It is exactly 70 years today since the very first person passed a driving test in the UK at the cost of 7 shillings 6d. He was none other than Mr J Beene, hopefully a better driver than TV’s Mr Bean.
Since then, there have been a staggering 87 million tests carried out in Great Britain. But in the early days of motoring there were few rules or regulations – in fact, France was the first country in the world to introduce driving tests in 1893, along with the first registration plates and parking restrictions. By 1934, the death toll in Britain alone was 7,343, despite the fact that there were only 2.4 million vehicles on the roads, 1.5 million of which were cars.
“Motoring in general is vastly different now compared to 1935. Our job is to rise to that challenge by matching the level of the driving test to the rigours of driving today on Britain’s roads,” says Gary Austin, Chief Executive of the Driving Standards Agency. “It has been an incredible 70 years, and we look forward to ensuring safety on our roads through the test for drivers of tomorrow,” he adds.
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling agrees, pointing out that recent changes to the driving test, including the New Drivers Act and the introduction of the written theory test, ensure that new drivers fully prepare for their driving career, not just to pass a test. “The driving test has changed dramatically since the first Mr Beene passed his test,” he says. “Today, we have one of the best road safety records in the world – the number of road casualties is at its lowest for nearly fifty years, but more needs to be done – and will be done – to make roads safer.”
Indeed, even in 1935 – the very first year that driving tests were introduced – the number of road deaths began to fall dramatically, and since then the test has been adapted to reflect advances in car design and changing road layouts. Arm signals for example – when people would literally stick their arm out of the window to alert other drivers to the direction in which they were going to turn – were thankfully removed from the test in 1975. And since 1996, drivers and motorcyclists have had to pass a written theory test before they are able to take the practical driving test. But it’s not only changes to car and road design that have changed the face of the driving test over the years – world events have also had an impact, with driving tests actually being suspended for the duration of World War Two and again during the Suez Crisis.
TOP TEN REASONS FOR FAILING A PRACTICAL DRIVING TEST
Observation at junctions
Use of mirrors
Reversing around a corner
Incorrect use of signals
Moving away safely
Incorrect positioning on the road
Lack of steering control
Incorrect positioning to turn right
[Source: DSA, based on 12 months to January 2004]
DRIVING TEST TIME LINE
1888 – The first recorded sale of a manufactured car was to Emile Roger of Paris who bought a petrol-driven Mercedes Benz.
1900 – the first British woman, Ms Vera Hedges Butler, passed her driving test in Paris
1903 – Windscreens were introduced, made of ordinary glass, and inflicted terrible injuries in accidents. In fact, safety glass was not introduced until 1926, and was made compulsory in 1937.
1934 – Belisha beacons provide advance warning of new pedestrian crossings.
1935 – Voluntary testing is introduced by the Road Traffic Act in 1934.
1951 – Zebra crossings introduced.
1958 – The Preston Bypass was the very first stretch of motorway built.
1967 – New drink-drive laws come in to force – the limit is 80 mg alcohol in 100 ml blood.
1996 – A separate written theory test is introduced.
2002 – A video hazard perception test was introduced to help new drivers recognise potential road dangers
DRIVING TEST FACTS AND FIGURES
The first fatal accident occurred in Harrow On The Hill, London, on February 25 1899.
The DSA now conducts 1.3 million car tests and 1.4 million theory tests a year.
32 million people in the UK currently hold driving licences.
The current pass rate is 43%.
Currently in the UK, you must be 17 years of age to obtain a provisional licence to drive a car or ride a motorcycle. The only exception is if you are in receipt of a full disability allowance, when you can obtain a provisional licence at the age of 16.
Since July 1, 1996 the ‘Community Model’ driving licence has been established by European Economic Community (EEC), with all member states now required to use this as a basis for their national driving licence.
NEW DRIVERS ACT
If you first passed your driving test on or after June 1, 1997, this Act affects you.
In essence, if you reach six or more penalty points within two years of passing your driving test – or during the probationary period – the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) will automatically revoke your driving licence when notified by a court or fixed penalty office.
To regain your full licence you must then:
Obtain a provisional licence
Drive as a learner
Pass the theory and practical test again
But remember, passing the re-test does not remove penalty points from your licence, and if the total reaches 12, then you are liable to be disqualified from driving by a court.