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The History of the K53 Driving Test

The History of the K53 Driving TestThe word K53 is a much discussed and debated term and has often lead to much frustration for young drivers. But what is the history to the K53? This is not something that many drivers are aware of and we decided to approach Pat Allen from the South African Institute of Driver Instructors to share some insight on this.

We decided, even though this includes some personal insights, it is well worth sharing with our readers and will also add some info on the history of driver training:

K53 and insights from Pat Allen

I do not claim to know all the details about the history of the K53 test, but this is what I do know, according to my own experience.

The History of the K53 Test, from my angle of knowledge:

The driving licence test immediately prior to the inception of the K53 test was known as the K52 test. It was just a number. The two tests I know about before that did not follow that sequence.

Before I started my career as a driving instructor, in an effort to ensure that my own standard of instruction was as high as it should be, I voluntarily submitted myself, on Vivienne Westray’s advice, (when she was the National President of SAIDI), to taking the advanced driving course in 1979, for which I am eternally grateful, because there was no other training for driving instructors. There is still no training for instructors, except my own training courses, which is why I am passionate about changing this urgently.

After being told “I was a bloody idiot who had learnt every bad habit in the country and didn’t deserve to teach anybody to drive”, and after making a supreme effort to correct all my mistakes and bad driving habits, I was astounded to win the first title as “Woman Driver of the Year” for the IAM (Institute from Advanced Motorists). Nobody was more surprised than I was.

It was nerve-wracking because, after that, I was not able to put a foot wrong ever. I felt I was being watched by everybody. It is a strange thing to be featured in newspapers so that one is recognised by strangers.

Naturally, since I opened my first driving school at that stage, I taught every one of my students the same standard, but, conflict arose at some local DLTC’s when the advanced driving standards clashed with individual examiners pet preferences when testing applicants for their driving licence tests.

Every examiner seemed to think up some new way to catch the students out. I was not happy when students were failed for using advanced driving techniques. In fact, they were failed for checking blind spots, and if they did not cross their arms when turning!

This was just not acceptable! As a SAIDI member, I reported my experiences to my National President. Perhaps I was not alone in my experience.

Vivienne was involved with the National Road Safety Department at that stage, as well as with many other authorities in setting up a new standard of driving, and a new test.

They/we felt that it was essential to standardise the test right across the country to stop the examiners from all demanding different standards. At that stage, we had to say to clients, “If you get Mr So-and So, you must do this, but Mr So-and So wants that,” before we could get a student through the test.

It was also necessary to be quite clear on exactly what was required of each applicant in order to qualify for a driving licence. We were all heartily sick of unfair tests!

The Original K53

The original K53 manual was written in roughly 1979 to 1981, I think. It consisted of about 58 different modules for code 08 (now known as code “B”), (about 8 being for automatic vehicles), laying out the terms and conditions required in clear details. It has been upgraded a couple of times and is well overdue for another upgrade, but I suspect from what I have seen so far, that it is a downgrade, which distresses me horribly!

We want to improve the standard of driving in South Africa to save lives, while correcting certain aspects of the test which we have all recognised as being incorrect, but even more importantly, we want to stop all the nonsense we are still experiencing from examiners who do not comply with the prescribed test and driving instructors who teach the K53 standard incorrectly, giving the impression that it is a stupid standard, and that one must simply pay lip-service to get a licence. This is totally unacceptable to me!

Examining officers were sent from all over South Africa to the 5 Traffic Training Colleges at that stage, back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I was told that a couple of them actually confessed that they were ashamed to admit they had unfairly failed my pupils who were driving to a higher standard than they had known before undergoing K53 training. Of course, the poor applicants suffered tremendous financial expense and inconvenience and loss due to their incorrect testing standards, and continue to do so today.

Way back in the beginning:

These advanced standards as taught by the IAM (Institute for Advanced Motorists), were according to their very stringent standards at that stage, back then when they were a non-profit making organisation, which originated in England at a place called Hendon Police College in London.

Historically, racing car drivers in England had devised a certain way of approaching the more dangerous points of the racetracks, such as corners and bends.

For example, it would obviously have been extremely dangerous to drive at top speed into these “hazards”, so a set number of actions were carried out in a certain order, which helped racing drivers to negotiate these dangerous places safely, without losing too much speed. This was known as the “System of Vehicle Control”, and consisted of 6 actions, namely, COURSE; MIRRORS; SIGNAL; BRAKE; GEARS; ACCELERATE.

In England, this system was introduced after the first World War, and before the Second World War. It was taught to Police drivers who were at that stage, driving the shiny black Police cars, wearing smart uniforms, with silver stars on their chests and caps and carrying loaded revolvers. Typically, many became puffed up with pride, which caused them to become arrogant.

Pride-filled attitudes:

We see this phenomenon all over the world and it is truly a dangerous aspect of driving. In fact, we are presently experiencing it in the JMPD, the Blue Light Brigade and many other Police Departments as well as in the Public in general where some young men, who in some cases, are overwhelmed with themselves when they are equipped with uniforms, guns and fast marked cars. It is not surprising that it can sometimes go straight to their heads!

Few men are able to remain humble and consider themselves subject to the law - even more so than the public, simply because, as Police, they are called to lead the public by example.

