A brief history of the British Driving Test and The Driving Standards Agency (DSA)
A voluntary driving test was introduced in England in 1935. The test cost 37½ pence and the pass rate was 63%. The first person to pass was called Mr Been. There weren’t any test centres and examiners would meet candidates at a pre-arranged spot, like a park or railway station. The compulsory driving test was introduced on 1st June 1935, for all drivers who started driving on or after 1st of April 1934.
In 1900 the first British women to pass her driving test was Miss Vera Hedges Butler, and she had to travel to France to take her driving test, since driver testing would not be established in the UK for another 30 years. Drivers and pedestrians in the UK had to wait for the publication of the first edition of The Highway Code in 1931 before road safety began to improve.
The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) was set up in 1990 to promote road safety by improving driving standards. Before this, the driving test was administered by the government department responsible for transport. DSA’s main function is to test drivers, motorcycle riders and driving instructors.
Voluntary driving test is introduced by the Road Traffic Act, 1934, to avoid a rush of candidates when the test becomes compulsory.
1st June 1935
Compulsory driving test brought in for all drivers who started driving on or after 1st April 1934.
2nd September 1939
Driving test suspended for the duration of World War Two and resumed on 1st November 1946.
18th February 1947
A period of a year granted for wartime provisional licences to be converted into full licence without passing the test.
24th November 1956
Testing suspended during the Suez Crisis. Learners allowed to drive unaccompanied and examiners help to administer petrol rations.
Candidates no longer have to demonstrate arm signals
1st April 1990
The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) is created as an executive agency of the Department for Transport.
Reverse Parking manoeuvre becomes a compulsory part of the test.
The Pass Plus scheme is introduced to help newly qualified young drivers gain valuable driving experience and gain valuable driving experience and reduce the risk of them being involved in an accident.
1st July 1996
A separate written theory test introduced, replacing questions asked about the Highway Code during practical test.
1st March 1997
Photograph ID is now required for both practical and theory tests
6th April 1999
Cars being used for a driving test must now have a front seat belt, head restraint and rear-view mirror.
14th November 2002
A hazard perception element is introduced into the theory test; this uses video clips to test candidates’ awareness of hazards on the road.
1st September 2003
Show me/Tell me vehicle safety questions added to the beginning of the driving test.
The number of theory test questions increased from 35 to 50 and the new pass mark is 43. The pass mark for the HPT for learners is 44 out of 75.
In 2006 the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) conducted 1.5 million car tests. The number of people in the UK currently holding driving licences is 32 million-70% of the adult population.
The driving test has made our roads much safer. In 1934 there were only 2.5 million vehicles on Britain’s roads, and 7,343 people were killed in road accidents. However, by 2004 there were over 30 million vehicles and the Department of Transport report on road casualties (2004) quoted only 3,221 fatalities.
When announcing the introduction of the driving test in 1935, the Transport Minister, Leslie Hore-Belisha 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 themselves proficient.”
Decades later this still holds true and is summed up in the DSA’s maxim, “Safe driving for life.”