Jellylearn talk to Peter Weddell-Hall

Peter retired recently from the DVSA having spent 10 years as the Head of E-Assessment and Training Accreditation. In that role Peter was pivotal in the introduction of a new theory test and the ground breaking project of rolling out the world’s first video based hazard perception test (HPT) which formed part of UK driving test. We caught up with Peter to ask him about road safety in the UK and what trends he sees in the future that would bring about increased road safety on a more global basis.

  • What prompted the DSA back in 1998 to consider introducing a video based HPT as part of the UK driving test because at that stage this ground breaking initiative would be the world’s first test of its kind?

It was the foresight of the DSA at that time. Initial research had been carried out by Transport Research Laboratories which suggested a link between hazard perception skills and accident liability. Further research was conducted involving learner drivers and monitoring their progress before and after they passed their practical test which proved that candidates who scored higher in hazard perception tests went on to have fewer accidents.

  • The DVSA used the video based version of HPT for a number of years, has the initial justification for the project been seen in the improvement of road safety throughout the UK?

Research indicated that the number of traffic accidents could be reduced by over 3% for new drivers. With nearly 1 million people taking to the roads each year, the numbers are significant, and the benefits huge. If hazard perception testing has led to the saving of only one life, then it must be seen as a success. Our roads are amongst the safest in the world and we wish to maintain our road safety record. The cost to UK PLC of each road fatality is in excess of £1M and each road incident over £50,000. To reduce the number of accidents is important and any contribution that could be made by hazard perception testing helps, not only financially, but those involved as well.

  • What was the thinking behind the DVSA wanting to move from the video based test to a new CGI/3D based version?

The video clips were filmed over fifteen years ago. Noticeable changes have taken place over that time to the roads, the vehicles and their colour, and some of the businesses shown no longer exist. Red cars predominated with few silver cars featured, no price of diesel was shown, but I liked the fact that petrol was only 67p per litre. Candidates were commenting on these anomalies as it became more noticeable, and were potentially missing the developing hazards. The possibility existed to remake these video clips, but when this was tried, it proved time consuming and expensive. The co-operation of local authorities and the emergency services that had been there for the initial filming still existed, but now involved cost as well as time constraints. Animation was therefore seen as the way forward, with the ability to change elements and keep the test credible. Having made this decision, we worked with Nottingham University to establish that candidates responded similarly to animation as to video.

  • Just before you left earlier this year the new CGI version of HPT went live. Given the success of the video based version why did the agency see a need to change the underlying technology for the next generation?

Using CGI animation gives complete control over the scenario and the creation of the final version which is very realistic. Minor changes can be made without the necessity to recreate the situation on the road, ensuring that everything happens exactly as required, and that the weather is favourable. Animation also allows the possibility of creating situations that would be impossible to replicate. I worked with other representative bodies, including Network Rail, British Cycling and CTC, to establish what they would like included in future tests to reduce incidents. Jumping level crossings is dangerous but happens frequently and results in collisions with trains. With animation we can show the consequences of inappropriate action, without damaging a train or causing a fatality. Animation also gives the opportunity to present training material in varying ways. The same scenario can be shown from different perspectives, not just that of the driver. The developing hazard can be shown through the eyes of the other driver, a pedestrian or bystander, or shown in ‘helicopter’ view.

  • There seems to be an increased awareness of HPT throughout Europe and other nations due in some part to organisations such as CIECA and the success of the UK project. If you were given a role to improve road safety throughout the EU what would your advice be to ministers as to how they should tackle this from a grass roots level and for those who are of an age that they can take this driving test?

I personally believe that it is time and distance spent on the road as a learner driver in preparation for their test that is most important. Merely taking driving lessons, with no other opportunity to learn and practice safely, is not the best way. You possibly need to drive 2000 miles over a period of months, both in daylight and at night, and in varying weather conditions to be a competent driver. The test itself is only a snapshot of ones ability and candidates need to be competent as well as confident.

  • Finally, how do you see driving tests evolving over the next few years?

There are many ways in which the test could evolve in the future. Simulators have their place, but are probably more suited to training rather than testing. The hazard perception test could be evolved to be reactive to the candidates’ response. They could be presented with a similar situation a second time, if they have responded inappropriately the first time, or to check that the response was not just random. Most important is to maintain the integrity of the test itself and the credibility.

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