80 years of the driving test: 8 things you didn’t know

It might seem incredible, but as of today, the British driving test is officially 80 years old!

First introduced on June 1st 1935, around 50 million tests have since been taken, with millions more drivers taking (or attempting, at least) their tests each and every year.

Like any octogenarian, the driving test has seen its fair share of change over the past eight decades, with the introduction of things like the theory test, hazard perception and recent updates like the independent driving module.

However, while most people will know that to pass you need to pass your theory and your practical, in honour of 80 years of the test, here’s eight facts that you mightn’t have heard of!

1: Many of the original tests are still part of the exam

The very first driving test was introduced in 1935, in a direct response to the appalling number of deaths on British roads as the motorcar gained popularity during the 1920s and 1930s.

In January 1934, The Times reported on the “slaughter on the roads”, with over 7,000 people killed and 216,401 injured on British roads at the time. Clearly, something had to be done.

To make sure that drivers were safe and knew what they were doing, the government introduced a series of tests to assess their skills on, which included general questions on the Highway Code, correct use of signals and starting on a hill.

As well as that, the original test also included an emergency stop, a three-point turn and reversing manoeuvres. Sound familiar? They should!

2: The pass rate in 1935 was higher than in 2014

During the first year of compulsory testing, the pass rate was 63 per cent, compared to just 47 per cent last year.

Of course, those were simpler times and only 246,000 candidates attempted their test in 1935, compared to the millions who take their tests each year nowadays. Today, the pass rate might be smaller, but drivers are generally much safer and much more clued in to the rules of the road.

3: The record number of driving tests taken is 36

Many learners will be glad to know that there isn’t a limit on the amount of times that you can take your practical test, but if you still haven’t passed on the 36th go you might be tempted to just accept defeat.

The current record for the most driving tests taken is held by a 40-year old man from Stoke on Trent who, not surprisingly, didn’t want to be named. Having spent nearly £2,500 on his tests, he finally passed on his 37th attempt last year.

4: And the record number of theory tests is 113!

If you thought 36 practical tests was bad enough, a 30-year old woman from Southwark has failed her theory test an incredible 113 times.

In total, she’ll have spent £3,500 trying to pass the theory test, before she’s even allowed to attempt the practical exam. Still, you have to admire her determination, at least!

5: Ozzy Osbourne took 19 attempts to pass his test

If you’re nervous about not passing your test, don’t worry about it – even rock stars don’t pass their driving tests the first time round!

Heavy metal legend Ozzy finally passed his driving test on his 19th go round back in 2009, blaming his previous failures on his alcohol problems and joking that he once turned up at the test centre with vodka in his pocket.

Although it was supposed to be just a joke, there could be more than a bit of truth to it; after finally passing his exam, he headed straight down to a Ferrari dealer, before crashing his new car straight into a lawyer. Oops.

6: It used to be a lot cheaper

Even 113 attempts at the test wouldn’t have cost you that much if this was still the 1930s. The first test lasted for only half an hour and cost a measly seven shillings and sixpence – 38p or so in today’s money.

It’s certainly a long shot from today, where the average cost of getting on the road for learner drivers is nearing £3,000 when factors like lessons, theory tests and the practical exam.

7: The test has been suspended twice due to war

Bad news if you were looking for driving lessons in the 40s or 50s, as the driving test has officially been suspended twice in times of war.

It was first suspended in 1939 for the entire duration of World War II, as driving examiners were redeployed to help the war effort, managing traffic duties and supervising the rationing of fuel. After the war ended, it took more than a year for testing to resume, when it restarted in November 1946.

The test was then suspended once again late in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, when British forces were busy in Egypt. During this time, learners were permitted to drive unaccompanied when examiners were again called on to administer petrol rations, and testing didn’t resume until the following April.

8: Driving tests are very different around the world

If you thought the British driving test was hard, you might be forced to count yourself lucky after seeing some of the tests that people have to take in other countries.

For example, did you know that, until 2013, learners in China were instructed that if a head-on collision was unavoidable, they should let go of the steering wheel and assume the foetal position in their seats?

Or how about in Scandinavia, when drivers must take extensive night-time driving lessons and are required to know motoring law, first aid and how to correctly bring their cars to a halt in the event of a skid?

Things are a little easier in Egypt, however, where candidates are asked to simply drive six metres forwards, six metres backwards and then drive around an S-shaped track. Where do we sign up?!

When did you take your driving test? Do you think you would still pass it today? Why not let us know but joining the conversation on our Facebook or Twitter pages!