Will changes to the driving test result in better drivers?

Drivers steering wheel

Last December, the Government made changes to the driving test to help make new drivers more experienced and safer on the roads after passing their test.

The Government also introduced changes which involved permitting learner drivers on the motorway with their driving instructors to help build confidence in their driving ability after they pass their test.

On the morning of my own driving test, my driving instructor had to ask me to make a detour to pick up his sick child from school, which required me to drive on a faster road with a faster speed limit than the usual city roads. This very much built up my confidence for my test, as I was confident that if I was able to keep a car under control at a faster speed than I was asked to drive at during the test itself, then I should be fine to drive under the test conditions.

Sadly, at Digby Brown, we are often instructed to act for individuals who have been injured or whose relatives have lost their lives as the result of inexperienced drivers’ negligent driving. On faster motorways, allowing young, new and less experienced drivers to drive at greater speeds can lead to loss of control of vehicles and an inability to cope with manoeuvring between multiple lanes.

With statistics also showing that young, new drivers are more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents, these changes are not a surprise. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) want to ensure that the process of learning to drive and the driving test itself, helps to reduce the number of young people involved in fatal road collisions.

What are the changes?

Extended independent driving to 20 minutes

One of the changes applies to the independent driving section of the test where a learner driver drives without any step-by-step directions from the examiner. Previously, this part of the test only lasted for around 10 minutes, but now it takes up to 20 minutes and accounts for half the driving test.

Driving independently for a greater duration in a driving test is a better way to encourage new drivers to think and anticipate for themselves and get a feel for driving rather than simply following an examiner’s instructions. After all, this matches the conditions under which a new driver is going to have to drive, rather than having someone sitting in the vehicle with them giving directions.

Follow directions from a sat-nav

The independent driving section will also involve using a sat-nav for four out of five driving tests.

With technology in cars being so common now, learning to use sat-nav to a learner driver’s advantage, rather than it being a distraction, is also a positive addition to the test.

New driving manoeuvres

Historically, learner drivers would need to be able to show they could reverse around a corner and execute a three-point turn in the road as part of their driving test but this is now no longer a requirement.

Instead, learner drivers will need to do one of three possible reversing manoeuvres:

  1. parallel parking at the side of a road;
  2. parking in a bay (either driving in and reversing out or reversing in and driving out);
  3. pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for two car lengths and then joining the flow of traffic again.

This change seems to bring the driving test more up-to-date with the challenges of driving and manoeuvring a vehicle in traffic, particularly in a city. It is not too common when driving, to have to reverse round corners or to execute three-point turns in the middle of a road and while they are important manoeuvres to learn, these new reversing manoeuvres will be much more beneficial to get to grips with for the sake of the confidence of learner drivers

Change to "show me" and "tell me"

Lastly, there is a small change to the traditional ‘show me, tell me’ part of the test. Learner drivers will now be asked a 'tell me’ question at the start of the test before setting off, with the ‘show me’ question being carried out while driving. An example of this could be ‘show me how to wash the windscreen’.

Leaner drivers have to learn how to think, act fast and multi-task while on the road and asking a learner driver to execute a task while driving is another way of helping to increase their confidence in keeping their vehicle under control. These changes to the driving test seem to better emulate actual driving conditions which should be welcomed.

Driving restrictions for young new drivers

Young drivers could also face restrictions on the road after passing their test.

The Department for Transport has been asked by the Prime Minister to investigate a graduated driving license (GDL) scheme in the UK in an effort to reduce the number of road accidents and injuries caused by new drivers.

The scheme could restrict when new drivers are allowed to be on the road at night, the number of passengers they can have in their vehicle and it may mean they need to have a minimum of six months training before sitting their driving test.

I would hope that young, new drivers would not react to these changes as being restrictive or unduly harsh. Rather, I would hope that the changes would be embraced by young, new drivers.

Hopefully the changes will enable learner drivers to build up more confidence in driving for a longer duration before sitting a test, driving at different speeds, driving independently, using technology in their vehicle and being able to have better control whilst navigating through our cities and rural roads in Scotland.

Mairi Day


Mairi Day, Associate at Digby Brown Solicitors Edinburgh