On the 4th December, the UK driving test is changing to reflect the widespread use of sat navs in everyday driving.

Learner drivers will be expected to safely follow directions from a navigation system or they will fail their driving test. The changes are part of a package of revisions that will come into force with the aim of providing a more realistic assessment of driving on UK roads.

While millions of people in the UK now use free sat nav apps, the driving test will instead use a traditional sat nav unit provided by the instructor. Learners will not be allowed to use their own mobile sat nav app. Instead, the driving examiner will pre-programme a store-bought sat nav and the learner will follow directions.

Being tested on following directions from any navigation device is a useful skill, but many drivers will choose not to invest in store bought units (that can cost over £100 each) when there are free alternatives. With large UK retailers no longer stocking sat navs in store, driving experts are surprised that the changes fail to take new traffic technologies and trends into account.

For example, Waze announced a new feature this week that allows drivers to use voice commands to navigate and report on the app. "OK Waze" means drivers can now say "Go Home" and be directed there instantly and safely as there is no need to touch the phone. Mobile navigation technology is evolving quickly and many feel the DVSA shouldn't waste time testing on devices that may soon be irrelevant. 

The good news for learners is that they needn't worry if they miss a turn.  Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) reassures learner drivers that although they will spend more time being observed without direction from the examiner, it doesn’t matter if they go the wrong way:

“Driving safely is what counts,” says the DVSA, adding that it’s only when a candidate drives dangerously, or repeatedly makes minor driving faults, that they will fail their test.

Waze (the free, crowd-sourced sat nav app) is providing advice to new and established drivers alike on how to use safely use a sat nav app at the wheel. In a partnership with Bill Plant, the team of driving experts provides tips to passing the new test with a sat nav.

  1. Cradle the phone securely on the dashboard so there is no temptation to pick it up.
  2. Programme the route before the engine is turned on. Waze has a function whereby multiple destinations can be entered so the phone does not have to be touched.  Drivers can also allow friends to follow their route in real-time so if they’re both off to the same place, they can see the estimated time of arrival, reducing the need to call or text the other driver. 
  3. Voice commands in many apps allow drivers to interact with the phone. However, these need to be set and tested before the journey to avoid distraction. Apps like Waze enable drivers to speak the place or address they are travelling to, removing the need to type. 

Finlay Clark, UK's Head of Waze says;

“With millions of drivers using free, real-time, crowd-sourced sat nav apps, it's surprising for the DVSA to test drivers with technology that is already outdated.

“Earlier this year, John Lewis announced that it would no longer stock sav nav devices due to lack of demand as drivers flocked to mobile navigation apps. Alongside this news, we have seen our users double in the past year to almost two million so it's clear that driving is changing.

“Changing the test to reflect more real-life situations is a positive move. Whilst sat nav safety is not specially tested, we encourage driving instructors to help teach the next generation of drivers phone safety so they can use their navigation app safely and legally at the wheel.”

“Safety is always a top priority for Waze and we encourage drivers to use the app as it is intended, by docking the phone and leveraging hands-free functionality during their entire route for an undistracted drive.

“Waze was the first navigation app to block drivers from texting and driving. Additionally, our directions self-update in real-time to avoid accidents and traffic, thereby keeping drivers out of the most dangerous segments of road.  Drivers are also always encouraged to remain proactively aware of their surroundings, with or without the use of technology in the car. 

“With navigation apps being an essential part of beating the daily traffic taking heed of the new advice limiting the amount of time interacting with a phone whilst on the road is becoming ever more important.”

Peter Brabin, Head of Training at Bill Plant Driving School adds;

“The aim of the new driving test is to add as much realism as possible to everyday driving situations such as bay parking at the supermarket and following directions to a new location via sat nav. It is important that learners learn more about vehicles and demonstrate safe independent driving.”