Response to the DSA Consultation on Learning to Drive

August 2008

This is the response of the Association of British Drivers to the DSA Consultation on Learning to Drive, August 2008.
 
The final report was published by the DSA in April 2009 — www.dsa.gov.uk/consultationreport
 
Q.1 What views do you have about our explanation of the high accident rate among newly qualified drivers?
The deficiencies you have identified with the current system are largely the result of a more fundamental problem, which is that little or no attention is given to the beliefs and attitudes of learner drivers towards road safety. The problem of young drivers' accident involvement has worsened in recent years, and this may be due to the "cotton wool culture" that has developed, which makes it more difficult for young people to experience risks in everyday life and thus learn how to deal with them. Their handling of risk is thus less mature than it would have been a generation ago.
 
In addition, newly qualified drivers do not have a mental library of risk situations, which they can draw upon to avoid or mitigate these situations. That, combined with the belief-set that the "real" driving starts after the test, can lead them to seriously over-estimate their overall driving skill, which could lead them to get into situations where their vehicle handling skills are inadequate to avoid a collision.
Q.2 Do you have any comments about the partial impact assessment published alongside this paper?
No.
Q.3 What are your views about our analysis that improved training and testing is the best way of improving the safety of newly qualified drivers?
There is no doubt that improved driver education is key to improving the safety of all drivers, not just the newly qualified, since the vast majority of road accidents are caused by human error on the part of one or more road users. However, training and testing needs to be about more than imparting knowledge and checking that it has been absorbed; it needs to check that drivers are prepared to apply that knowledge and give the required level of attention to their driving. This comes back to beliefs and attitudes, as explained in Stephen Haley's book Mind Driving.
 
New drivers (in fact, most drivers) would also benefit from seeing what good road driving looks like from within the vehicle, and the thought processes that support that. Most will never have seen their instructor drive, let alone a very highly skilled driver such as a police Advanced driver. Understanding the thought processes of the highly skilled is key to acquiring those skills. A television series concerning driving skills beyond the basic ones required for the L-test would provide an opportunity for drivers to realise that there are mechanisms and approaches which can greatly reduce the likelihood of their being involved in a collision, while simultaneously demonstrating that they are, in all likelihood, rather less skilled than they perhaps imagine they are.
Q.4 Which do you think would be most helpful to improve the educational value of the theory test?
Continue to publish the questions but without the answers. Candidates need to be able to think about the answers for themselves and discuss them with their driving instructor or supervising driver, rather than learn the "correct" answer to each question without fully understanding the reasons for it.
Q.5 Do you agree or disagree that case studies could have a role in helping assess whether learners have understood driving theory better?
Agree. They should help assess whether learners are capable of applying the principles of safe driving to situations of which they have no prior knowledge. These case studies would help to build the mental library of risk situations, which is lacking in newly qualified drivers.
Q.6 What other methods could be used to assess whether learners understand driving theory?
A more interactive hazard perception test (perhaps a virtual reality system) could measure reactions to a random selection of situations where hazards could develop. The learner should have control over the vehicle's speed and road position and some other key controls such as the horn. As an example of the type of situation, a vehicle waiting at a side junction might "unexpectedly" pull out. The learner's reaction to the situation before the vehicle emerges tells us more about their ability to avoid collisions than their reaction to it once the potential hazard has become an actual hazard.
 
