The First Driving test: 80 Years on

80 years ago anyone over 17 could get behind the wheel and yet there wasn’t even a speed limit.

Not surprisingly the result was carnage and it was only a matter of time before some kind of regulation was brought in.

In fact in 1934 alone, 2.4million vehicles were responsible for a record 7,343 deaths. A rate that, had it been maintained to the present day, would mean an annual death toll of more than 100,000 people.

Something had to be done

Incredibly, more Britons had been killed on the roads in the previous three years than on any battlefield during the Napoleonic Wars with France.

Something had to be done and Leslie Hore-­Belisha, the newly appointed  Minister of Transport who also introduced the Belisha Beacon, believed  the answer was to introduce a driving test for all motorists.

The first person to pass the new driving test was a Mr J Beene, who paid seven shillings and sixpence for the privilege (the fee for the practical test remains unchanged in real terms to this day at £62).

As well as a compulsory driving test, other measures were introduced in order to make roads safer, including a 30mph speed limit and a vast extension of the provision of pedestrian crossings.

London had just 219 crossings when the bill was passed but it prompted proposals for a further 1,786 covering 90 miles of radial roads.

So what advice was given to those about to take the new Driving test back in 1934?

In a public information film released in conjunction with the new driving test drivers were told: “If there’s one piece of advice I would offer learners it is, don’t be nervous. Driving tests have one object, to make our roads safe. And the examination is not an inquisition.”

Here is just some of the advice given to new motorists some 80 years ago who were about to take their first driving test.

  • Coming from a side turning without stopping is as bad as driving with your eyes closed – it is criminal behaviour.

  • Taking a right-hand bend on the wrong side is asking for trouble and the examiner doesn’t like it. Why not take it wide and slowly? It is easier and safer.

  • A start on a hill – when the examiner asks you to go forward it is a point on the debit side if you drift back and then jerk forward. A jerky start often means stalling your engine. it wears down your battery, your nerves and the examiner’s patience.

  • A good reverse is a definite point in your favour and it is not very difficult to execute.

  • Reversing in a road using forward and reverse gear – when the examiner says the road he really does mean the road not the pavement. It looks funny I know but examiners don’t always appreciate such humour.

  • Clean smooth turns show the good driver on whom the examiner’s smile will beam with satisfaction.

  • When you pull out from the kerb see that you give the correct signal and only proceed when it is safe to do so. Pulling out without heeding other passing traffic is as stupid as it is dangerous and simply asking for trouble.

  • Don’t look down on your gear lever when changing gear. Examiners really don’t like cars on pavements

The years following

By 2013 UK road deaths had fallen to their lowest recorded since car­ use became popular: 1,713.

In the same year 181,957 were injured, roughly the same number as in 1935, the year the driving test was introduced.

And as a result Britain is now second only to Sweden in having the low­est rate of road deaths in Europe.

Do you think you’d pass your driving test if you had to take it now? Try our very own Caddick Davies quiz to see how much of the Highway Code you remember.

Click here to test your knowledge.

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