The 80th Anniversary of the Driving Test!

A summary of each decade since the Driving Test started!

The 80th Anniversary of the Driving Test!

By Sam Cherry on 3rd June 2015 in News

80 Years of the Driving Test!

Did you know that it has been 80 years since the Driving Test was introduced to the United Kingdom? The first car and driving licences were introduced in Great Britain in 1903 but as of 1st June 1935, the Driving Test was compulsory and has saved hundreds of lives over the years. It has changed hugely over the past 80 years and this blog is going to take you through the decades!


In these 10 years, the Empire State Building was completed, Edward VIII stepped down as King, the first public television programmes were filmed and broadcast and sadly World War 2 began.

As mentioned before, the driving test became compulsory in June 1935. Examiners were responsible for handling the booking of driving tests and met candidates at pre-arranged locations like car parks or railway stations - there were no driving test centres built at the time like nowadays! The pass rate was 63%, and 250 driving examiners did between 9 and 16 30 minute Driving Tests every day. The test cost 7 shillings and 6 pence at the time, equal to £12.53 in modern money and over 246,000 people applied for it!


In the 40's, World War 2 was won by the Allies, some of this included Great Britain, France, Poland, Australia, United States, Brazil and Yugoslavia with victory in Europe celebrated in May 1945. Also, The UN was founded, the microwave oven was invented and the first non-stop flight around the world took place in 1949, lasting 94 hours and 1 minute.

In terms of driving, the tests had been suspended at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Driving examiners were redeployed to Traffic duties and Supervisors of fuel rationing. Testing resumed on 1st November 1946 following the end of the war the previous year. On 18 February 1947, a period of 1 year was granted for 'Wartime Provisional Licences' to be converted into a 'Full Licence' without passing the test in question. How some people would wish for that now!


The first successful organ transplant was carried out, car seatbelts were introduced and made compulsory the first modern music video was produced which was Elvis Presley 'Jailhouse Rock' in the 1950's!

Driving tests were suspended from 24 November 1956 to 15 April 1957 during the Suez Crisis. Learners were also allowed to drive unaccompanied which would be a terrible idea nowadays! Also, the examiners helped to administer petrol rations. At the end of the decade, a driving examiner training facility was set up at Stanmore near Heathrow. Until then examiners had been trained ‘on the job’. Nowadays, the training to become an examiner takes 4 weeks!


In the 60's, the hugely popular 'Ford Mustang' was introduced, Beatlemania spread across the world, Doctor Who materialised on our screens, flower power took off, Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the Moon and England won the World Cup!

In the decade of ‘fab gear’, the first driving test was set for an automatic vehicle which opened the flood gates for hundreds of more people to start driving. A register of driving instructors was also set up and you had to pass stringent written and practical tests to join. It wasn’t until the next decade that all driving instructors had to be officially registered and qualified to join the register beforehand, but that's for later on in the blog!


In this decade, the VW Golf was released and is still going, pocket calculators were introduced, Star Wars blasted onto cinema screens, Microsoft was founded, the Vietnam War took place, the first IVF baby was born and car manufacturers across the world had to change their design to make their cars more fuel efficient!

While flares were in, arm signals were out - well, out of the driving test. From May 1975, candidates no longer had to demonstrate arm signals that had been part of the test for 40 years. They’re still part of The Highway Code today though! All driving instructors had to be officially registered from 1970. Nowadays, they have to pass 3 tests before qualifying and are then checked every 4 years to make sure they provide good quality driving lessons.


In the 80's,car's became smaller and more efficient with the likes of the Golf GTI being released, the Rubik’s cube became popular, Pac-Man was released, Back to the Future flashed onto our screens, the Berlin Wall fell and best of all, Acclaim was established!

In 1988, driving tests started to be conducted under the new Road Traffic Act 1988. The length of the test was also increased by 5 minutes. This meant that the test itself was getting very serious and due to the new act put in place by the Government, less people started to apply. In these 10 years, Driving Schools, including Acclaim, started to look at ways to start franchising their company across the country to different Driving Instructors and also the ADI Association was launched. Trainee Driving Instructor's also become accepted as it was well known that the Instructors had to drive and teach, as well as work in the classroom, to gain experience.


The Hubble Telescope was launched into space, eBay and Paypal were founded, the first Harry Potter book was released, Titanic became the most successful movie ever, Japanese cars became much more successful because they were cheaper and better due to their technology and seatbelts as you know them today, as well as airbags, were made mandatory in every production car.

While ‘My Heart Will Go On’ went to No.1 across the world, improvements to the driving test continued to go on too. From 1990, driving examiners started to give candidates a brief explanation of the faults they’d made during the test, so they could understand and address these problems they were having. A written theory test, to be taken before the test, was introduced on 1 July 1996, replacing questions about 'The Highway Code' during the Driving Test. In 1997, a series was broadcast on TV called 'Driving School' on the BBC where Welsh cleaner Maureen Rees became a household name in Britain after spending hundreds of pounds on lessons and failing the practical test several times. She failed to pass the test another two times during the series as well as the much easier Theory Test. 


Apple introduced the iPod, Pop Idol debuted on UK TV screens, Facebook was launched, Pluto was demoted to ‘dwarf planet’ status, Hybrid cars were introduced and a range of in-car technology was introduced which now can affect the Driving Test and Driving in general across the UK such as Parking Sensors, Mobile Phone Connectivity, Blind Spot Monitors and Built-In Sat-Nav.

In 2002, a hazard perception part was introduced into the car and motorcycle theory test. It uses videos to test candidates’ awareness of developing hazards on the road. ‘Show me and tell me’ vehicle safety questions were added to the beginning of the driving test on 1 September 2003. For example, "Could you please show me where the horn is please?" or "Could you tell me where the wiper fluid goes please?". From October 2003, candidates could book their practical driving test on the internet for the first time. Sat-Nav's also became popular too and is now so popular that they have introduced to the Driving Test.


The volcano in Iceland erupts, London hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, Elizabeth II marked her Diamond Jubilee, Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion and the first self-driving car was built by Google!

From April 2010, driving test candidates were encouraged to take their instructor with them on their test. ‘Independent driving’ became part of the practical driving test in October 2010. Candidates have to drive for 10 minutes by following traffic signs, a series of verbal directions - or a mix of both. A few years later, new computer-generated imagery (CGI) clips replaced the old filmed clips in the hazard perception part of the theory test in January 2015. Also, Sat-Nav's are gaining popularity in Driving Tests as pupils are asked to follow the directions given to them on the Sat-Nav as so many people use them nowadays in day-today life.

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