Happy 80th Birthday to the driving test!

The compulsory driving test celebrated its 80th birthday on June 1. Having failed no less than five of the wretched things before I could finally rip up my ‘L’ plates, driving tests are not high up on my list of favourite things.
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That said, roads would be a pretty scary place without them, so I’m prepared to wish driving tests a very Happy Birthday from 1935, despite the misery they caused me…

Driving test timeline

Driving tests have changed a great deal over the years. Here are some of the key dates in their history. March 16, 1935: Voluntary driving tests begin, following the passing of the Road Traffic Act in 1934. June 1, 1935: Compulsory driving tests begin for drivers who started driving on or after April 1, 1934. There were around 246,000 applicants in the first year, with 63% passing the test. 1939: Driving tests were suspended on September 2 for the duration of World War 2. Examiners were redeployed to traffic duties and to oversee fuel rationing. 1946: Driving tests resume on November 1. 1969: First driving test for an automatic vehicle. 1979: Driving test candidates no longer have to demonstrate arm signals from May. 1995: Pass Plus scheme is introduced in November to help newly qualified young drivers gain experience. 1996: Theory test is added on July 1. This replaced questions about the Highway Code during the practical test. The theory test pass mark was raised from 26/35 to 30/35 on October 1 1997: From June 1 if a new driver gains six or more penalty points during the first two years of driving, they lose their licence and must retake both the theory and practical driving test before being allowed back behind the wheel. 2001: Online booking for theory tests starts in December. 2002: On-screen hazard perception exam introduced. 2015: New computer-generated imagery (CGI) clips replace old filmed clips in the hazard perception part of the theory test on January 12.

Safer roads – but further to go

The impact of introducing driving tests is clear to see. Eighty years ago 7,343 people were killed on Britain’s roads, despite the fact only 2.4 million cars were in use. In 2008, that number had dropped to 2,538 people, even though there were 26.5 million vehicles on the road. In 2013, that number had fallen again to 1,713, with more than 27 million vehicles on the roads. But many campaigners believe that there is more to be done. Road safety experts claim the driving test needs to be radically reformed if we want to see a reduction in the number of road deaths and accidents every year, particularly involving young drivers. A massive 20,003 drivers aged under 24 were injured in 2013, and 191 killed.

What campaigners want

The RAC Foundation wants to introduce graduated licensing. This means that once you’ve passed your test, restrictions would be imposed for a period of typically 12 months. The aim of this is to reduce young drivers’ exposure to risk as they gain experience on the road. Restrictions could include limits on the number of passengers newly qualified young drivers could carry, or on driving between midnight and 5am. A previous report for the RAC Foundation (by TRL, the Transport Research Laboratory) concluded that if such a system was introduced in Britain around 4,500 fewer people would be hurt in an average year. The Institute for Advanced Motorists (IAM), meanwhile, wants to look at whether the influence of new technology and driver aids, such as sat-nav systems and cradle-held mobile phones used as navigation devices, should play a part in today’s driving test. A spokesman for IAM said: “It’s time the way we teach new drivers received a comprehensive overhaul to keep it relevant to today’s driving landscape and to the problems faced by young people on the road.” These certainly seem like sound ideas, but only time will tell whether the newly elected government will sit up and listen to them.

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