First candidates sit written driving test

Theory exam: Multiple-choice questions introduced today
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From today, it will no longer be enough for learner drivers to show their examiner that they can drive. They will also have to prove that they know the theory by completing 35 multiple-choice questions.

The first candidates will today take the written test set by the Driving Standards Authority (DSA), and a week later, they will hear by post whether they have passed by getting at least 26 of the 35 questions right.

Until 1 January 1997, the practical test can still be taken first, but after that learners will have to pass the written one, before booking for the driving part.

More than 3,500 candidates will take the written test - which costs pounds 15 on top of the pounds 28.50 fee for the old one - at 44 centres today and more than 8,000 will follow tomorrow. There are over 60,000 bookings for the first fortnight and more than 88,000 for the first month.

In the most radical move in its 60-year history, the DSA has introduced the test in order to build up the "hazard-awareness skills" of young drivers. The 17- to 25-year-old age group is involved in 28 per cent of accidents but accounts for only 16 per cent of all drivers.

However, a safety group warned yesterday that the new theory section, which replaces the Highway Code oral quiz, will not be enough substantially to reduce accidents involving young motorists.

A report from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (Pacts) called for a comprehensive package of measures to improve training, including giving instructors more say in when a candidate is ready to take their test.

The 40-minute written test consists of 35 questions which have been selected at random from a list of 600, based on the Highway Code. They range from the medical effects of alcohol, car maintenance, basic first aid and the to punishments for driving offences.

It will be held at 139 centres nationwide, and be given to all 1.7 million car, motorcycle, bus and lorry drivers who apply for licences each year.

The DSA believes learners will sail through the test as long as they "prepare carefully and apply common sense". A spokesman said yesterday: "We are anticipating that there will be a better pass rate for the written test than there is for the practical test which is only passed first time by about half the candidates."

The British School of Motoring, Britain's biggest driving instruction company, was less hopeful. In mock tests of nearly 500 candidates only 30 per cent achieved the 75 per cent pass rate required and just one scored 100 per cent.

How well do you know the Highway Code?

Are you a good driver?

Three questions from the new test:

1. You are involved in an accident and are unable to produce your insurance certificate. You must report the accident to the police within: a) 24 hours; b) 48 hours; c) 5 days; d) 14 days

2. How can you best control your vehicle when driving in snow? a) by driving slowly in a high gear; b) staying in a lower gear and gripping the steering wheel; c) driving in first gear; d) keeping the revs high and slipping the clutch .

3. By mistake you go past your motoway exit. You should: a) carry on to the next exit; b) carefully reverse on the hard shoulder; c) reverse in the left hand lane; d) make a U-turn.

Answers: 1 a. 2 a. 3 a.