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Opinion 4

A new driving test

I was at school on my 17th birthday which is the only reason that was not also the date on which I passed my driving test. I didn’t pass on the first day of the holidays either because my sister decided she had nothing better to do than be born that day. But I did pass it as soon as I could rebook, which on Jersey where I lived was four days later.

Within a year I had had three substantial accidents. My first was to drive a Fiat 126 into a tractor I had simply failed to see. My second was more worrying: approaching a main road too fast in a 2CV, I slithered out into the traffic in just enough time to watch a man on a motorbike ram the side of the Citroen, sail through the air and land apparently on his head. In the event he suffered nothing more than a twisted ankle and to my everlasting bafflement spoke in my defence at the enquiry that followed. I was fined £5 for an act so reckless dumb luck alone saved me from killing a man. It was a gross miscarriage of justice for which I will be forever grateful.

opinions  A new driving test

The last was the most absurd, driving a Mini Metro into the car in front at unabated speed on account of the fact that when its driver came to a halt I was under the dashboard proudly adjusting my shiny new set of graphic equalisers. But in the 30 years since and despite testing cars relentlessly for 25 of them, I have been to blame for just one road traffic accident, falling off an icy road in a Lancia Integrale 21 years ago in the mistaken belief I was Juha Kankkunen.

The point is that aged 17 and like so many others, I was a menace on the road. And many still are, not I believe because it is their age that precludes them from driving a car safely, but their training. Or lack thereof. Even when I was 17 I found it astonishing that a teenager can be let loose in a tonne or more of hurtling metal without the slightest requirement ever to have attempted to control it at night, in wet weather or on a motorway. I still do.

As of yesterday it is possible that might now all change. The Department for Transport has announced plans for a green paper that will look at proposals to extend the period of time before a test can be taken to ensure all drivers have driven in adverse weather and the dark, and include motorway training as well. It will consider extending the probationary period in which a driver can lose their licence if they get six or more points from 2-3 years and even see if ‘driving restrictions’ can be put on the newly qualified, which means curfews. It is also planning to make tests harder to pass.

opinions  A new driving test

It would be interesting to hear the argument against these measures when according to latest data, a fifth of all accidents resulting in death or serious injury involve a driver under the age of 24. True it will doubtless increase the price of the test and lessons, and maybe a few unable to pass it will drive anyway, but for the vast majority of well intended but poorly coached young drivers these measures will undoubtedly save lives and dramatically reduce currently crippling insurance premiums for young drivers.

I hope the Government presses ahead swiftly, not least because I have a teenage daughter for whom the shine of being collected from parties by her Dad is already starting to fade. As things stand when the time comes I will be encouraging her to drive herself everywhere, because right now the idea of her being driven home by the modern equivalent of a 17 year old me makes my blood want to freeze.

opinions  A new driving test

Add your comments

4 comments on A new driving test

  1. Michael Kenny, 26 March 2013 16:59

    Interesting article but I do wonder how much a driving test will ever do for driving standards. In my opinion a true driving ability comes from an interest in vehicle dynamics and behavior, something which most people fail to have an interest in. Even if the theory of under steer was taught I fail to believe most people would remember what to do when faced with a car plowing on straight ahead at speed.

  2. Greg P, 27 March 2013 09:11

    I watched with interest an old episode of Top Gear recently when James May looked at the Finland driving test which includes lessons in car control, oversteer, understeer etc. I can’t help but think something like that would be beneficial.

  3. Nick Planas, 31 March 2013 15:05

    There are two young problem drivers here – the plain inexperienced and incompetent ones who have not been given any real foresight into the dangers they may face (including driving in our wonderful winter weather) and the young show-off driver, usually, but not always, male. I was so proud of one of my young music students recently when, following my advice, she told her boyfriend to stop his car as his driving was scaring her (he was getting into the “it’s all right I know what I’m doing” stage of showing off). She got out and phoned for a lift home; needless to say she is reluctant to be driven by him again! As an ex-racer (failed) I often tell my students they really DON’T know enough about car control to put their foot flat on the gas, but the number of young lads who tell me “it’s all right, I know what I’m doing” (implying that I don’t, of course) scares the be-jeezus out of me…
    Me? I was perfect, apart from 7 accidents in my first year working for a well-known car rental firm, aged 18…

  4. Ray T, 1 April 2013 21:03

    I’m not really worried about young drivers as much as old drivers, which is a really growing problem. At least Europe has actual driving tests, with some kind of standards, while in North America, literally anyone can get into a car, and losing a license through the law is difficult. Over 33,000 people are killed in the US on roads every year, and for the most part, nothing is being done, as this is an acceptable means of death.

    From a biological perspective, teen aged brains go through a period of synaptic pruning at this age, which leads to problems with impulse control and high risk activity, yet for some arbitrary reason, we decide this is a age to hand over the keys.

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