Independent Driving

What’s all this about changes to the driving test?

The driving test (for cars, lorries, buses and motorcycles) has changing since 4th October 2010 and was introduced into the Northern Ireland Driving Test on 27th June 2011.

The DSA introduced a new topic covering ‘independent driving’. This will last for about 10 minutes within the driving test during which the candidate will have to drive without step-by-step instructions from the examiner.

How will I be tested on ‘independent driving’?

The candidate will be asked to pull over and the examiner will ask them to drive independently by one, or possibly a combination, of the following methods. The candidate won’t be able to influence which method is chosen – that’s up to the examiner.
1. Via road signs and markings – for example, the examiner will ask, ‘For the next ten minutes please follow the road signs to the town centre.’
2. Via a series of three, or very occasionally four verbal directions given by the examiner (similar to how you might get directions from a passer-by) – for example, ‘drive along then take the first right, straight ahead at the roundabout then second left’.
When using verbal directions, the examiner will also show them a diagram before setting off.

If the candiate forgets the directions they are allowed to ask the examiner to confirm them as they drive along. If road signs are obscured, say by an overhanging tree or a parked vehicle, the examiner will intervene and say, ‘the sign’s partially covered here but you’re meant to take the next left’.

The independent driving section isn’t meant to test candidates navigating skills – if they take a wrong turn or get lost it won’t count against them. It’s more to do with letting them show their ability to drive safely without constant direction from their instructor or examiner. Though of course if they get flustered and make a driving fault during this section, such as undue hesitation at a junction then this will be marked as a fault.

Will the rest of the test stay the same?

No. The previous version of the driving test involved doing two manoeuvres, one of which would be a parking exercise (either bay or parallel park) and the other either a turn in the road or a reverse around a corner. Now the test will only involve one manoeuvre, but candidates won’t know which one. So even though most people have one they particularly struggle with, they’ll have to have practised all of them to test standard. One in three candidates will also be asked to carry out an emergency stop as well.

Does this mean that the test will take longer or cost more?

The test will stay the same length of approxiamately 40 minutes, as the addition of the 10 minutes of independent driving will be balanced out by the fact that one of the manouevres has been dropped.
The fees will remain the same at £62 for a weekday car test and £75 for a weekday evening or weekend car test.

Will this make the test more difficult and mean I’ve got less chance of passing?

During early trials of the new test, the pass rate did drop noticeably. But the DSA claim that the new version will have a similar pass rate to the current test (pass rates vary between test centres but the national average is about 45%).
People who struggle with manoeuvres might actually find the test easier, as there’s less chance of failing by mounting the kerb during an ill-judged reverse around a corner.

However, some driving instructors do have reservations about the way the independent driving section has been designed and feel it might disadvantage people with special needs such as dyslexia or who have English as a second language.

What arrangements have been made for people with special needs, or those with English as a second language?

Although the basic driving test is the same for everyone, adjustments will be made for people with special needs.
For example, some dyslexic people have problems with the directions ‘left and right’ and find phrases such as ‘your way’ and ‘my way’ more useful. Dyslexic candidates will be be given a maximum of three verbal directions, rather than four. Deaf candidates will be allowed to have a sign language interpreter with them and to choose which method of independent driving (for example, being shown the diagram) would work best for them.
People with English as a second language are allowed to have an interpreter with them during their test

Are there any more changes to the driving test in the pipeline?

Numerous changes that have been considered in the past include – raising the driving age to 18, imposing a total ban on alcohol for new drivers, having a minimum learning time of 12 months, including motorway driving and introducing a compulsory classroom-based session on road safety.
However, at the moment it’s likely that the DSA will let the ‘independent driving’ changes settle in before making any more.

What are the top tips for getting through the independent driving section of the test?

Firstly, don’t be worried about asking the examiner to repeat the directions at any time. Secondly, remember that you’re not being judged on your navigating skills, but on your driving – and your ability to drive safely must always come first.
So if, for example, you’re driving along and realise you’re in the wrong lane don’t suddenly swerve into the correct one without warning. Only move over if you’ve checked your mirrors and it’s safe to do so. If it isn’t, because you’ve left things too late then just continue in the same lane follow the mistake through and ask the examiner’s advice for getting back on track.