Here's what happened when our man took the new driving test... 20 years after his last one
After recent changes to the test, Adrian Peel travelled to the Marmalade car insurance centre for another go.
I took my driving test back in 1996, the year football came home, the year Atlanta hosted arguably one of the most forgettable summer Olympics in living memory and the year guitar-based ‘Britpop’ bands ruled the charts.
Passing on the second attempt, I was lucky enough to succeed just before the separate theory test came in – I just sat in the car afterwards and answered a few questions – and remember the feeling of joy knowing that I could finally throw the L-plates away after seven months of learning.
From Monday, December 4, a new driving test came into force in England, Wales and Scotland. The changes only apply to car driving tests and include four key differences.
The first of these relates to independent driving. This part of the test previously lasted 10 minutes but has been extended to 20 minutes; roughly half of the test.
During this, most candidates – four in five – are now asked to follow directions from a sat nav. The examiner provides said equipment (a TomTom Start 52) and sets it up.
Gone are the old favourites, reversing around a corner and the three-point turn, but the dreaded (for me, anyway) parallel reverse park still remains.
Added to this are parking in a bay (head first and going in backwards) and pulling up on the right-hand side of the road, reversing for two car lengths and re-joining the traffic.
Finally, the examiner asks two vehicle questions during the test: a ‘tell me’ question at the start and a ‘show me’ question while driving.
Before being introduced to my examiner for the day, Lou, a retired policeman, I was given a tip that other journalists taking this mock test had failed for not looking in their mirrors and over their shoulders enough.
Unfortunately, I looked around and behind me too much, to “the detriment of what was actually in front of me,” I was later informed. Balance is key.
Anyway, things started quite well – or so I thought – and it was rather enjoyable being behind the wheel of a car in the UK for the first time in about six years.
Driving one of Marmalade’s cars, which had no dual controls on the passenger side, I don’t recall any near-misses and at no point did Lou have to shout out and/or suddenly grab the wheel...
I remembered to keep both hands on the steering wheel as much as possible, to put the car in neutral and lift the handbrake when stopping on a slight incline, and felt quite pleased with myself when I smoothly changed back down through the gears when approaching junctions or bringing the car to a halt on the quiet residential roads of Peterborough.
My early confidence began to drain slightly when I was instructed to pull over on the right-hand side of the road and reverse for two car lengths. Needless to say it didn’t go too well, although my parallel reverse parking was worse.
Still, I tried to remain upbeat and feel I actually did OK at following the sat nav instructions, something I hadn’t really done before. The ‘tell me’ question I was asked was to show Lou where the windscreen wipers were.
Then later, while driving, he asked me to put them on. I didn’t notice it at the time, but apparently I slowed down when doing it. Not good. Another thing that wasn’t good was that when looking over my right shoulder, I tended to steer the car in that direction – again, without really realising I was doing it.
All said and done, I didn’t think I’d done too badly and, after pulling into the car park at Marmalade, waited with anticipation to hear what Lou had to say.
One of the first things he said was that I drove too slowly on the dual carriageway, adding that that alone would have resulted in me failing the test, as these days candidates need to be doing 60 or 70 mph to keep up with the flow of traffic – 50 or 60, as I’m pretty sure it was in my day, is no longer enough.
Also, changing back down through all the gears – the “old style” – is unnecessary.
Adding to this, Lou said: “We had one little touch of speed limit – you were doing 40 in a 30mph area. All you need is a police van around the corner and it’s three points on your licence...
“You mentioned yourself that you’re a little bit weak on your manoeuvres; I think that would certainly be something to look at.”
On positive aspects of my driving, Lou said: “The general drive, no problems at all. You were changing your gears at the right time and making progress as it should have been, so well done.”
So it could have been worse...