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Testing Times; driving in Llandridnod Wells

Most people remember what they were doing when they first heard about the attack on September the eleventh. Same, if you’re old enough, for the assassination of JFK.

You never forget the day you pass your driving test

But you will almost certainly remember the day you passed your driving test.

Me, I remember a hazardous 35 minutes trying not to run anyone over in the middle of the school run, then a quick look over my examiner’s shoulder to see if she’d put any of those horrendous double slash marks that indicated failure – and then coming back into the driving test centre, triumphantly taking three spaces to park and being told that it wasn’t exactly the best way to end a driving test but –and here my examiner added a theatrical sigh – I’d passed.

Watch Rob’s report on varying pass rates at ITV.com/Wales

That was in 1997: fourteen years later, me and my Volvo welcomed driving instructor Mike Davies and did the whole thing all over again.

I now remember that I have forgotten an awful lot.

For example, you aren’t really supposed to glide anywhere in neutral. Or cut corners: Mike was very quick to warn me about my corner cutting. A decade and more of driving makes you slouch mentally at the wheel: you tend to drive on the sound of your car rather than check the speedometer.

You were taught that good driving eliminates risk – and after a while, the way you look at risk changes.

Having the still small voice of someone who spends his professional life teaching people how to drive properly makes for a sobering hour.

Now the reason why I was back in my pupillage again was because of a peculiar Welsh anomaly. If you take your driving test in Rhyl, there’s a thirty eight point four per cent chance you’ll pass. Do exactly the same thing – admittedly on different roads, with differing conditions – in Llandrindod Wells, and that chance of passing goes up to almost three quarters – seventy three per cent.

The national figure for Wales hovers around halfway: the people who run the whole testing process, the Driving Standards Agency, say that you can’t compare one place with the other because of the vastly different numbers using them.

There are maybe a couple of explanations about why Llandrindod wins out.

A lot of learners have done more learning first on the farm – driving things like tractors. There’s less public transport than in any of our bigger towns – so the need for your own wheels is that much greater.

And many of the instructors refuse to take a candidate to the test centre until they’re ready to pass: one figure suggests that the average driver needs about forty hours of practise before it gets perfected with a license.

Maybe it’s not the failure rate we should be subjecting to the microscope: maybe it’s our national desire to get on the road too fast in the first place.

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