/ Motoring

Do you think drivers should be retested?

There’s very little that can make me nervous enough for my knees to knock or hands tremble. But I was amazed by how swiftly my “teenage” nerves resurfaced when I started to retake my driving test 18 months ago.

I’d been full of confidence watching my Which? Car colleagues head out onto the streets with the examiner, but the moment I pressed the accelerator and turned the steering wheel to start my test, I had to grit my teeth to stop my limbs from violently shaking.

Although the examiner was calm and polite, I was so nervous of making a mistake in my road positioning, speed and blind-spot checking, that I actually didn’t hear the instructions he gave me as we headed towards one junction.

In spite of my nerves I passed the test. However, four of my five colleagues who also took up the challenge on that day didn’t pass.

Many drivers don’t think they’d pass a retest

So yes, I can completely understand why three million UK drivers think they’d fail a retest. This figure was worked out from a survey by the AA and Populus.

They asked almost 17,000 AA members if they thought they’d pass if they had to retake, and 11% thought they were either quite unlikely or very unlikely to pass. And it was the younger drivers who were the least confident – 15% of 18-24-year-olds thought they’d fail.

The results highlight just what an important and demanding skill driving is – most of us do it, but few of us do it well. That’s why, in spite of my own trepidation, I believe there should be regular “refresher” courses for drivers. Every five to ten years, they would help us un-learn bad habits and update us on the latest driving techniques.

When I last talked about this on Which? Conversation, quite a few of you argued that it should be compulsory for drivers to retest, like Dave:

‘The test is all we have to judge a person’s competence on the road, and I feel that everyone should undertake it every ten years to maintain the minimum standard.’

Gloria Edwards agreed:

‘Yes, drivers should be made to take retests, particularly if they break the law and if they are involved in an accident for which they are to blame.’

Although I’m behind refresher driving courses, I’m not sure we need people to retake the full driving test. But maybe you do? If you had to retake your driving test, do you think you’d pass?


Only if the test was updated to include motorway driving and did away with the whole push-pull steering wheel technique.

The test seriously needs updating, as do many of the driver skills on the road

janet says:
25 October 2011

i think that we should be asked to take the test at least every ten years as your reactions change as you age
and the pass plus is the biggest waste of time and money. i took it and not once when i was buying insurence was i asked if i had done it. however friends who have not done it say that they are not ready to go on a moterway as they have zero experience whichh is not good.

I have to disagree with you on this Janet; I can’t argue that it’s not been cost effective for you to have taken the ‘Pass Plus’ course but it will have made you a safer driver; shame on the Insurers for not recognising this. Things must have changed as when I paid for my son to have the PP course, he was able to obtain a discount from his insurer – perhaps a bit of ‘shopping around’ with some brokers would help – NOT the quote comparison sites though, you can’t talk to them!

FJRGuy says:
25 October 2011

As an ADI I think it is more likely that 11% could pass and 89% would fail. The reason for the lower confidence in the 18-24 age group is that they understand how difficult it is to pass – the rest may think it is as easy as it was when they took the test. There is no requirement in the test for the push pull steering technique – we teach it to pupils because it is far better than the arm flailing alternatives. Re-testing would have huge benefits but is a political hot potato so will never happen unless it gets brought in by the EU – then the political party of the day could claim it was another example of meddling Brussels bureaucracy while quietly agreeing and bringing it into law

I had not read your posting when I posted my message. I am glad that modern thinking on steering is less prescriptive, but I’m not sure you would approve of my technique, which sometimes varies on a long journey.

Is there evidence to support your claim that re-testing would have huge benefits? Perhaps we can benefit from studies in other countries.

I would like to see the results of a trial to find out if re-tests resulted in a better driving standard afterwards. If it proves worthwhile then there may be a case for tests every ten years.

I expect that I would fail because I do not hold the steering wheel in the prescribed fashion or do some other things according to approved practice. When I was 18 I was sufficiently quick witted to behave correctly on the day of my test, but I don’t think I could carry this off now.

A re-test could be useful be to identify drivers who are no longer confident driving in town centres or other stressful situations. However, most old drivers avoid driving in these areas.

When I learned to drive in the late 60s I thought that the Highway Code was rather dated. Now, in the 21st century, it is amazing so see that it still mentions hand signals. Apart from cyclists the only hand signals seen on modern roads are definitely not in the Highway Code. 🙂

Phil says:
25 October 2011

Hand signals were taken out of the driving test years ago but could still be useful when indicators fail because of a blown bulb say.

