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TESTING THE NATION; The driving test has come a long way since it was introduced 70 years ago MARIA CROCE takes a look at its history.

IT'S 70 years ago since a compulsory test for car drivers was introduced in the UK, and since then more than 87 million have been carried out For most motorists, sitting the test is a stressful experience and there's not much that can beat the feeling when you finally get to throw away the L-plates.

Assistant chief driving examiner Ashley Bateman said: 'People tend to see the test as just an obstacle, but there's a serious reason for it.

It's to make people take training, hopefully take their driving seriously then go on to be safe drivers if they maintain those skills.'

The year the driving test was introduced, the number of road deaths fell by around 900. In the previous year 7343 people were killed in traffic accidents and there were only 2.5 million cars at the time.

By 2003, there were more than 30 million cars on the road, yet the death rate was less than half that of 1934.

Since the test was first introduced, it has grown to include a theory exam and a hazard test. It has become tough and the pass rate for 2003 was relatively low, at just 43 per cent. It's not surprising most view examiners with fear.

Even Ashley passed second time around and he points out the top reason for failing is observation at junctions.

However, he said: 'People are mostly pleasantly surprised when they meet a driving examiner.They're not there to fail people, they're just there to assess the driving.

'People ask what they can do to allay their nerves and it's a simple answer - have plenty of practice. It's like any exam, if you've done your homework first it should be quite easy.'

Spare a thought though for one new driver who was involved in a crash during his test with Ashley.The examiner said: 'Another car lost control and came into us.We didn't fail him though because it wasn't his fault. But the car was unroadworthy, so he had to resit on a later date, andhe passed.'

The first person to ever pass his test was a Mr Beene, that was back in 1934 - just before compulsory testing was brought in.

The Driving Standards Agency now carries out 1.5 million car tests and theory tests a year. Some 32 million people in the UK currently hold a driving licence.

But today's roads are very different to when motorist John Phillips sat his driving test in Glasgow in 1937.

The former Glasgow Academy student, who's now 85, still has his original driving licence with a hard-backed red cover.

He said: 'I started getting lessons from my father just after my 17th birthday in February 1937. I learned in my father's 1928 Hillman 14, which was a heavy car to drive. So driving today is a doddle - you can push the gear lever and it doesn't make that much noise.

'These days you don't have to cater for trams and horse carts. There used to be traffic lights on virtually every intersection in the centre of Glasgow.

'At one junction during my test, I must have got in the wrong position because my examiner made me do six more right hand turns at lights. He didn't make any comments,he just told me what to do.

'To do a three-point turn, I had to reverse into an alleyway and didn't get in neatly the first time, but he let me have another go. I did all right.Well I didn't give him a heart attack or anything.

'In those days people only had a car as a toy, for pleasure.You took it out for a picnic on a Sunday. Not many people used them for business, and you didn't get held up in traffic in Glasgow.'

Times have certainly changed

MILESTONES ALONG THE ROAD

June 1935 Compulsory tests brought in for all drivers who started driving on or after April 1, 1934.

September 1939 Driving tests suspended because of World War Two until November 1946.

1965 Licensing system set up at Swansea DVLC, taking over from councils.May 1965 Distance from which a candidate must be able read a number plate is changed to 67ft.

1967 The Driving and Motor Licences Division begins promoting safe driving on films and television drive laws come into force. Legal limit is 80mg alcohol in 100ml blood.

December 1972 Minimum age for riders of motorbikes over 50cc is raised from 16 to 17.

1973 Crash helmets made compulsory. Computerised licences issued, with green paper replacing red booklets May 1975 Candidates no longer have to use arm signals. January 1976 Full licences now valid until holder is 70. October 1989 Examiner follows motorcycle candidate on motorbike in radio contact . May 1990 Examiners give candidates brief explanation of faults committed during the test, plus advice on areas for improvement.

October 1990 Anyone accompanying a learner must be at least 21 and have held a driving licence for three years.

November 1995 The Pass Plus scheme is introduced to help newly qualified drivers gain experience.

July 1996 Separate written theory test introduced, replacing questions asked about the Highway Code.

October 1996 Theory test pass mark is raised from 26/35 to 30/35. June 1997 If a new driver gains six or more penalty points during the first two years, they lose their licence and must retake theory and practical tests August 1998 Photocard licences introduced. From July 1999, all licences, both first issues and renewals, must be photocards. May 1999 Changes to the test include making it longer, randomising emergency stops and failing candidates for 16 or more faults. Jan 2000 Touch-screen theory test is introduced December 2001 Candidates can now book theory tests on the internet. November 2002 Hazard perception element introduced into the theory test, using video clips.

September 2003 'Show me', 'Tell me' vehicle safety questions added to the beginning of the test

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jun 3, 2005
Words:1003
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