The UK government are drafting a series of reform bills which will revolutionise our motoring legislation, bringing about more changes to the way we drive since the inception of the standardised driving test in 1935.
Among other things, the Department for Transport (DfT) is planning to address driving tests themselves, introduce a vast reduction in the government’s involvement with motoring accreditation and testing and bring about a simultaneous increase in privatisation of such services.
The full drafts are due to be publicly released in October of this year, but early leakage of the proposed reforms has made national news and alerted the president of the Public and Commercial Services Union’s Department for Transport group, Paul Williams. Mr Williams was dismayed at the news and claimed it would cause “fury” and “uproar” among members of the motoring body.
Changes to the Driving Test
Apparently, the Government is concerned about the relatively low pass rate among first-time drivers, with less than 50% of all those who take the test walking away with their license. The leaked draft of the reform document says that it has “anecdotal evidence” that the high rate of failure is at least in part due to many learners booking their tests with insufficient experience behind the wheel. This is possibly because they are daunted by lengthy waiting lists – which stretched to as long as eight weeks in 2014 – and book their test at the earliest possible opportunity without having the relevant skills.
The Government will seek to address this by introducing later hours for testing, increasing the numbers of tests taken in the evening or at the weekend. They are also looking to incorporate modern technology into the test and have conducted extensive trials on tests which revolve around following Satnav directions. The expected increase in self-driving cars is also a concern for the Conservatives, who are considering how to accommodate these in new tests.
However, despite protesting a desire to reduce waiting times to below six weeks, the reforms will simultaneously attempt to save governmental money by cutting back on the number of driving test centres and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) test centres. In addition to reducing outlay through redundancies and centre closures, the Conservatives also hope this will free up valuable land for housing.
Privatisation as a Solution
In order to offset this inevitable shortage in manpower and test centres, the document explains that part-privatisation will help to meet the resiliently high demand for driving tests. “We will also consider how we might meet continued strong customer demand for the practical driving test, through exploring partnerships with other organisations,” states the draft. “This might include operating from a range of different sites, or delivering some elements of the test through partners.”
Such privatisation is what has caused most concern for Mr Williams and his associates, since it will inevitably lead to redundancies in the government’s three motoring bodies: the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Vehicle Certification Authority (VCA).
However, it is perhaps to be expected. Further merging of the DVSA and the DVLA would be a natural successor to the reforms introduced by the last coalition government, who created the DVSA from two previously-existing agencies and attempted to privatise the VCA. That particular venture failed when the British Standards Institute (BSI) renounced the deal, but it seems the Conservatives are keen to try again.
Austerity to Increase Prosperity
In addition to cutting expenses by closing certain test centres and downsizing the number of motor agency employees, the government has also signalled its intention to generate extra revenue through an increase in non-essential services. Primary among these would be a hike in the price of personalised number plates. This in itself would be a complete U-turn on the part of the DfT, who reduced the annual cost of renewing a personalised license from £105 to £80 only this year.
Meanwhile, they hope to reduce the stress and workload heaped upon DVLA and DVSA agencies by raising the mandatory age for license renewal. Officials had lobbied the government to bring the age up from 70 to 80, despite the fact that research conducted by the RAC in the USA and Australia suggests that one in ten older drivers continue motoring past a safe age.
Nevertheless, the government has met the petitioners halfway by agreeing to raise the age at which pensioners must declare themselves fit to drive from 70 to 75. Though they will not be required to re-take their test, they must declare themselves fit every three years and it is thought that raising the limit by five years will reduce the bureaucracy and time consumption associated with this without compromising on road safety.
A Symbolic Anniversary
With the 80th anniversary of the driving test fast approaching, the government are believed to be using this milestone to push through the series of reforms which are aimed primarily at saving money and improving efficiency. Whether or not they will be successful remains to be seen, but in the early stages of next year, the motoring community will more than likely undergo its biggest upheaval since 1935.
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