Everything you need to know about the driving test changes

5 minutes

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The driving test changes came into effect in 2017, making them more relevant to the conditions drivers face on today's roads. Journalist Sue Baker talks to the experts, including one involved in the decision.

  • Changes include following sat nav directions
  • 'Real life' manoeuvres replace the traditional tests
  • New drivers will learn how to operate the electrics in modern motors

Changes to the UK driving test included more 'real life' manoeuvres 

On 4 December 2017, changes to the practical driving test came into effect. The aim, said the DVSA, was to reduce the number of road traffic collisions and serious injuries on Britain's roads.

Here, we take you through the changes with the input of two experts closely involved with driver training and road safety. Peter Rodger is head of driving advice at IAMRoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart), and former deputy head of driver training at the Metropolitan Police. He's been directly involved in the discussion around the test updates. Jackie Violet is a professional driver trainer, an approved driving instructor (ADI) with the Driving Standards Agency, and a member of the Driving Instructors Association (@the_DIA).

More independent driving

The length of the independent driving part of the test doubled from 10 to 20 minutes. 

'This is an important update,' says Jackie. 'The driving test is a basic standard to show that you are safe to drive on your own - negotiating yourself through junctions, roundabouts and traffic lights without direction from the examiner is an important part of that.' 

A satellite navigation section

The independent driving section of the test has seen a significant change: learners will be asked to follow directions from a sat nav, placing them in a scenario familiar to modern motorists.

'Satellite navigation is so much a part of modern driving that it makes sense to include it in the driving test,' says Peter. 'This is a necessary skill for a candidate to demonstrate. By including it, you remove the influence of the examiner's voice and put more independence onto the driver. It also frees up the constraints of specific test routes.'

Jackie agrees, and says the sat nav section will put people's concentration to the test.

'This was trialled at some test centres,' she says. 'Using a sat nav to get you places is what people do now and should be in the test. Listening to and following audible directions is key to this because it's important to keep your eyes on the road.'

Testing new manoeuvres

To make room for all these updates, some of the traditional test manoeuvres have had to go.  'Reverse around a corner' and 'turn in the road' have been replaced by more real-life situations, notably driving into and reversing out of a parking bay.

'This is all about demonstrating good control at low speed, interacting with those around you and doing it safely,' says Peter. 'The two previous manoeuvres in the test were seen as being less credible today than they once were. So they have been replaced with new ones that largely use the same set of skills in more up-to-date circumstances.'

Jackie agrees: 'Reversing into a bay, such as you would do at a supermarket or in a car park, is more logical for today's driving than reversing around a corner. Although I'm sorry to see turning in the road discontinued, because it's a lovely way of demonstrating clutch control.'

'Show me, tell me' while driving

Before the changes, the vehicle safety questions, known as 'show me, tell me', were carried out when the car was stationary. The questions may now require learner drivers to use one of the car's essential controls, such as the heated rear screen, while driving.

'It was very important to be able to demonstrate that you can operate secondary controls, for example, the wipers, fog lights or rear-screen demister, at the same time as driving,' says Jackie. 

'This is about checking that you can manage the timing of when you do something with an auxiliary control, so that you can manage the distraction. It's about managing the activity safely,' Peter says.

'The driving test is not the end of the process, although it's often treated like that. It's the beginning of being a safe driver on an everyday basis'.

Safety is the top priority, as the updates are designed to find out how learners cope with potential distractions, especially if their attention is split between the road and something in the vehicle. 

For more motoring news and advice, follow Sue Baker on Twitter @carscribe.

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All content is approved by our in-house advisory board of experts.