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Report of the motorcycle test review – an analysis

“£77 million of bike test centres scrapped” trumpeted the Motorcycle News website yesterday.

The truth is that MCN are as usual making a headline which bears little resemblance to the content of the report, which was released to the press yesterday morning!

You can find it here

The report follows on from the Parliamentary Committee which looked into the new ‘Euro-test’ arrangements back in June this year.

The DfT don’t have a huge amount of room for manoeuvre on what the test has to contain, as that’s laid down in the Euro-legislation that led to the current two-part test, but they do have clearly decided that the DSA’s gold-plated implementation of the rules needs looking at.

The important bits are:

  1. “a potential new hazard avoidance manoeuvre has been designed, which can be performed on the road”

  2. “a more flexible approach to assessing whether candidates have attained the speed requirement, which can also be applied to the emergency stop”

However, this is not yet set in stone as the report continues:

“Further work is needed to confirm that the revised manoeuvres achieve the aims of improving safety and maintaining standards”

and this will include further trials with test-standard guinea pigs.

The report also says:

“The priority for moving to on road testing, as far as possible, will be the areas which are currently most poorly served, while existing off road sites could at least initially continue to be used where they are still convenient for candidates.“The aim should be to implement the new test, including on road testing in priority areas, by the end of 2011 or early 2012, moving to on road testing for all tests as quickly as possible after that.”

Given the huge investment in the DSA’s Multi Purpose Test Centres, it’s highly unlikely the DfT will simply turn round and scrap them. Lest MCN has forgotten, they replaced many totally outdated and ill-equipped driving test centres, and are used for car tests as well as bike tests, where they provide adequate and safe parking, as well as toilet facilities for candidates.

The big problem with the MPTC was never the centre itself, it was that there weren’t enough of them because their expense could not be justified in remote rural areas.

Before we jump to the conclusion that the tests will revert back to the old emergency stop on-the-road style, it’s worth stating that the DSA examiners were having an increasingly difficult time finding somewhere to do the emergency stop and U turn exercises safely.

After one trainee failed for making a U turn in front of a car, I got him to take me to the spot the examiner had used. I was horrified at his choice of location in the middle of a bend. No wonder the candidate hadn’t seen the car coming! I complained about the location and the examiner explained that on that particular day, he’d not been able to do it anywhere else.

So I suspect that we may well see the ‘off-road’ element retained where there are already MPTCs with large manoeuvering areas to provide a safe location for the hazard avoidance swerve and the emergency stop.

I also suspect that ‘on-road’ might also turn out to include the pre-agreed use of areas like football stadium and shopping centre car parks.


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Nevertheless, the implication is that they might well allow the ‘Module One’ replacement exercise to take place on the public highway in remote rural areas. At a guess, this is where they are more likely to find places they can carry out the exercises safely, whilst at the same time continuing to use the MPTC facilities elsewhere in more urban areas.

My guess is that they have looked at how other European countries have implemented the Euro-regs without going the MPTC route and have decided that in parts of the UK, it’s the only way forward. I think this appears to be the key statement:

“Suitable locations for on-road delivery of the hazard avoidance and emergency stop manoeuvres will need to be found, which meet the criteria for safe delivery of the manoeuvres. They will also need to form part of test routes including a suitable variety of riding conditions, an opportunity for independent riding and possibly a location for testing of the slow manoeuvres… all within a reasonable distance of a start and end point which has suitable facilities.”

The main consideration at that point is likely to be whether or not the test is then consistant across the two modes of implementation.

The second key point of the statement is this one:

“Another approach is that the slow manoeuvres could be examined as part of the pre-test training that most candidates take, at existing off road training sites, rather than at DSA sites. This would take place ahead of the main part of the test, which would still be conducted by DSA, as a single event. Examination of the slow manoeuvres could be undertaken by delegated examiners, or by DSA examiners going to customer sites at training schools. This approach needs further development with the training industry and others, including the procedures for quality assurance of delegated examiners, recording and verifying whether candidates had passed and the costs for trainers, candidates and DSA.”

As many in the training industry (as well as me!) said at the time of original consultations and draft proposals, there was no reason to burden the DSA with monitoring at least some of the exercises in the first place.

I could never see any good reason that the Module One exercises couldn’t be tested and validated in the same way by any school with suitable facilities, other than a concentration of responsibilities (and by inference resources) into the DSA’s hands rather than the training industries, but it seems the DfT want to keep the hazard avoidance swerve and emergency stop in the DSA examiner’s hands.

One obvious and simple solution would be to ‘homologate’ the slower manoeuvres into an improved CBT course. After all, the U turn is already part of CBT. It would be no big step to formalise the U turn and the other slow riding exercises into the off-road modules of CBT.

There is no possible valid argument that CBT instructors ‘aren’t up to the job’.

DSA-certificated instructors are already empowered to issue a CBT certificate, which is a legal document which validates a provisional licence. It’s a responsible job which is undertaken to a highly professional standard by the vast majority of approved training bodies (ATBs). If there is a problem, it’s the DSA’s monitoring of those standards which has been an issue, not the concept itself.

The CBT certificate is valid two years. Building in the ‘Slow Riding’ modules to that certification would not make CBT any longer or more costly, and would still give the trainee a full two year path from CBT, via the Theory Test to the full on-road DSA test. Given that many riders opt for intensive courses, that would hardly be an obstacle to passing the motorcycle test.

At least some of the public statement by Mike Penning MP, the Road Safety Minister, was a little disengenous:

“The aim has been to devise changes to the test which deliver a single event test, carried out on the road where possible.”

It’s worth pointing out here that the intent was always for the test to be a “single event” albeit with an off-road module as well as the on-road module.

If there is a disappointment, it’s that there’s no apparent urgency. The report is littered with text like:

“…subject to further trialling… further consideration… The next step… wider trials… followed by public consultation on the proposed changes… further work… phased introduction…”

Meanwhile the bike training industry has to sit and wait AGAIN whilst the DfT sort the DSA’s mess out, and the now totally discredited Module One exercises with the high rate of incidents continue for at least another year.

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