Happy 80th Birthday, Driving Test

Happy 80th Birthday, Driving Test

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The stress of taking the driving test will rarely be a fond memory in anyone's life – until the bit where you find out you passed, anyway. But this week marks the 80th anniversary of the first official driving test – so it's as good a time as any to celebrate the most nerve-wracking and/or triumphant drive of our lives!

Humble Beginnings

Driving licenses were introduced in the UK in 1903, but there was no real barrier to having one. They were just meant to identify vehicles and their owners, and you could literally just buy one at the Post Office for 25p. The driving test was introduced on a voluntary basis in 1934 and became mandatory in 1935 – so raise your glasses (if you're not driving anywhere today) to 80 years of mandatory testing!

Take a look at this video from the Ford Heritage collection at the National Motor Museum to see just how much the driving test, official government guidance, and casual hat-wearing has changed since 1935, featuring such essential driving advice as "don't flick your cigarette ash outside, it's very misleading."

Yes, you have to do a lot less compulsory hand-gesturing these days, but plenty of the basics have actually remained the same. Sight tests, lane discipline, hill starts, smooth turns, emergency stops, manoeuvres, keeping your eyes open– it's all still there, just as it was in the first tests.

The theory test was introduced in 1996, and the hazard perception bit was added in 2002. The whole thing costs a bit more than 25p, too –now it's £25 for a theory test and £62 for the practical test.

Driving Test Secrets: Revealed

In honour of the test's anniversary, we did a little bit of research to find out a bit more about it. There are over 35 million vehicles licensed for use on the road in Great Britain, and about 1.6 million people take a test each year. That's a lot of tests!

About 47% of people pass first time, going up to 52% for men and down to 42% for women. The average age for a British man to pass their driving test is at 22 years and eight months, after 20.6 hours of lessons, and 1.8 attempts. However, the average age for a British woman is six months older at 23 years and four months, after 33.1 hours of lessons, and 2.1 attempts.

Don't let those stats fuel any 90s-style stand-up comedy routines about women being worse drivers, though – when women do fail, it's most likely to be down to messing up a reverse park, something that you'd just avoid if you can't actually do. But when men fail, it's because they've been driving a bit more recklessly and not paying attention at junctions, which is probably a little bit more essential than parking. So it's not all that fair to deem either gender a worse driver, really. And everyone, regardless of gender, fears the truest of driving evils: the reverse parallel park - one in three people list this as the manoeuvre they most fear coming up on their driving test.

Not everyone passes young, either – one in forty British drivers don't pass their test until they reach their 50s, and one in twenty take five or more attempts to pass. So if you've put it off forever or failed a few too many times, just remember: you're not alone. And once you've passed, it doesn't really matter how long it took.

Still, no one drives like they did in their test forever, and one in four people reckon they would fail if they had to take the test again.

Buying That First Car

On average, it takes drivers one year and five months to buy their first car after passing their test. Of course, some people already have a car lined up before they even take the test, and some pass but then put off actually getting out on the road for a few years.

The most popular first cars have obviously changed a lot over the years but, regardless of age, the Mini has always remained a solid choice for a first time car buyer, earning the spot of the most popular first car in our survey.

The ever-reliable Ford Fiesta and Ford Escort come in second and third, with the top five rounded out by the Ford Cortina and Austin Metro – a rare sight on the road these days, but great choices in their day!

The future – here's to 80 more years?

As driving changes, the future of the driving test isn't completely certain. Over half the people we asked (54% of you) think that self-driving cars will one day rule the roads completely, and three out of ten of you would buy one now if you could! But there's a good chance the test isn't going anywhere for a while.

Plenty of people think there's more that could be done to reflect modern driving: – six out of ten people in our survey thought that basic maintenance, like changing a wheel or checking the oil, should be included in the test, three-quarters thought that motorways and night-driving should be added, half thought the test should cover country lanes, and a third suggested a sat-nav element. So happy birthday, driving test. You're harder than learning to ride a bike, but you're easier than the one London cab drivers have to take. Here's to you!

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