Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Testing times

The Driving Test is 76 years old today. On June 1st 1935, driving tests were made compulsory in Britain for anybody who had started to drive after April 1st 1934.The Ford Motor Company made this short film, narrated by Sir Malcolm Campbell, to let drivers know what to expect. It offers some advice that, to the modern 21st-century motorist, might seem a little unorthodox.

I passed my test in 1980 having taken some lessons in Cornwall and then a few more upon my move to London. I felt it was probably a good idea to get some city driving time under my belt before going for the test. I passed, I'm pleased to say, on first attempt. However, this was back in the days before written examinations (although we were verbally tested on the Highway Code). That said, I didn't find it hard and, a year later, I was sent on the first of several increasingly difficult police driving courses that made me realise just how inadequate the standard 'civilian' driving test is.

The basic police drivers course I attended at Hendon was similar to the advanced test run by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). It was all of the stuff you did on a normal test but a lot more. You drove manual and automatic vehicles. You drove vans and small lorries. You learned basic maintenance; where to stick the petrol, oil and water and how to change wheels, fuses etc. You got time on skid pans learning how to control a car on slippery surfaces and you learned systems for reverse and parallel parking in all vehicles. At the end of the course I could do no more than any other driver; the vehicles I was now authorised to drive didn't have blue lights or two-tone horns and nor was I allowed to break the speed limit. That would all come later on with more advanced courses. However, I felt much more competent and confident and able to face any situation the road threw at me. And i was struck with the thought that if this Basic police driving course wasn't much harder than the standard driving test, why wasn't the advanced test the standard? Surely every driver wants to know to handle a skid or change a wheel?

The police driving instructors (and also the IAM and RoSPA) taught us using a system called Roadcraft and proudly claimed that if you stuck to the system you would never have an accident that was your fault - you can't predict other drivers' behaviour or mechanical failure of course. They were right. I never have. This year I've had a full licence for 31 years and I've never had an accident on a road in either my own car or a police car. Most of my ex-cop friends can claim the same. Maybe the advanced test should be the standard after all? I reckon if it was, a lot more people would pass first time.

Incidentally, the first person to pass the test was a Mr J Beene. It cost him 7/6d (37.5 pence).

Source of facts: History Today.

1 comment:

Sami Mughal said...

the only problem i see with that is all the driving instructing companies/people would charge even more money from the common man... but I am all for the extra courses... :)
It is expensive learning to drive, it costs above 20 quid / hour to learn, and most people need about 20 of those, if not more, and that is a lot of money for some 17 year old to fork out unless over a long period!