28 March, 2018

Learner drivers to be allowed on motorways before they pass the driving test

From 4 June 2018, learner drivers will be legally permitted to drive on UK motorways. This change in the law is among the most significant shake-ups in driving training in six decades and has been prompted by years of campaigning carried out by road safety groups.

In the UK, motorways are safer to travel on than any other form of road. However, with learners banned from using motorways, drivers tended not to initially tackle them until after having just qualified. Drivers also are often the car’s lone occupant when using a motorway for the first time.

This situation led to arguments that, for too long, the issue of motorway safety had been unjustly overlooked for learner drivers. Soon, it will be possible for learners to legally drive on motorways, albeit strictly in a dual-control vehicle with a qualified driving instructor.


A driving safety education gap that is about to close

Chris Grayling, the Secretary of State for Transport, remarked: “Younger drivers are up to seven times more likely to be killed or seriously injured compared with drivers over 25, and lack of experience is an important factor,” in words quoted by The Guardian.

He added: “Allowing learners to drive on motorways in a supportive environment will help them develop a practical understanding of how to use motorways safely before driving independently.”

Partly influencing the Government’s decision was evidence indicating that newly qualified drivers were rarely making use of optional courses teaching the safe use of motorways. According to Government figures, a mere 3% of such drivers were taking the six-hour post-test “Pass Plus” course part of which focuses on how motorways can be wisely used.

Motorway lessons are also commonly available from driving instructors, but appear to see very low uptake, the Department for Transport observed.

Various merits of a long-awaited law change

In late 2016, the Government formally launched a consultation concerning whether this gap in the law should be closed and how this could be most effectively achieved. As the Express website notes, motorway driving entails a very different approach to using any other type of road.

Once this law change is in force, learners will have the valuable option of broadening their pre-test driving experience and learning ways of joining and exiting motorways and how to overtake and correctly use lanes. These drivers will also be able to better understand motorway-specific traffic signs and how to react to a car breaking down on a motorway.

Instructors should heed these terms of the change

However, from 4 June, various conditions will still have to be met by instructors seeking to take advantage of the change in England, Wales and Scotland; the change will not be applicable in Northern Ireland. Also, only use of cars – and not motorbikes – will be affected.

The GOV.UK website features a range of guidance – including that learners will have to be with an approved driving instructor and driving a car to which dual controls have been fitted. Trainee driving instructors will still not be permitted to take learners on a motorway.

Furthermore, in cases where motorway lessons will be legal, they will remain voluntary. The instructor will have the responsibility of deciding whether or when the learner has the necessary competence to be ready for motorway lessons.

A widely positive reaction to the law change

Grayling’s decision has been welcomed by various bodies. Pete Williams of the RAC noted that, despite the relative, statistics-proven safety of motorways, “it can be daunting using them for the first time after passing the driving test”.

Meanwhile, Jasmine Halstead, the British School of Motoring’s head of learning and development, insisted: “If learners aren’t allowed to practice on motorways under supervision then some will avoid motorways, and others will use motorways incorrectly when they have passed their test.”

Hence, she unsurprisingly said that the Government-initiated change was “great news for road safety”. Williams said that it “should further improve safety and enhance the confidence of new drivers”, who also tend to have relatively high insurance premiums with which to contend.

It remains to be seen how better education on motorway driving could affect the premiums of young and inexperienced drivers. Such drivers usually pay more for their insurance than their older and more experienced brethren, as the former are statistically likelier to make a claim.

However, some insurers with which we work are willing to cut their premiums for young drivers who have completed the Pass Plus course. Our website lets you speedily source a car insurance quote.

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