The driving test has changed. As of 4 December, all new drivers have to pass a modified version that aims to more accurately assess their skills and more closely reflect modern driving.
So, what’s different about the new driving test? And why has the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) decided to change it? Let’s take a look…
A longer period of independent driving
Ever since the last set of changes in 2010, the driving test has involved a section of independent driving. The examiner gives the candidate a destination, and the candidate has to drive there without further directions. The DVSA has now extended this part of the test from 10 minutes to 20, so that it takes up roughly half of the 40-minute test.
According to the DVSA’s consultation paper on the changes, this ‘offers the opportunity for assessment to be made of a candidate’s ability to manage and prioritise distractions, providing variable routes and exposure to different road and traffic conditions to improve judgement.’
Incorporating the sat nav
That longer independent driving section isn’t entirely independent, though. The candidate doesn’t get turn-by-turn instructions from their examiner, but most now receive the assistance of a sat nav. The examiner punches in the destination and then lets the device guide the candidate to it. As before, deviating from these directions or going the wrong way doesn’t count as a fault – as long as it’s done safely.
This change is mainly to reflect drivers’ increasing use of these devices. According to the Government’s National Travel Survey, just over half of all cars and vans in England had a sat nav – either a built-in system (17%) or a hand-held version (35%) – in 2015 (the latest year for which figures are available). The DVSA says that, by reducing reliance on road signs, it also allows examiners to test candidates on new roads, including higher speed ones.
Sat navs aren’t being used in every driving test, however – just four out of five. In the other one in five, candidates still have to follow road signs.
Candidates are now required to perform one of three manoeuvres during their test: parallel parking; bay parking (either forwards in, backwards out or vice versa); or pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for two car lengths and then pulling off again. Two other manoeuvres – reversing round a corner and turning in the road – have been removed from the test.
Some respondents to the consultation raised concerns about the third of these new manoeuvres, pointing out that the Highway Code includes the rule ‘do not park facing against the traffic flow’. However, the DVSA has incorporated it anyway, explaining that ‘While The Highway Code advises not to park against the flow of traffic, it’s a legal manoeuvre that’s carried out by a lot of drivers on today’s roads… So, it’s important learner drivers are trained to do it safely.’
Answering a question while driving
In the old tests, candidates had to answer two vehicle safety questions before they started driving: one ‘tell me’ question, such as ‘Tell me how you’d check the brake lights are working’, and one ‘show me’ question, such as ‘Show me how you’d wash the windscreen’. Now, the examiner asks the ‘show me’ question while the candidate is driving.
This change obviously allows for a more realistic assessment of whether someone can perform the task while they are driving. It also saves time during the test, giving the examiner longer to see the candidate at the wheel.
New tests for driving instructors, too
It’s not just new drivers who will have to adapt to these changes, but their instructors too. The DVSA has produced a handbook for instructors, detailing the changes. And, as of 23 December, the Approved Driving Instructor tests will also be revised to reflect the new driving test. In order to qualify, would-be instructors will have to demonstrate the new skills they’ll be teaching, including following a sat nav for 20 minutes and performing two of the new manoeuvres.
These changes have drawn resistance from some quarters. The Public and Commercial Services Union has cited them as one reason (along with a dispute over employment contracts) for a strike by driving examiners on 4 and 5 December. In a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, the union’s General Secretary, Mark Serwotka wrote that it ‘is wholly unacceptable that a major change to working practises in DVSA has been imposed without an agreement between the agency and the union on this important change to driving standards, specifically on safety.’
Of course, the overall goal is to improve road safety. The DVSA says that this reform will help ensure that learner drivers spend more time on rural and high-speed roads – where most fatal accidents happen – and less time on safer, quieter side roads. With more than 1,700 people killed each year on Britain's roads, we certainly hope it works.