IAM calls for driving test overhaul

As the driving test reaches its 80th anniversary in the UK, leading road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) says it’s time the way we teach new drivers received a comprehensive overhaul to keep it relevant to today’s driving landscape and to the problems faced by young people on the road.

The Road Traffic Act was passed in 1934; the legislation that paved the way for compulsory driving tests in the UK a year later.

The biggest developments in the driving test came into effect in the past two decades: in 1996 a theory test was added to the practical element. From 2002 learners also had to pass a hazard perception exam.

However as it stands now, the driving test does not include any testing of a driver’s ability to cope safely with country roads, poor weather or driving at night – three aspects which are the main risk factors in the first six months of solo driving.

Road accidents remain the biggest killer of young people in the UK, higher than both alcohol and drugs. In 2013 there were 191 people under 24 killed and 20,003 injured as drivers and riders of cars and motorbikes.

In the past five years (2009-13) there were 1,037 people under 24 killed and 120,958 injured on UK roads as drivers and riders – while the overall trend has been falling, these figures are unacceptable.

Neil Greig, IAM director of policy and research, said: “The driving test needs to become a much more integrated part of a graduated licensing system that picks up on best practice from around the world. For instance, Austria has a ‘second phase’ licensing system, where young drivers come back in the first 12 months after the test for further interventions to examine attitude changes and skills.”

Young male driver casualties have dropped by a third in in Austria as a result of the initiative.

The IAM advocates the following changes to the driver training ‘system’ as part of its manifesto: road safety education to be part of the National Curriculum, support for a minimum learning period prior to taking the practical test, the inclusion of high speed roads in the test itself, support for limits on peer passenger numbers after the test is passed, and a lower drink-drive limit for new drivers.

The IAM also wants to see learner drivers allowed on motorways so they can learn from an expert rather than on their own after passing the test.

Greig said: “The driving test today does test a driver’s ability to a very high level, but it has fallen behind what is urgently needed today in 2015. This must be addressed as a matter of urgency by the next government.”

He added that the driving test needed to take into account whether the influence of new technology and driver aids; such as satellite navigation and cradle-held mobile phones used as navigation devices, should play a part in a 21st century driving test.

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