realistic assessment'.

The Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), which is in charge of running driving tests and approving instructors, said it wanted the test to have 'more real life scenarios' such as driving into and reversing out of a parking space.

It said it wants the test to reflect the changing behaviours of drivers, while also meeting the Government's focus on improving safety to reduce road deaths.

But it has already proved controversial, with driving examiners planning a 48-hour strike starting on the first day of the new test.

The Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union say they want the test suspended pending a full safety review.

It also said examiners who are employed by the DVSA were being told to work harder as the tests come into force.

The union has warned thousands of tests could be cancelled when up to 2,000 members take part in the walkout.

The DVSA has hit back, with chief executive Gareth Llewellyn accusing the union of 'trying to undermine the launch of the new test'.

"The new driving test has been designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving," he said.

"It is one step in helping reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on Britain's roads."

There has also been a mixed response from the public.

One new element is to follow sat nav instructions while driving.

Gareth Llewellyn of the DVSA has backed the test

This change received the greatest backing in a poll conducted by price comparison website confused.com, with 46 per cent of people saying they agreed with it.

However, other new additions have been met with more resistance.

One will see drivers having to reverse two car lengths on the right hand side of the road before rejoining traffic.

Some have argued this goes against the Highway Code, which says in rule 239: 'do not park facing against the traffic flow'.

This got the second lowest approval rating, with only 17 per cent of 2,000 people surveyed in agreement.

Other unpopular additions include driving independently for 20 minutes instead of 10, and testing drivers on pulling out of parking bays.

A new measure requiring drivers to answer a vehicle safety question while driving was backed by 26 per cent of respondents.

Meanwhile reversing around a corner and three-point-turns have both been omitted from the updated test – although the Government says driving instructors should still teach students these skills.

The changes are unlikely be the last.

Research has suggested that night-time driving and awareness around cyclists and motorcyclists should be made part of the test.

And there are calls for student drivers to be taught how to drive on motorways from 2018 – a move that critics say could lead a clogging up of our highways.

According to confused.com, two in five drivers believe the majority of poor driving is caused by new motorists not been taught sufficiently.

The Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at confused.com, said: “We hope that the new test will help learner drivers to adapt to the modern conditions of our roads, especially through the independent driving and sat nav additions.

“It’s slightly concerning that many driving instructors deem one of the new manoeuvres ‘dangerous’, but we must trust that those learners who will be practicing these skills early will develop safe driving habits to last a life time."

As yet it is unclear whether the changes will affect the average pass rate of the UK driving test, which risen by four per cent since 2007.

The first hurdle is making sure it is implemented to everyone's satisfaction – which is likely to prove tricky bearing in mind the current level of opposition.

For more information on the new driving test visit www.gov.uk

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