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Sunday 16 January 2011

On Driving Tests

With the need for yet another driving test, I thought I should probably explain a little more about driving tests, and in doing so vent my rage and wrath upon the cruel world that hath such madness in it. For after 4 failures and £412 send into a fiery abyss*, I have to question whether this is due to my own monstrous ineptitude, the bitter idiocy of the examiners, the terrible insanity of the test itself, or an irresistible combination of all of these most melodramatic factors.

* With 4 failures I hold the dubious honour of the record number of failures from my instructor.

On the surface the test is a most simple thing. First, the examiner asks you to read a number plate about 20m distant. Next they ask you a very few hideously trivial questions about the workings and maintenance of the automobile (e.g., how do you test your breaks, how do you turn on your lights, how do you check your oil). Neither of these procedures makes any real sense. What happens if you fail the eyesight check ? Have you just lost your entire fee ? Surely this would be better done beforehand. At least there is a clear and obvious purpose to it - the selected questions asked could be included in the theory test.

Then commences a period of 30-40 minutes of driving, including the 10 minutes of "independent" driving and a single maneuver (it used to be 3 maneuvers, now it's just 1). It may also include an emergency stop. The vast majority of the time, however, is spent driving under instruction from the examiner - e.g., turn left at the end of the road, at the roundabout take the 2nd exit, that sort of thing. All of which will happen on a route you've already done with your instructor because the number of test routes is very limited.

The "independent driving" section is a new and quite pointless thing.  The very name is a bona fide lie. If it was really independent the examiner would get out of the car and watch you drive off into the sunset, or, possibly, a tree*. Instead, what happens is that the examiner tells you where to go and draws a little diagram to show you. Since this consists of no more than 3-5 steps to remember, the point of this escapes me (map reading, maybe ?). But then you're also asked to follow road signs, which is more independent and at least seems vaguely relevant (also, it does not matter if you take a wrong turning or miss a turning provided your driving remains safe and legal).

* Not so unlikely. My instructor told me one student who started at the same time as me was back in the test center within 5 minutes, with their examiner mumbling something about "we'll have to leave the car up on the embankment."

The maneuvers are any of the 3 classics : reversing around a corner, turn in the road (you can call it a 3 point turn but this is inaccurate because it doesn't matter if you make it a 5 point turn or even more) or parallel park. And of course there might be an emergency stop, but the ability to slam on the brakes is hardly challenging.

Thus the test is not inherently difficult and contains many areas that are as trivial as the first round of questions on The Weakest Link. So then, why the repeated failures ? Let's review :

1) Mounting the kerb while reversing around a corner

Failing to properly reverse around a corner is not the most dangerous thing in the world to do, assuming you don't flatten any passing cats/hedgehogs/pedestrians. And under normal driving circumstances this is hardly a common procedure at all. Alas there are a few situations where not being able to reverse correctly could be dangerous, so I'm forced to strike this one up to my own monstrous ineptitude. Can't really prepare for unexpected mind farts.

2) Blocking a side road

Well, this one is bloody daft. Lots of people with licenses block side roads every single day. Absolutely no other driver's I've spoken to can understand why this constitutes a failure, particularly given gridlocked traffic on my side of the road and heavy traffic on the other. So I'm quite happy to chalk this one as the terrible insanity of the test itself. I'm afraid delays at junctions in heavy traffic are just a part of life.

3) Not turning enough

To summarise I wasn't turning enough on an empty country road and if I hadn't turned I'd have ended up in a field. The examiner reached for, but did not actually touch, the wheel. We'll never know if I'd have turned at the last moment so this too has to be ascribed to my own monstrous ineptitude. Having driven this route many times before, deliberately driving slower than strictly necessary, and there being no other cars visible, this one's a particularly sucky failure.

4) Pulling out in front of a bus...

... very, very slowy. I should emphasise that the bus too was moving very, very slowly. I mean, my grandmother could walk faster than that, and she's dead. The examiner didn't have to slam on the brakes or grab the wheel, the bus didn't have to slow down, beep or react in any visible way whatsoever. It may in fact be the least spectacular driving accident in history, one so boring that even the likes of Road Wars wouldn't take it. But, pulling out in front of buses isn't to be advised, so I'll generously put this one down to a combination of my own monstrous ineptitude and the bitter idiocy of the examiners. A nice examiner could have let this one go. And c'mon, it was Christmas, damnit !

What have we learned ? Well, nothing much, other than it is entirely possible to fail a very simple thing. By my count that gives a ratio of justified to unjustified rails of  60%. Real driving may be as far removed from GTA IV as Fox News is from intelligent left-wing reporting, but they do have two things in common : (1) they'd be much improved with a decent checkpoint system* and (2) if you fail something 4 times it's very hard to work up enough enthusiasm to try a 5th time... watch this space.

* Yes, I know this is impossible. I'm just sayin' is all.

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