THE new year is here bringing with it the first of the new driving tests for the next flock of hopeful people preparing to be classed as “safe” and “independent” drivers.

While some people will be sitting their tests for the first time after only a handful of lessons all focused on the new test format, there are others who will be sitting the tests after previously failing the old test and copious amounts of lessons – like me.

I will never forget the first time I sat behind the wheel – I clung to the steering wheel for my life as I made my first rev and the instructor took the hand brake off.

In the throws of heart palpitations and worrying about the “giant death machine”, which is what I had called it minutes before turning the car on, I slowly made my way along a straight quiet road doing around 5mph.

While I told my driving teacher, those around me and even the car that I was confident and unafraid, in my mind all I could do was catastrophise about the potential chaos that would be caused if I somehow broke the steering wheel and left the road - even at 5mph.

I started my driving lessons over a year ago before my last job and have since put roughly 40-50 hours into official driving lessons and much more into practice in my own time.

At the start the car felt practically alien and for the first 10 lessons the only thing stopping me from quitting was my hatred of the trains during rush hour from my home village, Pontyclun, into Cardiff.

Since starting my current job in Brecon, while I maintain that the T4 bus is my favourite form of public transport, I have grown more determined than ever that I will pass my driving test – if only so that I can wake up later than 6am, which I do now, and get home before 7.30pm and be in general more independent.

My first driving test attempt was last September – almost exactly a year after I started learning – and I failed spectacularly with four majors and four minors.

I had the cliched grumpy examiner who seemed unimpressed from the minute I nervously said hello and deprived him of a cigarette for the next 40 minutes.

There were two moments during the test which made me pretty sure I had failed as I tried to navigate the confusing roads of Pontypridd.

The first moment was during an attempt at my most hated manoeuvre, “left-hand reverse around a corner” – which I’m relieved has been taken out of the new test.

For whatever reason, I decided that the angle which I had practised for pulling the car around was incorrect and that I should pull in more… a lot more.

Forgetting that I had the examiner next to me, I muttered: “Ah s***!” as I managed to successfully mount the kerb while pointing diagonally at the junction as other cars waited to come through.

There is no point in denying that for the majority of the test my language consisted of “sorry”, swear words and trying to make small talk – all of which, in hindsight, I’m certain must have sounded like a Rik Mayall comedy sketch.

The second moment when I realised I had probably failed was after making the mistake of following a bus too closely and then getting stuck behind it at a bus stop. After five minutes of waiting and telling myself I was just being “safe”, I was overtaken by two cars and another bus fed up with waiting behind me. I knew from this I had messed up and the examiner seemed delighted in highlighting it.

The one manoeuvre I wished I’d had on my test and that I’m sad has been removed from the new test is the “turn in the road” – also known as the “three point turn”.

It’s a useful manoeuvre which I have personally always found to be the easiest, especially compared to the “left reverse” and the infamous “parallel park”.

The newest manoeuvres to be added to the test in their place includes pulling up on the righthand side of the road, reversing two car lengths and then pulling off again, as well as forward bay parking which must include an element of turning as opposed to just driving forward.

The 10 minutes of independent driving has been replaced with 20 minutes of satnav driving, using a Tom Tom Start 52 satnav, although one in five tests will still include verbal commands from the examiner instead.

Much like with the verbal commands, I was relieved to find out that you can accidentally take a wrong turn with the satnav as long as you do it safely and don’t spend the whole time staring at the satnav screen.

The examiner will base the test around a pre-set route so you won’t accidentally end up somewhere like the motorway – something I nearly did after attempting to practice using a satnav with my first driving instructor.

While there is a chance that learner drivers will be allowed on the motorway in 2018 – as long as they are with an official instructor with dual controls – it is not part of the test yet.

If it is added, there are fears that it could be a problem for rural communities such as Brecon which aren’t near the motorway.

Richard Wooten, a fully qualified driving instructor in Brecon and the owner of the Brecon based RRF Driving School, said: “The DVSA have updated the new driving test to reflect modern driving and to ensure that new learners have the skills they will need to help them through a lifetime of safe motoring.”

When I spoke to Richard about the new test at the beginning of December he said that no new tests had taken place yet in Brecon due to a strike by the Driving Examiners Union (PCS).

He said: “Until a few tests have taken place, I expect there will be several teething problems with the implemented changes.”

Another change in the new test is to the “show me, tell me” questions which up until now have always been two questions at the start.

One will still be at the start before the car has moved, however the second will be when it’s safe while the car is moving and it may include a demonstration to the examiner such as how to demist the windows or use the windscreen wipers.

Richard also wanted to remind experienced drivers to be more patient with learner drivers and to expect learners to be unpredictable.

He said: “For experienced drivers – please give learners more time than you might normally and expect sudden or unpredictable braking.”

From my own experience, learners are a lot more likely to mess-up if you get angry with them for learning – myself very much included. When I’d been driving for a few months, I had one lesson where I stalled three times because of a lady who started making rude gestures at me and beeping because I wouldn’t bully

my way onto a busy roundabout. I feel this is incredibly important, especially at the moment as learners like myself who are getting ready for a test in the next month or so, get used to learning the essentials for the new test format.