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History of UK driving licence and driving test.

1888  -  The first recorded sale of a manufactured motor car was to Emile Roger of Paris, who bought a petrol-driven Benz.

1900  -  Miss Vera Hedges Butler was the first British woman to pass a driving test: as it was 1900, and drivers were not yet being tested in Britain, the intrepid Miss Hedges Butler decided to go all the way to Paris the take the French test.

1903  -  Driver licences were first introduced in Britain (no test) by the Motor Car Act, 1903, purely as a means of identifying vehicles and their drivers. All motor vehicles had to be registered, display registration marks and be licensed annually at a cost of 20 shillings (£1). The fee for the first driving licence, which was obtained over the counter at Post Offices, was 5 shillings (25p). Failure to sign your driving licence with your ‘ordinary signature’ could lead to a fine of up to £5.

1907  -  Taxi cabs with meters began operating in London.

1916  -  The London Safety First Council, formed in 1916, which introduced a range of road safety initiatives and in 1941 the Council became RoSPA The Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents.

1921  -  1 million drivers in Britain.

1930  -  Regulations introduced covering endorsements and fitness declaration. The Road Traffic Act 1930  -  introduces licensing system for public service vehicles (PSV). In the early days of motoring, one licence covered both cars and motorcycles use. Age restrictions and a form of driving tests brought in for disabled drivers. Full licences for disabled drivers valid for 1 year. First vehicle examiners appointed. The  minimum driving age of 17.

1931  -  The first edition of the Highway Code is published (cost 1 old penny) by the Ministry of Transport. 2.3 million motor vehicles in Britain and over 7,000 people killed in road accidents each year! In 1931 mirrors were not even mentioned and drivers were advised to sound their horn when overtaking and included advice to drivers of horse drawn vehicles to ‘rotate the whip above the head; then incline the whip to the right or left to show the direction in which the turn is to be made. More than a third of the original 18-page booklet described the various hand signals the police and road users should use. In the second edition of 24 pages it included 10 road signs. PSV drivers could be required to take a test, at discretion of Traffic Commissioners.

1934  -  Licences for lorry drivers were introduced on 16 February. ‘Belisha’ beacons provide advanced warning of new pedestrian crossings. Cats eyes, invented by Percy Shaw.

1935  -  Voluntary testing is introduced on 16 March by the Road Traffic Act to prevent a rush of candidates when the test becomes compulsory. A Mr J Beere is the first person to pass his driving test, at a cost of seven shillings and sixpence (37.5p). Compulsory testing begins 1st June for all new drivers. When announcing the introduction of the driving test, Leslie Hore-Belisha (transport minister) said, “Driving is an art in which those who are engaged should, in the interest of their own and of the public’s safety; take the greatest pains to make them proficient”. Around 246,000 candidates apply, with a pass rate of 63 per cent. Between 9 and 16 half-hour tests were conducted each day by 250 examiners Candidates meet at pre-arranged locations such as car parks or railway stations, because there are no test centres. Those passing the motorcycling test did not need to take another test to drive a car. The test was conducted by the examiner positioning themselves at a point where they could observe the motorcyclist’s riding such as beside a common or in a city square. Anyone buying a driving licence must put ‘L’ plates on the car and eventually take a driving test to get their full licence. A 30 mph speed limit was introduced in urban areas. Windscreen wipers were used for the first time! 2.4 million vehicles but 7,343 people killed.

1937  -  Speedometers and safety glass in windscreens were made compulsory on 1 January.

1939  -  Driving tests are suspended on 2 September for the duration of World War II. Examiners get redeployed to traffic duties and supervising fuel rationing. 3 million drivers in Britain.

1940  -  HGV licences and tests were suspended on 1 January 1940 because of World War II.

1946  -  Testing resumes 1st November, more than a year after the end of World War II.

1947  -  Motorcyclists now in their own licence group, but testing remained virtually unchanged until the 1960s. On 18 February, a period of 1 year was granted for wartime provisional licences to be converted into full licence without passing the test.

