Earlier this month, on December 4th, 2017, the long-awaited driving test changes finally came into effect. These changes were hailed by the DVSA as a way to keep the driving test fit for purpose in modern Britain, and to reduce the number of young people killed in road collisions.
However, the new test has proved controversial. On the day of the test changes, examiners across the UK went on strike in protest. They singled out the new manoeuvre, pulling up on the right, as dangerous, and in contravention of the Highway Code.
Here at PassMeFast, we have a large fleet of DVSA-approved, grade A and B driving instructors working across the north of England. Many of them have already sat in on the new test, and have seen how their students have coped with the changes. We decided to ask them for their opinions—and got some interesting results.
The majority of drivers on Britain’s roads now use sat navs to navigate. It was, therefore, perhaps a matter of time before they became part of the test. It came as no surprise, then, when the DVSA announced that they were to introduce sat navs as part of the 2017 changes.
Now, four in every five drivers must follow sat nav directions during the independent driving section of their test. The other one in five will need to follow traffic signs to reach their destination.
The need for new drivers to use sat navs safely is clear. Statistics from Brake, the road safety charity, found that sat navs distracted some drivers. Others, meanwhile, made risky or illegal manoeuvres to correct their mistakes. Even more worryingly, figures from the AA this month revealed that 7% of 18–24-year-olds and 8% of 25–34-year-olds try to ‘race’ their sat nav’s ETA.
The DVSA conducted a consultation before making the test changes, in which they found that 70.8% agreed with the introduction of sat navs. But what did PassMeFast’s instructors have to say about it?
What our instructors think
PassMeFast’s fleet of instructors were even more supportive of the sat nav change than the public consultation. In fact, out of 73 responses, 93.2% were in favour of this change.
Noel Hopkins, one of our instructors, noted that “no one uses A-Z guides anymore”. As such, he felt that introducing sat navs is a better reflection of how most people drive today, and is “a more natural drive”. He also added that, due to the popularity of sat navs, students understand the need for the change.
Meanwhile, several instructors said that their students preferred following a sat nav to examiner instructions. Gerard O’Toole did note, however, that it resulted in a “very quiet” atmosphere in the car.
Nonetheless, some instructors expressed concerns. Our instructor Peter said that there were still teething problems to fix:
“a couple of times, examiners have had to override the sat nav instructions. This is very disappointing to me, as the DVSA have had plenty of time to sort this out.”
Are you a new driver? Looking into purchasing your own sat nav? Check out our guide to sat nav makes and models.
Changes to the ‘show me, tell me’ questions
During the practical test, all students must answer two questions about vehicle safety and maintenance. These usually begin with the phrase ‘show me’ or ‘tell me’—hence the name ‘show me, tell me’ questions.
Before December, students answered both of these questions before they got behind the wheel. Now, however, they must answer one before driving, and one whilst driving. This gives students the chance to demonstrate how they would perform a maintenance task, such as cleaning their windscreen. It also, however, helps to free up more time for the longer independent driving section.
In the DVSA consultation, this change was popular with the public, getting 78.4% support. Now, let’s find out what the PassMeFast fleet thought.
What our instructors think
Again, the vast majority of our instructors favoured this change, with 93.1% saying they backed it.
PassMeFast instructor Noel Hopkins stated that the change should have no real impact on pass rates.
“Unless you make a serious error that causes you to lose control of the car, you won’t fail for getting something wrong”.
Ameen Azmi, however, was worried that some questions may require students to take their eyes off the road, and said that any such questions should be excluded from the test.
Interested in learning what impact the new test changes will have on pass rates? Visit our analysis article.
Longer independent driving section
Prior to the December 2017 test changes, the last major update to the driving test came in 2010. Back then, the headline change was the introduction of an independent driving section, which would last 10 minutes—a quarter of the total test length.
The December test changes doubled this section to 20 minutes. The overall length of the test, however, remained at 40 minutes. This means that independent driving now makes up half of the overall test time. As already mentioned, this section sees candidates having to follow either sat nav directions or traffic signs.
When the DVSA consulted the public, this was the change that they were most positive about. Indeed, a whopping 88.2% supported this change.
What our instructors think
With 84.9% support from our instructors, the longer independent driving section was another popular change. However, this was a less universal level of support than the two changes above received.
A couple of our instructors pointed out that the longer independent drive has resulted in some issues. Gerard O’Toole noted that some tests were longer in terms of distance, and were overrunning. Frank Walsh’s experience seemed to confirm this, stating that tests were often taking place 10-15 minutes late due to delays. However, both expressed hope that this may sort itself out over time.
