Road Safety News

Learner drivers to be allowed on motorways

Friday 9th December 2011

Learner drivers will be allowed to have driving lessons on motorways under plans announced by Mike Penning, road safety minister, which will come into force next year (Telegraph).

The change would enable learner drivers to undergo training on a motorway but only if accompanied by a qualified driving instructor. It is intended to end the current situation in which young drivers can be confronted with traffic driving at speeds of 70 mph or above without any preparation.

The change, however, will not be made compulsory because of the difficulties learner drivers in remote areas of the country would face in finding a motorway within a reasonable distance of where they lived.

The initiative reflects growing ministerial concern that the current testing regime does not prepare drivers for life behind the wheel.

Mike Penning said: “Are we teaching young drivers to pass a test or are we giving them the skills to enjoy life on the road?”

In a further change Mr Penning plans to ban trainee driving instructors giving lessons unless they themselves are supervised by a fully qualified colleague.

Robert Gifford, executive director of the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS), said: “It is a good thing in principle, but the devil is in the detail. Going on a motorway is one of the things newly qualified drivers say frightens them.

“Tightening the rules on driving instructors is very sensible and will improve consumer confidence in the driving instructor regime.”

Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety, said: “This is good news. It will end the ludicrous situation where people can live near a network of motorways and pass their test without ever having been on one.

“Toughening the rules on driving instructors is also to be welcomed. At the moment it is possible to be taught by a trainee, without knowing that when you booked the lesson - but you still have to pay the same price.”

Simon Best, IAM chief executive, said: “This change will mean that properly supervised young drivers can learn how to drive on a motorway with somebody beside them. Motorways are, after all, our safest roads.

“As part of the changes to the test, we would also like to see more training for learners on rural roads – our most dangerous roads.”

Click here to read the full Telegraph report.


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There is pass plus and AA free confidence courses to help get newly qualified drivers safely driving on motorways. But I do think the driving test should be in 3 parts; theory, practical and motorway awareness test. But I think the motorway should be only used by experienced drivers not learners; driving at speed means one mistake and they're in trouble. However, once they have gained confidence as a new driver and passed the third part of the test and are deemed competent in motorway driving, then they have the freedom of using them. At present motorways are the safest roads, let's keep it that way!

Agree (2) | Disagree (2)

I took driving lessons with a professional driving instructor in Holland in 1970 (dual-contol-pedals) - and on 3rd lesson he allowed me to take the vehicle onto what the UK would call a "Motorway". All I had to do was accelerate a bit more, up to maximum speed allowed, and stay in the inside lane - then come off at the next exit - no problem. My driving instructor's advice was simple - "drive as if others are going to make a really stupid mistake, and don't go over 70mph, cause after that you don't drive a car - you aim it!" I passed my Driving Test first attempt - have followed his advice, and have never had an accident in 43 years.
Norrie - UK (after driving all over Holland, Germany, France.

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In some ways it is a step in the right direction. Too many people driving in the UK are clueless on how to job or leave a motorway safely. In the country where I learnt to drive learning how to drive on the motorway was part of learning to drive.

More importantly what needs to change is the the issuing of provisional licences. In the country where I learnt to drive you needed to pass your theory test and an eye test before you were given a learners licence (same as UK Provisional). In addition the first part of your practical test was a practical test in a pre-planned test area, where you were tested on inclined starts, parallel parking, alley docking and you had to prove you were competent before you were taken out on the road to complete your test.
Paul Lawrence

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I like most of the comment above, interesting different views. My opinion to the one's that think this is wrong is you take a pupil for their driving test, they pass, go home to nice wee car mummy and daddy has bought them, go out straight onto the motorway and what could happen? Mayhem! I am an ADI and would never take a pupil onto the motorway until I knew they were at that standard to cope without me worrying about their competence to handle the situation. A lot of test routes have superb dual 70mph carriageways yet city centre test routes have none! The solution here should be to provide test routes that will use compulsory 70mph dual carriageways and this would give them experience close to motorways and ADIs will have to give pupils this experience for them to pass the test.
Jim Murray ADI

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Having passed my test a few weeks ago, I've just started commuting on the motorway. I had a superb driving instructor who gave me instruction on dual carriageways so I have experience, albeit the bare minimum, of overtaking, dealing with slip roads, reading the road way ahead and maintaining speed with the flow of traffic. However, it's a whole different ball game when doing this at night and especially during the rush hour on a motorway. Having to get in to the required lane at speeds of 60/70mph, especially in the dark when judging distance is even more difficult, is incredibly nerve wracking. The car handling at that speed is so different and it goes without saying that there is just no room for error! The only real advice anyone can give me is "you'll get used to it". Great. In the meantime my heart is usually in my mouth, I'm super-tense and I don't enjoy it at all! Four weeks ago I was still a learner and not allowed to go on the motorway. Four weeks later I have a full driving licence - but how much driving experience do I have? Barely anything - yet I can swan onto a motorway without any training! It's crazy! I don't think taking motorways lessons as a learner is the way to go. However, I do strongly agree that there should be a graduated driving licence and that a motorway test must be undertaken. For now I'm going to book myself a couple of motorway lessons asap. I also think P-plates should be mandatory - but that's a whole different can of worms... :)
A Parry, County Durham

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I had to check the date as I thought this was an April fool. Being in the long distance haulage business I spend my life on motorways. How can anybody say after x number of hours somebody is safe to venture onto a motorway with L plates? What if the learner driver is being taught by a parent or a friend and not going with a driving school?

