The idea of a standardised practical driving test is universal but what you need to do to obtain a licence varies greatly. Some countries are content with off-road manoeuvres whereas others have strict on-road tests as well as other requirements such as aptitude tests (Japan) or a seven-hour first aid theory course (Denmark).
Here in the UK the first person to pass the practical driving test was Mr RE Beere who paid 7s 6d (the equivalent of around £23 today) on 16 March 1935. This was before the test became compulsory on
1 June 1935 as people could take it voluntarily to avoid a rush.
There have been a few tweaks to the driving test over the years with the most recent ones occurring in December 2017. An interesting outline of significant dates for the driving test can be found on the gov.uk website.
One of the strengths of the UK driving test is the marking system. There are four levels of driver error that the examiners consider when somebody makes a mistake or doesn’t do something: 1) not worthy of noting,
2) a driver fault, 3) a serious fault and
4) a dangerous fault.
Errors that are not worthy of noting are generally things to do with finesse. It is good to remind your clients that it is not an advanced driving test as some of the better ones will get worried about being a little bit harsh with the controls.
Driver faults, which used to be referred to as minor faults until they revised the marking system in 1999, are those which do not affect others, do not break the law and do not show a lack of judgement. An example would be hitting the kerb instead of touching it on a parallel park.
Serious faults are those which cause another road user to change what they are doing, break the law, show a significant lack of judgement or a driver fault being committed repeatedly. Dangerous faults are those where the examiner has to say or do something to avoid an incident taking place.
To pass a practical test a person must drive with fewer than 16 driver faults with no serious or dangerous faults. This is quite generous as 15 driver faults is a rate of more than one every three minutes, and I prefer it if my clients pass with fewer than six.
It is useful to go over the DL25 with your clients, even though the examiners are now using tablets, as it is good for giving them feedback on their performance during lessons and their result will be emailed to them using the categories on the DL25. They will appreciate how comprehensive the marking scheme is and have a better idea of what the examiner is looking for.
Part of preparing people for the driving test is to let them know of all the possible things that could happen on the day so an aspect of this is going over the result section of the DL25 where it says Pass, Fail, and None.
People will be surprised at the idea of a no result. A good example would be a person taking a test who is waiting in a queue at a set of traffic lights and being hit in the back by another road user. The time it takes to exchange details, etc would mean there would not be time to complete the test and the car might not be driveable.
Another strength of the UK test is the criteria that candidates must meet.
Show me, tell me questions, independent driving, a reversing manoeuvre, a mix of road and traffic conditions, and a possible emergency stop means there is quite a bit people must prepare for. These, along with the level of competence the examiners are looking for, require a new driver to have to perform at a good standard in relation to the amount of experience they have.
One of the problems driver trainers have is that some learners do not appreciate this and start pushing to take a test before they are ready. Often people attend the test when their skills have just about formed, and they are not driving consistently yet; this is a large factor which accounts for the low pass rates seen on the practical test.
Sometimes, to show a client that they are not yet ready, trainers need to let them drive without any help and then inform them how they would have failed a test had they driven in that manner with an examiner sitting next to them. It is not an ideal way to train a person, but it is sometimes the only way to get the message across.
Ultimately, sometimes a trainer must refuse to let a client use their car for a test, even if it means losing them as a customer. You would think an ADI saying this, especially as they are a self-employed person, would be a powerful message to a client but I have lost clients in the past due to this scenario and I am sure that most of my colleagues have as well.
A disadvantage of the test is it does not always measure what it is set out to. A good example of this is my mother, who learned to drive in Canada in 1971 and had driven for 14 years without being involved in any collisions with a sensible driving style. It took her three attempts to pass the UK test when we moved back – a well-designed test should be able to identify a safe driver.
Another weakness of the test is the random nature of events that drivers can be tested on. An example of this would be a driver who has poor judgement when turning right at junctions never having that weakness identified due to the route they take or the fact that every time they turned right during the test there was no-one coming in the other direction.
