The theory test was first introduced back in 1996, and the hazard perception element was added in November 2002. Some 16 years on though we still find that many people who are preparing for the theory test don’t really understand how it works. Almost all of the revision material available, be it websites, apps or CD-ROMs, contains practice clips, but most contain very little explanation of how the hazard perception element of the test actually works. Worse still, when pupil’s fail on the hazard perception, it very often becomes clear they didn’t really understand what they were looking for, or how the scoring works. As with many things in learning to drive, there are a lot of myths and fallacies attached to the hazard perception. Here, I will try to make it a little clearer, and help you understand what you need to do to pass the hazard perception test with ease.
What is the point of the hazard perception test?
The theory test itself is designed to drastically improve a potential driver’s knowledge of things they may encounter whilst driving. Whilst this is all really useful, it is quite easy to get caught in a trap of viewing the theory test like a paperwork exercise. Knowing the answers to questions that appear on a screen is one thing, but its important that knowledge can be transferred to help in real life, driving situations. The idea of the hazard perception test is that a learner driver watches a real life driving situation, and “reads” the road ahead, identifying potential hazards, and reacting to them in good time. This is a skill that is vital to driving in the “real world” and Department of Transport Research suggests that, since the introduction of the hazard perception test, there has been an 11% reduction in accidents amongst new drivers.
How does the scoring system work?
It is really important to note that the hazard perception test is not looking for you to spot every single hazard, or potential hazard. It is a test designed to gauge your reactions to developing hazards, so, before we go any further, it is vital that you understand what that means.
A hazard is generally defined as any situation which, could, make you react, by changing speed or direction. So, there are any number of hazards. A parked car, a pedestrian, a sharp bend, a large puddle etc. All of these would be hazards, but that is not what you are looking for during this test. At some point during the clip a hazard will develop into something that will cause you (or the driver in the clip) to need to take action. Points are awarded for reacting to these situations rapidly.
If we take the example of parked car. As you approach it, it is just parked up, stationary, so at that point, there is no need to click. As you get closer though, the car may apply a right indicator. At that point the hazard has started to develop, so clicking now would get you maximum points. As you get closer still, it may start to edge out, before eventually pulling out in front of you causing you to stop, or swerve. If there is no reaction before that happens, you will score no points for that hazard.
Each hazard has a maximum score of 5 points available. If you click as soon as a hazard starts to develop, you will score 5 points, this then decreases through 5-4-3-2-1 as you get closer to the hazard. If it does develop before you’ve reacted, then you will receive no points for that hazard. When sitting your actual test you will watch 14 video clips, and will see 15 hazards across those clips. This means that each clip contains 1 scoring hazard, but 1 clip will contain 2. This is designed so that you keep watching each clip to the end, rather than just deciding you’ve found the hazard in that one clip, and then losing focus. Like in a real driving situation, you never know what is coming next!
To pass the hazard perception part of the test you will need to obtain a score of 44 out of 75, and you will need to pass both the questions, and the hazard perception test, at the same time to obtain a pass certificate.
Can I only click once per clip then, or will I be disqualified if I click too often?
Absolutely not. In fact, the number one piece of advice I always give to my own pupils who are preparing for the test is, don’t be scared to click. You are only looking for 1, or possibly 2, hazards in each clip, but there may well be more things in the clip that you perceive to be a hazard. To put it simply, every time you see something that you think may be a hazard, click the mouse. Only the first click within the “scoring zone” will actually score you points, but you will lose nothing for clicking anywhere else in the clip. I also advise, when you do see the hazard, that you think is the scoring hazard, click straight away, click again as you get close, then click again when you are right on top of it. That way, if you slightly misjudge it you are still going to score 1 or 2 points rather than none. There is no limit to the amount of times you can click during a clip.
Having said that, the hazard perception test does include cheat detection software, so its also important that you understand what that is designed to prevent. When the hazard perception test was first introduced, it quickly became apparent that you could “cheat” the system by just repeatedly clicking the mouse, then you were guaranteed to get a click within the scoring zone. To combat this, the DVSA introduced a system which detects any pattern in your clicks. If it does detect a pattern if will display a message on the screen telling you what has happened, and you will score no points for that clip. This will cost you a possible 5 points, or in a worst case scenario, 10 points, if it was the double clip.
It is important though that you don’t see this as deterrent to stop you clicking. As long as your clicks are in response to things you are seeing in the clip, there should be no pattern. In demonstrations to my pupils I have had over 30 clicks in a single clip without being disqualified. Remember too, the pass mark is quite low, so even if you are disqualified on 1, or even 2, clips, its not the end of the world, and you could still get a comfortable pass.
What is the best way to “revise” for a hazard perception test?
I think that this is a really important question, and there are a few things to take into account with this. Firstly, the DVSA do not release the actual hazard perception clips that they use on the test, so there is no way at all of seeing the clips in advance. This is important though, because it is a test of your ability to read and react to a situation, rather than how well you can remember a clip. As I said earlier, most revision software does include sample clips though, so it is important that you work on those and prepare for what to expect. This allows you to review the clips too, so you can see where the “scoring zones” start and end, and that will help you know what to expect. It is definitely possible to ‘over-practice’ though. If your software, for example, contains 10 practice clips, and you do each clip 4 or 5 times, you will know exactly where the hazards are, and you’ll know, in advance, when they are coming. You will, inevitably, in that case, get really good scores, which will make you feel really good, but you will not, necessarily be any better, you will just have learnt those clips.
Also, in 2017, the DVSA changed all hazard perception clips to CGI (Computer generated images). This makes the clips much clearer. Prior to this though, they were actual video clips, filmed in real life situations. The complaint was that these were not always clear, (particularly when practicing on a phone) and that put pupils at an unfair disadvantage. A lot of the revision software still uses examples of these old video clips. These are still useful to practice on, but be aware that the clips you will see on your test will not be in this form. Ultimately, its important that you understand how the hazard perception test, and its scoring, works. Practice, so that you can familiarise yourself with the technique required etc, and to make sure you aren’t triggering the cheat detection software. When you are fairly confident with it though, don’t overdo it, and lull yourself into a false sense of security.
Is the hazard perception test changing?
Yes, it has just been announced that, from December 2018, the CGI hazard perception clips will include night time clips, and clips in different weather conditions, such as snow, rain and fog. I think that this is a really good development and will really help to prepare new drivers for some, inclement, driving conditions that they may, otherwise, not experience. More information about these changes, along with some examples of how the new clips will look, can be found on the DVSA’s own website, on the following link: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/hazard-perception-test-now-features-more-weather-conditions