It is not suggested that this test or the hazards contained in it be made available to learner drivers, since real-world hazards can arise in any form and at any time.
Q.7 How can we improve road safety using the hazard perception test?
See our response to Q.6. In addition hazard perception should focus on potential as well as actual hazards, since problems are more easily avoided through mitigating actions at the early stages of their development than when they become actual hazards.
Q.8 Do you agree or disagree that the marking system for the practical test should focus more on evidence of competence than on evidence of weakness?
Agree. Assessment of the degree of competency in different aspects of driving throughout the test should give a more reliable overall assessment than counting individual errors.
Q.9 Do you agree or disagree with the introduction of independent driving into the practical test?
Neither agree or disagree. There are several potential problems that could make it difficult to treat all candidates equally. For instance, some candidates might have better knowledge of the area than others; the quality of direction signing varies between local authorities. The idea may have merit, but more detail of how it would apply in practice would be needed before a firmer view can be taken.
Q.10 Do you agree or disagree with the introduction of Situational Judgement exercises into the practical test?
Agree. Finding out what a candidate was thinking while negotiating a particular situation would give a good insight into their beliefs and attitudes. One difficulty could be that some candidates will be more articulate than others, so those who are less capable of describing their thought processes could be marked down unfairly. There could also be problems where a candidate's first language is not English.
Q.11 Do you have any comments on the way in which we test specific manoeuvres in the practical test?
The idea of giving candidates discretion in carrying out a manoeuvre is a good one (such as the example given of asking a candidate to turn round in a road and allowing them to choose where to do so), since it tests their ability to make the most appropriate choice.
Q.12 Do you agree or disagree that:
a) The theory test should be uncoupled from the hazard perception test?
Agree. While most candidates will probably wish to minimise their time and cost by taking both tests together, it gives them the option to retake one of the tests should they fail it first time.
b) The specified driving manoeuvres should be tested separately from the general driving part of the practical test?
Neither agree or disagree. The ability to carry out the test manoeuvres is largely a test of vehicle control, so it differs from the general part of the practical test. While in theory, therefore, the different skills could be tested separately, it is hard to see how they could be in practice. The candidate will still have to drive on public roads to reach locations where the manoeuvres can be carried out. If he or she has passed the general driving test but failed the manoeuvring test, and then committed a serious driving error on way to retake the manoeuvring test, would that be ignored?
Q.13 What are your views about providing more comprehensive feedback to all candidates at the end of each assessment, regardless of result?
Comprehensive feedback would make the whole assessment process more transparent as well as providing valuable information on areas where a driver did not come up to the required standard, or could benefit from further development even though they passed the test. Candidates who were not receptive to such feedback would be demonstrating that their beliefs and attitudes were not yet consistent with learning to drive safely.
Q.14 What are your views about the proposed student workbook?
How useful would a voluntary document be for all learners when they start learning to drive?
This seems to be a sensible idea, as it would clarify the standards required and provide a structured way of achieving them.
Q.15 Do you support the idea of progress being recorded in a student workbook?
This is a logical use for the workbook, to help both the student and their instructor/supervising driver assess when they are ready to take the test.
Q.16 What sort of information should be considered in creating a star rating system to help learners in choosing their instructor?
Years of experience as an instructor; driving standard achieved by the instructor; services provided, including post-test advanced driver training; membership of professional bodies.
Q.17 What are your views on the usefulness of publishing the pass rates for different instructors?
Pass rates can vary for reasons other than the competence of the instructor, e.g. test routes of varying difficulty, candidates insisting on taking the test before the instructor considers they are ready. An over-emphasis on pass rates could thus penalise some instructors unfairly. Perhaps candidates who have professional instruction could be asked to complete a confidential assessment of their instructor after their test, and the results of these satisfaction surveys incorporated into the star system, or published separately. This might also help address the issue highlighted in the response to Q.18 below.
Q.18 Do you agree or disagree that learners should be required to have a 'test readiness' certificate signed by a supervising driver or driving instructor before they can take a practical test?
Neither agree or disagree. In theory this is a good idea, but there are potential practical difficulties. If an instructor refused to sign the certificate when the candidate thought they were ready, the candidate might think the instructor was only refusing in order to charge for more instruction. The candidate might then ask a supervising driver (perhaps a family member, less likely to resist the pressure) to sign the certificate, leading to a failed test. Perhaps candidates would have more confidence in an instructor's integrity if results of satisfaction surveys were available as suggested in response to Q.17.
