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Theory test for UK driving license

NEWSFLASH: Natasha has passed the theory test for UK driving license with flying colors.

I guess I might as well take an opportunity and describe what the test entails.

It consists of two parts. The first is your basic multiple-choice how-well-you-know-the-rules-of-the-road affair. The questions range from very specific “What does this sign mean?” to vacuous “What should you do if you see [enter your favorite potential disruption to traffic here]?” (the correct answer for that is always “Slow down and be prepared to stop”). Out of 35 questions, you have to correctly answer 30 to pass, and Natasha got 33 right. I hear that starting September, the number of questions will increase to 50 and the passing grade to 43…

But there is another part, which is a lot less straight-forward. It is called Hazard Perception test, and it aims to evaluate skills such as scanning, knowing a safe separation distance, appropriate speed, planning ahead and generally having good anticipation.

That last sentence was an almost verbatim quote from the brochure. From where I stand, however, the only thing that this test evaluates is how well you can click the mouse.

In a nutshell, you are shown a dozen clips containing supposedly hazardous situations (pedestrians running across the road, cars pulling out with short notice, that type of thing). Your vantage point is that of the driver of the car. Your task is to identify a developing hazard and “flag” it with a mouse-click. If you identify the potential problem at just the right time, you get 5 points; after that, the closer you are to the hazard, the fewer points you get, until eventually you would get no points when the situation is over. You only get points for your best click, but if you click too many times (it is not defined how many exactly), you automatically get 0 for that clip. There are 15 hazardous situations in all, so the maximum you could get is 75 points. Passing grade is a fairly lax 44.

The problem is that even after practicing on several dozen of these clips, you still do not have a clear idea of what is the best point for hazard identification. For instance, in one clip that I’ve seen, the hazard consists of a car in front starting to indicate a turn. It makes certain sense: On a one-lane road, that car will slow down before actually turning, creating danger for the car that follows. You get 5 points for clicking as soon as you see the turn light come on, but nothing if you wait until the slowing-down part.

But take another clip, the one where a car is parked in the road with its warning lights blinking. Because you have to slow down and enter the opposite-direction lane, I would view it as a potential hazard as soon as I see it far ahead of me. Which would be a mistake, because the clip does not consider it a hazard until a car moving in the opposite direction appears in your view…

Anyway, Natasha practiced these a lot ahead of time, but too often got zeroes on the first pass through the clip, which made her very nervous about taking the test. There is obviously no second pass when you are taking the actual test. It should also be noted that you pass the theory test only when you pass both parts of it in a single sitting.

But at the test itself, her result for hazard perception was 71, which is fairly amazing. We have a letter with the breakdown: She did not score lower than 4 on any of the hazards, and that on only 4 of them.

Something to be said about preparation. Natasha spent literally the last couple of weeks practicing answering questions and playing with hazard clips every spare moment that she’s got… We actually paid £4.70 for a large set of online practice exercises.

By the way, registration for the test entails a separate fee of £21.50. You flunk it – you pay again for a chance to take it again…

Practical test is the last hurdle (although not the last step of the process – that would be exchanging provisional license for a full one). She will probably schedule it for the next week or so.

As I mentioned before, I do not plan to start dealing with my license until after our US trip. But with a trail-blazing wife such as mine, the task now seems a lot less strenuous…

This entry is a follow-up to the initial discourse on UK driver licensing.