THIS week marks the 80th anniversary of the driving test being introduced in Britain and, since that date, more than 50million exams have taken place.
To coincide with this motoring milestone, The Standard has got in touch with local driving instructor Tony Willson to find out about his experiences of helping students through what for many is the most nerve-wracking time of their lives.
Tony, from Automatic Lessons Redditch, has been an instructor for 25 years, teaching students to drive automatic cars.
He said there had been a lot of changes over the years, especially with more complicated junctions and roundabouts, more cars on the road and faster vehicles.
“Poor learners these days have to cope with everything,” he added.
Mr Wilson said there were also more manoeuvres these days – as well as reversing around a corner, three point turns and parallel parking, there was also bay parking.
“They only have to do one, but they have to know how to do all four.”
The driving test became compulsory on June 1, 1935, when there were just 1.5million cars on the nation’s roads – 7,000 people were killed on the country roads each year prior to that but, within a year of the driving test’s introduction, the number of deaths had fallen by 1,000 and it has continued to improve ever since.
Last year, there were 35million vehicles licensed for use in the UK and 1,700 people were killed on Britain’s roads – including drivers, passengers, cyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians and other road users.
Back when the test was introduced, there were no test centres – those wanting to take it had to arrange with an examiner a place to meet. The pass rate in 1935 was 63 per cent, in 2014 it was 47 per cent.
A written element – the theory test – was introduced in 1996, replacing random questions asked by the examiner from the Highway Code. In 2002, a hazard perception element was added to the theory test, using video clips to gauge candidates’ awareness of dangers – an 11 per cent reduction in crashes has been attributed to this.
The ‘independent driving’ part of the practical test is another new addition that challenges students to follow a series of instructions along a certain route without the examiner giving them commands as they go along.
That change was welcomed by Mr Wilson who said it encouraged drivers to find their own way, pay closer attention to signs, think ahead and make their own decisions.
Other changes have seen students now needing to know more about the mechanics of the car, including tyres, their condition and pressures, brake fluid, oil levels and windscreen washer liquid.
And, as you would expect, Tony has some quirky tales to tell.
He said some people had the most difficulty with knowing their left from their right, with some even writing ‘L’ and ‘R’ on their hands to remind them.
One student taught by him drove into a car park by mistake on his test after being told by the examiner to ‘take the next left’.
He calmly took a ticket at the barrier, drove through, put the ticket in the exit machine on the other side and left the car park.
He passed as Tony said he had done nothing wrong.
“One pupil on her first lesson turned on the ignition and then asked what the noise was.
“When I told her it was the engine, she turned to me and asked: ‘Do we have to have that on?’.
“Another pupil said to me: ‘I thought this car was dual control’.
“When I reassured her it was, she asked: ‘Where’s your steering wheel then?’.”
But he said, one sure thing, was that Redditch was a lovely place to introduce people to motoring as there was such an assortment of roads.
“There are factory car parks where drivers can learn the basics, millions of roundabouts to negotiate, steep hills and dual carriageways.
“It’s really is a great place to learn to drive.”
Visit http://beginners-driving.co.uk/ for more information on Automatic Lessons Redditch.