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by Cedric Hughes, Barrister & Solicitor with regular weekly contributions from Leslie McGuffin, LL.B.   

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The UK Takes Safe Driving Skills Very Seriously

Article Number: 
722

The United Kingdom—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—has countless claims to historical greatness. Visit The National Portrait Gallery in London for a reminder of the contributions its citizens have made over the centuries to most areas of human endeavour foundational to the innumerable benefits of modernity, including automobility.

Despite being the jurisdiction in which the first pedestrian death caused by a ‘speeding’ automobile prompted Coroner Morrison to make, at the inquest on August 17, 1896, one of the most contradicted admonishments ‘ever’—namely, “This must never happen again”—the UK, nevertheless, has tried to take it to heart.

Today, by any number of measures, the UK holds steady in the top-level rankings for road safety, not always number one, but certainly ranked well ahead of the other populous, wealthy, and most motorized countries in the world including both Canada and the US.

One factor contributing to this ascendancy has been the high quality of UK driver instructor training and, hence, driver training, and the thoroughness of driver’s license testing. Recently, to maintain these standards the UK Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has announced the “biggest shake-up of the standardized driving exam since the introduction of the theory test.”

Starting December 4th, 2017, in an effort to “include “more real life scenarios” that better reflect new demands on drivers” the exam will require demonstrated ability to navigate using a satellite guided navigation system or ‘sat nav’. Reports of this new requirement offer the following explanation: “The DVSA says about half of all car drivers in the UK use a sat nav of one form or another (including both standalone units and mobile apps), and that individuals needed to be able to safely manage the distraction.

Examiners will provide drivers with a sat nav unit during their test and make sure it is positioned “appropriately and safely.” The examiner will input the route, and those taking the test will just have to follow directions.” BBC News reported UK transport minister Andrew Jones supported this change saying, “Ensuring the driving test is relevant in the 21st century — for example, the introduction of sat navs, will go a long way towards [helping the government keep roads safe].”

There are many safety and comfort enhancing features and systems in new and newer vehicles these days: sat nav, infotainment, in-car climate control, automatic parking, back-up cameras, blind spot alerts, in-lane control warnings, adjustable cruise control to name many of them. An informal tutorial at the dealership when you take delivery of your new vehicle barely covers the main features of what they can do for you and how to operate them safely.

Except for hands free in-car telephone usage, we continue to think that mastery of these systems and features is not necessarily germane to skillful driving. In fact, though, the time may have arrived to address formally incorporating their proper usage into the necessary skill set for all drivers. This ‘shake-up’ of the UK driving test may be a ‘first’ and will be watched worldwide.

Cedric Hughes

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