1950  -  The pass rate for the driving test is 50 per cent.

1951  -  Zebra crossings introduced.

1954  -  Highway Code now in colour and included the first triangular warning signs.

1956  -  The test fee doubles from 10 shillings (50p) to £1 on 19th October. Testing is again suspended, this time during the Suez Canal crisis in November. Learners are allowed to drive unaccompanied and examiners help to administer petrol rations.

1957  -  Testing resumes in 15th April after the Suez crisis. Provisional licences are no longer stamped with ‘passed test’ from July and the three-year driving licence is introduced on 1st September.

1958  -  Provisional licences are valid only for six months. The first section of motorway was the Preston Bypass in Lancashire, now part of the M6 motorway. Highway Code now in its with edition and included motorways and it explained such things as how to use exit slip roads and advising drivers to avoid drowsiness by stretching their legs at the parking or service areas.

1959  -  A new examiner training facility is opened in Stanmore, Middlesex (near Heathrow). Until this point, examiners have been trained ‘on the job’. The M1 was officially opened on 2 November with no speed limit, no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.

1960  -  During the 1960’s, cars became more affordable, and motoring really took off.

1961  -  1 July, learner riders were restricted to machines of no more than 250cc capacity in order to deal with the high number of motorcycling fatalities.

1962  -  From April, people who have held more than seven provisional licences are required to take a driving test. If they fail to, the licensing authority could refuse a further application. From 1 April, people who had held more than 7 provisional licences (this could be as little as 3.5 years) were required to take a driving test. If they failed to do so, the licensing authority could refuse a further application for a licence.

1963  -  A voluntary register of approved driving instructors (ADIs) is set up. To become an ADI, you have to pass stringent written and practical tests. New grouping systems were introduced for driving tests and driving licences and a distinction was made between the test of competence and the test of fitness.

1964  -  A voluntary register of approved driving instructors (ADIs) was set up under the Road Traffic Act 1962. To become an ADI you had to pass stringent written and practical tests.

1965  -  A centralised licensing system (DVLA) is set up in Swansea, taking over control from individual councils. The distance from which a driving test candidate must be able to read a number plate is changed to 67 feet.

1967  -  New drink-drive laws came into force on 8 October 1967. The legal limit was 80mg alcohol in 100ml blood (now reduced to 50mg in Scotland).

1968  -  The test fee is increased again on 2nd July, going up this time to 1 pound and 15 shillings.

1969  -  Several changes are made to the test, including the introduction of a ban on dual accelerator controls unless they have been disengaged. A separate category for automatic cars and test also started candidates were required to produce their driving licence to the examiner at the test and sign the examiner’s attendance record - examiners could refuse to conduct a test if these requirements were not met.

1970  -  All driving instructors now have to be officially registered. A total of 3,500 people are prosecuted for driving on a forged licence or wrongfully attempting to obtain a licence.

1972  -  The demand for driving tests rises by 20 per cent, and a further 15 per cent in the following year, leading to a huge backlog of tests.

1973  -  20 million drivers in Britain and computerised driving licences are issued from March, with green paper licences replacing the old-style red booklets. A full licence is still only valid for three years. Safety helmets were made compulsory for moped and motorcycle riders.

1975  -  Candidates no longer have to demonstrate arm signals in the test from May (but still covered in driving lessons today).

1977  -  Full licences become valid until the holder reaches 70 years old.

1978  - The Highway Code is now 70 pages and introduced the Green Cross Code for pedestrians and the new orange badges for people with a disability. Prompted by soaring car crime statistics, the amended version contained advice on vehicle security.

1981  -  Motorcycle restricted to 125cc for learners, provisional licence for 2 years, two part test introduced (see 1989).

1982  -  Provisional licences are also extended until the holder turns 70.

1985  -  Passenger service vehicle (PSV) driving tests come compulsory in March. Up until now, Traffic Commissioners decided whether local applicants took the test.