Wouldn't we be better making the Pass Plus compulsory so after the practical test they need to complete x number of hours on motorways at different times of the day and night?
Iain IB Transport

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Thank you Dave, all has become clear, there had to be a motive behind this move other than the obvious.
Charles Dunn

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Charles, as to why this is being introduced see my previous post about 3DLD.
Dave, Leeds

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Dave, your absolutely right, anything post-test without a restricted graduated licence system would not work. Looking at graduated licence systems around the world, they all appear to restrict learner and novice drivers from highways and motorways regardless of being with a professional instructor.

The real point here is why are we introducing this measure in the first place? To my knowledge statistics do not show that a sizeable amount of accidents on motorways are caused by novice or teenage drivers. Instead of fixing something that does not need fixing, we should ensure that teenagers and novice drivers spend more time being professionally taught on how to drive safely on the roads that do present the greatest death or accident threat and that is certainly not motorways.
Charles Dunn

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Charles, once people have a piece of paper that says they can drive they're generally unlikely to take any further training which is why schemes like pass plus have such minimal uptake. Only by making it part of the overall learning process prior to test can you ensure as many people as possible get that training. Making anything compulsory as post test is unlikely to be workable under current conditions.
Dave, Leeds

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I appear to be the lone voice of opposition in this debate.

Let me make my position clear, I am very much in favour of teaching novice drivers the skills necessary to drive safely on the motorway but only once they have passed their driving test.

However, I have to agree that under certain circumstances it may be safe to venture onto a motorway with a learner driver who has completed many hours of professional driving tuition with a highly experienced and safety committed ADI like Dr James Whalen.

In reality the majority of learner drivers are not taught by elite ADI’s, nor do they receive sufficient driving tuition on carriage ways. The vast majority of learner drivers receive less than 15% of the overall tuition time on carriageways.

I accept that there are many highly qualified ADI’s who do a great job with limited teaching hours. But most of the time as confirmed by Dr Whalen, ADI’s are under pressure from learners and some parents to pass the practical test as quickly as possible.

Whilst driving schools and ADI’s are selected or chosen for how quickly they can get someone through the driving test, standards of teaching are not going to improve and it will not be safe to allow the majority of learner drivers on the motorway network.
Charles Dunn

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Nearly all learners are taught merely how to pass the test by their instructors and fail to ever fully acquire the skills to keep themselves and others safe on the roads. Whilst it is necessary to learn how to reverse around a corner, parallel park, turn in the road, etc., it would be sensible if learners were taught how to overtake properly, judge the severity of corners, and correctly assess hazards. Failure to safely carry out these tasks can easily lead to a life lost - being unable to park properly etc. is usually seldom more than an embarrassment. The whole system of teaching and testing learner drivers needs a radical overhaul. Taking learners onto Motorways would be a small step in the right direction, but it goes nowhere near far enough.
David, Suffolk

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Dr Jame Whalen's comment is absolutely spot on - speaking as an ex ADI and ex Driving Examiner I couldn't agree more. A good instructor will take their pupils onto roads with higher speeds and ensure they have experienced all types of roads and conditions prior to taking their test.
Susan Martin - Senior Road Safety Officer - Croydon.

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As Rob Gifford says, devil is in detail such as:
• Will there be a need to have completed X hours/N lessons on other roads first or will this rest with instructors common sense?
• For those areas with motorways, will the test itself then include motorways?
• Does driving on 40mph city centre urban motorways (how strange we still have these!!) count or not?
Pete, Liverpool

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One of the big problems instructors have is getting people to book motorway lessons once they have passed their test - often during lessons they will agree to the idea but once they have passed their test most are under the impression that they are now drivers and motorway lessons is money they don't need to pay.

A good instructor who covers the entire syllabus for people learning to drive will already be taking learners onto 70mph dual carriageways, some of which are built just like motorways with slip roads, etc. Therefore, as already commented, it will not be such a large leap to motorway driving.

I would welcome learners being allowed on motorways under the supervision of professional driving instructors as this would mean I would get the chance to cover some of the aspects of motorway driving already mentioned here so I could ensure that people are receiving information they need that is currently being missed.

The point made earlier about roof signs on driving school cars is an important one. Even in town driving, where some professional instructors only use L plates, earlier warning of a driving school car is benefical to other road users and would be even more important on motorways. However, in order to save fuel some instructors would be reluctant to use a roof sign so if leglistation was to come in allowing ADIs to take learners onto a motorway a clause should state the use of roof signs.

