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)

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
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

    Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

    Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

    Early Years Educator

    £68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

    Nursery Nurse

    £69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

    Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

    £117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam