The DVSA is Cracking Down on Examiner Abuse: What You Should Know

cartoon silhouette of police officer

We know they may not be your favourite people, but spare a thought for driving examiners. They work to strict deadlines, have to go round and round the same few test routes day in, day out, and the people they’re accompanying often aren’t thrilled to be there. It’s certainly not for everyone! In recent years, they’ve also had to deal with an increase in abusive incidents.

Figures released by the DVSA in 2017 revealed that cases of examiner abuse are on the rise. That means more learners are lashing out at examiners, either verbally or physically. The DVSA take such cases very seriously and have adopted a zero tolerance approach to any abuse against their staff.

In this article we detail specific events that show the kinds of behaviour some examiners have to deal with, how the DVSA is responding, and why you should care…

Driving examiners at risk

While we often talk about all of the reasons learners will be nervous before and during their driving test, we rarely consider how the examiner is feeling. When you think about it, they also have a reason to be a little tense (though most are too professional to show it!).

Driving examiners are getting into a car with a complete stranger who they just have to assume can drive safely. Sure, they probably have access to dual controls, but that hardly guarantees a smooth ride! On top of that, they’re responsible for making a decision that will have a big impact on the life of the learner. These high stakes only exacerbate the potential for a negative atmosphere. If things then don’t go to plan, uncomfortable situations can spark abusive behaviour.

While most learners are perfectly nice, we all know that there are a lot of weird and wonderful people out there. An examiner setting off to begin a test has no idea what they’re going to get. When you look at it like this, they’re actually in a fairly vulnerable position.

Learners going off the rails

Man sat in dirty car waving hand in annoyed manner
Photo © Jon Collier (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Sadly, in the last few years, what some examiners have had to deal with is learners who have taken their grievances way too far. We’re talking verbal insults, damage to property, and even threats of physical violence.

Incidents reported by the DVSA include:

  • A learner who yelled profanities at an examiner and, once back at the test centre, used a traffic cone to damage staff cars.
  • Numerous cases in which the learner has driven off in a rage with the examiner still trapped in the car.
  • A learner so determined to find an examiner who failed them that they attempted to break down the test centre door using a fire extinguisher.

In August 2017, an anonymous DVSA examiner released a harrowing account of a particularly bad incident she endured while conducting a routine driving test. During the independent driving section, the learner grew increasingly irate and began to insult and threaten her.

The terrifying drive culminated in the learner purposefully driving erratically along a dual carriageway. The examiner was eventually able to take control of the car and pull it over. Once she was out of the car, the learner screamed at her to “start running then b***h, because I’m going to mow you down“. The examiner had to phone for help from behind a crash barrier. Luckily, no one involved was hurt.

As you can imagine, such incidents can result in post-traumatic stress for examiners, causing damage to both their career and general livelihood.

What the stats say

  • In 2015 there were 180 reported incidents of examiner abuse. By 2016 this had risen to 240.
  • Between April 2016 and March 2017, over 300 DVSA staff members were subjected to physical or verbal abuse at work.
  • Two thirds of all abuse experienced by DVSA staff (which includes roadside enforcement officers) is directed at driving examiners.

‘Don’t take it out on our staff’ campaign

DVSA 'Don't take it out on our staff' campaign poster
© Crown copyright (Open Government Licence)

In response to the increase in abusive incidents, the DVSA is taking a zero tolerance approach. They launched the Don’t take it out on our staff campaign to highlight this stance. Any mistreatment of their staff will result in serious consequences. As driving examiners are the ones at highest risk, a lot of the new procedures are aimed at learner drivers.

A few even impact instructors, who risk being referred to the registrar if their conduct is considered to be abusive. The registrar is in control of who gets (and stays!) on the ADI register. Thus, instructors could end up losing their jobs if they mistreat examiners. While such cases are incredibly rare, they are not unheard of.

The aims of the Don’t take it out on our staff campaign are threefold: to make people aware of the consequences of unacceptable behaviour, to show how abusive behaviour affects staff members, and to make staff feel more confident in reporting incidents of mistreatment.

Dealing with cases of examiner abuse

The table below lays out the new approach to incidents of examiner abuse.

Learner driver is verbally abusive towards test centre staff They will no longer be able to take tests at that particular centre, and will have to be accompanied by a supervisor for all future tests
Learner driver threatens or assaults examiner/  drives off with examiner in the car/ causes damage to DVSA property They will be reported to the police (who can impose the strongest possible penalties)
Driving instructor harasses or threatens examiner in an attempt to influence the result of their learner’s test They will be banned from certain driving test centres and face being struck off the approved driving instructor register

The DVSA also plans to trial body-worn cameras for staff who are working on the front line (i.e. in the passenger seat). It’s unfortunate that such measures have to be taken, but great to see that the DVSA is taking such incidents so seriously. You’ve been warned!

A little respect

Cartoon of driving examiner

We know that most learners would never dream of attacking their driving examiner. In fact, the last thing on your mind when test day is looming is how you might terrorise the person conducting the test! It is important, however, to be aware that such incidents occur.

Appreciating that driving examiners are just like everyone else and deserve to be treated with respect in their workplace makes the whole driving test scenario seem less daunting somehow. Everyone involved has a reason to be slightly nervous. Whatever happens, don’t take your nerves out on the examiner. Your result is nothing personal—this person has only known you for 40 minutes! Even if the examiner stops your test early, you need to keep your cool—they’ve made their decision for a good reason.

If at any moment you do feel angry or wronged, take a deep breath and pull over the car when it is safe to do so. We would advise those who struggle with their temper to discuss this issue with their instructor well before the test.

Forget fearing or insulting the examiner, you should be trying to impress them with your driving skills! At the end of the day, DVSA staff are just trying to promote safety on the roads. Show them everything your instructor has taught you and that licence should be in the bag!

By Isobel Robb

Isobel enjoys the freedom of the open road and loves driving to new places. She's here to offer helpful hints and tips to improve your motoring skills. When not keeping up to date with the latest driving info you can find her discovering new restaurants or exhausting her Netflix subscription.

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