Twelve Months – Three Notable Changes.

Within the last twelve months, there have been three notable changes for learner drivers and motorway users. The driving test has been updated to include additional practical requirements. Motorways can now be accessed by learner drivers and additional motorway misuse penalties have been introduced.

The changes to the driving test have been introduced in order to increase the experience and help prepare novice drivers for the everyday driving conditions of the modern day roads. In particular, and as stated by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the changes will help to reduce the number of casualties and injuries of young novice drivers where they are seven times more at risk than those aged over 25.

Allowing learner drivers onto the motorways, when they are close to their test is also seen as necessary. Especially since the introduction of Smart motorway traffic management methods using variable speed limits and enabling the use of the hard shoulder as a running lane. It is vital that all drivers understand how to use a Smart motorway and follow the rules. Unfortunately, the new rules are either not understood or ignored by some drivers.

The Driving Test Change

Part of the driving test involves independent driving, that is driving without instruction from the examiner. Previously this was for 10 minutes and has now increased to 20 minutes. It will either involve following traffic signs or using instructions from a Sat Nav. The Sat Nav and the route are pre-set by the instructor. The instructor will note how the driver responds to the Sat Nav instructions.

Another part of the test involves something called ‘show me, tell me’ where ‘tell me’ is a question asked before the commencement of driving and the ‘show me’ question asked during driving. Both are related to safety tasks. Examples are “Tell me how you would check the brake lights are working on this car” and “When it’s safe to do so, can you show me how you wash and clean the front windscreen?”

When it comes to reversing, changes include parallel parking and parking in a parking bay. Additionally, the driver has to be able to pull up on the right-hand side of the road, reverse for approximately the length of two cars and re-join the traffic.

The latter manoeuvre mentioned above has not been without controversy, where driving examiner members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) took industrial action over concerns about safety. One claim was that it was dangerous and contradicted the highway code (Rule 239 – do not park facing against the traffic flow). However, driving instructors have been more positive about the new manoeuvres stating that they introduce the pupils to real-life driving conditions. One stated the negative comments were an over-reaction and that it is useful to know how it should be done.

Learner Drivers and the Motorway.

Motorway driving is not included in the Driving Test but instructors are now allowed with a dual control car to take learner drivers onto the motorway network. It can be a daunting prospect and a fearful one for the novice to take on a trip on a modern motorway, where the rules differ from normal road usage and Smart technologies require a knowledge of how to understand variable speeds and the rules surrounding the use of the hard shoulder. So being accompanied by a qualified and competent instructor on the first motorway encounter is a safer and sensible option.

But there have been detractors to this change. The National Associations Strategic Partnership (NASP) representing 1000s of driving instructors have concerns about the top boxes on leaner cars not being suitable for high-speed driving, where they are not resistant to wind speeds of 70mph and above. Another survey found that 56% of drivers were opposed to the new change in the law stating that the change would be dangerous for other road users.

New Motorway Penalties

Misuse of the hard shoulder on managed motorways has been a problem for the emergency services and a danger to vehicles that have broken down or involved in an accident. Highways England are using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) based cameras that will monitor hard shoulders on smart motorways. Drivers who continue to use the lane when there is a red ‘X’ showing will face automatic penalties including fines and three points on their Driving Licence. Since 2016, 80,000 warning letters have been sent to motorists who have been identified for hard shoulder lane misuse.

Some drivers will always try to get ahead and leave the manoeuvre from the closed lane to the last minute. Some will say this is just another way of getting cash out of the motorist, others will indicate that drivers may panic and try to force through into the open lane fearing the fine and the points.

Have Risk Levels Also Changed?

Differing opinions will always be drawn when changes are introduced. Often times with usage the changes become accepted and the norm. Time will reveal how attitudes and opinions evolve and risk, if increased or decreased, identified. As always, when employers are responsible for ensuring that their drivers remain entitled to drive, it is always useful to note legislative changes and monitor the feedback from their licence checking process to see if additional risk has indeed been introduced. Using Licence Link to check driving licences on a frequency basis, enables users of Licence Link to fine tune their licence checking processes in accordance with any perceived risk that could be introduced by notable legislative changes.

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