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The DVSA has announced changes to the UK practical driving2 test set to be introduced in December, although it seems that drivers in North East England aren’t convinced these will improve the safety of UK roads.

New research by Confused.com reveals that more than a third (37%) of motorists in the North East say the changes do not go far enough to address bad driving habits and reduce the risk of accidents on UK roads.

And it is possible that these changes will impact the difficulty of the test for learner drivers in the North East. Under the existing syllabus, it seems Alnwick and Scarborough are the easiest places for motorists in the region to pass their test, with a success rate of 67% in 20161. However, drivers in Gateshead and Sunderland are facing a trickier test, with just 45% of learners in the same year receiving their driving licence. But with updates to the test coming into force from 4th December 2017, it’s unclear whether this could shift the balance of pass rates across the region.

 

Top five driving test centres in North East England by pass rate

Driving test centre Pass rate
Alnwich 67%
Scarborough 67%
Durham 60%
Hexham 60%
Berwick-On-Tweed 59%

 

Bottom five driving test centres in London by pass rate

Driving test centre Pass rate
Gateshead 45%
Sunderland 45%
Elswick 46%
South Shields 47%
Darlington 49%

 

Despite resentment from some drivers, the government hopes to make the practical test more up to date and reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on UK roads. This is especially aimed at those between the ages of 15 and 19 – of whom a quarter of deaths are caused by road collisions2. And with two in five (40%) UK motorists claiming that poor driving is caused by new motorists who have not been taught necessary road skills, it’s no wonder many agree the test should be updated.

Changes to the driving test, December 2017

Change Manoeuvre
Removed Reversing around a corner
Removed Turn in the road (three-point turn)
Added Increasing independent driving to 20 minutes
Added Following directions from a sat nav
Added Answering vehicle-safety questions while driving
Added Pulling up on the right-hand side of the road and reversing two car lengths
Added Reversing out of a parking bay

 

However, Confused.com’s research reveals the planned changes have been met with a mixed response from drivers across the UK. While almost half (46%) of the UK drivers welcome the introduction of the sat nav and two in five (38%) are glad to see independent driving time doubling to 20 minutes, less than one in six (16%) agree with the removal of the three-point turn. Worryingly nearly half (46%) question the safety of a new manoeuvre which requires drivers to pull over into oncoming traffic and reverse two car lengths. And with the UK pass rate having risen from 43% (2007) to 47% (2016)3 in the last decade, it’s unclear how the updates will impact those learning to drive when the changes come into effect.

The research also suggests that the updates may be missed opportunity to address a shortfall in some other crucial skills and behaviours. For example, three in four UK motorists (73%) believe motorway driving should be tested. In fact, over half (51%) of qualified drivers said they would have felt more confident on the road after passing their test if they had been taught to drive on the motorway. And with the knowledge that young drivers have a higher proportion of accidents at night4, it’s no wonder two in three (66%) motorists believe driving in darker conditions should also form part of the changes. Drivers claim learners would also benefit from getting to grips improved cyclist awareness (49%), motorcyclist awareness (44%), and more experience with urban driving (29%) and rural driving (28%).

But UK drivers aren’t just calling for learners to broaden their skill set as two in five (38%) claim poor behaviour on the road is caused by new drivers picking up bad habits. So it’s little surprise 80% of motorists think driving etiquette should also form part of the test.  Reflecting on poor driving behaviour among new motorists more closely, a whopping two in three (65%) say the test should teach learners about falling into the trap of tailgating. While a further half (52%) say they should be warned about the dangers of middle-lane hogging. And other common-courtesy teachings should include mobile phone use (60%), roundabout (57%) and indicating etiquette (52%), and cutting in from a closed lane (48%).

The research also highlights almost one in five (18%) motorists in the UK believe it’s beneficial for learners to be taught about the financial side of owning a car, such as car insurance, petrol, parking, car finance and car maintenance. This is in order to give new motorists a better insight into realistic cost implications and teach them more affordable ways of running a car.

 

Skill/behaviour Percentage of UK motorists who believe this should be introduced to the driving test
Motorway driving 73%
Night-time driving 66%
Tailgating 65%
Middle-lane hogging 52%
Indicating etiquette 52%
Improved cyclist awareness 49%
All weather driving 47%
Selfish parking 36%
Thank you wave 20%
Financial knowledge 18%

 

While challenging poor driving is important, worryingly, some driving instructors fundamentally disagree with the changes to the test in December. Hundreds of people have signed a driving-instructor-led petition5 calling for the DVSA to abolish the new manoeuvre which most drivers will recognise as parallel parking into oncoming coming traffic, calling it a “dangerous exercise”. The DVSA response to the consultation6 notes that some respondents expressed concern about the pulling-up-on-the-right and reversing-out-of-a-parking-bay manoeuvres. However, they concluded that almost all the representative organisations were in favour of the proposals, which they felt represented real-life scenarios. To review the controversial updates, Confused.com sent motoring editor Amanda Stretton to put the changes to the test in a filmwith driving instructor, Simon Carne, and took to the streets to sound out public opinion.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, said: “We hope that the new test will help new drivers in North East England to adapt to the modern conditions of our roads, especially through the independent driving task and using a sat nav. But it is worrying that more than a third of drivers (37%) believe these new changes are still not going far enough.

“To make the roads safer, drivers believe more practical changes should have been included in the new updates set to be implemented in December. To help improve the quality of driving on our roads, there is a valid argument that new drivers should be taught general road etiquette and how to treat fellow drivers. This could help to minimise stress levels, road rage, and the risk of accidents, providing all drivers an easy ride.

“It is also unsurprising too see that one in five (18%) drivers in the UK think it would be beneficial to learn about the cost of motoring, considering this is continuously rising. By educating them on car insurance, petrol prices, maintenance and other costs that come with owning a car, drivers will know how and where to keep costs down and make driving more affordable.”

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