Expert Blog

Would you pass another driving test?

Young drivers get a lot of stick, especially from experienced drivers. They’re high risk, irresponsible and, worst of all, play grime music really loudly. But at least they passed their driving test recently. And, unless they bribed the examiner, can probably actually park their car.

According to a new study by Young Driver, one in five experienced drivers think they would fail their driving test if they had to take one today. Lack of parking skills seems to be the main worry. 28 per cent admitted they struggled to parallel park, while 25 per cent said that they avoided reversing into a parking bay (for female drivers those figures rose to 36 and 30 per cent).

No wonder a third of drivers said they frequently parked some distance from where they needed to be so as to avoid tricky parking manoeuvres. 16 per cent confessed to being ‘nervous’ about parking.

Turning in the road, often called ‘the three point turn’, presents a bit of a scary challenge for many, with 16 per cent admitting that for them it was more like a four- or five-point turn.

The current UK driving test requires the candidate to carry out either a turn in the road, reverse around a corner, or reverse park ‘into a parking space either parallel to the kerb, or oblique or right-angle’ – selected at random by the examiner. (It used to be two, but was reduced to one to allow more time for the ‘independent driving’ section introduced in 2010)

However, it would seem that once passed, quite a few drivers then spend the rest of their driving lives avoiding using those tricky techniques they had to master to get their license.

While this may mean that some drivers get to walk more – which is good news for their thighs – their fear of having to turn the steering wheel too much means that they lose many of their hard-learned skills over time. And this may be bad news for other road users.

As Kim Stanton, head of Young Driver, observed: ‘Tricky parking spots can often be avoided, but what about when it comes to life-and-death situations such as emergency stops? Many of us say we can’t remember the last time we had to perform one in real life – which is obviously a good thing – but are we confident we could do it correctly if the need arose?’

24 per cent of over-65s thought they would fail their test if they had to sit it again.

I’m not yet an over-65, but I passed my driving test three decades ago, and while I can park – I drove in central London for 20 years where there was no chance of not parallel parking, unless you were prepared to park in Essex – I suspect I’m a tad rusty on some skills. Besides, in the intervening generation or so, the test has also changed, along with new additions to the Highway Code.

In particular, I worry about the theory test, introduced in 1996, replacing the three random questions you were asked by the examiner (which were perhaps not that random). I’m not the only one. A couple of years ago, a study found that more than a third of experienced drivers would fail the theory test if they took it today.

The theory test is a 50 question multiple-choice test. To pass you have to answer 43 or more questions correctly within 57 minutes. Questions are chosen at random from a bank of more than 1,000 on a selection of topics. I tried a mock one here, without any prep, and sure enough, I failed. I scored 41/50, 2 points short of pass.

A bit more familiar with the sometimes slightly surreal multiple choice format, and taking it more slowly this time, I tried another mock test and got 45/50 right. In real life, however, I would have to wait ten days and shell out another £23.

I also tried a mock hazard perception test, which contains a series of 14 one-minute video clips, showing potential road hazards in a simulated environment – a bit like a very boring video game. A score of 44 out of 75 is required to pass, and it takes 20 mins to complete. I passed, but with a score of 50, which is embarrassingly low for an experienced driver (and in studies, 34 per cent of experienced drivers fail).

I blame the video clips for being so dated and such low resolution that I found myself being nostalgic about the 1990s and distracted by old Ford Sierras. (The actual test is now CGI generated.)

According to research, 53 per cent of UK motorists believe it should compulsory to re-take both elements of the theory test after a certain number of years to ensure their knowledge of the road remains current. Just over 10 years was the most popular frequency. Which would mean that I would have had to re-take mine three times. More of, course, if I failed one of them.

And, of course, today’s young drivers become older drivers, and are probably already rapidly forgetting many of the useful – sometimes vital – things they learned to pass their test last week.

Mark Simpson, Journalist, Writer & Broadcaster

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