Driving test changes: what you need to know
The new changes to the driving test, which were introduced on 4 December 2017, have inevitably caused a great deal of debate and even led to some industrial action being taken by examiners. In this article, we will take a closer look at the changes, the reasons behind them, what driving instructors make of them, and whether they feel that the strike action undertaken by some examiners was justified.
Firstly, however, here is a quick-fire summary of the changes:
- The ‘independent driving’ element of the test has doubled, from 10 to 20 minutes.
- Four out of five learners will now have to follow directions from a sat nav for a portion of their test. One in five will be asked to follow road signs instead.
- Reversing around a corner and turning in the road will no longer be tested. The potential manoeuvres which are now included are:
- Parallel parking
- Bay parking
- Pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for two car lengths and then re-joining traffic
- One of the ‘show me, tell me’ questions will now be asked as the learner is driving, with the other being asked whilst stationary.
Do driving instructors support the changes?
We wanted to find out what the experts who will be dealing with these changes every day think of them, so we spoke to a number of driving instructors to get their opinions.
The first people we heard from were PassMeFast, a driving school which specialises in providing crash courses for new drivers keen to get on the road as soon as possible without compromising the quality of their learning. Here’s what the team at PassMeFast had to say about the changes:
“From our point of view, the changes being made to the test are generally positive. With the majority of drivers now using sat navs, it's important that candidates learn how to use these devices safely and without being distracted. Meanwhile, the DVSA has defended the introduction of pulling up on the right, noting that there are situations where a driver may legally pull up on the right — and it's important for driving instructors to teach learners when this is appropriate, and how to perform the manoeuvre correctly.”
We also heard from three of PassMeFast’s instructors themselves, who had mixed – but generally positive – opinions about the changes:
Gerard O’Toole: “I've sat in on four students' tests since the changes on December 4th — all of them passed, so they're naturally positive about the new changes! Two of them had previously failed the old format of test, and one in particular benefitted from the shift to sat nav instructions. One of the four students had to follow traffic signs instead of a sat nav, and had a particularly tough route to follow, including a tricky roundabout in Salford. She dealt with it well, however, and still passed!
“From an instructor's point of view, I would say that the new test is definitely more thorough than the old test, and provides candidates with a real challenge. However, I wouldn't necessarily say that it's harder than the old test. The new manoeuvre (pulling up on the right), for example, has been billed as ‘dangerous’ — but, in my experience, all students have coped well with this, and haven't required much coaching to perform the manoeuvre successfully. In test conditions, they've only been asked to perform it on quiet roads with 20 mph speed limits.
“The introduction of sat navs is a positive. However, this has changed the atmosphere in the driving test; as examiners no longer have to provide as many instructions, it can often be very quiet in the car! Overall, however, I have no qualms with the new test.”
Noel Hopkins: “My students are generally finding the new test easier than the old one, and are happier with the new manoeuvres. In fact, everyone wants pulling up on the right to come up on their test! Students are also happier that, without manoeuvres such as reversing around a corner, there's less chance of mounting the kerb.
“Personally, I think the new manoeuvre is a good inclusion, as it's something that many people will use quite a lot — especially if you have parking on the right hand side of your street. On the test, examiners will ensure that this manoeuvre takes place on clear roads. This means that — as long as the candidate is sensible — then it can be the easiest manoeuvre on the test.
“It's also a good idea to include sat navs on the driving test, as no one uses the old A-Z guides anymore. This means that it's more of a natural driving experience than the old style of test. As well as this, students are also getting behind the change, as it's easy for them to see the need for proper sat nav training — everyone on the road uses them, after all!
“The new ‘show me, tell me’ format shouldn't prove a major issue for most candidates — unless you make a serious error that causes you to lose control of the car, then you shouldn't get more than a minor fault for getting something wrong. In general, it seems as though people are settling well to the new test. In fact, the only issue is for pupils still following examiner instructions — they seem to be more daunting than listening to the sat nav!”
Frank Walsh: “I haven't yet sat in on one of the new tests — and only two of my pupils have been able to take the new test, as the strikes have meant that most of my tests have been cancelled! In general, I would say that the test changes are positive.
“I have no issues with the introduction of sat navs in the driving test, as I think that this is a much more realistic reflection of how people drive today. As such, it's good that we teach new drivers about safe use of sat navs. My students are also more than happy with the new test format.
“However, there are some issues that need to be sorted out. First, a number of tests are overrunning, and some tests are taking place 10–15 minutes late as a result of this. Hopefully, these are just initial teething problems, and should be sorted out soon.
“I am more worried, though, about the new manoeuvre on the test. I agree with the majority of examiners that this manoeuvre is wrong for the test. It is both dangerous, as it leaves candidates exposed to oncoming vehicles, and goes against the Highway Code. I've also heard from other instructors that the manoeuvre has been performed in busier 30 mph zones. The DVSA should have come up with something better.”
