Should Britain make its driving test harder?
As Ed Miliband attempts to promote the independence of Britain's youth , the coalition is threatening to clip teenagers' wings by . Although considering the fact that 20% of the deaths on Britain's roads involve 17-24-year-olds, despite them making up just 5% of the traffic, perhaps it's not a bad idea.
The UK has one of the world's lowest rates for traffic-related deaths, at 5.1 fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles per year, which is 20 times less than that South Africa. Considering the renowned difficulty of , this might seem surprising. Drivers can lose points for not checking beneath the car for leaks, not engaging the handbrake silently every time they stop, and will automatically fail if the vehicle rolls even an inch backwards. But because it's so hard to even schedule, let alone pass, a South African driving test, corruption is rife,
So if making your driving test too difficult is no way to ensure safer roads, what about making it too easy? Until recently, Egyptians who wanted to get behind the wheel needed only to prove they could drive forward six metres and then reverse six metres. It has since been toughened up; drivers now take a theory test, and both the forward and reverse aspects now include a bend.
Pakistan's test is similarly challenging. Once you've proved you can read a number plate from 20.5m, . Then you're free to take your chances on some of the most congested roads in the world. India, too, shows remarkable trust in its drivers. In New Delhi, , and it was only recently that it become obligatory for the examiner to actually sit in the car. Before, they'd simply observe several drivers at once from across the car park.
China's theory test poses some questions that might baffle British drivers. What should you do if your car falls into water, for example? Put a plastic bag over your heard and "close the neck tightly", according to the Chinese government.
It seems that the obstacle course, though rarely seen on roads, is a popular choice with examiners. Russia's includes a slalom between poles, after which drivers must accelerate to speed from a standing start then brake before a designated marker without leaving skidmarks. Japan's obstacle course mocks up entire city streets, as does Saudi Arabia. (Although for many the toughest obstacle there is the ownership of a penis – it's the only country in the world that bans women from driving.)
In , it's rare for prospective drivers to actually have to deal with real streets – instead, 16-year-olds prove they can navigate cones, parallel park and three-point-turn in the safety of the test centre, before being unleashed on the roads where the fatality rate is three times higher than the UK.
In Scandinavia, however, getting a licence is an arduous process, with driving tests that take into account the area's rather more challenging conditions. Prospective Finnish drivers must log at least 18 hours of lessons, and then pass a two-part test. The first element consists of a theory exam and urban driving, and once drivers prove they can parallel park, they're given a two-year licence. In this interim period they then need to complete advanced driving school, which includes night-time driving – often done with a simulator.
Still, even if the driving licence age is raised, Britain's 17-year-olds needn't lose their independence. They can still apply for a private pilot's licence, which grants them the right to pilot a single-engine aircraft, helicopter, or airship. After all, who wants to pootle around in a 10-year-old Peugeot, when they could travel by zeppelin?