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The new driving test

On 4 December an overhauled driving test was introduced across the UK – and it was met with strikes by examiners who reckoned the changes were not a step in the right direction. Compared with the previous test, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) which oversees the test introduced four key changes:

New manoeuvres
This is the change that’s ruffled a few feathers among the examiners, as one of the new manoeuvres flies in the face of what’s recommended in the Highway Code. Instead of doing a turn in the road (three point turn) or reversing around a corner, candidates are now asked to parallel park, or to drive into a parking bay (either forwards or backwards) in a public car park before then driving out again.

While those manoeuvres haven’t proved contentious, the one that’s got examiners hot under the collar is the possibility of candidates being asked to pull up on the right of the road, reverse a couple of car lengths and then drive off. That’s something the Highway Code advises against doing, but the DVSA reckons we all do it anyway, so test candidates might as well learn how to do it safely.

Although turning in the road isn’t on the roster of manoeuvres that will regularly be requested, you still need to be able to perform them. If you need to turn in the road because of a blockage or closure for example, if the examiner has to come to your aid you’re likely to fail your test. So make sure you’re prepared for any eventuality – just as you need to be for when you pass your test and you have to drive independently.

Independent driving
Until 4 December the independent driving part of the test lasted for around 10 minutes, but that’s been doubled. Which means that for 20 minutes your examiner won’t be issuing instructions on what route to take; you’ll have to follow the road signs or a sat-nav instead, which brings us on to…

Follow a sat-nav
Accepting that drivers don’t use atlases any more, the DVSA has come into the 21st century by asking test candidates to follow a sat-nav for 20 minutes. There’s even a standard sat-nav unit, a TomTom Start 52; you’re not allowed to use your own unit. It’s left switched on for the duration of the test, even when it’s not being followed, so it can be used as a GPS-based speedometer.

The test candidate doesn’t have to set up the TomTom as that’s all taken care of by the examiner, who will also step in if there are any technical issues with the navigation unit. Intriguingly, not every driving test candidate will have to follow a sat-nav, as one in five will be asked to follow road signs instead.

Show me, tell me on the move
Until now, the show me, tell me questions have always been done with the car parked up, but now you’ll be asked to demonstrate your knowledge while on the move. You won’t be asked how to strip and rebuild a gearbox though; it’s all simple stuff, just like before. The sort of thing that you might be asked to do is clean the windscreen using the washers, or to operate the car’s heater controls.

In the future
These changes are probably just the first in a series of amendments likely to be made to the driving test in the coming years. New drivers continue to be involved in a disproportionate number of crashes, partly through inexperience and partly because of their immaturity. In a bid to reduce the number of crashes involving new drivers, there are various proposals on the table, including:

  • Minimum learning time. Learners might have to spend at least 120 hours spread over a year, before they’re able to apply for their test. All of those hours would have to be with a professional instructor, with everything logged.
  • Learners would have to practise in a wider range of conditions, including at night, on the motorway and in adverse weather conditions (hence the requirement to spread the lessons over a year).
  • Increasing the probationary period from two years to three. So any new driver who notches up six points within three years of driving, would have to retake their test.
  • Night-time driving curfews could be introduced, which ban new drivers from getting behind the wheel between 11pm and 6am. A lot of new drivers crash at night, but there’s plenty of evidence that suggests this would be a bad move as a lot of these crashes are down to inexperience rather than bravado.
  • Something that is down to bravado is young drivers showing off to their mates; the more people in a car, the more likely it is to crash. By not allowing new drivers to carry passengers, they’re less likely to show off and kill someone.

If you’re gearing up to take your driving test, the best of luck from everyone at hpi. There shouldn’t be anything to faze you with the new test; we reckon it’s a step in the right direction. The key is to see passing your test as the start of the learning process, not the end – investing in some post-test training is a really worthwhile idea.

The best way to improve your driving skills is with lots of practice, so once you’ve got that pass certificate make sure you buy your own car and use it as much as you can. We’ve published articles on Buying your first car  as well as 10 great first cars. On our website you’ll also find a used car buyer’s guide – be sure to read it before committing to any purchase.

Richard Dredge
December 2017