Independent Driving: the real way towards safer streets?

Today, a new ‘independent’ section of the driving test has been introduced in order to test how a candidate drives unsupervised.

For 10 minutes, candidates will drive without the step-by-step guide from their examiner. They are asked to either drive to a destination following traffic signs or drive following verbal directions which will be supplemented with diagrams showing a simple route plan such as follow the road to the end and turn right.

As with the rest of the test the candidate is expected to remember to use all correct observations, obeying speed limits and road marking but completely unaided or prompted.

To allow extra time for Independent driving, the duration of the test may be extended and a possible increased test fee could follow.

The Driving Standards Agency has said that an independent section will allow examiners to better assess whether drivers are ready to drive unsupervised, being tested in more realistic situations unlike the current pre-defined route.

According to Newdrivingtest.co.uk, as of October 4, students will have to carry out one manoeuvre as opposed to two as well as complete an additional section of independent driving.

Talking to the BBC, DSA chief examiner Trevor Wedge said: “The test is being improved to help produce safer drivers, but that doesn’t mean it’s getting any harder. We know many instructors are already teaching independent driving”.

Furthermore, in order to enhance safety measures, Peter Rodgers, chief examiner of the institute of advanced Motorists also told the BBC that the DSA should make testing on rural roads compulsory after research showed 75% accidents occur there.

75 years in the making

Since 1935 it has been illegal to drive without passing a driving exam and earlier this year the driving test celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Pass rates have fallen since then though from 63% in 1935 to just 43% in 2010.

The Driving Standards Agency has however noted that learners can ask for reminders if they forget the route in the independent section of the test and will not be failed for getting lost.

A necessary stress?

I was one of the lucky few who passed first time. I passed with 9 minors and was pretty much guided through my parallel park, even though, believe it or not, I did actually know what I was meant to be doing, although those of you who have experienced my driving will know that my parking leaves a lot to be desired!

Now I am pretty confident, perhaps a little too confident at times, and I hope that others would say I’m a good driver. I originally was considering an intensive course but thought that in the long run a full session of lessons over a few months would be better for me.

I still remember that first time I drove my parents to the shop for some driving experience. My mum just kept thinking that I was going to crash into the curb or hurdle into the oncoming traffic in the opposite direction! luckily for us this never happened.

I completely support the new measures for enhancing safety in driving tests. I, myself, still struggle with using a sat nav to places I have never been before. My brain just doesn’t function with new surroundings and I get flustered if I turn wrong and its shouts at me to turn around. Turns out this has happened a lot…it’s not my fault, the highlighted route often doesn’t look like it matches up to what she’s saying and I’ll end up in some rotten cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere.

I think that getting students used to driving when they don’t know the route is a good idea. But there is still that fear that candidates haven’t been driving for long and so driving for the first time with no direction could be more hassle than what it’s worth.

And the candidates are having to drive for all of 10 minutes around a route which they have had to memorize. Surely the combination of having to remember the route as well as remember to look at mirrors, signal, and be aware of your surroundings is going to be a pretty stressful situation fo would-be drivers.

Moreover, one of the options for independent driving is to follow road signs. Well I think I won’t be the last person to say that most places are awful at sign posting!

I can be driving round for hours trying to find something that’s only in the other street but the road signs are useless. How many of us end up being directed half way to your chosen destination but are then left to fend for yourself when road signs to that place seem to cease to exist?!

Safer in the long run?

Driving for the first time is new and exciting. It makes you feel like an adult and the freedom which comes with being able to drive is like nothing else.

I’m pretty sure me and my friends are a little too dependent on our cars at times. One of my housemates used to insist on driving down the road to visit another of our friends. They were pretty much health and excercise mad so weren’t too impressed when she chose to drive all of about a minute down the road from ours to their house!

And I can completely understand the reasoning behind wanting to make sure a learner is taken through all possible driving scenarios before they pass. But if we want to cover absolutely everything surely well then be learning for months because it could ages to master every little situation.

As an alternative, perhaps it would be better to teach learners to park in smaller space because how often do you get to a car park where the spaces are the size of about one and a half cars! (I’m pretty sure this has been my downfall in parking).

They want to make driving tests more realistic. I think that parking is a massive problem with learning to drive but required all the time.

In terms of driving in a place that is unknown I think this is less important in comparison to other things that students can learn.

When you first pass your driving test I reckon many of you stuck to the area around where you live and knew the routes. It’s not until you become more confident in driving yourself that you tend to venture further afield.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve already noted that it is important to build confidence in places that you are unfamiliar with but perhaps it should be something that is taken on by those who have been learning for longer or have already passed. something that could be attributed to the pass plus scheme or something.

I support Rodger’s earlier notification about country roads. They are so narrow and so many people go raging round the corners.

Maybe if we want learner drivers to be more safe they should be learning for longer. Or pass the test in stages, for example, stage one could be the standard driving on a road, stage 2 could be manoeuvres and then when a candidate becomes more confident than they can move on to other things like driving at night, in the countryside or on the motorway.

At the moment, the pass plus scheme is not a necessary requirement but, for me, it seems to cover all of the areas which are most dangerous when driving.

I know a few people who didn’t take the pass plus award and they are fine at driving but perhaps they would have more confident when driving in more dangerous situations such as on motorways if they had.

If its simply a case of making first time drivers more safe than I think driving officials should introduce pass plus lessons onto the standard driving tuition that could be taught on a longer time scale to make sure students build enough confidence in different circumstances.

About Daisy Bambridge

I am a student at Wesminster University studying a Masters in Broadcast Journalism. I recently graduated from Southampton University after studying Politics and International Relations. I have a strong interest in social issues such as crime,drugs, alcohol, eating disorders. I am also deeply fascinated by terrorism, after the disasters of 9/11, as can be seen in my unergraduate dissertation on anti-terror legislation and human rights.
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