A lot of instructors do only teach people to pass a test, and some of this is due to pressure from learners and their parents who want people to pass quickly, instead of worring about the next 50 years a young learner could potentially be on the roads.

Finally, I understand it is being reported in the press this move is due to come in next year. It is important to note it would go to consultation first so it would be unlikley we'll see learners on the motorway next year, but soon I hope.
Dr James Whalen PhD, ADI (car), DSA Fleet Qualified Instructor, IAM, RoSPA Diploma

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I suspect that this move will increase the quality of driver training in general. There are often complaints about ADI only training young drivers to a very basic standard so that they scrape through the tests. If the ADI has to take these same learner drivers onto the motorway system I suspect the quality of their training will improve drastically as a self preservation strategy!
Iain; Suffolk

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Some valid concerns are raised here but overall it must be better for a novice driver to be accompanied by a qualified instructor on their first motorway journeys.

Bear in mind also that many dual carriageways are now treated as motorways by many of the drivers using them and also have a 70mph limit so this isn't as large a leap as some may think.

The Pass Plus training includes exactly this extra experience under supervision but, of course, it is not compulsory. A graduated licence system could achieve the same aim over a more extended timeframe that allowed novice drivers to gain driving skills and experience before taking to motorways.
Honor Byford, North Yorkshire

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This may not be entirely Mr Penning's decision. The 3rd driving licence directive (which effectively brings in graduated licensing for motorcyclists under 24) could lead to a situation where riders of an A2 category motorcycle would need lessons to pass their test to access category A machines which could need to include Motorways, and they'd have to do them on larger machines with L plates on. Perhaps this bit of national legislation is to deal with the problems caused by the EU Directive?
Dave, Leeds

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The comments from Charles Dunn do suprise me. Surely drivers on a motorway, if they are concentrating, and that is a big 'if' should be able to take learners in their stride. They have no opposing traffic to worry about, there are no sharp blind bends, there are no parked vehicles per se, there are no pedestrians per se and there are three lanes to chose from. I see no difference in a learner under professional instruction - assuming the instructor is sufficiently able - than dealing with the centre lane hogger or the HGV taking two miles to over take another HGV. Plus of course the world and his brother on their mobile phones.

If the instructor is in anyway worth his salt he will not have a learner in a position of being undertaken at any point.

If learners are in a school car that bears a large roof sign, rather than a plate front and rear, other drivers 'will see them a mile off' but that is assuming that they are looking that far ahead and that is where the system falls down because those who have never had motorway instruction but have eventually built up the courage or have been forced into it, will be the ones who do not necessarily look as far as the eye can see, including across fields to follow the course of the motorway ahead and what it contains, who do not use their mirrors enough, who do not plan early enough for the hazards, who tail gate, the list goes on and that list is because they have never had any formal training on a motorway. The new scheme will at least help some.

Perhaps the big question that we should be asking is whether the standard of instruction overall is high enough. Do qualified instructors talk to their pupils about, observation, driving plans, limit points, the forces acting upon a car when cornering, to name but a few and yes they should be taking them out of the lower limits into the 60 mph roads and the lanes. New drivers should be thoroughly grounded and indeed qualified and confident in dealing with all that happens on the road.
Alan Hale - South Gloucestershire Road Safety Team.

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About time to. How will an examiner know of anyone's competancy to drive on a motorway without testing him/her on it? Will it be a requirement of training to do so many hours motorway driving or what?

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RoadDriver believes it to be absolute madness to allow provisional drivers on a fast moving motorway, the dichotomy of drivers on the motorway have enough to concentrate on without coming across a learner driver who is unable or unwilling to keep up with the fast flowing traffic.

There is a reason why our motorways are by far our safest roads and that tends to be because the majority of drivers have at least reached a standard of driving sufficient to past the DSA practical driving test. Even if the DSA bring in a requirement that a provisional driver can only drive on the motorway after completing a certain number of professional lessons, are we really willing to take the risk of a provisional driver being able to cope with a 44 ton HGV bearing down on them at 60 miles per hour as other drivers undertake them through impatience or annoyance at seeing a learner car.

We agree that it is a ridiculous situation that a newly qualified driver can drive on a motorway without having had any motorway driving tuition. This is why RoadDriver is in favour of a graduated licence system that restricts newly qualified drivers from the motorway until they have undertaken a period of professional motorway tuition. This could be incorporated into a Pass Plus type course, to be undertaken in their own car, but it must consist of a further DSA test which would include examination on a motorway.

Rather than let loose provisional drivers on the motorway, we ought to strengthen the DSA test requirements. This should include a set number of professional lessons before a person can take their practical test. Also the DFT should consider imposing a standard pricing structure for tuition fees, this would create an even playing field and help to encourage a “teach to drive safely” ethos throughout the industry.
Charles Dunn

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