MOTORING / On the straight and narrow with Dave in the driving seat: Britain's new chief driving examiner is a genial sportsman who tries to steer clear of the fast lane. Phil Llewellin met him

CHECK mirrors, signal in good time, position car correctly and match speed to conditions. Run another visual check, then turn left into the car park. On my drive to central Nottingham to see Dave Norris, I was playing it by the book - the new, 330-page Driving Manual.

If we are to believe the opening scenes of the Driving Standards Agency's excellent new video, Your Driving Test, driving examiners are widely regarded as malevolent beings dredged from the darkest depths of an Alfred Hitchcock nightmare.

Mr Norris, as Britain's new chief driving examiner, might therefore be expected to be an ogre, watching from his office window, fangs bared and clutching a bloody axe, in case the visitor revs his engine at a pedestrian crossing or lets a wheel stray into a bus lane.

The reality is a smiling man of 50 who is fond of squash, swimming and badminton and is licensed to drive everything from tiny mopeds to the biggest lorries. He inherited the professional interest from his father, who spent 22 years as a driving examiner after leaving the Army, where he had been a driving instructor and a member of its first motorcycle display team. The genes have been passed on, because Dave Norris's son is a Metropolitan Police driver.

The future chief examiner passed his test at the first attempt when he was 18, at the wheel of his father's Morris Minor, worked briefly as an apprentice draughtsman, then did several driving jobs - involving lorries and buses - before becoming a basic-grade examiner in Edinburgh in 1973. He now heads a team whose 1,500 examiners (only 117 of whom are women) operate from 510 centres scattered between the Isles of Scilly and the Shetlands. In the past year they have tested almost 1.9 million car drivers and 90,000 motorbike riders, plus 70,000 truckers and 10,000 bus drivers.

The pass rate has hovered close to 50 per cent for many years, despite an enormous increase in traffic. Reasons include the emphasis now placed on taking lessons with approved driving instructors, of whom there are about 33,000 on the standards agency's register. They are estimated to give some degree of tuition to about 95 per cent of L-test candidates.

The car test has changed remarkably little since it was introduced in 1935, when Leslie Hore-Belisha was minister of transport. He was also responsible for the 30mph limit in built-up areas and for what were dubbed the Belisha beacons at pedestrian crossings.

Mr Norris believes that certain aspects of the test could be improved, a view shared by test candidates and instructors, according to a recent survey conducted for the DSA. Although the majority regarded the existing test as satisfactory, there was a strong feeling that it should be expanded to embrace such things as motorway driving and a written or oral examination.

'The theory element could be increased,' says Mr Norris. 'The view in the past has always been that the test is a test of practical driving ability. There are only five questions about the Highway Code and six traffic signs to be identified. The minister is currently considering proposals to change that. It's all part of the EC directive on driver-licence harmonisation, because many of the European countries already have a lot more theory in their tests.

'I'm in favour of an increase, but the emphasis must always be on people demonstrating driving skills, not just telling us about them.'

Is there a case for making the test a lot tougher? Would road safety be improved by raising standards and thereby reducing the number of qualified drivers? Critics regard passing the current test as nothing more than proof of a driver's ability to conduct a car within the confines of a built-up area. They say a 50-minute examination, of which only 30-35 minutes are devoted to driving, is not sufficient.

Mr Norris does not agree and points out that test routes have been made more realistic in the past two or three years. What used to be an essentially urban exercise now includes open-road driving, outside the 30mph area and on dual-

carriageways, wherever possible.

'The test is designed to give everyone an opportunity to pass,' he says. 'Provided that at the time of taking the test - under pretty general traffic conditions for the locale - the candidate demonstrates that he or she has mastered the safe basics of driving, they will be given a certificate that will enable them to claim a licence.

'That provides the opportunity to gain experience and become a fully qualified driver. Pitching the standard too high removes that opportunity from the reach of a number of people.'

Mr Norris drives either an Audi 100 or a Peugeot 205 - 'depending on which straw I draw' - and covers about 20,000 miles a year. What single aspect of bad driving concerns him most?

'The biggest worry is separation distances, particularly on motorways, but also in town traffic. People tend to think that reaction is the answer. They react to what happens rather than planning their driving. You have to react, of course, but planning and anticipation - taking into account what may happen - is the correct technique. You can't stop within a yard or two, so it's very important to maintain the correct distance between you and the vehicle in front.

'The book talks about at least a yard or a metre, or a two-second time gap, for each mile per hour of speed, and double that in bad conditions. The problem is, of course, that people who don't use what we call defensive driving techniques tend to nip into the gap.'

Is the chief driving examiner constantly aware of the need to set a good example? Mr Norris smiles. 'I could say that I would never drive in any way other than very carefully, but that would sound a bit pompous. One of the things I'm particularly careful about is not getting into the outside lane on a motorway when cars are being swept along at well over 70mph. I'm well aware that the press would really go to town over a story about the chief driving examiner being prosecuted for a driving offence.'

(Photograph omitted)

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
Sport
SPORT
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Biggins as Mrs Smee in Peter Pan
theatreHow do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick