Driving tests: should we be teaching more about motoring law?

It has probably been years since you took your driving test and the way in which the test is conducted now has changed significantly. Most people aren’t interested in what a driving test includes until their children are ready to start taking lessons. I am a firm believer in people who take their driving test being educated on road traffic offences, not just about learning how to drive. This article outlines what a driving test consists of these days and questions whether we are doing enough to prevent motoring offences.

The components of the UK driving test

A young person can apply for a provisional driving license when they are aged 15 and 9 months old. They can then start driving a car when they are 17 years old. It is usually at this age that most young people start their driving lessons.

In the UK before you can apply for the practical driving test, you must take and pass the theory test. The questions asked in this test are based on The Highway Code and The Official DVSA Theory Test for Car Drivers.

The theory test consists of two main parts: multiple choice questions and a hazard perception test. The multiple choice questions focus on scenarios that you may encounter when driving and you have to state what action you would take.

The practical driving test consists of 5 main parts: an eyesight test, ‘show me, tell me’ vehicle safety questions, general driving ability, reversing your vehicle and independent driving.

The Law and The Highway Code

In the Highway Code, it states quite clearly on the first page – ‘Many of the rules in the Code are legal requirements, and if you disobey these rules you are committing a criminal offence. You may be fined, given penalty points on your licence or be disqualified from driving. In the most serious cases, you may be sent to prison. Such rules are identified by the use of the words ‘MUST/MUST NOT’. Also, the rule includes an abbreviated reference to the legislation which creates the offence. An explanation of the abbreviations can be found in, ‘The road user and the law’.

Throughout The Highway Code wherever the words MUST NOT are present, there is abbreviated text which specifies the laws. For example – ‘ You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times. You MUST NOT use a hand-held mobile phone, or similar device, when driving or when supervising a learner driver, except to call 999 or 112 in a genuine emergency when it is unsafe or impractical to stop.’ Laws RTA 1988 sects 2 & 3 & CUR 1986 regs 104 & 110

At the very end of The Highway Code, there is a short section about penalties and a table which lists many traffic offences and the penalties. It is interesting to note that there is no mention of the use of mobile phones and the penalties that can be incurred if you are caught using a mobile phone while driving. Also, to understand fully what the actual laws entail you need to refer to the various Acts and Regulations indicated in the Code. How many people would spend time researching what these are?

 Are we doing enough to educate new drivers?

There is minimal reference to what traffic offences and their impact on the driver in either the theory test or the practical test. In my opinion, there should be a lot more emphasis on this as educating early on will help younger drivers understand the impact of breaking the law and how it could impact on them retaining a driving licence.

Some questions relate to the law, for example; ‘What speed should you drive at on the motorway?’ or ‘What do you do if your phone rings when you are driving?’ However, the questions don’t then indicate what the penalties are for the specific offences so many drivers will have no idea what penalties can be incurred and how severe some of these can be if they break the law.

There is a definite focus on understanding what all the traffic signs on the roads mean and how to drive safely, which of course are very important and the Highway code does highlight aspects of driving that are legal requirements, but there are no set questions and answers in the test.

When someone is committing their time to learn what is in The Highway Code, they are very likely to skip over the legal requirements and laws that are related to them as they know they won’t be tested on these aspects. When someone if preparing for their test it is the perfect opportunity for them to learn more about traffic offences. It would be good to hear your views on this, especially if you have a son, daughter, or family member that is preparing for or has recently passed their test.

Should we be doing more at an early stage to educate drivers in an attempt to avoid the commission of road traffic offences?

If you need advice on motoring law contact  Maria Moore on 0115 784 1588 or email maria@mooremotoringlaw.co.uk for a confidential discussion.

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