The Root

The official blog of Carrot Insurance

1 June 2017

Does modern tech make the driving test too easy and should standardised test cars be introduced?


Can you imagine how you’d feel if you were sitting a maths exam and heard someone whispering ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ into another college student’s ear, or coughing to help one of your uni friend’s pick the right multiple choice answers? Many people would agree that an unfair advantage like this would be totally wrong, but experts have recently started debating whether the same is true when it comes to driving tests. How so?

The amazing stage car safety tech has reached

Car technology is evolving at an incredible rate, resulting in some brilliant ‘advanced driver-assistance systems’ (ADAS) being introduced to many new makes and models large and small, the main benefit being that cars are becoming safer and safer. Half a dozen years ago, ‘blind spot alert’ and ‘lane departure warning’ systems were seen as cutting edge, but things have now moved on a lot, with current tech like ‘lane keep assist’ pretty much taking over the steering for a driver who isn’t staying within the road lines for some reason.

Debate news UK driving test too easy standard exam car needed - Volvo city safe AEB

 

Collision warning systems can predict when a crash is likely to occur, with ‘autonomous emergency braking’ (AEB) taking necessary action before a driver has even realised what’s happening, and some high-end modern cars are not only capable of performing parallel and reverse parking manoeuvres themselves but can even speed up, slow down and overtake.

Nobody can deny that safety-boosting tech like this is very welcome indeed, but it comes with a couple of snags.

What, tech has possible disadvantages?!

Firstly, cars on UK roads are 7.8 years old on average and there are millions of much older cars out there, many driven by young and newly-qualified customers who simply can’t afford a shiny new motor. A recent safety test found that someone crashing in a 1998 Toyota hatchback is four times more likely to die than if they were in the much safer 2015 equivalent.

The other angle which is creating a stir at the moment is how “driver assist features can give learners slightly better odds of passing their tests” – the words of Steve Gooding from the RAC Foundation.

Debate news UK driving test too easy standard exam car needed - parallel park assist

While it’s true that the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has in recent years updated the driving test and its policies to take into account gadgets like parking sensors, electronic handbrakes and, most recently, sat navs [see Carrot’s guide to the new driving test changes coming later in 2017], there are no DVSA policies over ‘semi-autonomous’ driving aids.

Could tech be unfairly helping driving test candidates?

How could a learner be unfairly helped when taking their practical driving test?

  • Camera-based speed limit recognition systems can sometimes now even automatically reduce or cap a car’s speed
  • Driving test candidates whose test routes take them on twisty rural roads could rely on lane-keeping and steering assistance tech, not mastering safe road positioning faculties as a result
  • The new driving test from December 2017 will see students being asked to carry out real-life parking manoeuvres such as into and out of supermarket bays, which are a doddle if a car’s computers can take over or at least provide a lot of help.

Did you know: driving tests can be taken in learners’ own cars?

People taking their practical driving tests don’t have to do so in their approved driving instructors’ cars and can even do so in their own or another suitably-insured car, providing it meets certain requirements like having a suction-mounted rear-view mirror fitted. In fact, Olly who writes our blogs took his test in 2005 in a white 1993 Ford Escort, not in his ADI’s newer Honda Civic, which had the advantage of power steering.

Maybe it’s time for everyone to take tests in the same car?

With driving test candidates potentially not being marked down for minor faults purely because safety tech is unfairly helping them look like driving pros, Mr Gooding commented that “levelling the playing field by dropping learner drivers into an exam car for their test sounds good in theory”, while an RAC colleague said: “having standard examination vehicles made available to drivers taking their test is a novel idea”.

 

Standardised exam cars being introduced to level the driving test playing field does sound like it’d make learning to drive much fairer for learners across the UK, and such an approach is already used in Latvia, where they’ve even gone a step further and installed video surveillance to get rid of corrupt examiners.

Reality needs weighing up in the debate

Mr Gooding from the RAC believes it’s important for learners to be “safe drivers in all sorts of cars” and while it’s great to learn that the DVSA and other organisations like IAM RoadSmart are keen to see the driving test modernised even further as soon as possible, we appreciate that most of our young and newly-qualified car insurance customers still drive older cars without loads of new safety gadgets.

Removing any unfair advantage has definitely got to be a good thing, but it’d be no good for all practical test candidates to be given the same ultra-modern, semi-driverless cars, only to then have to grapple with their own much older, clunkier and more dangerous cars in real life. It’d probably make sense if one single standard make and model could be agreed on that isn’t quite all-singing and all-dancing, enabling learners to master hazard awareness, speed moderation, lane-keeping, parking manoeuvres and other basic but vital driving skills without being lulled into a false sense of security.

Have your say on Twitter or Facebook, telling us what you think about the way fast-changing car safety tech is possibly unfairly making driving easier compared to the actual car you drive.


Oliver Hammond

Written by Oliver Hammond

Oliver is an established freelance motoring writer, published journalist and automotive copywriter based in Manchester. He regularly reviews cars and covers events and launches as editor of petroleumvitae.com and his articles appear in various magazines each month. No relation to Richard from Top Gear, he’s got a weakness for luxo-barges, proper 4x4s and oddball cars.