History of the Driving Test

Practical Driving Test - A recent thing...

The Driving Test has been around for ages!

Actually, the reality is, the test was only made compulsory about a third of the way through the last century and some of the newer sections, such as the Show Me Tell me section, were added in this century!

One thing is for certain, it's a lot harder to pass the Driving Test than it was when it was first introduced!

The old argument of whether an experienced full licence holder would be able to pass todays driving test still stands!

History of the Driving Test

History of the Driving Test

Iron Horses

The first 4 wheeled motor vehicle driven on Britain's roads was in the mid 1890's. There's a bit of an argument as to who was the first to drive it though.

It seems to comes down to either Frederick Bremer, who built his own internal combustion powered car and drove it in Walthamstow. Or Evelyn Ellis who drove a Panhard-Levassour around the Datchet, Berkshire area.

One thing is for certain, roads would never be the same again. By the end of 1895 there were approximately 15 cars on the roads - imagine the traffic jams! Only 5 years later it was estimated that there were around 750 vehicles being driven on the roads.

A Miss Hedges Butler became the first Britain to pass a driving test in 1900, albeit in France, where the Driving Test had been in operation since 1893.

We've decided to allow you to drive!

It was only 8 years after the first drive in Britain that the Driving Licence was introduced.

The introduction of the Motor Car Act in 1903 (which came into effect in Jan 1904) meant that, for the first time, car owners had to register a vehicle in order to have the right to drive it on public roads. Nice of the Government to give us the right!

The new document stated that a person was entitled to "drive a motor car or motor cycle".

Also introduced at this time was the vehicle registration number and a speed limit......of 20 mph!

No sign of a Driving Test though!

1930's - a time for change

It wasn't until the 1930's that we start to see some important changes still in use today.


  • The minimum driving age restriction of 17 was introduced.
  • The speed limit was changed to a maximum of 30 mph in an urban area.
  • Introduction of a driving test for the disabled, which also meant appointing the first Driving Test Examiners.


  • The first edition of the Highway Code is published.


  • The Driving Test is introduced due to the number of deaths (over 7000) and injuries on Britains roads. Initially the test was voluntary, but in June it became compulsory.

The introduction of the Driving Test also meant that L-plates appear. It was compulsory to display L plates if you bought a driving licence but hadn't passed the driving test.

The Driving Test is here

So in 1935 the Driving Test became compulsory. For the pub quiz enthusiasts, a Mr J Beene (not Mr.Bean) was the first person to pass the driving test for the price of around 37.5p!

The 30 minute driving test included some of the sections we know today, such as manoeuvres in the form of turn in the road and reversing.

At this time there were 250 Test Examiners but there were no Driving Test Centres, so the Examiner would meet candidates at a pre-arranged location such as a train station or a car park.

During the II World War, driving tests were suspended and didn't resume until 1946. Examiners were switched to other traffic duties during this time.

The only other time that the Driving Test has been suspended was during the Suez Crisis of 1956, it resumed the next year.

Other relevant changes after this was the introduction of the Driving Instructor register in the mid 1960's, which although intitially voluntary, meant that there was an minimum standard that all instructors could reach. The register became compulsory in 1970.

Also at this time, the DVLA was centralised to Swansea, taking away local authorities' power to grant licences.

A the end of the 60's, a seperate licence catagory for automatic cars was introduced and it became compulsory to produce the driving licence for the test examiner before the driving test would go ahead.

In 1975, the modern vehicle meant that candidates no longer had to demonstrate arm signals in the test.

Modern Driving Test

Jump to 1990 when Test Examiners began giving a short de-brief after the driving test which included driving advice and an explanation of faults.

In the mid 90's the Theory Test was introduced. Where as in previous driving tests, the Examiner would ask the candidate a few questions in the car at the end of the test, it was now a seperate section.

Also around this time, the Pass Plus scheme came into effect with the aim of helping new drivers improve their skills as they take to the roads with a full licence.

The late 90's saw an extension to the length of the Driving Test to 40 minutes. Also, the marking system changed so that if a candidate scored over 15 minor marks, it was deemed a fail.

That brings us more or less up to date with the car practical driving test as we know it today. As if proof is needed that the driving test is always changing, the introduction of the 'Show Me Tell Me' vehicle safety question in 2003 and the independent driving section in 2010 are the most recent additions that raise the standards of driving required to pass the test.

Driving Test Success

In many ways the Driving Test has been successful in improving road safety for all road users.

Compare the death toll on Britain's roads just before the Driving Test was introduced in 1935 (over 7000), when there were far fewer vehicles, to today, when there are millions of vehicles but the number of deaths is around 2500.

Of course, there are many factors involved in these improvements, but the lessons and techniques picked up by learners as they approach, the ever demanding test standard, is part of their driving for life, and can't be underestimated.