Theory test failed by two thirds

14th November 2014

  • Drivers found road and traffic signs the most difficult to recognise
  • More than half of UK motorists believe it should be compulsory to re-take both elements of the theory test
  • New study highlights the widespread issue of road illiteracy amongst experienced motorists

Two thirds (64 per cent) of experienced motorists would fail their theory test if they took it today, reveals a new study by Churchill Car Insurance.1

The study, which saw 50 experienced, qualified motorists take a real driving theory test, found that more than a third (34 per cent) failed the hazard perception element and half failed the multiple choice questions. In order to pass the theory test, candidates must pass both elements.

The results of the test, which is designed to assess a basic level of competency for novice drivers, highlighted the importance of keeping road knowledge refreshed.

Questions on 'road and traffic signs' were most often answered incorrectly, closely followed by questions on 'vehicle handling' and 'accidents'. The drivers were most successful in the 'other types of vehicle' section, suggesting that their experience helped in this instance.

Table One: Theory question categories that motorists most frequently failed

Rank Theory question Category
1. Road and traffic signs
2. Vehicle handling
3. Accidents
4. Vulnerable road users
=4. Safety of your vehicle
6. Rules of the road
7. Attitude
=7. Documents
9. Vehicle loading
=9. Safety margins
11. Hazard Awareness*
12. Motorway rules
13. Alertness
14. Other types of vehicle

*This is separate from the hazard perception element of the theory test

Source: Churchill Insurance 2014

Additional research2 from Churchill Car Insurance shows that more than half (53 per cent) of UK motorists believe it should be compulsory to re-take both elements of the theory test after a certain number of years to ensure their knowledge of the road remains current. Just over 10 years was felt to be the most appropriate frequency for retaking the test, but for eight per cent, this rises to once every one to five years.

It was revealed that only 15 per cent of drivers feel they are completely road-literate and therefore able to understand all road signs they encounter when driving. As a result, a third (35 per cent) of those who felt they couldn't fully understand all road signs have had an incident, such as parking where it was prohibited (13 per cent) or driving the wrong way down a road (seven per cent).

Steve Barrett, head of Churchill Car Insurance, said: "An inability to read the road properly often leads to hesitant and unsafe driving behaviours, so we'd urge all road users to regularly brush up on their knowledge of road signs and regulation, as these are frequently updated."

Ian McIntosh, Chief Executive Officer of RED Driving School, commented: "It is very worrying that road illiteracy amongst experienced motorists is so widespread. The theory test is an essential part of a driver's road education and ensures that motorists can read the road and drive in the safest possible manner. The theory test was introduced in 1996 so there will be a lot of drivers on the road without this grounding. RED would encourage all motorists to ensure their theoretical driving knowledge is current."

A higher proportion of experienced drivers passed the hazard perception element than the multiple choice questions, which suggests that while their road experience may have given them the skills to identify hazards, their knowledge of road signs and driving regulations is poor.

Notes to editors:

  • 1 Churchill Car Insurance commissioned RED Driving School to conduct mock theory tests with 50 experienced drivers. The participating drivers had no prior practice / training. As such, the results were not recorded by the DVLA and will have no effect on their licence.
  • 2 Churchill Car Insurance commissioned Opinium research to interview a UK nationally representative sample of 2,003 people, of which 76 per cent held a full drivers licence, 29th July - 1st August 2014.

About the theory test

The theory test is split into two parts, both of which need to be passed. The first section is a 50-question multiple-choice test and to pass you must answer 43 or more questions correctly within 57 minutes. Questions are chosen at random from a bank of over 1,000 questions on a selection of topics, split into 14 sections.

The hazard perception test makes up the second element. It contains a series of 14 one-minute video clips showing potential road hazards in a simulated environment. A learner driver needs to score at least 44 out of 75 to pass this test (each hazard has a maximum of 5 points) and they have 20 minutes to do it in.

The theory test is a test of competency and was first introduced in 1996 and updated to a computer based version in 2000. It is regularly updated to take into account changes to road regulations.

For further information, please contact:

Kia McLean
Citigate Dewe Rogerson
Tel: 0207 282 1092

Lucy Davies
Churchill Insurance
Tel : 01651 834446


Founded in 1989, Churchill is now one of the UK’s leading providers of general insurance, offering car, home, travel and pet insurance cover over the phone or on-line.

Churchill general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England and Wales No 1179980. U K Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Churchill and U K Insurance Limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc.

Customers can find out more about Churchill products or get a quote by calling 0300 200300 or visiting