ADI National Joint Council
We also heard from the ADI National Joint Council, a not-for-profit association which works to inform, represent and support driving instructors across the UK. The largest organisation of its kind, ADINJC unsurprisingly had plenty to say about the first major changes to the driving test to have been introduced for seven years:
“The changes are designed to make sure new drivers face a more realistic assessment of their driving ability and have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving. They are part of work set out in the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s 5-year strategy for 2017 to 2022: ‘Helping you stay safe on Britain’s roads’.
“Road collisions are the biggest killer of young people. They account for over a quarter of all deaths of those aged between 15 and 19. DVSA wants to make sure that training and the driving test reduce the number of young people being killed in collisions. These changes are being made because:
- Most fatal collisions happen on high-speed roads (not including motorways) - changing the format of the test will allow more of these types of roads to be included in driving test routes.
- 52% of car drivers now have a sat nav and DVSA wants new drivers to be trained to use them safely.
- Research has shown that new drivers find independent driving training valuable: they can relate it to driving once they’ve passed their test.
“The changes follow a public consultation that over 3,900 people took part in and a trial of the changes involving over 4,300 learner drivers and over 860 driving instructors. ADINJC were proud to be part of those trials and were closely involved in shaping the new test. We have supported the trials and the changes. ADINJC are part of the National Associations Strategic Partnership for driving instructors who commented: ‘If we want to launch the next generation of safer new drivers onto our busy roads, then we need a test that better assesses a candidate's readiness for real life independent driving’.”
“The pass mark is staying the same, as is the way the test is marked, and the overall time of the test and the cost also remain the same. The test takes about 40 minutes.”
Finally, we also spoke to Howard Floyd, founder of the Norwich-based How-2-Drive driving school. Howard was also positive about the changes, again suggesting that most driving instructors seem to be fully behind the new test format:
“I feel the changes are positive and give instructors an opportunity to help learners deal with real life, everyday situations.
“The introduction of the 20 minute drive following a sat nav will mean that the tests will be able to get out onto faster and rural roads, where the majority of fatalities occur. This will get instructors out of the quiet residential streets and train their learners how to be safe on more high risk roads. This will mean less time is spent training on manoeuvres like the 3 point turn and reverse around a corner that will hardly ever be used in every day driving. We will still teach learners how to turn their car around, but get them to decide the safest method - for example a U turn may be the best option or a 3 point turn at the end of a cul-de-sac.
“The parking on the right has been controversial with many instructors and examiners saying it’s too dangerous. I believe that people have and always will continue to park on the right if there is a space available, as our roads are getting busier and demand for road parking spaces is increasing. It makes perfect sense to me that we should train our drivers how to do this safely and move off again to re-join busy traffic. We can then encourage learners to assess the risks and make better choices on where to park and, more importantly, where not to park.
“Risk when driving is always changing. We encourage our learners to assess risk on the move, understand how things can change and to make safe choices and adapt when the situation changes. This is the skill of driving. The new test has taken a positive step towards making better, safer drivers.”
Do driving instructors support examiners’ strike action?
We also wanted to find out what driving instructors had to say about the industrial action which was launched by their examiner colleagues upon the introduction of the changes. Both PassMeFast and the ADI National Joint Council spoke to us about this issue, and both noted that the reasons behind the industrial action were not limited to the changes themselves.
The team at PassMeFast explained to us that driving examiners have been “particularly vocal” about the introduction of the pulling up on the right manoeuvre, with many claiming that it is “dangerous” and that it “may even violate the Highway Code.” PassMeFast added that “this was one of the reasons behind the PCS' decision to strike in early December, on the day of the test changes. However, other factors also lay behind the strike, including longer working hours and a ‘flexible working’ system that could see examiners being made to travel to different test centres without prior notice.”
ADI National Joint Council
The ADI National Joint Council went into further detail about why the strike was called, and why they believe that the planned industrial action had not been a success:
“On the day it was launched there was industrial action planned by some examiners. However, ADINJC understands that on the day it was launched 92% of scheduled driving tests went ahead. The DVSA called the planned strike ‘shameless’ and stated that the ‘industrial action was not about the safety of the new test; it’s about the implementation of the standardised Modernised Employment Contract which was introduced in 2014 that PCS members voted overwhelmingly to accept.’ They said that just under quarter of the examiners went on strike on the launch day and thanked the examiners who worked and made the launch a resounding success.
“ADINJC will now be interested to monitor their members’ responses to the test and feedback from both candidates and the public.”
As you can see, passions run high amongst both driving instructors and examiners about the recently implemented driving test changes, and it will be interesting to see how opinion develops as the changes ‘bed in’ over the coming months.
Reliable and technologically advanced UK Ford cars are the vehicles of choice for many driving instructors across the country, and we have no doubt that their popularity is one thing that will never change when it comes to learning to drive, no matter how much the test does!