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~~~Why did I buy this program?~~~
After living in the UK for 2 years I decided it was high time I get my driving license (the lack of car was driving me crazy and we now had the money to afford a car, insurance, etc.). I wasn't your standard learner driver since I had over 10 years of driving experience in the USA, but I could only drive on that license for a year so I had to get my UK license like everyone else. To prepare for the theory test I bought a book containing all the multiple choice questions and the Focus Multimedia Driving Test Success Hazard Perception Test PC DVD.
In 2002 the computer based hazard perception test was added to the theory test. The idea is that new drivers get in more accidents because they are less aware of potential hazards (defined as something that will cause the driver to change speed or direction). This part of the test is supposed to see how well learner drivers can spot developing hazards. I guess the idea makes sense to stuffy politicians, but in practice I think practical driving experience will do far more to improve drivers than some computer test, and surely the examiner for the practical test can tell someone who is aware of hazards around them far better than some poorly written computer program. In fact, because the clips only use a small field of vision directly in front of you I think it encourages the bad habit (which you see too much in new drivers) of fixing your eyes ahead and not using your mirrors and peripheral vision.
My 10 years of driving experience means I'm confident I can spot potential hazards, but the hazard perception test is far more about knowing how to take the test than recognizing hazards so I bought a DVD to help me prepare. The PC version of the Multimedia Driving Test Success Hazard Perception Test had good ratings on Amazon and was only about £5.
~About the program~
First, there is a fairly lengthy introduction explaining how the hazard perception test works and how these DVD clips differ from the actual test. One important difference is that the DVD's clips are almost all 'real life situations filmed on the open road without any attempt at staging." The DSA's clips are obviously staged. The introduction also explains how the scoring system works and how to click to maximize your chances of scoring well. You need to click when you first see a developing hazard and then click again any time the hazard develops further. It also explains how to avoid being disqualified from a clip (what triggers the anti-cheating system which mirrors the DSA's system in the real test).
Next, the Learn By Example section takes you through clips with commentary from an experienced police driver. To be honest, I can hardly comment on this section because my 10 years driving experience meant I wasn't interested in improving my real life hazard perception, only my ability to pass the test so I didn't find this section useful and only looked at it for a minute or so for the purpose of this review. It made me car sick and I think you're far better learning these skills in real life.
After that there are 200 or so clips to help you practice your hazard perception test skills. You are only given 3 clips at a time (instead of 14, like the real test). After each group of 3 you get your score and have the opportunity to review the clips with the scoring windows marked as well as where you clicked. I only did 1 or 2 of these practice sessions before I was confident I knew how the system worked, but a less experienced driver would probably appreciate the multitude of practice clips in a format where you get feedback while the clips are still fresh. Also, the 3 clip sessions don't wear you out mentally as much as the 14 clips sessions.
Finally, there are 17 mock tests each containing 14 clips with 15 scored hazards, just like the real test. The tests are carefully balanced to contain a wide range of different types of hazards so you get a nice mix rather than 14 country lane clips in a row. The tests are split into 2 sections, 1-15 in one section and 16-17 in the other. I assumed those last 2 tests were separate so you could reserve some unviewed clips to practice the last few days before your real exam, but this proved not to be the case as I recognized quite a few of the clips from earlier tests. This section contained 200 different clips (17x14=238) so 38 clips were used twice.
~How well did it prepare me for the real thing?~
As I mentioned earlier, the DVD used real life clips. People pulled out in front of you, pedestrians crossed where they shouldn't, and many other things that happen in real life when you are out driving. As an experienced driver you recognize these clips as things that happen on the road day to day. On the other hand, most of the staged DSA clips were incredible obvious. For example, on one of my clips in the real test there was a car approaching on a side road and it was acting really odd because it kept speeding up and slowing down, quite clearly it was doing a very bad job of timing it so that it could pull out right in front of me. The hazard was evident a million miles away, but it was hard to know when to click since the scoring window for the hazard perception is extremely subjective.
I took all 17 of the DVD's mock tests. I passed every one, never scoring below 52 and averaging about 55 (you need 44 of the possible 75 points to pass). Using this DVD I developed a technique of clicking on a hazard when I first saw it, then again a second later. I would click a third time when the hazard was super obvious. As an experienced driver my biggest problem was clicking too early, but the second lag would normally get me in the 4 or 5 point windows. My last "super obvious" click was generally in the 1-2 point windows, just insuring I picked up a few points if neither of my first too clicks where timed right (You don't want to click in rapid succession and you don't want to click more than 3-4 times for each hazard or you risk tripping the anti-cheating detection system). While taking the real test I was not at all confident that I was scoring well because the hazards were sooooooooo obvious I had a hard time judging when to click, but in the end I scored 55/75- which was precisely my average on the DVD's mock tests. Therefore, I'd say this DVD is fairly good practice for the real thing.
I get motion sick rather easily and these clips made me feel pretty queasy after a full set of 14 clips, but they are higher quality than the DSA clips (as such I was far more car sick in the real test). So perhaps these clips did a good job of easing me into that as well.
One thing to note is that the DVD strongly implies that the DSA only use clips in ideal conditions (nice days with no rain or sun glare). This isn't exactly true as I had one clip on my real test which was on an unlit/poorly lit road where a pedestrian in dark clothing stepped out from between darkly coloured cars. So don't discount the poor condition clips on the DVD as they might be just as relevant practice as any other clips.
I think the hazard perception test is a waste of time, but this DVD does a reasonable job in preparing you for a mandatory part of your UK driving theory test. It is available on Amazon for about £5. Since retaking your theory test will cost you £31 (not to mention the lost time); it seems like a good idea to spend a fiver and pass the first time. However, for £6 you can get the Driving Test Success All Tests 2012 Edition on Amazon. This contains practice for the multiple choice section of the theory test, over 100 unique clips for hazard perception, plus some things to help you with your practical test (show me, tell me questions and such). So if you are worried about the other sections of your tests that might be a better choice (and then get this DVD only if you feel you need more hazard perception practice), but I preferred to practice the multiple choice questions from a book (easier for me to carry than a computer) and the practical test with my instructor. So for me this hazard perception focused DVD was best.