1988  -  Driving tests are now conducted under the new provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

1989  -  A new accompanied motorcycle test was introduced on 1 October. The old-style ‘part 2’ motorcycle test, where the examiner stood by the roadside, was replaced by the new, more demanding ‘pursuit test’. The examiner now follows the candidate on a motorcycle and maintains radio contact during the test.

1990  -  From May, examiners give candidates a brief explanation of faults committed during the test, plus advice on areas for improvement. New legislation also means anyone accompanying a learner driver from October must be at least 21 and have held a driving licence for a minimum of three years.

1995   - The Pass Plus scheme is introduced in November to help newly qualified young drivers gain valuable driving experience and reduce the risk of accidents.

1996   -  A separate written theory test is brought in. It replaces questions asked about the Highway Code during the practical test. The theory test pass mark is raised from 26 to 30 out of 35.

1997   -  Photographic ID is required for both practical and theory tests. Plus, new rules mean if a driver collects six points or more during the first two years, their licence is revoked. They then have to retake both the theory and practical before being allowed back on the road. Candidates who fail the test now have to wait a minimum of 10 days between attempts. Introduction of additional licence categories and tests for learners aged over 21 years riding larger motorcycles (Direct Access Scheme) and small motorcycles. A new test category was created for a car with large trailer (B+E). On 29 September, waiting times of 10 days between tests were reintroduced for unsuccessful candidates.

1999  -  From 6th April, cars being used for a driving test must have a front passenger seatbelt, head restraint and rear-view mirror. From 4th May, the length of the test is increased, the emergency stop manoeuvre is done on a random basis and candidates are failed for committing 16 or more driving faults. Photocard licences are introduced on 1st July for both first-time issues and licence renewals. CBT now valid for 2 years.

2000  -  The touchscreen theory test is introduced 4th January.

2001  -  Candidates can book their theory test via the Internet for the first time. Drivers getting a full car licence from 1 February 2001 must now pass compulsory basic training (CBT) before being allowed to ride a moped.

2002  -  A hazard perception test is introduced into the theory test. Video clips are used to test candidates’ awareness of hazards on the road.

2003  -  Show me’ and ‘tell me’ vehicle safety questions are added to the beginning of the practical test. Candidates can now book their practical test online.

2007  - The number of questions in car and motorcycle theory test changed from 35 to 50 on 3 September and pass mark 86%.

2008  -  26.5 million vehicles and 2,538 people killed. An assessment of eco-safe driving was introduced in the driving test in September. A case study was introduced into the theory test on 28 September.

2009  -  Driving test pass rate 46%. A new 2-part modular motorcycle test was introduced on 27 April. Driver CPC is launched in September for professional lorry drivers.

2010  -  Driving test candidates are encouraged to take their instructor with them on their test. ‘Independent driving’ for 10 mins becomes part of the test, with candidates having to drive for 10 minutes making their own decisions.

2011  -  Highway Code joined social networking websites Twitter and Facebook to share reminders of the rules of the road and in 2012 the official Highway Code app was launched.

2013  -  New rules affecting motorcyclists were introduced on 19th January included changes to age requirements and motorcycles you could ride.

2015  -  Computer generated imagery (CGI) clips used in Hazard Perception videos from 12th January.

2017  -  Manoeuvres changed, no more 3 point turns or left reverse but still parallel park, 2  bay parks and new stop on the right introduced. Independent driving increased to 20 mins and with the use of Sat Nav. Show me question on the move. All started on 4th December.

2018  -  Learners allowed on motorways with ADI in dual controlled car from June 4th. Hazard perception test now includes spotting developing hazards in different weather conditions.

2020  -  Coronavirus Covid-19 ends driving tests except for critical workers on March 20th.  On 22nd July driving tests restarted in England with a 201,000 backlog. Second lockdown starts on 5th November and continues to 2nd December.
Theory test starts to use questions based on videos to help make the test more accessible to disabilities such as Dyslexia, Deaf or Autistic learners.

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