Does the Driving Test need to change?

Passing your driving test doesn't necessarily mean you know how to share the road with cyclists
Victoria Hazael's picture

Does the Driving Test need to change?

Over eight decades the Driving Test has undergone many changes but, as we know from bitter experience fighting for justice for cyclists at CTC, a minority of drivers do not understand how to drive safely near cyclists. That is why CTC's Victoria Hazael wants to see a few changes made to the test.

Eighty years ago this week, Mr Beene of Kensington, London was the first person to pass the practical driving test. Of course, the roads in the UK were very different in 1935 - there were just two million drivers, now there are 27 million. So, does the Driving Test equip motorists for driving in 2015? 

Over eight decades the Driving Test has undergone many changes. In 1996, the Theory Test was added and then in 2002 learner drivers also had to pass the Hazard Perception Exam but, as we know from bitter experience fighting for justice for cyclists at CTC, a minority of drivers do not understand how to drive safely when they are sharing the roads with cyclists. That is why CTC recommends there should be a few changes to the driving test.

As a driver I passed my test 15 years ago and I don’t really remember learning much about overtaking cyclists. I, like most young people studying for their theory test, learnt the facts – the correct answers. I really didn’t give much thought as to why. I just knew I had to tick the right box and then I would soon be on the road without L plates.  

The hazard perception test needs to be strengthened to test trainees’ awareness of how their driving can affect both the actual and perceived safety of cyclists. It is not enough not to hit a cyclist, you also need to do all you can not to scare them by driving too close for comfort! There's a lot drivers need to know about cyclists

I am assured by the DVLA that the theory test part of the driving test does now include cycle awareness, and it is normal for a cycling-question to come up in any given individual's theory test, but I don’t think that is enough.  

I would prefer to see questions that test the understanding of the reasons why speeding, texting, using your mobile phone and Sat Nav are dangerous. I know most people would stop a friend driving after drinking too much, but how many people ask their friends to stop texting whilst driving?

Cycle awareness should become an integral part of the driver training and testing process with a specified amount of instruction time devoted to it.  

Cycle training

Ideally, all driving test candidates should undertake cycle training unless they have already completed level 3 Bikeability – which I think should be part of the national curriculum and offered by every secondary school as standard. Practical cycle training should be mandatory for all driving instructors (with suitable alternatives offered to those with disabilities).

In my opinion, you can talk till you are blue in the face about how cyclists and drivers should get along, but I still believe swapping the driver’s seat for a saddle is the only way to make sure the next generation of drivers understand how vulnerable cyclists can be on the roads. I'd like there to be more understanding on both sides; 80% of cyclists and 94% of adult CTC members hold a valid driving licence, whereas 18% of AA members cycle. 

Like many people, I took my practical driving test more than once and I am honest enough to admit it! If you had asked me back then, I would have said "make the test easier", but after driving thousands of miles and even once spinning my car on black ice, I have come to understand the responsibility that comes with driving a car and that it is so very important to do all you can to keep you and others safe on the road. 

I know it is obviously difficult to ensure that cycling comes up in every practical test. It depends on what the driver happens to encounter on the roads on the day of their test. It would be great if candidates were always examined on their ability to drive at lower speeds, especially at 20 mph."

Victoria Hazael, CTC Senior Communications Officer

It was soon after I passed my test, when I worked as a reporter and drove at least 50 miles every day balancing a tattered road map on my knee, I realised I still had a lot to learn about driving. It is why I really support Graduated Driver Licensing. Typically, it requires new drivers to complete both a minimum learning period of at least 12 months, and a minimum number of hours of driving lessons under professional instruction. It should actively encourage drivers to undergo regular training programmes to ensure that their learning is continuous, and that bad driving habits are corrected quickly.

Re-testing for dangerous drivers

If a driver has been found guilty of careless or dangerous driving for injuring a cyclist – it is clear to me that they need to have their licence taken away. To get it back, they need to be re-tested and undergo cycle awareness and cycle training, so that they do not pose a danger to others.

CTC's Road Justice campaign is pushing for a change in sentencing guidelines to make it mandatory for disqualified drivers (and for drivers who have accumulated 12 points) to undergo a special re-test linked to remedial training. CTC believes this should certainly be compulsory after any serious road traffic offence.



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How about mandatory refresher courses at the license renewal stage instead of just being able to renew your license every 10 years without question? No test, at least to begin with, but just a mandatory requirement to attend a course.
I have no doubt that there are many drivers who drive somewhat carelessly yet manage to avoid causing serious incidents through sheer luck.

Certainly there have been changes to the Road Traffic act in the 18 years I have held a license. Indeed, the Highway Code had 174 rules at that time, now I note there are over 300. Many drivers will have held their licenses for much longer and will not even have seen a theory test. Yet despite the implied obligation to maintain a knowledge of the law, many will not, and thus will not be aware of the changes, some as a result of the vastly increased traffic load on our roads.

For too long people have seen a driving licience as a right rather than a priviledge.
The test needs to be stricter & we need mandatory re-tests every five years.
As a National Standards Cycle Instructor in schools, I have lost count of the times that I have been told " I passed my test years ago & don't need to be told how to drive".
The roads are no place for 'boy racers' & Clarkson & his ilke.