I started to drive in 1991 and at the time, learning to drive typically involved 1 hour long driving lessons of which I remember having about 18 before passing my driving test. Those around me had similar numbers of lessons with the exception of 1 of my friends, who had about 5 go's at his test before passing it and took lessons every week in between his test attempts - he must have had about 40 hours of lessons in total, something like that.
In line with the times, we set about "learning to drive after passing our test"...
- 'B' hit a opening car door as he drove past it - nobody had mentioned that risk on our lessons
- I couldn't turn right at crossroads with people coming the other way who also wanted to turn right and had many near misses and received much abuse from others as I worked it out for myself - it hadn't been mentioned on lessons
- I also nearly killed a few of us when passing parked cars when there was on-coming traffic present that I now know has priority in such situations - that hadn't been mentioned either (and neither had the risk of rear seat passengers being thrown forward in the event of a crash - I had passengers in the back without seat belts on that day and one ended up sitting on the handbrake!)
- Myself, 'D' and 'I' all needed work doing on our gearboxes within a year... guess what - vehicle empathy hadn't been mentioned on lessons to any of us
- 'I' and 'A' were both rear ended at various junctions - that HAD been mentioned, but in the context that as it wasn't our fault, it didn't really matter
- 'M' had several bumps and crashes, hitting a hedge when avoiding an oncoming car on a narrow country lane and reversing into things when leaving car parking spaces
- 'B' skidded on gravel at a junction and came off the road, hitting a sign
- The first time it snowed, I skidded into a busy main road with thankfully nothing coming, after driving slower, but not slow enough for the conditions. I was also driving too fast in heavy fog, and nobody had ever mentioned the words "always drive at a speed that allows you to stop easily within the distance you can see to be clear"
So could we drive and should we have passed our tests?
Were we lucky not to get seriously hurt or to hurt anyone else?
So did our Driving Instructors do a good, thorough job of teaching us to drive?
I think they did their best in the times and culture they were operating in. The culture was very much about getting everything as cheaply and as quickly as you could and there wasn't such a focus on safety then - almost as though a certain number of people getting seriously hurt or killed in crashes was an unavoidable fact of learning to drive.
The facts of the time were that an average driver had 30 hours of driving lessons before passing a test - as we'd all generally had little more than half of that, we WERE very much a risk on the roads, not only a risk to ourselves, but a risk to everyone else too whether they were walking, riding or driving. That lad that had 5 go's at his test and more than twice the number of lessons the rest of us had has never, to my knowledge, had any incidents.
Today, Driving Instructors are trained more towards being being Road Safety Professionals. Even if turning right at cross roads isn't likely to feature on your test routes, a good Driving Instructor will still teach you to do that and the focus is very much on learning to drive, rather than learning to pass a test - putting nerves aside for a moment, if you can drive properly, then passing a driving test IS easy even if you've never driven on the roads you find yourself being tested on.
The current figures from the DVSA tell us that the total number of driving lessons needed to pass a driving test has remained reasonably steady now for many years... you should expect to have between 45 and 50 hours of professional training and around 30 hours of private practice in your own car. If private practice isn't an option for you, then you're looking at around 60 hours of professional lessons and as you get older, particularly if you get into your late 20's before learning to drive, your number of hours increases a lot - a 40 year old will take around twice as many lessons as a 17 year old, with much of that being down to the "I want to get it absolutely right before taking a test" attitude rather than any kind of inability (40 year olds will very likely have lost a few people they know to crashes and other incidents on the roads of course, so the safety messages are very real to them).
There may be a conflict of interests, but I genuinely have a lot of respect for the quality of learner drivers passing a test these days and definitely don't agree that the old saying of "you learn to drive after passing your test" still applies.
Amongst many other skills, today's learner drivers who pass their tests demonstrate that they:
- Can interact with other drivers when turning right at cross roads, adapting their driving in response to the other vehicle being a car, bus or motorbike and using a mixture of 'offside to offside' and 'nearside to nearside' techniques depending on the situation
- Leave enough room for doors to open as they pass parked vehicles, but don't move into the path of oncoming traffic to do so (they wait until it's safe instead)
- Understand priority at meeting situations and when it's appropriate to give way
- Adjust their speed to suit the limits of their visibility, being ready to stop within the distance of clear road they can see ahead of them and adapting to different weather and road surface conditions
- Drive in a manner that reduces wear and tear on the vehicle, reducing the need for repairs
- Know their responsibility for the safety of those in and around their cars as they drive
Those skills mean that they won't have the problems me and my friends had when we learnt and they are required to demonstrate these skills repeatedly over a 35-40 minute drive in mixed road settings, so it is unlikely that they will pass by fluke. I genuinely believe that today's new drivers drive at a standard that is higher than that of many of the drivers around them on the day that they pass their test.
So, bearing all that in mind with all that practice, discussion and money spent... it remains a statistical fact that 1 in 6 drivers passing a test go on to crash within 6 months so why don't they drive to the standard they've been trained at all times after passing?
Food for thought!
Nick Heath Driver Training is located in Rode Heath on the Staffordshire / Cheshire border and provides driving training services to those looking to either improve their driving or learn from scratch. In addition to media work, we conduct Taxi Driver Assessments for local authorities and offer Advanced Driver Training and Testing, Motorway Training and Fuel Efficient Driver Training alongside refresher courses and learner driving lessons. We are ORDIT registered to provide Driving Instructor Training and are listed on the DVSA's register of Fleet Trainers so we can help you with your business needs
More details are available on our website www.nickheathdrivertraining.org.uk
Or call 0800 820 20 38