I remember that too from the early 60’s; there were also hand signals to indicate intended direction of progress to a police constable on traffic control duties including one for ‘straight on’!

Phil – Rather than giving hand signals if an indicator bulb blows, why not change the bulb? We are accustomed to looking for flashing indicators and not for hand signals.

Unfortunately, some manufacturers have produced cars where bulbs are very difficult to change, so perhaps there is a case for keeping the hand signals!

Phil says:
29 October 2011

There’s no requirement in the UK to carry spare bulbs so somebody might have to drive for several miles to find a garage or a safe place to stop and change the bulb. Yes, the bulb should be replaced as soon as possible, that’s the law, but as you say it’s often not a five minute job.

I am waiting for the EU to harmonise regulations and expect all motorists to carry spare bulbs, or for filament bulbs to be replaced by LED lamps which should outlast the vehicle. Better stop this discussion, which I have taken off-topic.

I definitely think that this would render the majority of drivers “unsafe”, maybe not as high as FJRguy postulates but still, I think it will be high.

I probably wouldn’t pass it myself either, probably on hazards awareness 🙂

25 October 2011

When I reached 70 I realised that is was 53 years since I was last tested and wondered if I would pass a driving test so I signed up for the full Institute of Advanced Motorist “Skill for Life” course,

After around 35 hours with the odd hour here and there and over 3 months I passed in July this year. I now enjoy my driving more than I ever did .The most enjoyment I have had for years without breaking the speed limit. The advisers who train you are super friendly people unlike like the examiners you get on the driving test.

The course I took was taken in 4 stages- one stage has to be passed before you go onto the next. There are also 3-4 hours of theory you have to get through as well. The IAM is run mostly by serving and retired traffic police officers and other dedicated observers who do the work as volunteers.They know every trick in the book that will improve your standard of driving. It is not a course where you learn to do hand brake turns but hundred of little bits of advice that all build up and before you realise it you are driving to “the system”. There is a IAM in your area and there are several different courses you can take at different levels.I now do voluntary driving for our local hospice and that is in its self very satisfying.
I think it would not be a bad thing for the under 25’s young racers to take some advise as I did.
Perhaps there would be less road deaths of under 25 “drivers”.

Institute of Advanced Motorist. —- The best money I have spent in years.

Tony Martin

The problem with the UK’s current driving test is that there is only one standard to achieve, and you only need to pass the driving test once in a lifetime. Judging by the number of provisional license holders who keep on retaking the test until they get lucky, there must be an awful lot of borderline drivers on our roads, with no incentive at all to improve their skills. Having passed the test, there is only the threat of penalty points and fines to keep drivers in check.

So, retesting at intervals to help maintain standards and weed out those who should never have passed in the first place would be an improvement. But to make it really worthwhile, the retest standard would need to be higher that the move from learner driver to full license holder. If someone has already been driving for 5-10 years and mastered the basics of car control, then passing the driving test again should be a walk in the park.

As for the politics, the retest fees would be a nice revenue earner for HM Gov’t and provide more employment for driving examiners and instructors. Then there’s the savings from not having to clean up the mess left by fewer collisions – sorry “accidents”. And why not use some of that revenue to reward those drivers who have made the effort to improve – with lower road tax and insurance maybe? Then we might all have something better to aspire to than just avoiding the next speed camera.

There are good drivers and there are bad drivers.
There are good and bad amoung those who just passed their test and those who passed 50 years ago.
Whilst I’m all in favour of improving the overall standard I’m not sure a system of periodic retesting for all will achieve much, if anything.
In reality there is no substitute for experience and those with long experience surely have shown they are at least reasonably safe simply by surviving, even if they don’t drive exactly by the book.
Most accidents involve younger inexperienced drivers who will have only recently passed their test so whats to be gained by retesting a statistically safer older driver?

Even good drivers develop bad habits over time and need to learn new skills to keep up with changing technologies; like how to drive an automatic (and how NOT to use a mobile phone at the wheel). For those that don’t see the need to take the occasional refresher course, retesting provides an incentive.

