Monday 8 April 2013

If I had to take my test again...

First let me admit that the subject of this post was not really my idea - it came from a chance comment made by someone else - but it got me thinking.  Hopefully it will do the same for you.  As an instructor I quite often hear experienced drivers say "If I had to take my test again, I wouldn't pass!"  This raises a very simple question: Why?  The answer may not be as simple as the question...but let's try.

Why do we have to pass a test?  We generally accept that actually it is a necessary evaluation of our fitness to be on the roads behind the wheel of a one tonne killing machine.  Whether we pass first time or fifth time, we are getting a permanent permission to drive from that point onwards.  Most of us never give a moment's further thought to our continuing suitability to drive.  "The government has said that I am fit to drive so therefore I must be."

When examiners are conducting a practical test they are, in reality, trying to ask two questions:
  • Did I feel safe?
  • Did I feel comfortable?
If the answer to both questions is "Yes" then the candidate will have passed.  If not, at any time, during the test, then the candidate will most likely have failed.

So, if our driving is of such a standard that we won't pass the test, then surely that implies that our driving is either not safe or not comfortable, doesn't it?  Alternatively, it could be that the standard set by the Driving Standards Agency is unreasonably high.

To deal with the latter first.  The standard required by the DSA encompasses a theory element as well as a practical element.  The theory test requires a reasonable understanding of the law in respect of driving as well as road signs and procedures.  The practical test examines the application of that understanding in a dynamic environment.  So is the standard for the practical test too high?  Is it expected that the level of a driver's skill will suffer a fall immediately after passing the test?  The pass criteria for the practical test is a maximum of 15 driver faults with no serious or dangerous faults.  It is not unreasonable that the number of driver faults might increase post-test as the driver becomes more comfortable when driving.  However, surely we do not wish for any serious or dangerous faults as these involve potential or actual danger to ourselves or other road users.  We don't want a post-test driver to commit ANY serious or dangerous faults, do we?  If that is the case, then surely that means that we are satisfied that the standard required in the test is correct.

In respect of the former, when we take our driving test, we have to show a general competency in control of the car (comfort) and sufficient practical understanding of the application of that control when amongst other road users (safety).  How likely is it that our car control has deteriorated?  Unless we are suffering from some kind of physical ailment which has had a negative impact on our motor skills, it is actually more likely that our ability to control the car has improved.  Therefore it is unlikely that our car control skills would be a reason for failing our test if we were to take it now. 

If we are satisfied that the 'comfort' aspect of our driving is likely to have improved since we passed our test, this implies, by a process of elimination, that our ability to be safe on the roads is now in doubt, doesn't it?  Very often when candidates fail their test with a serious or dangerous fault, they are actually unaware that they have committed any faults at all, let alone a bad one!  It comes as a big surprise when the examiner tells them that they have failed for something they weren't even aware of doing.  How often does the candidate say "What car?" in response to the question "Did you see the red car approaching from the left?"  It is so easy to assume that because we haven't spotted a fault, that we haven't committed one. 

The problem with the safety aspects of driving is that sometimes we are not aware of the dangers around us.  Being oblivious doesn't make us safe; it just makes us lucky...sometimes.  It isn't the dangers that we see, it's the dangers that we don't.  We drive on regardless.

As drivers it is our responsibility to ensure that our driving is as safe as it can be.  It is so easy to become blase and assume that just because we have x number of years with a licence that we are as safe as we were when the examiner told us we had passed.  We all believe that we are safe, good drivers.  If we really believe that we wouldn't pass our test these days, then maybe we aren't as good and safe as we think we are.

If I had to take my test again, would I pass?  Yes.  Would you?

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