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No Easy Ride for New B.C. Drivers

February 19, 2016

So you think the B.C. driver’s test is easy? Wrong.

On the contrary, it is arguably the most difficult and comprehensive test of its kind in North America. Most middle-aged people vividly recall their first driver’s test as a rite of passage toward adult responsibility. They drove in the downtown core, parallel parked, went through a school zone, did a hill park and got their licence two weeks after successfully completing a simple 20-question written test.

That was then, this is now. New drivers must be 16 years old and pass a 50-question theory test with an 80 per cent mark in order to get an “L” learner’s licence. It is a difficult test if you do not prepare properly. The ICBC website has a link to several sample questions. Reading the Safe Driving Guide is a must. Drivers with an L designation must practise for a year with an over-25-year-old co-pilot before attempting the first road test, called a Class 7 road test, which takes about 40 minutes.

The Class 7 road test will likely include the parallel park, hill park, reverse stall park, backing in a straight line, identifying hazards while parked, a three-point turn, U-turn, reverse turn, as well as the demonstration of a safe exiting of the vehicle.

Special attention should be paid to a 360-degree check around the vehicle before each of these movements. You must do a signal and shoulder check to park or move the car into traffic. If you consistently forget to check your blind spot on the same side as a turn is being made, you’ll probably fail. Shoulder checks made too soon or too late are penalized as well.

Speeding beyond a set tolerance is an automatic failure and school and playground zones are a common problem for drivers on the test route, so don’t exceed the posted maximum speeds in these zones. Complete stops well clear of crosswalks are mandatory. Run a yellow light that you could safely stop for and you will be redoing the test in two weeks, which is the mandatory waiting period after a failure on the Class 7 test. Make a complete stop prior to a right turn at a red light.

As you can see, most aspects of general driving at city speeds are tested at the Class 7 level, and a successful candidate is awarded an “N” novice designation.

The Class 5 test for novice drivers involves: Highway driving and merging; confined stall parking; active hazard perception; and accurate speed, anticipation and control, all in a comprehensive 50-minute all-round drive. This test may be taken two years after achieving a novice licence. This two-year period can be reduced by six months if a driver at the L stage has successfully completed an approved Graduated Licence Program and remains infraction-free and blamelessly crash free for 18 months.

The ICBC examiners will clearly explain what is expected on the test and discuss the results with each candidate. They will not trick you and will give clear instructions and lots of warning before each action requested. Their job is not easy — they constantly deal with difficult situations — and we should all be mindful and appreciative of the daily dangers faced by examiners.

Drivers who take professional instruction have a higher success rate, but almost 50 per cent of drivers who don’t take driving lessons fail the road test on their first attempt. Tough tests for drivers are here to stay, so be aware of their degree of difficulty and prepare. Acquiring a B.C. driver’s licence usually takes three years, with the one exception noted above.

In theory, a young person could be ready to serve in the Canadian military before attaining a B.C. licence. Steve Wallace

Steve Wallace has more than 30 years of experience in the North American driving school industry and has served as the Western Canadian vice-president of the Driving Schools Association of the Americas. He is the CEO and owner of Wallace Driving School Ltd. in Victoria, which has operations in the Central Interior of B.C. and on Vancouver Island.

Steve began his driver education career in Quesnel as School District 28 driver education coordinator between 1974 and 1982. He is active in the Rotary, serves on the board of directors of the Masters Swimming Association of B.C. and is a registered BC Teaches.

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