Second Gear: start hazard awareness early
The theory test was introduced in 1996 but it wasn't until 2002 that the hazard perception bit came along. That means there are a LOT of drivers on the road who never had to prove how good they were at spotting and avoiding danger.
We put them to the test
We invited 2 very sure-of-themselves drivers to try out the theory, hazard perception and practical driving tests. For their practical test, we sent them out with Rebecca Ashton from IAM RoadSmart, an advanced driver training body.
Let me tell you about Rebecca. She's a tough cookie. She sees every flick of your eyes in the mirror, every missed blind spot check and every fumble with the gears. To be honest, she's just like a regular driving examiner only funnier.
Lester and Tracey were in for a shock.
So - how did it go?
Not well. Both drivers - with 55 years on the road between them - thought they'd do pretty darn well at the tests, particularly the practical. When you've driven every day for half your life, it's easy to think you're a bit of a pro.
Turns out, even experienced drivers don't meet the minimum standard for driving alone. Both failed all parts of the test, with each being pulled up on their hazard awareness in the theory and practical exams.
If experienced drivers can't do it...
We expect young people - whose brains haven't yet finished developing the risk centre in the frontal lobe - to be able to jump in a car at the age of 17 and stay safe.
The trouble is, hazard awareness doesn't come naturally. It has to be built over time, laying down the neural pathways that eventually let us react to danger instinctively.
So - how do we get around it? The answer, my friends, is brain training. By beginning the work on hazard perception skills early, young people can get a head start on safe driving that will stay with them for life.
The software we used to test our experienced drivers on their Highway Code knowledge and hazard perception skills is called Drive iQ. We've been talking about Drive iQ for years but we decided it's time to ask ALL schools to introduce brain training for 15 and 16-year-olds.
1,300 schools already use the software to help prepare their students for driving but it's not just for them. It's free, interesting and easy to do at home as a family. However old children are, it's a great way for parents to learn the things they skipped when they learned to drive, so they can help their kids when the time comes.
As the introduction of the hazard perception test is credited with an 11% reduction in new driver crashes, it's never too early to kick-start those skills.
Road safety needs to become part of a young person’s thinking and ingenie’s suggestion of introducing hazard perception training in schools would be a good opportunity to help give under-17s a head start before they’re even thinking about driving lessons. Other countries have teaching on road safety as part of primary and secondary education, so why should we not have it too?