Driving tests in the 80s vs today!

We’re taking a look at the biggest differences in driving tests, from the 1980s to today

L Plate on Retro background
There are lots of things that have changed in the way we drive over the years – not least in the way young drivers pass their driving test. Whilst there haven’t been mass changes to the driving test since its launch in 1935 there are a couple of significant changes seen over the last 4 decades and we’re taking a look at what they mean for learner drivers then and now – plus who was most likely to pass!

So who had it easier when taking their driving test?

So, it looks like it was easier to pass your test in a parent’s day – but we think with all the extra work and practice involved in keeping you safe on the roads these days, we’d much rather opt for a new test than the old one!

Parents never had to take a Theory Test!

Young man taking theory test
In the 80s - Anyone who passed their driving test in the 80s wouldn’t have taken a theory test! A couple of questions from the examiner as your test was starting and that was about as much theory as you needed.

Today - From July 1996, the introduction of the driving Theory test meant drivers had to prove a good knowledge of The Highway Code with a separate test before they could take their practical test. Whilst the Theory Test adds in another element before you can get on the road as a full licence holder, knowing the rules of the road is crucial to staying safe behind the wheel.


The Pass Plus gives extra training

In the 80s - There was little in terms of specific training for young drivers once they’d passed their test in the 1980’s. If you wanted extra training after you’d passed your test you could take the Advanced Driving Test (which, at the time was something travelling sales people and middle aged drivers were more likely to take).

Today - Today young drivers have opted to take a Pass Plus course, giving them as much knowledge and skill as possible when it comes to driving and in theory make you less likely be involved in an accident! The DVSA introduced ‘Pass Plus’ in 1995. This is an optional course that drivers can take after passing their practical driving test which allows them to get additional driving experience by an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI).


Hazard Perception arrived in 2002

Hazard perception test
In the 80s- Before the introduction of the Hazard Perception test, the only opportunity to assess the learner driver’s ability to perceive hazards was during the driving test itself, if and when hazards occurred, which meant if you had no hazards to deal with, you weren't assessed on them.

Today - In 2002 there was an additional section added to the Theory Test – the Hazard Perception. This was designed to test candidates’ awareness of hazards in the road ensuring they’re as prepared as they can be for real life hazards that may occur. You need to score 44 points out of the 75 available in this part of the exam.


Can you show me how too...

In the 80s - For parents that took their test around 40 years ago there were no 'Show me, Tell me' questions to learn or answer during the test - it was a case of relying on the examiner’s observation during the driving test, and picking up how to do things like check your oil and water once you’d passed.

Today - These days it’s common to prepare for the ‘Show me, Tell me’ part of the driving test by memorising those 7 show me question and answers and 14 tell me questions and answers knowing you’ll be asked one of each during your test. This was only introduced in 2003 – can you believe it? It makes sense to learn it all before you pass as some of the questions are about the safety of you as the driver and the car, i.e. ‘How do you check the brakes are working before starting a journey’ is a pretty important thing to know, don’t you think?


The introduction of independent driving

Girl having driving test
In the 80s - Taking a driving test in the 80s would involve the learner following everything the examiner told them to do, with little room to show if they knew how to read road signs or have a general sense of direction. That was up until 2010, when the 'Independent Driving' section of the test was introduced.

Today - The independent driving section requires the learner to drive for around 10 minutes by either following traffic signs or a series of verbal directions. More recently, in 2017, this was increased to 20 minutes. It doesn’t matter if you take a wrong turn, the idea is that the new test focuses more on the kind of realistic driving you will encounter day to day.


Mastering those manoeuvres

In the 80s - 40 years ago, young drivers probably remember a three-point turn and reversing around a corner as a favourite (or not!) from the driving test - there were little other manoeuvres to be tested on.

Today - Since December 2017 those manoeuvres no longer feature in the driving test (although it is likely to be something you will still need to get the hang of). Today, you’d be asked to carry out one of the following... The Parallel Park, Parking in a bay - either Forward Bay Parking (the examiner will tell you which you have to do). There's also the possibility of being asked to Pull up on the right-hand side of the road & reverse for 2 car lengths and re-join the traffic.


Learners allowed on the motorway

Motorway with cars
In the 80s -Up until 2018 learner drivers were not allowed on the motorway. You didn’t get a chance to drive on the motorway until after you’d passed and for anyone who had to do this, we’re sure lots of you can remember the fear of merging onto the motorway for the first time with zero training!

Today - Although not part of the driving test, in 2018 learners could take to the motorway with a driving instructor in a lesson (not private practice) and although you won’t be tested on it, means you’ll have a helping hand when tackling it for the first time which up until this point, you’d often do alone after you’d passed. This was a welcome change for many young drivers as driving on the motorway for the first time is a top cause for concern for many learners.


Getting up to date with tech

In the 80s Young drivers 40 years ago would have been planning their routes using a map (or asking for directions) and the only tech in the car would have been the radio which probably wasn’t experimented with mid test.

Today - Of course, times are changing and in the same change to the driving test in 2017 when the manoeuvres updated and the independent driving section changed, you also now may be asked to follow a sat nav. The change to the test comes with the times, and is designed to help prepare learner drivers for a life on the road as much as possible.

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