A Brief History of the Driving Test

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Last year research carried out by the Department for Transport showed us that the number of young motorists passing their practical was at its lowest for 10 years. Some say that this is due to the economy, which doesn’t seem that far-fetched when you consider that prospective motorists have to shell out £50 just to get their provisional licence.

The bill for learning to drive goes on, and although the number of passes may well have dropped, all these costs haven’t stopped people from learning to drive, or at least wanting to learn to drive. Since 1935, 52 million people in the UK have taken the driving test, and over the years plenty of changes have been made to the test itself. To help you understand the history of the UK driving test and map out what is currently required from a candidate, we’ve put together a written timeline.

1903 – 1935

In 1903 the first driving licence was introduced. The licence was originally designed to help us identify vehicles and their drivers. The fee was five shillings and had to be paid via the Post Office. In 1931 the first edition of the Highway Code was published by the Ministry of Transport, which highlighted the evolving requirement for rules and regulations on the road.

1935 saw the introduction of voluntary testing. Voluntary driving tests were developed to prevent a huge waiting list of candidates when the test finally becomes compulsory. Sadly, all driving tests had to be suspended for the duration of World War II. The instructors were redeployed to fuel rationing and other traffic duties.

1946 – 1968

1946 was the year that testing resumed. By the 1950s the pass rate for the driving test saw changed to 50% and the test fee had doubled. In 1958 provisional licences only lasted a short six months, so in 1962 people who had held more than seven of these licences were required by law to take a driving test. Failing to do so meant that the licensing authority had the right to refuse any further application from these particular candidates.

The first register for approved driving instructors was set up in 1963 to ensure teachers have the correct knowledge and skillset to pass on to learners. To become approved as an ADI, instructors were required to pass both written and practical tests.

1965 was all about organisation and abiding by rules and regulations. As a result, the first-ever centralised licensing system centre took over from individual councils.

1969 – 2014
In 1969 several changes are made to the test and this continues right through to 1976 Changes include a ban on dual accelerator controls unless they have been disengaged, a new law that requires all instructors to be officially registered and a transition from traditional green paper licenses to computerised driving licences.

In the 1980s, both the full driving and provisional licences are extended and valid until the holder turns 70 years of age.

1995 is the year of The Pass Plus scheme, which was introduced to help new drivers gain experience and reduce the risk of road accidents. Following this in 1996 was the introduction of the all-important written theory test, which relates to questions about the Highway Code. By the year 2000, the theory test is carried out using touchscreen technology and can now be booked via the Internet.

More recent years have also seen big changes to the UK driving tests, like the multiple choice reform in 2012 and rumour that drivers may soon be required to prove they can listen to a sat-nav or demonstrate that they can multitask while driving.