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80 Years Of The Driving Test

It’s 80 years since the driving test was introduced. The test has changed over the years, but its main aim of saving lives has stayed the same.

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Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1930s: The Empire State Building was completed, Edward VIII abdicated, the first public television broadcasts were made in London and World War 2 started.

The driving test become compulsory on 1 June 1935. Examiners were responsible for handling the booking of driving tests and met candidates at pre-arranged locations like car parks or railway stations - there were no driving test centres!

The pass rate was 63%, and 250 driving examiners did between 9 and 16 half-hour tests every day.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1940s: World War 2 was won by the Allies, with victory in Europe celebrated in May 1945. The UN was founded, the microwave oven was invented, and the first non-stop flight around the world took place.

Driving tests had been suspended at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939. Driving examiners were redeployed to traffic duties and to supervise fuel rationing.

Testing started again on 1 November 1946 following the end of the war the previous year. On 18 February 1947, a period of 1 year was granted for wartime provisional licences to be converted into a full licence without passing the test.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1950s: The first organ transplant was carried out, car seat belts were introduced, DNA was discovered, and LEGO bricks were introduced.

Driving tests were suspended from 24 November 1956 to 15 April 1957 during the Suez Crisis. Learners were allowed to drive unaccompanied, and examiners helped to administer petrol rations.

At the end of the decade, a driving examiner training facility was set up at Stanmore near Heathrow. Until then examiners had been trained ‘on the job’. Nowadays, the training to become an examiner takes between 5 and 7 weeks.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1960s: Beatlemania spread across the world, Doctor Who materialised on our screens, flower power took off, and Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the Moon.

In the decade of 'fab gear', the first driving test was set for an automatic vehicle.

A voluntary register of driving instructors was also set up. You had to pass stringent written and practical tests to join. It wasn't until 1970 that all driving instructors had to be officially registered.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1970s: Pocket calculators were introduced, Star Wars blasted onto cinema screens, Microsoft was founded and the first test-tube baby was born.

While flares were in, arm signals were out - well, out of the the driving test. From May 1975, candidates no longer had to demonstrate arm signals that had been part of the test for 40 years. They're still part of The Highway Code today, though!

All driving instructors had to be officially registered from 1970. Nowadays, they have to pass 3 tests before qualifying and are then checked every 4 years to make sure they provide good quality driving lessons.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1980s: The Rubik’s cube became popular, Pac-Man was released, Back to the Future blazed into our lives, and the Berlin Wall fell.

If our calculations are right, when the driving test hits ‘88…. you’re gonna see some serious… Hmm, yes! In 1988, driving tests started to be conducted under the new Road Traffic Act 1988. The length of the test was also increased by 5 minutes.

1990s

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

1990s: The Hubble Telescope was launched into space, eBay was founded, the first Harry Potter book was released and Titanic became the most successful movie ever.

While 'My Heart Will Go On' went to number 1 across the world, improvements to the driving test continued to go on. From 1990, driving examiners started to give candidates a brief explanation of the faults they'd made during the test.

A written theory test was introduced on 1 July 1996, replacing questions about The Highway Code during the driving test.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

2000s: Apple introduced the iPod, Pop Idol debuted on UK TV screens, Facebook was launched, and Pluto was demoted to 'dwarf planet' status.

In 2002, a hazard perception part was introduced into the car and motorcycle theory test. It uses videos to test candidates’ awareness of developing hazards on the road.

‘Show me’ and ‘tell me’ vehicle safety questions were added to the beginning of the driving test on 1 September 2003.

And from October 2003, candidates could book their practical driving test on the internet for the first time.

Crown copyright: Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency

2010s: The Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupts, London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, Elizabeth II marked her Diamond Jubilee, and Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, ending Britain's 77-year wait for a men's champion.

From April 2010, driving test candidates were encouraged to take their instructor with them on their test.

Independent driving’ became part of the practical driving test in October 2010. Candidates have to drive for 10 minutes by following traffic signs, a series of verbal directions - or a mix of both.

New computer-generated imagery (CGI) clips replaced the old filmed clips in the hazard perception part of the theory test in January 2015.

Find out more

Those are just some of the highlights of the last 80 years.

Find out more by reading the official history of road safety, The Highway Code and the driving test.

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