The Outer Hebridean Island of South Uist does things on a small scale. It is twenty-two miles long, has one main road and a population of two thousand. But this smaller than average community has achieved one above average success: a 100% driving test pass rate. Admittedly, only five candidates took the test last year and they did not have to navigate roundabouts, major junctions or traffic lights. Nor were there many other vehicles to contend with and in South Uist other road users are likely to be blackface sheep. For these reasons the island’s success does not really compare to its urban counterparts but the situation does raise an interesting trend, which the British press has been keen to highlight: driving test tourism.
In the Greater London area, the pass rate is 28% and it is not much better in Bradford or Birmingham (both 31%). Booking a test in a rural area may improve the odds in someone’s favour and Driving Standards Agency results reveal that Kendal in Cumbria has a pass rate of nearly 69% while Grantham in Lincolnshire has 63%. Half of the ten test centres with the highest pass rates are in rural Scotland and four out of ten are in rural Wales. While few would ever consider applying to take a driving test hundreds of miles from home, candidates have been reported to be looking at their local area to decide which test centre to book based on these figures.
With only scant analysis, it becomes clear that there are many factors which contribute to whether or not an individual passes. There are those who think that the age a pupil begins to learn to drive is important. The Under 17 Car Club takes youngsters between the ages of eleven and fifteen and provides training opportunities for them and their families to drive in a controlled environment under supervision so that they become competent safe drivers long before they are old enough to sit their tests. The organisation claims that its members have an 80% pass rate.
Youth appears to be a crucial factor and young men who sit their practical test at the age of seventeen achieve a 51% pass rate and girls 48%. A forty-seven year old has a reduced probability at just 30%. Unfortunately, Department for Transport statistics reveal that in the 17 – 24 age group there was a 16% fall in numbers taking driving tests between 2011 and 2012. Current financial pressures, high insurance rates and lack of employment opportunities have forced some young people to defer taking driving lessons. This is regrettable, according to Red Driving School’s CEO Ian McIntosh who says “in the short term, many young people might think learning to drive is a cost they can do without…however you need to realise now, rather than later, that not having a driving license can impact on your earning potential”.
Being young, the younger the better, does appear to be a key factor in driving test success and a confident young driver who has spent plenty of time behind the wheel, either during lessons or with parents or friends, stands a good chance wherever they chose to take their test. It is unclear whether an ill-prepared candidate would fare better in South Uist than elsewhere because, to my knowledge, no one has attempted this yet. If someone does give it a try, do please send me a postcard.
Blog post by Georgie Cameron.