Driving theory test turns 20

July 2016 marks 20 years since the driving theory test was introduced in the UK, quizzing learner drivers on their Highway Code smarts for the first time.

L plate

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With new drivers required to pass the theory test before they can hit the road for the final practical exam, you might argue that it’s harder than it’s ever been to finally tear up your L-plates. Take this short driving theory test to find out if you’d pass now.

Two decades and millions of tests later, the theory exam has stood the test of time, moving from pen and paper to the computer screen and evolving to include hazard perception videos, testing the observation skills and reflexes of would-be drivers.

With new drivers required to pass the theory test before they can hit the road for the final practical exam, you might argue that it’s harder than it’s ever been to finally tear up your L plates.

Pass rates down

In fact, data from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) appears to show that pass rates have been steadily falling since 2007/8, when 65.4% of candidates passed the theory test.

Fast-forward to 2015/16 so far and the pass rate has fallen to 49.2%.


Theory Test Pass Rates '07 - '16

Testing times

Of course any number of things could be affecting the pass rate, but there have been a few changes during the period which might explain the decline.

For example, in 2007 the number of questions on the paper rose from 35 to 50. Then, in 2009, a ‘case study’ question was introduced, testing drivers on ‘real world’ scenarios.

In 2012, new theory test questions stopped being published online or in practice papers in 2012. Then in 2013, the question bank was refreshed, which meant the number of real questions online or in practice papers was almost zero.

In 2014, foreign-language voiceovers and interpreters were banned from the test, meaning all candidates have to take the test in English, even if it isn’t their first language.

Men vs. women

Interestingly, women’s pass rates fell more sharply than men’s during the same period.

While pass rates among men fell from 62.3% in 2007/8 to 47.7% in 2015/16, the pass rate for women fared worse, going from 68.9% to 50.8%.

That marks a drop of around 18% for women and around 14% for men.

Theory Test Pass Rates by Gender

Safer roads, cheaper cover?

MoneySuperMarket helps millions of people to save money on their car insurance by comparing quotes from different insurers. As such, we have a unique insight into pricing trends.

If tougher testing for drivers aims to make our roads safer, then you’d expect car insurance prices to come down as insurers would be exposed to less risk.

Since 2010, however, we saw prices falling until around December 2013, when premiums started rising again and reaching levels not seen since March 2011.

So clearly there are many more factors at play than driving standards when it comes to how we’re charged for car insurance.

Average Car Insurance Premium

Data points

The DVSA data warns against making assumptions on pass rate trends, especially when comparing regions against one another, since some test centres see far fewer candidates than others.

There are all sorts of other provisos and caveats about data sources and the reliability of the sample which all essentially mean you should take the data with a pinch of salt, but a broad decline in pass rates certainly looks to be happening.

Is it because the test is (and continues to become) tougher? Perhaps.

One thing is for sure, though – if the aim is to improve driver safety by making sure everyone hitting the road knows their stuff – that can only be a good thing.

Take the test

Now it’s time to take the theory test for yourself! We’ve put together our own test using genuine theory test questions to show people how they’d fare if they took the test today.

Take the test

It’s all a part of our bad habits campaign to make drivers more aware of the things they unwittingly do that makes motoring more dangerous or more expensive.

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