A brief (and informal) history of driving tests

It's been about 100 years
by TopGear.com | Sep 17, 2018
PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
CAR MODELS IN THIS ARTICLE

That card you have in your wallet has a rich history. Here are some fun facts about driving exams from around the world. Some of these will surprise you. Really. They will.


1899

France introduces the world’s first mandatory driving test. Candidates must demonstrate skills including ‘nonchalantly bumpparking into a space half the length of the car’ and ‘shrugging wryly at the futility of existence.’

1903

Driving licences are introduced in Britain. To obtain a licence, candidates are not required to take a test, but simply hand over the equivalent of £25 (P2,000) to a local official. This system remains in place in parts of West Cornwall today.


1931

The first edition of the Highway Code is printed. In the subsequent 80 years, no one will succeed in reading more than four pages without falling asleep.


1935

Driving tests become compulsory across Britain. Candidates must demonstrate skills including ‘complaining about how bad the roads have got this year’ and ‘almost imperceptible single-finger wave of appreciation to fellow motorists’.


1936

Driver testing becomes widespread in the USA. Americans threaten revolt as some namby-pamby states forbid under-11s from acquiring truck licenses.


1959

Britain’s first driving examiner training facility opens in Middlesex, aiming to standardise the examination procedure. Until this point, examiners have mainly passed candidates for ‘having influential parents’ or ‘smelling lovely’.


1965

The eyesight component of the driving test is introduced, requiring candidates to read a number plate from a distance of 67 feet. Britain quickly realises no one has any idea how far 67 feet actually is.


1975

Hand signals are dropped from the UK driving test, after ‘widespread use of non-sanctioned gestures’.

Continue reading below ↓


1996

The UK introduces a separate theory test, for some reason using braking distance calculations from the early 1870s.

2000

Theory test moves from pen-and-paper to a touchscreen computer.


2001

After a succession of terrible accidents, examiners decide it may be safer to situate the touchscreen computer in an office rather than on the car’s dashboard.


2017

The requirement to reverse around a corner is dropped from the UK test, after examiners realise no one has ever needed to reverse around a corner in the history of driving.

2018

Saudi Arabia permits women to hold driving licences.

Yep, 2018. Not a typo. Sheesh.

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PHOTO: Paulo Rafael Subido
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