And I wouldn’t agree that a Darwinesque survival-of-the-fittest model is any way to determine who should be driving on our publicly-owned road systems. Many deaths result from car drivers hitting pedestrians and other more vulnerable road users. How does that make them reasonably safe?

Peter Clarke says:
28 October 2011

I have no idea what the statistics are for road accidents caused by older drivers, but the present system of driving until your doctor says you aren’t fit surely can’t be ideal. There are plenty of 90 year olds on the road and not all of them can have adequate reactions or observation.

We all let bad technique creep into our driving over the years and I think we should be periodically retested OR show a recent advanced driving certificate.

28 October 2011

Good tuition should also include the need for good manners – I have noted many times that drivers of all ages are rude to the point of causing near accidents.
It is hard to appreciate the logic of the ‘ton up’ drivers who will drive 2 miles to save a penny on a litre!
Why is it normal practice to overtake into my safe space when all are in a 40mph line?

I tend to leave a decent space in front of me when driving in traffic, with the intention of minimising the number of times I have to stop. Sometimes people overtake into the space in front and force me to brake. I’m not going to get worked up about it, but it is not good manners and those who do this are not going to get to their destination much faster.

What does irritate me is when a car overtakes and stops on a ‘keep clear’ area at a junction.

Francis says:
29 October 2011

I must agree with Tony Martin that the IAM is the ideal way to go. I took their test some 40 years ago and passed and then found that I was always thinking if I was still doing what they taught me or not. When I reached 80 I realised that my reaction time was appreciably slowed and my observation not so good, also I cannot turn my neck so easily or so far so that it is difficult to look over my shoulder I deal with this by trying to leave even more room in front of my and to watch my speed. When I come to awkward road junctions I have to position my car so that it is at right angles to the junction or so ‘flat’ to the junction that I can see the road behind well in the wing mirror.
I took the IAM review test in order to reassure myself that I was still safe as a driver. I must do the same again soon.

Francis Rutter.

I think the Which? car reviewers should be tested. Their driving habits are appalling. Steering single handed, not looking at the road because they are talking to camera …

What about insurnace discounts for drivers who take a reresher or IAM course,say every 5-10 years. It could only improve driving standards and would be an incentive.

A mate of mine in Sp writes as to hereunder. Personally
think a driving licence once issue shd NOT be unconditionally
w/out limit of time, older folks past a certain age shd or ought
to be retested every so often.

“In Singapore anybody over the age of 65 has to be certified to be
fit to drive by a medical practitioner. Recertification is required
every 3 years thereafter.

It is a good policy as some people over the age of 65 (or even 60)
have so poor psychomotor skills that they are a hazard on the road for
themselves and other road users.”

Sadly yet again – the people that have the most accidents and exhibit bad driving are 17 to 25 – so let us have an annual test for every driver between the ages of 17 and 25.

Most accidents do involve younger drivers but not all people in this age range have accidents, and there are some older people who are accident prone. To treat everyone in the same way is unfair and unrealistic.

23 February 2012

I think that some young drivers need to have their eyesight tested if they cannot read the facts that young drivers do have many more fatel accidents than older drivers. Hysterical young men are the worst offenders driving too close to vehicles, thank goodness they are in the minority.
I took my test in 1944 to drive Navy vehicles and later the UK test in 1948 so am sure a refresher would be appreciated.
A tip: always signal your intention well in advance and make good use of all 3 mirrors; for the blind spot turn your head 90degrees.

I think a re-test should be mandatory for all drivers that have accidents.- not at fixed intervals.

I agree in cases where a driver was clearly at fault. It would be a bit unrealistic to expect anyone clearly not to blame to take a re-test and it would be difficult to adjudicate in other cases.

Retesting is a good idea, but the cost of it can be quite expensive! £62 for the test and then if you take it in a driving instructors car £60 plus.
I am learning to drive and the driving instructor regually points out other peoples mistakes to me whilst I am driving, in the hope that I don’t do the same myself once I pass. It is frightening how some people take unneccessary risks and put not only themselves but other people at danger.

People requiring a re-test are likely to need a driving instructor’s car.

Compared with the other costs of running a car, £62 every few years is not a major expense, provided you pass the re-test first time.

Looking out for other people’s mistake is a great way of learning, but watch out for your instructor’s mistakes too. Many ask their students to practise their manoeuvres in silly places and I have just been driving behind an instructors car with seriously under-inflated tyres.