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What it's like learning to drive on a remote, British island

Published 10 July 2017

The Isle of Barra lies on the Outer Hebrides, 60 miles off the west coast of Scotland. There are no roundabouts, no pedestrian crossings and no motorway. So how does taking a driving test there stack up to somewhere more metropolitan?

The remote Isle of Barra is only 23 square miles with a population of 1174 - according to the latest figures. While it doesn't have the highest pass rate in the UK, the driving tests there are few are far between, with the examiner only arriving by ferry on the days when tests are scheduled.

Last year only 27 practical driving tests were taken on the Isle of Barra, with 18 candidates passing. This pass rate of 66 per cent is almost 20 per cent higher than the UK average of 47 per cent and a whopping 38 per cent higher than Belvedere in London - the toughest test centre in Britain.

In fact, the driving test pass rate is so high that increasing numbers of frustrated, urban drivers are travelling to more remote locations - like the Isle of Barra - in hopes that they'll have more success with losing their L plates.

Driving tests on the Isle of Barra move at a slower pace than most places in the UK. You're more likely to sit in passing places for tractors to idle by than you are to sit in traffic. In fact, the only main road is the A888 - a 13 mile long stretch of single track road, looping around the rolling hills of the island.

However, the curved roads of Barra possess their own challenges. While there may not be bicycle lanes, roundabouts and a myriad of other distractions you'd find in a bustling town, city-dwellers who aren't used to the twisting turns and blind corners of rural driving might struggle getting to grips with the different terrain.

Hugh MacNeil, who runs the island's car hire business, said: "Drivers who aren't used to driving on the Isle of Barra struggle with forward planning on the single track road. People from here are used to watching further ahead for hazards."

Driving tests in urban environments have a lot more opportunity for error. Compared to towns where constantly changing situations mean errors are more easily made, tests in these low-density, quiet landscapes would appear to be a haven for learners.

However, drivers who would have to cope with gridlocked traffic, buses and pedestrians in their own environment wouldn't be well equipped to drive safely if they passed in a remote location like the Isle of Barra. So, it's always important to think about where you take your test - the most logical place is where you live, despite whether it seems harder to pass there.


farmideas    on 17 July 2017

Urban drivers get as confused in the country as rural drivers do in town... in fact more so. The urban motorist relies on being told everything and so gets caught out by sheep, walkers, bikes around a blind corner. They see a derestriction sign and instantly get to 60, don't have a clue about tractors and farm implements, let alone animals being driven (yes, that's what we do with them, drive... think about it) down the road. Far too many go too fast on country roads. You never know what's round the corner.

Edited by farmideas on 17/07/2017 at 11:12

paul jenkins    on 17 July 2017

there shouldnt be any 60 limits on blind corner roads especially as people see the limits as a target there are 50 mile per hour roads round here that even 30 would be too fast as you can not see anything coming on the narrow blind bends and why would anyone want to do 60 in the countryside anyway id rather slow down and admire the scenery and do all my burning off on the motorway

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