Changes could be on their way to not only improve much-needed driving test availability, but also safety.
Earlier this month, the government closed its public consultation on six key proposals that it says will update driving test processes for the better.
If they go ahead, these will be the most significant changes since 2017 when new elements were introduced to the test itself, including learning to follow satnav instructions, testing different manoeuvres, such as driving into and reversing out of a parking space learning how to park and pull away facing oncoming traffic.
Says Richard Gladman, our Head of Driving and Riding Standards: “It doesn’t matter if you tell people to reverse park because it’s much safer; they are going to drive forwards into a space at the supermarket because they want access to their boot. Reversing out of a space is one of the most dangerous manoeuvres you’ll ever do but ADI’s weren’t teaching it, of course it is not best practice, and we were criticised for supporting it, but the test should be representative of the real world. Similarly with parking facing oncoming traffic. That was something learners were always told not to do so they only learned how to park in and pull out of a space on the nearside of the road. we know that in busy cities drivers are going to park where the space is, potentially facing traffic, they’re not going to drive past the space to turn around. Isn’t it better to teach learners how to park safely in all types of spaces?
“There’s a difference between ‘must’ and ‘should’…if thing’s are not illegal shouldn’t instructors be giving learners as much experience of them with a professional by their side,” stresses Richard.
And he also gave us his thoughts on proposed changes to the test and processes this year:
Proposal: Encourage learner drivers to be better prepared when they take their car driving test
People who fail their test – around 50% - currently only have to wait 10 working days before they can book another. However, driving instructors are still so busy following pandemic shutdowns that they may have little or no availability for the learner to slot in extra lessons before they retake their test.
The government proposes that car drivers who fail should wait 28 days before booking another test, to, it says, reduce the number of people attempting to take their test before they are ready and giving them more time for extra lessons/practice.
Says Richard: “I completely agree with this. Nobody should be put in for their test with their fingers crossed that on a good day, with the wind behind them they’re going to pass. If someone isn’t ready two weeks before their test, they’re not going to be ready on test day because they’re not going to have four hours of extra lessons each week.”
Proposal: Reduce the number of car driving test appointments that are wasted.
Currently, learners can cancel their test three, full working days beforehand to receive a fee refund. The government wants to make it 10 working days, which it says will discourage people cancelling right on the deadline, which often leave too little time for the test slot to be filled by someone else.
The government hopes this will encourage people who might not feel ready to take their test to cancel earlier, freeing up the test for someone else.
Richard says: “This makes absolute sense. Someone cancelling their test with three days’ notice and getting a full refund and then the test not being used it completely ridiculous. It may mean instructors will have to manage their diaries a little bit smarter.”
Proposal: Collect better date about how well driving instructors prepare learner drivers.
The government suggests that instructors should be legally required to display their ADI or trainee ADI registration certificate in the windscreen of their car when they take learners for their tests – not just when taking money for lessons. This, it says, would encourage instructors to only bring people for their tests if they were confident of them passing, plus help to identify and prioritise need more help and support to offer high-quality training.
Says Richard: “If an instructor consistently has two failures and a pass with the same student, then clearly they are putting their students in for the test too soon.”
Proposal: Give learner drivers better information about driving instructors
This, says the government, is the start of trying to find out what information learners would find useful when choosing a driving instructor. The consultation called on learners and the ADI National Associations Strategic Partnership for suggestions, such as the average number of driving faults instructor’s learners make during a test, or the percentage of tests where the examiner had to take physical action in the interests of public safety.
Richard says: “Information about how instructors are performing should be available. Having extra information would be good, and maybe there will be a facility to put good and bad testimonials onto it. Although, at the moment, it doesn’t matter what the review for a driving instructor, if they’ve got a space, you’re going to take it!”
Proposal: Update when and how eyesight is tested at the start of the driving test.
The law currently says that pre-test eyesight checks should be done in “good daylight”, meaning driving tests are never carried out after sunset. The proposed changes would mean eyesight tests could be done in different light conditions, but also potentially using different methods, such as reading from a tablet. The government says the changes would not only mean eyesight was checked in different conditions, but also extend the number of hours in a day that driving tests could be carried out.
“People should be able to read the number plates in all light levels, so changes to the eyesight test make common sense, because at the moment you might take the test in daylight but by the time you are driving away from the test centre it might be dusk. We all drive in the dark, so driving tests in daylight only should be a no-no,” comments Richard.
Proposal: Replace all paper pass certificates with digital certificates.
The government hopes this will support its plan to introduce digital driving licences, plus it will save more than two million sheets of paper currently used every year.
Richard says: “We’re in a world that is going digital, and I’d suggest that 99.9% of people that take their test would be happy with a pass certificate on their smartphone.”
*The government consultation into the proposed changes ended at the beginning of this month (March). It will publish a summary of responses, plus next steps, within three months.