Westcountry has better L-driver pass rates
Learner drivers have a better chance of passing their test in the Westcountry than in many other parts of the UK.
Figures released by the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) showed more than half of all practical driving tests taken at examination centres in Devon and Cornwall were passed in 2011.
Almost 52% of candidates passed in almost 33,000 practical car tests taken last year, above the national average of 47%.
Examiners recorded 32,270 errors made by candidates serious enough to fail the test, including 1,629 dangerous faults – involving actual danger to the examiner, candidate, the general public or property.
But wide disparities exist in success rates across the eight test centres in Devon and Cornwall.
Newton Abbot boasts the highest pass rate of 59%, while Plymouth has the lowest pass rate of 44%. Exeter's pass rate is level with the regional average, and Penzance is the only other centre where most candidates fail tests.
The data also revealed variations on the test performance due to gender and age. The most common cause of failure across the board was observation at junctions, which accounted for 3,391 serious faults and 627 dangerous faults.
Women drivers were more likely to fail their test because of parking problems, and male drivers were more likely to fail for speeding.
Other popular reasons for failed tests included not checking mirrors when changing direction, lack of steering control, and not responding suitably to traffic signs. Manoeuvre mistakes were another major cause of failed tests. The reverse park – either bay or parallel – accounted for more than 1,500 committing serious or danger errors, and almost 1,000 occurred on the reverse round a corner.
The South West branch of the Association of Professional Driving Instructors described the findings as "interesting".
Chairman Larry Girling said: "What is more concerning is the statistics of new drivers involved in crashes.
"Learners must be taught to drive for life, not just to pass the test. Young people need to choose a reputable driving instructor."
Christine Powlesland, of Christine's School of Motoring in Paignton, said higher pass rates in the Westcountry could be down to a "better class of instructor".
She said: "The test is becoming much harder to pass, which should ultimately lead to safer drivers on the roads."
Martin Heron, of Martin's Driving School in Plymouth, denied it was any harder to pass the test in the city. He said: "Success is down to the training and the performance of the pupil on the test day."
Pete Riglar, of Pete's Driver Training in Saltash, said the "bottom line" of tuition was to teach learners to drive safely.
"Individuals teach themselves to drive. The job of the instructor is to make them good, safe and confident drivers."
A DSA spokesperson said: "It's essential that all drivers demonstrate they have the right skills, knowledge and attitude to drive safely.
"Examiners are trained to assess all driving tests in strict accordance with DSA 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."
The DSA figures released under the Freedom of Information Act showed 17,086 tests were passed out of 32,969 taken last year in Devon and Cornwall.
Nationally the practical driving test pass rate was 47% last year, according to the Department for Transport – 50% for men and 44% for women.
Estimates suggest the average woman driver passes her test after 52 hours of teaching, compared with 36 hours for men.