Nonetheless, some instructors had positive comments about this change. Peter, for example, said that:
“…in general, pupils seem to be happy with 20 minutes’ independent driving”.
The fourth and final set of changes concerned the manoeuvres which feature on the test. As we mentioned above, this was one of the most controversial changes, and one of the factors behind the examiner strike.
Before December, candidates had to perform one of the following manoeuvres in their driving test:
- parallel parking
- bay parking (either reversing into a bay and driving out, or driving into a bay and reversing out)
- turn in the road (also known as a ‘three-point turn’)
- reversing around a corner
Following the December changes, the latter two of these manoeuvres are now no longer part of the test. In their place, one new manoeuvre has been introduced: pulling up on the right. It’s important to note, however, that the DVSA themselves say that instructors should still teach pupils the removed manoeuvres, even if they don’t feature on the test.
A great number of instructors and examiners were opposed to these changes. Many noted that rule #239 of the Highway Code explicitly states “do not park against the traffic flow”. The DVSA, however, defended the change, saying that pulling up on the right is legal in certain circumstances.
In their consultation, the DVSA found that 78.6% of the public supported the manoeuvre changes. With such opposition from the instructor community, however, what did PassMeFast’s instructors make of them?
What our instructors think
Rather than posing one simple question to our instructors, we decided to ask two separate questions. First, we asked whether they supported removing reversing around a corner and turn in the road from the test. Second, we asked whether they supported introducing pulling up on the right.
Removing turn in the road and reversing around a corner
Interestingly, there was a noticeable difference between the two questions. To begin, when asked whether they supported the removal of the two existing manoeuvres, 73.2% of our instructors said no. This is almost a mirror image of how the DVSA’s public sample responded to the change in manoeuvres.
Opinions varied on this change, but a recurring theme in instructors’ answers was that turn in the road, in particular, is a useful manoeuvre for everyday driving. One even said that it was “an essential skill to have, and one of the most common day-to-day manoeuvres”.
Introducing pulling up on the right
When it came to pulling up on the right, however, there was more of an even split. Nonetheless, the majority of our instructors were against the change, with 56.9% in opposition.
Several instructors argued that the introduction of pulling up on the right went against the Highway Code. One said that it “is not a manoeuvre”; another described it as “unrealistic and dangerous”. Another instructor, meanwhile, worried that including it “encourages bad practice”.
Some instructors noted that it wasn’t pulling up on the right that proved to be an issue, but rather having to rejoin the traffic afterwards. Finally, a common concern was that candidates may be asked to perform the manoeuvre on busy roads.
Over 40% of our instructors, however, supported the change. Some had sat in on tests, and said that candidates would only have to perform this manoeuvre on clear roads with low speed limits. Others said that it was a useful manoeuvre to learn for candidates who regularly need to park on the right-hand side of their street.
Many said that they were okay with the inclusion of a new manoeuvre, but didn’t see why this meant that the others had to be removed. Meanwhile, some instructors said that students found this manoeuvre easier to complete. Norman Corke even said that it was less dangerous, for example, than forward bay parking.
As a final question, we asked our instructors to evaluate whether they thought, on the whole, that the December test changes were positive or negative.
As you can see from the chart on the right, most were positive about the changes. In fact, those in favour made up 69.9% of our respondents.
Amongst the positive comments for the test changes were many who agreed that it reflected modern driving. Tony Mills said that “it was designed to meet current requirements for day to day driving and it meets that criteria”. Others said that they preferred it to the old test, with Chris Truesdale noting:
“I think the new format streamlines the test, making assessing learners more thorough. It’s more true to life and I’m finding it easier to train people for it. The learners are finding the changes straightforward enough and not experiencing any issues. All in all a positive change.”
Some of our instructors, meanwhile, had mixed comments. There was widespread support for changes such as the introduction of sat navs, for example, combined with more scepticism for the manoeuvre changes. Many wanted the excluded manoeuvres to be re-added, regardless of whether or not they supported the inclusion of pulling up on the right.
Instructors also used the survey to provide their thoughts on how to improve the test in future. Several said that the test should include motorway driving. Though this wasn’t part of the December test changes, learners will be able to drive on motorways for the first time in 2018. Others wanted night-time driving on the test, too.
Our instructor Brian Sharkey, however, was more succinct. “To be honest,” he said, “I don’t think the changes make much difference. Once you can drive, you can drive!”
If you’re looking to get your licence, then PassMeFast can help you to get on the road within weeks. We only work with high-grade, DVSA approved instructors, meaning that you’re in good hands on the road. Learn more about why our intensive courses may be right for you—or get to know an ADI by reading our interview with PassMeFast instructor Ann!