• Proposed changes include following sat nav directions
  • 'Real life' manoeuvres will replace the traditional tests
  • New drivers will learn how to operate the electrics in modern motors

Last year, we reported on proposed changes to the practical driving test. In the words of Driving Instructors Association CEO Carly Brookfield, the 'long overdue' update to the test should be made this year. The aim, says the DVSA, is to reduce the number of road traffic collisions and serious injuries on Britain's roads.

Here, we take you through the potential changes with the input of two experts closely involved with driver training and road safety. Peter Rodger is head of driving advice at IAMRoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart), and is also former deputy head of driver training at the Metropolitan Police; he's been directly involved in the discussion around the test updates. Jackie Violet is a professional driver trainer, an approved driving instructor (ADI) with the Driving Standards Agency, and a member of the Driving Instructors Association (@the_DIA).

More independent driving

A key change being proposed is to double the length of the 'independent driving' part of the test from 10 to 20 minutes. 

'This is an important update,' says Jackie. 'The driving test is a basic standard to show that you are safe to drive on your own - negotiating yourself through junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights without direction from the examiner is an important part of that.' 

A satellite navigation section

The independent driving section of the test is seeing a significant change: learners will be asked to follow directions from a sat nav, placing them in a scenario familiar to modern motorists.

'Satellite navigation is so much a part of modern driving that it makes sense to include it in the driving test,' says Peter. 'This is a necessary skill for a candidate to demonstrate. By including it, you remove the influence of the examiner's voice and put more independence onto the driver. It also frees up the constraints of specific test routes.'

Jackie agrees, saying that the proposed sat nav section will put people's concentration to the test.

'This has already been trialled at some test centres,' Jackie reports. 'Using a sat nav to get you places is what people do now and should be in the test. Listening to and following audible directions is key to this because it's important to keep your eyes on the road.'

Testing new manouevres

To make room for all these updates, some of the traditional test manoeuvres have to go: 'reverse around a corner' and 'turn in the road' are to be replaced by more real-life situations, notably driving into and reversing out of a parking bay.

'This is all about demonstrating good control at low speed, interacting with those around you and doing it safely,' says Peter. 'The two current manoeuvres in the test are seen as being less credible today than they once were. So the intention is to replace them with new ones that largely use the same set of skills in more upto-date circumstances.'

Jackie agrees: 'Reversing into a bay, such as you would do at a supermarket or in a car park, is more logical for today's driving than reversing around a corner. Although I'll be sorry to see turning in the road discontinued, because it's a lovely way of demonstrating clutch control.'

'Show me, tell me' while driving

At the moment, the vehicle safety questions, known as 'show me, tell me', are carried out when the car is stationary. The future questions may require learner drivers to use one of the car's essential controls, such as the heated rear screen, while driving.

'It is very important to be able to demonstrate that you can operate secondary controls, for example, the wipers, fog lights or rear-screen demister, at the same time as driving,' says Jackie. 

'This is about checking that you can manage the timing of when you do something with an auxiliary control, so that you can manage the distraction. It's about managing the activity safely,' Peter agrees.

'The driving test is not the end of the process, although it's often treated like that. It's the beginning of being a safe driver on an everyday basis,' adds Peter.

Safety is the top priority, as the updates are designed to find out how learners cope with potential distractions, especially if their attention is split between the road and something in the vehicle. In-car distractions cause an estimated 22% of crashes, illustrating how important the new sections are - but also that, even if you aced the new sections, choosing the right car insurance is a must.

For more motoring news and advice, follow Sue Baker on Twitter @carscribe.

Sources