A second disadvantage of the test is that what drivers encounter on the test can be significantly affected by where they take their driving test. Some moves have been made to address this, such as increasing the length of the time of the test and reducing the emphasis on set exercises so more time is spent driving with an effort to include complex roundabouts and dual carriageways. Despite these efforts many people are taught to pass the test in their area with many aspects of driving not being on the test and therefore not being taught by some instructors (eg national speed limit driving or merging onto a dual carriageway using a slip road). Making the test longer or adopting a two-test graduated licensing system as used in some countries would help to address this issue.
As well as going through the DL25, there are several things a trainer can do to help the day of the test run smoothly. The first of these is to ensure the candidate has the right date, time, and test centre. When people book their own tests, a trainer should ask for their reference number so that they can double check the details of the test booking, a second advantage to this is to ensure the test has not been changed by the DVSA. Clients do not always check their emails thoroughly and sometimes turn up at the test centre only to be told by an examiner that the test slot had been changed, I usually check the website the day before and the day of someone’s test to double-check the test booking is still the same.
While preparing for the test it is important to practise driving with the sat nav. As the examiners sometimes give different directions to the sat nav during the independent driving section, to go off-route to do a manoeuvre for example, candidates can get confused when the sat nav is saying one thing and the examiner another. Practise this with your clients, set a destination in the sat nav and then at some point along the drive instruct them to listen to your directions rather than the sat nav. This will prepare them for the scenario if it crops up during the practical test.
Parking practice at the test centre
If the test centre you are using has a car park and you want your client to practise bay parking, be very careful about when you use it. I am avoiding this currently as tests are being carried out at different times to reduce the number of people at the test centre due to COVID-19. When things return to normal ensure you go to the test centre car park in the middle of a test slot so that you are not there when people are starting or finishing their tests.
At the Kingstanding test centre, which has a difficult car park due to its gradient, instructors could practise there but this has now been stopped. This was because instructors kept going onto the car park at times when tests were starting or finishing. I was sitting in the back of a test once when my client returned to the Featherstone test centre car park. The examiner had to ask him to wait as another driving school car was practising bay parking. The examiner got the attention of the instructor, but they did not take the hint, got their pupil to pull out of the space and then started to practise reversing again. The examiner then got out of our car to speak to the instructor. It is behaviour like this that leads to practising being banned at test centre car parks, to the detriment of people learning to drive. I personally spend little time practising at test centre car parks and only go once or twice with a pupil once they are competent so that we do not spend much time there.
If you are using a test centre for the first time, do your research so that you know exactly where it is so that it is easy to time the pre-test lesson. A good tactic with timing is to pull up in a side street close to the test centre just before it is time to go there and go through some tell me questions. It is important to practise the show me questions frequently during lessons; people have committed serious control faults due to struggling to carry out one of the actions when requested to do so by the examiner. This happened to one of my friends’ daughters last year. When the examiner asked her to wash the back window her steering went, resulting in a test failure – her instructor had clearly not spent enough time practising the show me questions during lessons.
Tell your client to find their licence and theory test certificate (the examiners tend not to ask for the theory test certificate, but clients feel happier if they have it with them just in case) the day before their test to avoid getting stressed on the day if they are having difficulty finding them. Before you pull away from their house make sure you see their licence. I have seen people turned away from the test centre because they have forgotten to bring their licence.
Warn them that there may be a second examiner in the car during their test and that their role is to assess the examiner not them. Sometimes people who are training to be examiners sit in the back of the car during practical tests as well. You should also tell them there is a small chance that the test may be cancelled if their examiner is ill that day and there has not been time to get a replacement examiner to the test centre. Inform your clients that in this situation, and when the test gets cancelled due to weather, they will not lose their test fee and that a new date will be arranged for them.
Finally, tell them the order of events:
1) identity check, 2) eyesight test, 3) tell me question, 4) start the drive (and include what they will need to do during the drive), 5) arrive back at the test centre and get told the result. Let them know that if they pass the examiner will ask them if they want to have their driving licence sent to the DVLA and discuss the situations where they would answer no (if they are about to take a test in another category for example). Let them know that the parallel park, forward park exercise and right reverse can occur at any time during the test, and if their test centre has a car park, with the bay park being either at the start or end of the test.
Remember that your goal when preparing people for their practical test is for them to know all the possible events on the day. Surprises, such as suddenly having two examiners in the car, can affect performance.
Source: ADI News
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