On this day in history : 4th February 1963 – Britain’s worst ever learner driver is fined for erratic driving – after her instructor jumps out of the car shouting “this is suicide”….

Margaret Hunter may have terrified the wits out of her instructor, to the extent that he leapt from the passenger seat of the moving car – but I suspect there have been many far worse than Margaret since then….

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In 2016 a man finally passed his practical test on his 39th attempt…. Not far behind – a woman from Sutton Coldfield and a man from Weston-super-Mare, both of whom took 36 attempts….

The record for theory test failures is even greater…. A 30-year-old women from Ilford had failed the test 113 times by her last attempt in 2015….and a 40-year-old man has since racked up a fail score of 107 at exactly the same test centre….

Meanwhile, a female driving instructor has been identified as Britain’s worst instructor in recent years – with a pass rate of just 15% amongst her students (the national pass rate is above 40%) and one of her pupils failed the practical test 27 times….

According to the Drivers Standards Agency it takes an average of 47 lessons to pass…. Since the driving test was introduced in 1935 over 50 million tests have been taken….

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At first the test was on a voluntary basis – in an effort to reduce the anticipated flood of applicants when it became compulsory on the 1st of June 1935. A Mr.J.Beene was the first ever to pass the driving test, it cost him seven shillings and sixpence…. The authorities were right to expect a flood of applications – 246,000 applied to take their driving test – with a 63% pass rate…. It was also at this time that legislation was brought in requiring learner drivers to display a red L plate on the front and rear of their car….

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To start with there were no test centres; candidates would have to meet at an appointed location, often a car park or railway station…. Throughout the country 13 supervising examiners and 250 driving examiners were appointed. The test included:- general questions on the Highway Code, correct use of hand signals, emergency breaking on command, pulling away on a steep hill, a three-point turn and a reverse manoeuvre…. Little was to change within the driving test until more recent times….

In 1939 driving tests were suspended for the duration of World War 2 and resumed again in November 1946. They were suspended again ten years later during the Suez Crisis, resuming in 1957….

In 1965 a central licensing system was set up at a new centre in Swansea – the DVLA – taking over from individual councils…. From 1970 all driving instructors had to be officially registered and from March 1973 green computerised licenses were issued, replacing the old-style red booklet…. From 1975 onwards it was no longer a requirement to demonstrate hand signals….

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1996 saw the first major change to the driving test, with the introduction of the theory test, replacing the verbally asked questions on the Highway Code….and in 2000 the touchscreen theory test was introduced….

2017 brought an even bigger ‘shake-up’; with an increase from 10 to 20 minutes of independent driving time and the need to show the ability of following directions from a sat nav. The reverse-around-corner and turn-in-the-road manoeuvres were dropped from the test….candidates instead having to demonstrate parallel parking, parking in a bay or pulling up, reversing 2 car lengths and rejoining traffic….and finally the answering of safety questions….

Since the introduction of the new test the pass rate has slightly declined – but perhaps it is too early to know if this will be a continuing trend….

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Photo credit : Jason Cowling via Flickr

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