Q.19 Do you agree that practical test candidates and their supervising drivers would benefit if the supervising driver were to sit in on the test?
Strongly agree. The driving instructor or supervising driver would then be aware of any issues raised by the examiner in the subsequent debrief.
Q.20 Do you agree or disagree that practical test candidates and their supervising drivers would benefit from the supervising driver sitting in on the debrief at the end of the test?
Strongly agree. The driving instructor or supervising driver should be able to assimilate the examiner's comments objectively and discuss them with the candidate later, when deciding how to improve the candidate's performance (in the case of a fail) or which areas would benefit from further attention (in the case of a pass).
Q.21 Do you think an Attitude Advisor is likely to offer benefit by:
a) providing useful guidance to students to help their learning programmes?
Agree. Since a person's beliefs and attitudes are key to whether they will be a safe driver, a self-assessment tool as suggested could give candidates a useful insight into their own mental fitness to drive. However, those whose beliefs and attitudes are most in need of changing will be the least likely to take advantage of an Attitude Advisor, or take notice of the results if they use it!
b) providing useful guidance to their supervising drivers?
Agree. For the reasons given in response to part (a), the usefulness will be limited in the case of candidates who decide not to use the Attitude Advisor, but that in itself should give the supervising driver a useful insight into the candidate's approach to driving.
Q.22 How much do you think that learners would benefit from attending driver discussion groups?
Benefit a lot. Discussion groups could give candidates insight into the views and attitudes of others, which might affect their own views. This may be most appropriate to pre-driver training in school, where individuals are already in the same place at the same time. It may be more difficult to arrange such groups for post-school candidates, and those who chose to attend them would probably be those with the best attitudes anyway.
Q.23 Are you aware of any evaluated road safety education programmes which could inform our work with pre-drivers, and that you would like to make us aware of?
www.youngdriverscheme.org
Q.24 As well as the subjects mentioned in this Paper, what else should be covered in the pre-driver qualification in safe road use?
There is one subject listed that the ABD strongly believes should NOT be included, namely "eco-friendly travelling". This has nothing to do with road safety, which should be the sole purpose of driver and pre-driver training. It should not be used to promote a particular view of environmental issues, let alone require that drivers hold that view to earn the right to a driving licence, as suggested in Element 4.2.3 of the proposed Competency Framework. Instead, there could be instruction on the basics of how cars work, and how to drive with mechanical sympathy. When coupled with adequate forward planning when negotiating traffic situations, this would achieve fuel-efficient driving without invoking questionable environmental claims.
Q.25How can we make this qualification appeal to as wide a range of people as possible? How can it be made engaging, and where should it be made available?
If the qualification could be used as a partial credit for a theory test pass, as suggested in the Paper, it could act as an incentive.
Q.26 What are your views on a pre-driver qualification in safe road use? Do you think young people would benefit from participating in it?
There can be little doubt that a properly structured course leading to a pre-driver qualification would benefit young people and make them less at risk when they eventually take to the roads.
Q.27 How do you think we can use additional qualifications to encourage a culture of life-long learning?
Encouraging people to take advanced driver training has to appeal to the "What's in it for me?" incentive. Agreeing a structure of lower insurance premiums (or excesses) with insurance companies might be one option. The disincentive of the cost and time involved in further training could be overcome if employers were encouraged with tax breaks to pay for training during work time, especially for those employees who drive in the course of their work. Once a culture of taking further driver training becomes established it should gain momentum. The idea needs to be promoted from the pre-driver stage.
 
A graduated licence, with additional privileges for those who can achieve a defined standard (and demonstrate that they have maintained that standard) would provide a strong incentive to undertake further training. Once adopted, the social cachet of possessing a "higher" licence grade would strongly encourage young drivers to strive towards the achievement of the higher-graded licences.
Q.28 How can motorway driving be taught more effectively?
Perhaps learners could be allowed to use motorways, but only once a professional instructor has assessed that the learner has reached a sufficient standard on other roads, including rural dual carriageways. One of the main issues in motorway driving is the lack of reference points close to a vehicle's path from which the driver can gain an impression of speed. This is particularly important in conditions of poor visibility such as fog. Simulators may be of use to address this problem, and they are perhaps the only way learners can 'practice' on motorways if they do not live near one.
Q.29 How can we best apply our reforms for learning to drive to those who want to ride a motorcycle?
No particular suggestions.
Do you have any other comments?
The ABD is not listed in the consultation list in Annex C. As a road safety organisation, we would expect to be included in future consultations.

 

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