Belfast Telegraph

Biggest change to driving test in 50 years unveiled

By Amanda Poole

Independent driving will become part of the practical driving test in Northern Ireland at the end of the month.

From June 27 people taking their driving test will have to spend 10 minutes driving without step-by-step instructions from the examiner.

Environment Minister Alex Attwood has called this the most significant addition to the driving test since it was introduced some 50 years ago and said candidates have nothing to fear from it.

“It is designed to ensure that novice drivers, once they acquire a licence, have the skills, knowledge and confidence to drive on their own,” the SDLP minister said. “Once they pass the test, novice drivers will have to make their own decisions regarding when to drive, where to drive to, how to get there, and who to drive with whilst driving safely. These are all issues that will be addressed in the new independent driving section of the test.”

If the test area is familiar to candidates they will follow traffic signs until they reach a specified destination.

It they do not know the area well, the examiner will show them a diagram or give some short verbal instructions.

Mr Attwood said research has shown many people who have just passed their test lack the confidence to drive on their own, because they are used to being given step-by-step instructions.

He added: “Independent driving assessment will encourage a sense of responsibility, awareness and individual decision-making amongst learner drivers to prepare them when driving on their own.”

JJ Doherty, chairman of the driving instructors stakeholder group, welcomed the addition of the independent driving element. He said: “This is a very positive development and gives the candidate the opportunity to experience what it is like to drive unaccompanied by presenting a realistic future driving requirement as an integral part of their test.”

Meanwhile, during question time in the Assembly, the SDLP minister said he was minded to introduce new road safety measures, including an alcohol ban for restricted ‘R’ drivers and lowering the permitted blood alcohol level for all other motorists.

For more information on the changes to the driving test visit

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