What is the purpose of taking the theory and practical driving test? The simple answer is to ensure drivers have a minimum skill and to ensure the roads remain safe. My question to you, is it?
On 3 February I took my practical driving because the rising cost of buses in my area and the incresing journey time. Plus both my parents have cancer and no longer able to take me about when I visit. Given their age and cancer status, I know soon I will have to fly back and flying into the closest airport may not be the cheapest. Being able to fly then drive gives me the freedom of having more options when the time finally comes.
When I took my test, like the majority of British people I failed it. The reason was not the result of not having enough driving time but a very technical reason, a car slowed down because of me. The car did not hit its brakes but slightly applied their brakes.
At first, I was not sure what to make of it but as I thought about it more. I began questioning if the reason was fair. As I started questioning the fairness, I started researching the subject. According to the government website if I want to appeal then I have to go Magistrate's Court. Even if I am successful in overturning the decision, I still have to retake the practical exam. So, this leaves me with a few fundamental questions regarding the overall purpose of the practical exam? Is it a fair system? Does the system protect Britain's roads or does the low pass rate provide a rich revenue stream for a government agent in the time of austerity?
Answering the question, the first stop is looking at the current statistics. The overall national pass rate, is 47.4%. This means, with all things be equal a person taking the practical driving exam is more likely to fail than pass. Looking at the pass rates from 2007 through current no national pass rate has exceeded 48%. The basic cost to the learner driver varies but nearly £1500 is a conservative estimate of cost.
Another troubling issue is the pass rate. For me, a pass rate of less than 60% makes me question if the standard is too high and those who should pass are not passing. Is it an issue of how driving instructors are certified? I know instructors face rigorous certification and have to be recertified every few years. Maybe the issue is not the instructor but the standards used?
Third issue issue, the issue of fairness. To begin with a practical test examiner is not the Almighty and subject to the same lapses in judgement like us all. Unfortunately, DVLA / DVSA only allows appeals to be done through the Magistrate Court and even if successful the license is not award. Instead the person only gets a refund on the exam.
Pass rates, fairness, and cost are enough for concern but there is another issues, less noticeable. This issue regards accessibility to information. Before taking my test I struggled to find information regarding what constitutes a minor fault, what constitutes a major fault, driving test routes, and how the examiner's make the test.
Last issue at the end of 2017 there will be some changes to the practical driving exam, some will be welcomed but others are more disturbing. There is some discussion about requiring 120 hours of lessons before taking the practical exam.
Granted there are problems with the current system is there any way to fix them? I believe there is a few quick solutions.
- Change the system from failing on one major fault. To a standardised scoring system that records positive and negative actions of the driver. The final score will determine how safe the driver is.
- We live in the digital age. Information about the test including how the standards are applied, what is judged, how it is judged, and the test routes should be published.
- Make it easier to challenge a decision by the examiner and if the decision is found to be in error then the license should be awarded with any additional costs (e.g. additional lessons, if retest taken) paid.
- Hold test centres accountable for failure rates and those with high failures must account for them. Those centres that have been deemed excessive in their failure rate must take corrective action including providing licenses to those who were wrongly denied. If the corrective actions fail to resolve the issue then the government must intervene to either fix the issue or close the centre.
In conclusion, to answer the question I believe the answer lies in who does the system serves? Today we live in an increasingly mobile society that relies on transport and the ability to get from one place to another in the shortest possible time. Driving is no longer a luxury but a necessity. It provides the opportunity to be mobile to respond to changes in the job market, it allows us to work, allows us to care for our parents, and allows us to support our family. Unnecessarily denying someone the right to drive is essentially denying them their human right to family life. The time has come to return fairness to the learner driving system by removing barriers instead of adding more. Britain's road can remain safe with the right changes to the testing system without it becoming costly and too bureaucratic. Please join me in supporting my petition to change the system.