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Today's TorquingPoint: The Driving Test

Motorway driving, foreign drivers and the re-test. It all in here...

The driving test. We all remember it – the nerves, the countless hours of practicing, waiting to see if the instructor noticed that little ‘moment’. Then you get that little tick to say you’ve passed and…. and…. that’s it. You’re free, should you have the fiscal means, to hop into a 1200 bhp Bugatti Veyron and drive at 200 mph (on a closed private runway, obviously).

Well I’m going to stick my head above the parapet now – it’s not enough. I’ve done advanced driving, high performance driving and road safety courses, so I’d like to think I’m a fairly competent driver. I’m not saying I’m perfect – no-one is, but I’m confident in my ability to drive safely in all conditions. Driving around the UK you come across some of the most awful, truly scary driving and it comes down to three things to me.

  1. An inadequate driving test
  2. Too many drivers on the road without UK licenses who haven’t been tested in the UK
  3. Too many people that have forgotten the basic rules over time

Let’s deal with Point 1 first. The practical driving test has barely changed since its inception, covering the basics of road craft, but stopping short of the one thing that every driver in the UK has to deal with as soon as they start driving – motorways. I recently spoke to a 17 yr old who had just passed his test and he mentioned that he joined the M11 by mistake on a journey and was terrified. He had no idea what to do, what lane to be in or what speed he should be doing. He exited at the next junction and drove another 20 miles to get back to where he was just to avoid the motorway again.

Now this absolutely terrifies me – this is someone who has just passed his driving test a couple of months previously and was basically a danger to himself and other road users on a motorway. We NEED to add motorway driving into the driving test, it’s that simple. Yes, there are more things that are needed, but to me this is by far the most important aspect. If you drive along any stretch of motorway in the UK the road positioning is absolutely terrible, with people driving at 60 mph in the middle lane and people sitting at exactly 70 mph in the outside lane of a completely empty motorway. I put some of this down to ignorance and Points 2 & 3 above, but the majority of the blame for this has to be that drivers are only taught about the rules of motorway driving in the theory test, which in all honesty people learn how to pass, not about the subject matter.

We need to include motorway driving in the practical driving test, which would of course have to be extended then. In more remote areas there may have to be a separate motorway test, but I think it must be included.

Okay, onto the 2nd point. In some areas of India you simply fill in a form, pay some Rupees and you get a driving license. You can then travel to the UK and drive a car on our roads for 12 months before you should then apply for a UK provisional license and sit our driving test. But this is very rarely enforced. So you then have someone from India, where the driving is completely different, driving on our roads with no idea of our road rules. Now this isn’t a dig at Indian drivers – I lived in Delhi for a year and drove on the roads – the drivers there are actually incredibly skilled. They place their car on the road with millimetre precision, 6 cars abreast on a 3 lane road at speeds of 50 mph. It’s a completely different skill set though, in the UK you need to know lane discipline and how everyone else will be driving otherwise there will undoubtedly be crashes. This applies to many other countries too, there needs to be a tighter control on who can drive in the UK and maybe the only way to do this is to have a valid UK driving test pass certificate displayed in the windscreen just like a tax disk. While I’m at it – there needs to be an insurance disc too, but that’s another matter altogether.

Finally the 3rd point and the one that is most contentious – the re-test. There are hundreds of thousands of people driving around the UK that passed their driving test over 50 years ago, at ages approaching 70 years of age and without being rude to people of that age, in some cases their faculties are greatly diminished. This is where there are a lot of grey areas obviously – some people get to 65 and are as fresh as a daisy, no different to when they were 35. But sadly the ageing process isn’t as kind to everyone and some suffer from vision, memory or concentration issues amongst other ailments. Some get to 20 years after they passed and have simply forgotten some of the road rules, which means there needs to be a re-test, and I personally think there needs to be a regular re-test.

I believe that there needs to be a re-test at a minimum of every 10 years. I’d actually set it at 5 years, but the infrastructure for this would be too large due to numbers. The test would be different to the original driving test, it would focus more on motorways, road craft and would be shorter, but I strongly feel that there needs to be a constant update of our driving skills. It would be a little harsh for someone to lose their licence if they fail first time, maybe they would get three attempts then they would be taken off the road until they pass – after all they have proven that they aren’t good enough to pass a driving test so why should they be on the road?

I may have ranted on for quite some time, but this really is something I feel very strongly about. If we implemented some of these measures I’m certain that there would be fewer crashes and deaths on our roads. So lives would be saved and maybe our insurance premiums might not be as high.

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About Tim Oldland

Contributing Editor - Long time petrolhead, automotive design engineer and journalist. Also Social Media Manager for the ecurie25 Group - Tim has worked in the automotive sector for many years, but has been a fan of anything with 2 or 4... read more