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Happy 80th Birthday to the Driving Test!

This summer the practical driving test celebrated its 80th birthday and so we thought it would be a nice idea to look back at how the driving test has changed over the years.

The Road Traffic Act was implemented in 1934 and it was the introduction of this Act that led to the compulsory driving test in June 1935. Prior to this, driving tests were voluntary, as they didn’t think they would be able to cope with demand. Driving tests cost just 7 shillings and sixpence or 38p in today’s money and Mr J Beene is the man who goes down in history as being the first person to pass their driving test on March 16th all those years ago! You could not buy a traditional driving lesson, you had to self teach.

Driving test centres did not exist back in the early years and so test candidates would actually start their driving tests from public locations such as railway stations. Now, of course, there are designated driving test centres where driving instructors or family members can wait until the candidate has returned from test, but interestingly trials are under way to see whether driving tests could start again from public places. If successful, this would mean that more tests could start at the same time, as they wouldn’t be restricted on parking space at the test centre. It could even signal the end of the driving test centre in an attempt to cut costs.

During World War II driving tests did not take place and didn’t actually commence again until November 1946.

It wasn’t until 1975 that the demonstration of hand signals on driving test was scrapped. Candidates would have to show the examiner that they understood the different hand signals that could be shown to them by officers e.g. the police and also that they knew the correct hand signals to give to other road users when slowing down or when their direction indicators weren’t working.

In 1990 it was decided that a new organisation, the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) should be set up to regulate and control driving tests. Since the organisation was set up, the way candidates book their driving tests and the content of the tests has improved and been modernised over the years.

Prior to 1996, theory was tested on the driving test too. Candidates would be asked a series of questions at the start of their driving test based on the Highway Code and other publications. In 1996 the theory test was removed from the practical test and the DSA made it into a more comprehensive, stand-alone test. However, it would be another 4 years later, in 2000, that the theory test was reformatted to enable touch-screen technology. Using a computer terminal the candidate worked through a series of multiple-choice questions by touching the screen. The candidate needed to pass the theory test before they were allowed to book their practical driving test. By 2001 the DSA enabled candidates to book their theory test online.

This new style of theory test led to the creation of the Hazard Perception Test and in 2002 the Hazard Perception Test became a part of the theory test. The Hazard Perception Test tests the candidate’s ability to spot potential hazards developing. Candidates watch a series of short videos and in each clip a hazard develops, once the candidate spots the hazard they have to click the mouse button. The sooner they spot the hazard the more points they score. To pass the theory test now candidates must pass both the multiple-choice questions and the hazard perception element at the same time.

Since the removal of the theory test from the practical test, changes have been made to bring the practical test a stand-alone, comprehensive test that is more in line with modern day driving. Initially the driving test was lengthened and in addition to driving on a variety of roads candidates were asked to perform 2 reversing manoeuvres. The introduction of the bay-parking manoeuvre meant that there were 4 possible manoeuvres – the turn in the road, reverse around the corner, the parallel-park and the bay-park.

By 2003 the DSA introduced the Show Me Tell Me element to the driving test. Candidates would be asked 2 questions related to the maintenance of the car and they would have to demonstrate to the examiner that they knew how to use certain controls or check various fluid levels of the car. In 2003 also, candidates were able to book their practical test via the internet, 2 years later than the theory test.

The driving test was modernised again in 2010. With the rise of the number of people now using sat-nav technology, independent driving was introduced. The candidate still has one reversing manoeuvre to complete but now they must also drive for 10 minutes independently e.g. following road signs to a nearby town.

The format of the driving test has seen many changes over its 80 years history and with statistics showing that new drivers are more likely to have a road traffic accident than more experienced drivers all sorts of challenges face the DSA as to how to deal with the problem. Retesting is one option and instilling probationary periods for new drivers is another, but one thing’s for certain more changes are on the way for the already challenging driving test.


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