[Photo by Karen Withak]
MPs have recommended that learner drivers should do more to prove their driving skills before they are granted a full licence.
According to a report by the Commons Transport Committee (CTC), a more rigorous driving test could cut accidents, reduce congestion and even combat road rage.
The CTC came to the conclusion after being tasked with examining methods of reducing congestion without building new roads or introducing pricing.
Committee chairman Louise Ellman told the Daily Telegraph that the task group believes that young drivers should have more experience of all types of road conditions before they sit their test.
Of course, people of all ages can be affected by road accidents. Regardless of age, no win no fee solicitors can help people make an accident claim if they have been involved in a road accident through no fault of their own.
Greater road safety would certainly reduce the need for people to claim compensation but does the driving exam really need to be made more challenging?
Peter Minter (the name has been changed) has been a driving instructor in Brighton for six years so he is the ideal person to ask about whether the driving test is fit for purpose…
Question: What changes to the driving test have you seen since you became an instructor?
Peter Minter (PM): Quite a few. Just last year test candidates were for the first time asked to drive 'independently' without getting instructions from the examiner. I think in general this was a good idea. Even before the change was introduced to the test, many instructors were asking pupils to drive without supervision anyway. It’s a good skill to have as it gets pupils in the habit of following road signs rather than instructions. The number of questions in the theory test was also recently increased from 35 to 50.
Q: What are your views on the hazard perception part of the test?
PM: The hazard perception part of the test was introduced just before I became a driving instructor; I don’t think this is a particularly valid part of the test. It doesn’t really gauge people’s real-life reaction and awareness times and it is possible to fluke your way through it.
Q: Do you think the driving test is far too easy?
PM: I don’t think it is. In fact, I can well believe that it is one of the toughest in Europe. I’ve noticed that a lot of candidates are being penalised for very minor errors during their test – errors which were not counting against other candidates some years ago. I give quite a lot of lessons to people from Europe and South America who hold driving licences in their home countries and are looking to pass their test in England. Many of these drivers are really surprised by how tough the test is over here.
Q: Should young drivers be obliged to gain more experience of all types of road conditions before they sit their test?
PM: Yes, I think this is a good idea. It’s quite worrying to think that people who live in quieter areas of the country can pass their test without having had much experience of driving on busy roads. In Germany you can only pass your test after having clocked up a certain amount of hours behind the wheel – it’s an idea which is worth considering over here. I would also be in favour of candidates getting experience of night-driving and driving in different weather conditions before they are allowed to put their L-Plates away.
Q: What would you change about the driving test?
PM: It would be nice to make the practical driving test longer as 40 minutes is a very short time to assess someone’s driving skills. Ensuring that driving test centres are located near areas which have a variety of road conditions – for instance, roundabouts and fast roads – would also be beneficial.
The government has said that it will consider the transport committee’s recommendations “carefully”. Road safety groups, learner drivers (and driving instructors) will be watching developments with keen interest.
By James Christie