In theory I’m OK

Heading back to the Island early from hospital I get a call from the theory test centre saying there’s a cancellation at 3pm (my test is at 4pm) and they could fit me in then. I am also apparently the only candidate at 4pm and suspect centre staff want to go for tea early, as I could easily have booked the 3pm slot three days earlier. Still, I said I’d try to get there in time, and public transport doesn’t let me down.

I haven’t stared at the Highway code since the evening and don’t feel the need to cram. I have gone completely through the computer revision discs from the Driving Standards Agency, and the last two mocks have scored 100 per cent. The only worry is the hazard perception element.

The centre’s staff are very pleasant, clear and helpful. I get a briefing sheet telling me what is about to happen, get to put all my kit in a locker, and then get directed to the test booth. There are three others in the room, all horribly young looking.

The computer kit isn’t that modern. The touch-sensitive screens have a slight bow to them, which isn’t reassuring when part of the test involves perception, and a coarse dot pitch. Still, it’s the Isle of Wight and I should be grateful they’re not clockwork.

Running through the multiple choice practice is easy, and is relevant and actually covers the mechanics of answering the questions. It’s a bit odd doing it with a touch-sensitive screen rather than a mouse (as on the DSA disc) but it’s not too hard. I seem to get a bigger number of multiple-answer questions than I’ve been used to, some of which don’t sound vaguely familiar. But I feel I’ve done OK.

And then my nerves desert me. This is, after all, the first exam I have done since my finals in 1983, and I had intended never to do another one. I am trembling by the time I get to the first screens for the next section.

The nerves are not helped by the fact that the practice section for the hazard perception element doesn’t actually involve what I would call practice. It shows you a clip, tells you to click when you spot potential hazards and developing hazards, shows you what you are looking for, and then tells you if you click too rapidly you will score zero for the clip. There is no actual chance to try using the interface to highlight hazards, so you go into the first hazard clip blind, uncertain of what makes good or bad technique.

And so I blew out on my first clip, evidently clicking too often for the system’s liking and scoring zero points. I should add that I’m a cyclist and that every car, driveway, bend, junction or pedestrian is a potential and often continual hazard; I think I would probably click more often. So, with five of a possible 75 points blown on a learning experience, I was far more sparing for the remaining hazard 13 clips.

What the hazard clips really demonstrate to me is that out there are loads of drivers who have been passed by the Driving Standards Agency as fit to drive, and yet are completely unsafe to do so. The hazard clips are real unscripted footage of drivers and motorcyclists behaving badly (not to mention pedestrians who don’t look when they’re about to step out into the path of something that is likely to kill them). And I am being primed to join this band of motoring lunatics.

At this moment, if anyone were to mention the idea of compulsory re-testing for drivers every 10 years, I’d give it serious consideration.

So how did I do? Well in theory I know everything, scoring 50 out of 50 on the multiple choice section (pass mark 43). And despite the no-scoring hazard clip, I still managed 59 out of 75 (pass mark 44), with perfect scores on half the clips. Which is an overall pass, and means the next step is the practical test – to be passed within the next two years, else I have to retake the theory.

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