Four main changes to the practical driving test will take effect on the 4th of December 2017. These changes have been designed to leave newly qualified drivers with the skills required to drive safely and independently.
Currently, there is an independent driving section of the test that involves driving without any directions from the examiner. This section lasts around 10 minutes but will increase to 20, making it roughly half of the test. During this section, most (four out of five) candidates will follow directions from a sat nav provided by the examiner, while the rest will follow traffic signs instead.
The manoeuvres will be changing as well. Candidates will no longer be tested on the ‘reverse around a corner’ or ‘turn-in-the-road’, though these will still be taught by driving instructors. Instead, candidates will be asked to do one of three possible manoeuvres:
Lastly, there will be a change to the ‘show me, tell me’ (vehicle safety) questions. The ‘tell me’ question will still be at the beginning of the test, but the ‘show me’ question will now be asked while candidates are driving. For example, while driving, candidates could be asked to show how they would wash the windscreen using the car controls and wipers.
Hazel, of Hazel's Driving School, has been a driving instructor for over six years and says she loves the job as it’s “rewarding helping people to work towards and achieve their goals on a daily basis. I also enjoy the fact that no two days are the same. Because it’s so varied and I meet loads of different people, I can really keep my teaching techniques fresh. It’s a good challenge, adapting to suit the needs of each student”.
For drivers currently in the process of learning, the upcoming changes might seem scary, but the DVSA assures that there shouldn’t be any need to learn anything new, as driving instructors are trained to teach students everything they need to have the confidence to drive safely.
Hazel, reiterates this, adding:
“To anybody who is nervous about the changes to the driving test – don’t worry! The changes are simply designed to move with the times and to make sure that new drivers have the skills they need to help them through a lifetime of safe driving.”
Hazel feels that the most positive changes are the vehicle check question on the move and driving with the guidance of a sat nav.
“I believe this is a really good idea to test as it is important to be able to operate controls within the car or follow a sat nav without letting it distract your attention away from the road or momentarily losing control of the vehicle.
I find many students find this multi-tasking a little challenging at first.
What can be a concern, is that some driving instructors only teach what comes up on test. So now this is included, it should help improve overall standards of safety on the road among new drivers.
Most serious collisions happen on rural or high-speed roads (not including motorways), and the changes will mean that the pupil will not spend a disproportionate amount of time driving on quieter side roads during the test. It is thought that this will help to better prepare the pupil for driving on their own.”
...for example, why would someone need to pull over onto the other side of the road? Here’s what Hazel had to say:
“Yes, that manoeuvre can sound a little odd! The main purpose of this is to demonstrate how to safely cross the path of oncoming traffic when the need arises to park on the right-hand side of the road.”
Hazel thinks this manoeuvre will be useful in terms of testing pupils’ all-round awareness of their surroundings and vehicle blind spots. It will also be a good test of how they respond to potential hazards around them.
She adds, “A challenge we face as instructors is enforcing an understanding of just how large the blind spots are and how many there can be around the vehicle. This manoeuvre helps further that understanding and develop awareness and anticipation skills.”
We wanted to know if Hazel teaches her students any manoeuvres that aren’t tested on. She told us that she has always considered bay parking (set to become a tested manoeuvre) and navigating car parks to be an essential part of the training course as different car parks require different sets of skills. For example, “a busy multi-storey car park can feel extremely different to a small and quiet car park with plenty of space”.
There are loads of different ways to make the process of learning to drive an easier experience. For example, Hazel always sends her students a copy of the vehicle check questions quite early in the course so they can familiarise themselves with them at home. She also practices a few questions at the end of each session, so that by the time her students take their tests, they feel nicely prepared.
She says it’s also a good idea to run through extras such as car maintenance, servicing, tax and MOT, along with extra controls within the car.
“Mock tests, in my opinion, are so useful. They really help the pupil understand how the driving test will be conducted, and further their understanding of the mark scheme. Also, during the test, quiet music can be helpful for nerves, so this can be trialled during the mock tests.”
We wanted to know if Hazel had any tips that can help students prepare for the new test sections, in between their driving lessons:
“If students are able to practice driving with a family member, trying out the sat nav portion of the test can be handy. For students concerned about this part, it is worth mentioning that the sat nav section of the test will be more supportive than the current independent driving section, as there are constant visual and vocal aids.”
Ultimately, Hazel advises, “please don’t worry! Every detail and section of the test should be covered during your driving lessons just as they are now, so don’t panic. It’s never been essential to be able to practice driving in between lessons, it’s just seen as useful extra practice and experience. Trust your driving instructor to prepare you”.
“These changes to the driving test are there to benefit you and improve the overall standard of safety on our roads. They’re nothing to worry about!” – these reassuring words came straight from an expert, so if you follow her advice, prepare and relax, you should have everything you need to ace your practical driving test, no matter when you take it.
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