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Why are driving test pass rates higher in rural areas?

Would you rather sit your driving test in the city or country? Pass rates suggest that location really does matter, says Maria McCarthy.

Teenage girl learner driver ripping up her L-plates

I took driving lessons and passed my test in Exeter.

In the run-up to the big day my instructor repeatedly took me to areas of the city that were tricky to negotiate.

These included busy junctions with complex road layouts, double mini-roundabouts and a particular side road where visibility for pulling out onto the busy main road was poor.

Sometimes, as I sat at the wheel watching the traffic thunder past, I wondered if a suitable gap would ever materialise.

Driving test tourism

I'd think how much easier it would be to sit my test in a rural area where my main worry - apart from my manoeuvres - would be dealing with sheep wandering into the road.

An Irish friend of mine did just that.

He was working and taking driving lessons in Dublin but decided to take his driving test in his home town of Skibbereen in rural West Cork - he sailed through first time!

And figures from the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) in the UK show that, while the national pass rate stands just under half (47%), the pass rates at test centres across the country vary.

Lowest pass rates

  • Belvedere, London - 30.3%
  • South Yardley, Birmingham - 31.1%
  • Wanstead, London - 33%
  • Kingstanding, Birmingham - 34.8%
  • Wood Green, London - 34.8%

Highest pass rates

  • Mallaig, Scottish Highlands – 83.3%
  • Barra, Outer Hebrides - 81.3%
  • Kyle of Lochalsh, Scottish Highlands - 73.5%
  • Portree, Isle of Skye - 71.3%
  • Whitby, North Yorkshire - 69.5%

Unsurprisingly, many of the test centres with higher pass rates are in rural areas.

Of course, you're still going to fail if you mount the kerb during your parallel park, but at least there's not as much chance of messing up your lane discipline if you're on a single-track road.

Driving instructor Chris Pope says: "I think it's perfectly logical that if you're not on a busy road then there aren't as many situations that can go wrong and the candidate has less to deal with.

"Having said that, I would discourage students from going to a quieter area to learn to drive.

"This is because if they live in a city and are pitched into driving there once they'd passed their test they'll be more at risk because they wouldn't have the relevant experience."

Equal conditions 'not always possible'

Otters crossing sign in the Hebrides, Scotland

The DVSA says it does its best to ensure tests are fair and that candidates are assessed under equal conditions but admits that isn't always completely possible.

"It's essential that all drivers demonstrate they have the right skills, knowledge and attitude to drive safely," said a DVSA spokesperson.

"Examiners are trained to assess all driving tests in strict accordance with DVSA guidelines and tests are assessed consistently across the country.

"However pass rates are influenced by various factors and there will inevitably be some variation from one test centre to another."

Town and country

Some learners will always be keen to book in at test centres with a higher pass rate, as my old school friend Rachel confesses.

She says: "My driving instructor advised me to take my test in Durham rather than Gateshead because the pass rate was so much better, especially for the 8.20am test which never goes into the town centre. 

"Intrigued, I looked up the pass rates and it was 60% for Durham and 46.5% for Gateshead."

But a rural environment is no guarantee of success. "I did mine in Pembrokeshire a long time ago," reminisces my friend Helena.

"There were no traffic lights and I think the nearest roundabout was seven miles away at the time. It still took me two times to pass though!"

Traffic can work in your favour

London traffic on a busy, rainy day

Despite the low pass rates at many London test centres, some learners feel that congestion can work in their favour.

Another friend, Sian, says: "I spent most of my driving test stuck in a traffic jam so there wasn't much opportunity for me to make mistakes.

"My bay park took place back at the test centre and I passed first time."

As always the most important issue is to get your skills to the best possible standard and, wherever possible, get in a mixture of rural and urban motoring before your test.

And tempting though as it is to obsess about pass rates, take it at whatever location is nearest to you.

After all, that's where you'll be driving when you've finally got that coveted licence! 

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Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy is a motoring and lifestyle journalist and author of The Girls' Car Handbook and The Girls' Guide to Losing your L Plates published by Simon and Schuster. She's also a regular on BBC Breakfast news, and local and national radio, commenting on motoring matters. Her pet motoring hates are potholes and high fuel prices.

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