COLUMN: There is no room for bias behind the wheel

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Upon driving into the dreaded test centre, most young drivers are in a state of crippling anxiety – with shaky legs working the controls and bitten fingernails clutching the steering wheel.

Just over an hour later, the same driver will be exiting the centre, clutching a tissue and resenting the bad news that they will have to remain a learner driver until next time, or feeling euphoric at the prospect of a full license and independence.

The majority over the age of 18 have experienced at least one driving test. Your opinion on this stressful examination will vary significantly based on whether you passed or failed.

Naturally, those who passed first time are oblivious to the soul-crushing feeling of humiliation and frustration experienced after hearing “I’m sorry to tell you that you haven’t passed this time.”

Having failed my first test myself, I feel the need to examine exactly how fair these tests are, and question whether any examiner’s personal stereotypes and biases can influence a learner’s success on these tests.

There is no doubt that every individual has personal preferences regarding stereotypes, predictions on how people will act. We are guilty of this, no matter how open-minded you claim and wish to be – our brains make snap judgements.

Examiners, believe it or not, are people too. They will undoubtedly experience this. No matter how friendly and unbiased the examiner, there is always the risk that an examiner will automatically (subconsciously, even) stereotype you as a bad driver, and mark you harshly as a result.

Even if examiners do not harbour subconscious prejudices which result in harsh marking, two people could sit identical tests, making the same mistakes, and get different results at the end of the test.

Again, this is due to the human condition which plagues the examiners – meaning that their subjectivity and regards of right and wrong can cause results and definitions of minor and major faults to differ.

Also, there are factors such as time of day, and day of the week that can affect the levels of traffic, where uncommon driving situations are more likely to occur.

Responding to unfamiliar situations on a driving test can be a nightmare for the panicky learner. A friend of mine had to pull over for an ambulance, and continuously stalled the car upon stopping, curbing the car and subsequently failing the test. At a different time, this situation may not have occurred and my friend would have walked away legally able to drive.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there should be some method of examining learner drivers to ensure that they are road ready and safe, and I am in no way accusing examiners of being discriminatory. I’m just saying that I can relate to the awful feeling of a driving test failure. I would encourage all leaner drivers to persevere with the test. However, don’t feel too bad if you fail because the tests always fair and consistent.