Driving tests must always adapt to address the key risks of the road and the changing standards that new drivers are held to.
Driving tests were introduced in the UK in 1935, which is relatively recent when you consider that motor vehicles have been on the roads of Britain since 1892. It took a long time for the country to recognise the danger of motor vehicles to members of the public, and create a process to ensure that the skills of drivers met a minimum required level before they were permitted to be left in charge of a car.
Initial driving tests were voluntary for a few months, but they became mandatory later in the same year. The pass rate was reportedly less than 70%. The rules were relaxed during World War II, as civil servants allowed anyone with a provisional license to automatically convert it to a full driving license. This loophole meant that thousands of older drivers in the UK at the end of the 20th century had never passed a driving test in their life!
As times change, so too must the driving tests evolve. The use of rudimentary hand signals was removed from tests in 1975, long after all cars included indicator lights that replaced the need for these.
Automatic gearboxes became widespread in the 1980s, and so the driving test was split into two options: manual or automatic gearbox. The reason for the differential is apparent when you consider that a learner who has never encountered a clutch pedal could have found themselves legally behind the wheel of a manual car if they were granted a full license after passing with experience of only an automatic.
Electric vehicles and the driving test
Learners can learn in an electric car and even take the driving test using one. However, the test will fall under the ‘automatic transmission’ category and therefore the resulting license will not allow the learner to drive a manual vehicle.
As electric vehicles are more expensive than their fossil fuel alternatives, they don’t usually fit the budget for a ‘first car’, therefore many learner drivers with green ambitions are still overwhelmingly opting to take the manual test on the assumption that they will use a combination of petrol/diesel/hybrid or fully electric vehicles before fully adopting an electric vehicle lifestyle.
Learners may also feel apprehensive about tying themselves in the electric car category when they haven’t had the experience of revving an engine or mastering a manual gearbox. However, this could always be experienced in an automatic rental car with the help of some nifty temporary car insurance.
Is it easy to find electric driving instructors?
Electric-only driving instructors are still a dime-a-dozen, and their fees are higher than a standard driving instructor, due to supply and demand and the fact that battery-electric vehicles carry a higher price tag on the showroom floor.
It is expected that as demand for electric instruction increases, prices may rise further as demand outstrips supply.
There may be a delay in instructors switching over to electric because once they’ve acquired or leased an electric vehicle, they will no longer be able to provide full driving tuition, which is still by and far the most popular driving instruction demanded by the UK learners.
Driving tests are here to stay, in one form or another
Driving tests are unquestionably necessary. It might surprise you to know that there are fewer fatalities on Britain’s roads in the modern-day than there were in 1935, despite there being 12x more vehicles on the roads and each journey being on average, longer.
Driving tests are here to stay, and therefore as electric vehicles become more popular, it makes sense that the industry will reach a tipping point, where it becomes more lucrative for an instructor to buy an electric or automatic hybrid vehicle and offer automatic driving lessons than remain in a dwindling category.
New petrol and diesel cars will be banned from sale in 2030, per recent government policy, so the clock is ticking for the manual gearbox.