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In depth: Driving test changes

After its biggest changes in over a decade, local driving instructors are warning that parts of the new driving test are already failing

On the new test, there’s a focus on busier main roads, to make driving in cities like Cardiff easier for new drivers.

Passing your driving test is a rite of passage that many of us have or will experience; including ten-point turns, stalling on roundabouts and attempting to parallel park.

But Britain’s learner drivers have hit a potential bump in the road as the driving test undergoes its most significant changes in over a decade.  

The changes came into effect on 4 December and include a 20 minute independent drive (10 minutes longer than before), having to follow directions from a sat-nav and the removal of the turn in the road and reverse around a corner manoeuvres for bay parking and reversing on the right hand side of the road.

Local instructors have said that the changes are well-intentioned but, as is the case with the newly-installed sat-nav, a change that is already showing signs of failure.

Teething problems?

Jeff Baker is a driving instructor based in the Rhondda Valleys with over 20 years of experience. He says the changes are well intentioned, but has seen his students take tests where the sat-nav has malfunctioned.

“Already I’ve had some pupils who have been following the sat-nav and it’s lead them the wrong way,” Jeff said. “Or it’s malfunctioned altogether. Teething problems are to be expected, but this becoming an issue.”

Tom Gadd is a student at Cardiff University who is undertaking driving lessons in the city. He says that his own driving instructor has already been talking about multiple malfunctions of the sat-nav on driving tests.

“My instructor told me that on that first day, and throughout the week, there were instances where the driving examiners actually had to shut off the sat-nav because it kept malfunctioning,” Tom said. “Does this make me nervous for my own test? Of course!”

Tom is learning to drive in Cardiff.  But learning in the valleys, Jeff says, is an experience in itself.

“On the first day … driving examiners actually had to shut off the sat-nav because it kept malfunctioning.”

Despite the new test relying a lot more on routes including busier main roads, Jeff still takes his students around more local, pedestrianised areas, the kind of places they’ll go “to get a pint of milk from the shop, routes they use every day.”

Jeff says above all he wants his students to make the transition from learners to confident and safe licensed drivers. But he’s worried about students who failed the old test and have to re-sit the new one.

A daunting change

One such person is Chloe Bodman, who having failed her most recent test in September. She now has to sit the new test after Christmas, there we so many bookings she was unable to re-book before the test changed .

Chloe said that the thought of re-sitting her test is “daunting” as she feels like she hasn’t had enough time to get used to the changes, especially since making the move from her family home in Pontyclun to Cardiff to study at university.

Chloe now feels like she’s playing “catch-up” after starting lessons in Cardiff, a busy major city whose roads differ from her hometown of Pontyclun.

The roads in the South Wales valleys are narrower and double parked, which makes them harder to navigate…even without snow!

“The roads are a lot busier,” Chloe chuckles, shaking her head. “I’ve driven a lot around Cathays and the city centre, so I’m getting more confident on the busier roads.”

But, as her test approaches, does Chloe think that the new set of changes to the driving test are helping her to become a more independent driver, one that will be more confident on busier roads  and in places such as Cardiff when she does pass her test?

“I don’t know how independent you can truly be as a learner driver,” Chloe argues. “Just because there’s always someone next to you who can take control if things go wrong. But I do feel that the longer independent drive – especially in Cardiff –  are forcing me to become more reliant on myself and listening to the sat-nav, even if I still don’t really know how far 200 yards is.”

New drivers? No problem

But for the horde of doe-eyed new learner drivers clutching their fresh-off-the-press provisionals, the new test heralds a chance to become as equipped as possible for life as a fully-licensed driver. Jeff says that new drivers are receptive to the changes, especially the sat-nav as “it’s something they will use everyday.”

And as far as results for there new test, Jeff says it’s far too early to tell whether the test is harder to pass now.

“My local test centre has a pass rate of about 47%,” Jeff said. “But we won’t know concrete results for a few months or if that figure will go down. But last week, the first week of the new test,  only two of my kids passed.”

The changes to the driving test may be well intentioned, but with reported sat-nav malfunctions, it could make the prospect of a test even more nerve-wrecking for learner drivers.

To find out more information about the driving test changes that came into place on 4 December, see here.


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