Turning eighteen within the UK means that you are no longer a minor – you’ve become an adult in the eyes of the law. But let’s be honest, seventeen can be a more significant time in a young adult’s life – seventeen means wheels … and wheels means freedom, exploration, independence and so much more.
However, to do it without a responsible adult sitting next to you requires one thing … to pass your driving test. Even in the age of autonomy and driverless cars, passing your car test will be the first step to the road to freedom, although we’re a few years away from reaching that point.
UK driving licence categories
There are a myriad of categories for the UK driving licence, many of them don’t apply for regular car driving; Categories AM, P, Q, A1, A2, A, B1, B, B Auto, BE, C1, C1E, C, CE, D1, D1E, D and DE – and that doesn’t include vehicles like agricultural or tracked.
As a car driver, you’re going to be looking at Category B, B Auto or BE. Category B (passing your test after 1st January 1997) will allow you to drive a vehicle up to 3,500kg in weight, with a trailer up to 750kg and a maximum of eight passengers, providing that the total MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass) doesn’t exceed 3,500kg.
Category B Auto is the same, but only for automatic vehicles. Aside from tuition, the fees involved are relatively low - £23 for the theory test, and a maximum of £75 for the actual driving test (it’s cheaper during working hours on weekdays - £62).
Faults and failures
Faults come in three categories – Minor, Serious and Dangerous.
You can rack up fifteen minor faults and still pass the examination, whereas one dangerous fault will see a failure. It’s also worth knowing that if you can’t read the number plate at the required distance, you won’t even get the chance to show-off your driving prowess.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t pass first time - here in the UK, around 1.6 million people sit the driving test each year, only around 43% pass. That leaves almost 1 million people having to retake their test – you’re definitely not in the minority.
In the past ten years, the number one reason for failure is ‘Junctions – Observation’ according to the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency. This is followed by lack of control (steering) and response to road signals – the top ten could easily be summed up with one word – observation.
Tips and tricks to help you pass
It’s often said that a driving instructor will teach you to pass your test, it’s up to you to learn to drive. What this means in reality is that driving examiners are looking for certain things, some may be relevant in the real world, some not so much.
As we’ve seen, the most common reasons for failing the driving test are down to lack of, or poor observation. One very simple trick to ensure that your driving examiner notices your rear observation (through the rear view mirror) is to adjust the mirror enough so that you have to physically move your head to get a clear view.
Familiarise yourself with the car controls – not knowing where certain controls are is no excuse. Your examiner will ask you to operate other systems on the car whilst driving – this could be something as simple as operating the fog lamps through to understanding the various warning lights that are displayed on the dashboard. You will also be asked to program a satnav system (whilst stationary).
Hopefully, your instructor will have allowed you time to drive various ‘test’ routes whilst under tuition, this gives you the opportunity to understand the surroundings, speed limits (remember that it’s a speed limit, not necessarily a target) and the road layout. Make the most of these opportunities.
Most importantly, try and stay calm. Many small mistakes are made due to nerves, this is partly why you’re allowed fifteen minor faults before actually failing a test. Remember that from the moment you’re with the examiner, you’re under scrutiny and this can even include the start procedure for the engine – trying to start the car in gear will result in a fault.
The Open Road
Passing your driving test can open up a whole new world of fun, opportunities and danger. It’s all too easy to pass the examination and then believe that you’re the next Lewis Hamilton or Susie Wolff – one final piece of advice:
Drive as though you’re being followed by the police, and you won’t go far wrong!
Passing your driving test is just the start, it’s now that the learning really begins – don’t assume anything, especially when it comes to other road users. It’s often said that a driving instructor will teach you to pass the driving test, it’s then up to you to define your driving style.
Of course there are stereotypes associated with driving styles – young men tend to be quite aggressive – hard on the brakes and accelerator, going round corners faster than perhaps is wise, while women tend to think a lot more and be a little more cautious. Statistics show that women are the safer drivers.
Even if you have been driving for a number of years before attempting to take your test, you should take a refresher course with a qualified instructor – they know exactly what you need to do to pass, and they’ll pick up on any bad habits that might have formed due to complacency.
Passing your driving test will open up a whole new world to you – no more waiting for buses, taxis, friends or family to give you a lift somewhere, but with that new found freedom comes responsibility – enjoy your new pastime, but stay responsible. Don’t think that you already mastered it all either - there are always many ways to improve your driving and many reasons to do so.