Hendon College:

The young Police drivers in began to abuse their authority, lording it over the public, knowing full-well that they were doing wrong because they immediately ticketed the public when they copied their actions on the roads. The public was furious and immediately reported their actions to the Police Driver Trainer at Hendon.

After repeated complaints, he was obliged to take action.

Note: He did not deny his responsibility to correct the situation. He did take effective action, which is the mark of a true leader.

He called a meeting of all the Police drivers, and read the riot act!

He reminded them that they were responsible to be exemplary drivers, (setting a good example), but instead, they were driving like cowboys and showing off on the roads!

He said it was going to stop and very soon. He arranged that the most famous racing driver in England, Malcolm Campbell, who won 9 land speed records for England, and was every man and boy’s hero in England, after the first World War, should visit the College. Apparently, according to some reports, they gave him their best driver to evaluate, and he pronounced him to be an acceptable driver. However, other racing drivers were called in to assist with re-training the Police Drivers. Clearly, their leader knew what their weaknesses were, and also selected excellent role-models.

This programme proved to be so outstandingly successful that the training was extended to the British Isles (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales). At last the Police Drivers were worthy of the respect of the British public, and they soon gained a wonderful reputation due to their really excellent driving.

The second World War took place a bit later on. Many men’s lives were lost, and many were injured physically and mentally. As the war ended in 1949, the men who survived, gradually returned to their homeland. The soldiers were awarded 75 Pounds, as back-payment for the time they had sacrificed fighting for their country. That was quite a lot of money in those days. Most young men were ready to have some fun! Many invested in cars. - I can understand that. They had marched for miles in heavy boots, with blisters on their heels, and they were understandably very tired of walking.

However, there was no place to do driving licence tests after the war for a period of about 18 months, I believe. The war had abruptly ended the normal functioning of the country’s services is generally provided to the citizens. The public was permitted to simply pay for a licence to drive without doing a test.

Sadly, in a short while, thousands of young soldiers died on British roads!

It must have been heartbreaking for their families, girlfriends and young wives who had waited anxiously for them to return safely from the war.

The carnage continued daily due to the combination of bad weather, early designs of vehicles with sometimes unreliable brakes, especially on ice and snow, but the biggest problem was the attitude of the young soldiers.

They were excited to be home. In many cases, despite the terrible effects of the war, and tragic deaths of their friends, and horrific injuries, some felt fit and good-looking, tanned from serving in places like Egypt and Italy, and they were popular!

Proportions of males to females were completely unbalanced. Every man had his pick from a dozen or more girls. Every man was sought-after. All this hero-worship must have gone straight to their heads. I picture them driving wildly, relishing their freedom and the adulation of the girls who were tired of the grey sadness of the war. They wanted to live! They wanted excitement, music, colour and life! They wanted to fall in love and marry and have babies. They needed security. Thousands found death before they had time to know why they had been born, or where they were going so fast.

Eventually, someone, or possibly, a group of people, suggested that the training which had fixed the Police driving standard should be made available to the public, although it would be a voluntary course, not compulsory.

Since the Police were the ones who investigated the crashes and witnessed first-hand the blood and suffering, they soon agreed. An office was opened up as the Institute for Advanced Motorists.

They began to tackle the low driving standard of driving in England, one driver at a time, addressing bad and dangerous driving habits, and especially instilling a responsible attitude in drivers.

- Imagine that on a huge scale, for every driver in the country!

When I qualified as an advanced instructor in 1989, that the companies which signed into the programme for their whole fleet, soon benefitted by a 96% reduction in running costs. The programme gained in popularity and spread to most Commonwealth Countries.

Wherever it was taught, it brought immediate improvement to the standard of driving of any driver who was willing to make huge changes to every aspect of his driving by swallowing his pride and learning new techniques. There are those who struggle with pride, who feel entitled to slate the K53 test standard, claiming they know better. I have never yet met anyone who has undergone excellent training who can genuinely say they did not benefit by it. In fact, it is truly the minimum level of safety for every driver, according to a poster in the entrance the first day I went for my own training.

K53 drew the best from the Hendon Police College’s standard, then adapted it to suit South African conditions. I note that the world famous “System of Vehicle Control” is not included in the K53 manual, yet it is the heart and soul of the K53 standard.

I have driven and trained my learner drivers for 33 years, and also I am now training people with disabilities. They describe what caused their injuries. I believe techniques taught in the K53 standard addresses all the reasons for crashes that we have encountered so far.

I have never yet had a student who has not improved radically when correctly trained to the K53 standard, but I have seen that almost every driving instructor is unsure of how to train their students correctly, because they have not had the benefit of the same standard that I was truly blessed to have learnt.


That is why I long to help every one of them to reach not only that standard but still much higher. Together we can turn the death rate in South Africa around. We have to do it!

We simply cannot continue to put money in our pockets for training, then look away while our pupils die on our roads. This is too tragic to bear! As the driving instructors of South Africa, we are entirely responsible for the quality of drivers joining the road transport systems in the country. Of course, we need the authorities to recognise our contribution and to back us strongly. We will reward them richly.

I am not alone. Colleagues agree. The K53 test is an excellent test standard provided the driving instructors understand it correctly and teach it diligently.

Best Regards,

Pat Allen

National President: SAIDI

Also View:

K53 Info Website

K53 Driver Licence Test


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