How has the UK’s driving test changed — and are there more changes to come?

driving test

Just over a year ago, UK motorists had to adjust to a few alterations which were made to the nation’s driving test. Learner drivers sitting a practical examination are now required to carry out different reversing manoeuvres, get through the independent driving part of the test for 20 minutes, follow directions given to them via a sat nav, and answer a question about vehicle safety while they are driving.

What has been the reaction by driving instructors and learner drivers about the changes? Motorparks, which stocks a huge collection of high-quality used cars, has attempted to find out. What’s more, the dealership has questioned whether we can learn from other driving tests carried out across the globe to make further beneficial alterations to the UK’s examination in the months and years ahead…

Understanding how the UK’s driving test has changed

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) implemented four alterations to the car driving test sat throughout England, Scotland, and Wales on December 4th 2017. These alterations are “designed to make sure new drivers have the skills they’ll need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving”, acknowledged GOV.UK.

To begin with, the independent driving segment of the driving examination now lasts around 20 minutes as opposed to ten minutes. Those sitting a test would need to show that they can drive adequately during this time without any turn-by-turn directions from the driving examiner.

Learner drivers are also asked to follow directions provided to them via a sat nav. This forms part of the reworked independent driving segment of the practical examination, in another alteration. Learner drivers don’t need to worry about bringing their own gadgets either — the examiner will provide a TomTom Start 52 sat nav, even setting it up and setting the route. Take note too that someone won’t fail a test if they go the wrong way to the directions advised by the sat nav, unless it results in a fault being made. Those sitting a test can also ask the examiner for confirmation about where they are going when following a sat nav’s directions.

Reversing manoeuvres are approached rather differently now as well. A learner driver will no longer be tested that they can successfully reverse around a corner or make a turn in the road. Instead, they will be requested to perform one of these three reversing techniques:

  1. Parallel park at the side of the road.
  2. Park in a bay, which will go one of two ways and be selected by the examiner:
    A. Drive in and then reverse out of a bay
    B. Reverse in and then drive out of a bay
  3. Pull up on the right-hand side of the road, before reversing for two car lengths and then rejoining the traffic.

Examiners will now also ask those taking part in a practical driving test two vehicle safety questions at some point during their examination. There will be a ‘tell me’ question at the beginning of the test ahead of any driving, where someone will need to explain how they would go about carrying out a safety task. Once driving has commenced, a driving test candidate will then be asked a ‘show me’ question in a manner where they will need to demonstrate how they would conduct the safety task.

How people have reacted to the alterations

Speaking as the changes to the driving examination were being announced, the DVSA’s chief executive Gareth Llewellyn said: “The DVSA’s priority is to help you through a lifetime of safe driving. Making sure the driving test better assesses a driver’s ability to drive safely and independently is part of our strategy to help you stay safe on Britain’s roads.

“It’s vital that the driving test keeps up to date with new vehicle technology and the areas where new drivers face the greatest risk once they’ve passed their test.”

One early supporter of the changes was Andrew Jones, the Transport Minister of Britain. He stated: “Our roads are among the safest in the world. However, road collisions are the biggest killer of young people. These changes will help us to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads and equip new drivers with the skill they need to use our roads safely.”

A lot of support was showcased by members of the public as the alterations were being proposed too. Ahead of the alterations being put into place, a public consultation involving more than 3,900 people occurred. During the consultation, 88.2 per cent were behind the move to increase the independent driving part of the examination. 78.6 per cent were in favour of the adjustments to the reversing manoeuvres, 78.4 per cent backed the introduction of a show me question while someone sitting a driving test was behind the wheel, and 70.8 per cent gave a thumbs up to candidates having to follow directions from a sat nav.

What about the level of support since the changes were enforced? In their Driving test changes in 2017: impact summary report, the DVSA recorded that 81.2 per cent of new drivers believed the driving test now prepared them for driving on Great Britain’s roads. The report also acknowledged that 86.3 per cent of new drivers now use a sat nav at least some of the time when they are driving. 86.2 per cent felt confident that they can drive safely while following directions provided to them via one of these gadgets.

Three ways the UK’s driving test can change for the better in the future

If the DVSA is hoping to make additional changes to the driving tests undertaken throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, they may be wise to analyse other driving tests carried out across the globe as a source of inspiration. Here’s three ideas…

1. Night-time driving sessions to be completed by learner drivers

You may well be driving once the sun has set during your commute from work, when heading home following a meal or cinema trip, or at the end of a shopping spree. However, road casualty statistics reported on by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents reveal that 40 per cent of collisions will be recorded during the hours of darkness.

Those learning to drive across Sweden are required to take part in compulsory night-time driving sessions though. This is so that they can get used to being on the road after sunset. Even if they pass their driving test during the summer, many motorists in this part of Scandinavia will seek out a driving school throughout the winter months to undergo a night-driving course.

2. Tests to be completed in an electric car

EV use in the UK has experienced a boom in recent years, with an increasing number of people opting to take their test in an electric car. In 2012, a student from Hull became the first UK leaner to pass their test in the Vauxhall Ampera. Since then, electric vehicles have been a popular choice for learners – particularly those sitting the automatic test. The UK has seen a boom in new EV registrations over the past decade, as well as an increase in related services such as EV charger installation and charging points. As electric car use continues to grow in the UK, we can expect an increased number of electric vehicle specific driving schools too.

3. Car leaks to be checked by leaner drivers

Before you’ve even entered a vehicle, learner drivers in South Africa can fail their practical driving examination. This is because one reason for failure is a driver forgetting to check under their car for any leaks. A motorist in the south-east London district of Chislehurst certainly could have benefitted from carrying out this procedure, after The Express reported that the driver was fined more than £1,000 for damage after their car leaked oil when it was parked up.

An oil leak is just one issue you should be looking for mind. Motorists should also be regularly checking that their set of wheels isn’t leaking antifreeze, fuel, brake fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, windscreen washer fluid or water.

4. Examiners to receive training so they can help nervous candidates

There’s over eight million people across the UK who suffer from a type of anxiety disorder. This is according to a major report completed by the University of Cambridge and published in the medical journal Brain and Behavior. Taking a driving test can obviously be a stressful time, with chief driving examiner Lesley Young offering these words of advice to The Sunday Times’ Driving segment: “It’s normal to be nervous before your test, but if you’re properly prepared and your instructor thinks you’re ready, then there’s really no reason to worry. Your examiner’s not trying to catch you out; they just want to make sure that you can drive safely.”

Nervous drivers could be assisted further if a technique that’s used in driving tests taken across the Netherlands is introduced throughout the UK. Driving test candidates across that country can request a faalangstexamen — an examination that is carried out by an examiner who is trained specifically to deal with those sitting a test who feel very nervous.