/ Motoring

Should motorway driving be part of your test?

We’ve had motorways for well over 50 years and a compulsory driving test for nearly 80, yet learner drivers are banned from motorways. Should drivers learn to drive on motorways before passing their tests?

Though motorways are some of the largest and fastest roads in the country, drivers don’t get any practice on them before gaining their full licence. In fact learner drivers are forbidden from even venturing onto motorways while behind the wheel.  However, as soon as they receive their full licence which allows them to drive unaccompanied, drivers can head straight into the overtaking lane.

A rounded driving experience

Driving can be a daunting prospect for many people, especially those with little experience and no experience of driving by themselves. I was lucky enough to be able to drive thousands of miles with my parents before I took my test. I drove at night, during thunderstorms, hail, wind and urban rush hours.

When we discussed this issue on Convo previously, Ellie G told us how she invested in some extra lessons on motorway driving after passing her test:

Once I had passed my test my driving instructor offered me two lessons on motorway driving as he was aware that I would be using motorways fairly frequently. I had two lessons and it was money well spent. This was over twenty years ago and I have always maintained that motorway lessons should be compulsory when the learner is fully competent. Of course it would not stop the dreadful behaviour of some drivers on motorways but perhaps new drivers would be less nervous and prone to errors.

And Driving instructor MissTash007 has an interesting compromise – do you think this could take off:

There should be a compulsory motorway course and test if people wish to drive on the motorway, that way it is an optional course, however if they do not take it they are not legally allowed on the motorway, through licence plate tracking it’s easy to police with so many cameras.

Learners on motorways

Motorways form a significant part of the UK road network, so surely it’s only sensible to prepare drivers for driving on them. Some learners may live in areas where their dual carriageways create similar driving experiences to their local motorways – but not all will have this exposure.

Do you think motorway driving should be part of the test? Should compulsory motorway lessons follow or should they be optional? And how would you like to make sure new drivers are as safe as they can be?



I agree that novice drivers should get experience of driving on motorways, though I am uncertain about whether this should be the final part of preparing for a test or done after passing the test.

I also very much agree with Chris about the importance of gaining experience, as a learner, of driving at night, in poor weather conditions, and in rush hour traffic.

“in poor weather conditions” My daughter took her test yesterday, 1st time she’s driven in pouring rain and with very wet roads. She failed as she didn’t reduce speed soon enough on about the 2nd /3rd corner of the test. Oh well, she’s learn for the next one.

She’s been using a well known A road between the town she lives in and the one I live in ( that’s where the nearest test centre is). It’s 3 lane and looks and acts just like a motorway.

Last year when one of her friends drove her home from uni they used that road, and she thought it was a motorway, as bless her heart, in rural Wales apparently they don’t have normal roads that big.

In rural Essex we are 50 miles from the nearest motorway. I am sure there are other areas of the UK that are even further away. It is impractical to learn on a motorway in this situation.

Angie says:
23 October 2015

Yes, agreed. Another example is North Norfolk. It would be one of the furthest points from a motorway, save say Penzance, by about 5 miles. Penalising rural young people. Will there be a financial support scheme if this process became compulsory, I wonder?

What I think would work for me is keep the driving test the same as is now, but when the licence is issued, only have it valid for 3-6 months and with the restriction of no motorway driving unless under instruction and with L plates. During that 3-6 months you should be required to pass another test to enable you to drive on motorways. If after that time you have passed a test you get issued with the normal licence. If you haven’t ( presumably cos you have no intention of using a motorway) you get issued a full licence with the restriction of no motorway driving. Fines for caught driving on a motorway without a valid licence £1000. If needs to be more than the cost of lessons + test.

For overseas drivers using overseas driving licences, they’d need to apply for a motorway extension costing £100. Valid only for 3-6 months, during which time they can take driving lessons and a test to use the motorways.

I agree that for many it will be impractical to have a driving test to include a motorway, because of the distance to reach one. In many ways, I think driving on a dual carriageway is worse than a motorway. Same speed, more hazards. They also want experience of night driving, driving in rain, mist and snow or ice to become competent – not something the test can cover, only experience. When my kids passed their tests they took more lessons to get a Pass Plus, which did include motorway and dual carriageway, rain, and driving in the dark if it was winter. It did their driving good and also reduced their insurance premiums.

Malcolm says:
6 February 2014

I have to drive 30 miles to the nearest motorway. Maybe this could be the lever to get a South Coast motorway through Dorset and Devon!

However, I don’t see the fuss about motorways.

I have driven thousands of motorway miles, I’m sure a great many others have. What makes it so different? 50 years ago it was a big deal. Now it isn’t. Then, it stretched the abilities of the average car. Now it doesn’t, even the most modest car is perfectly at home on a motorway.

It’s not really any different from any other dual carriageway, as others have pointed out. The main hazard on a motorway is boredom.

As for all these tests and draconian restrictions – why?

Have you not noticed how many people live in the middle lane? On the M25 you “could” safely undertake people camped in the 3rd /4th lane using the 1st lane. And its very common.

Even though they’ve only within the last 12 months introduced a law to try and prevent lane hogging, I’ve not noticed it a) being enforced or b) making the slightest bit of difference to peoples inability to use motorways safely.

I feel the best way forward is to educate people, and what better way than to get them when they first start out.

Given that some learner drivers are not confident on normal roads and hold up traffic, it would be dangerous to have drivers of that calibre on the motorway. There is the problem, already highlighted, of drivers who live a considerable distance from a motorway. Probably a two tier driving test may be needed with drivers having to display a “P” during this interim period or some similar marking but there is still the problem of the drivers who live a distance from a motorway but,if we are to have a test for motorway driving, they should not be exempt as they may drive on a motorway at some time or other.

It should be borne in mind that passing a driving test in one country gives a driver the right to drive in most other countries without further testing so should we be testing for motorway conditions?

Yes, Essex had NO motorways when I left 30 years ago, and getting motorway experience would a problem in many parts of the UK. Lane discipline is a problem. On the M1 at Hemel Hempstead approaching the M25, plenty hog lanes 3 and 4. Considering I’m from Yorkshire now, I’ve twice been behind one driver who wasn’t doing 65mph in lane 3, who slowed for the Speed Camera Hatching!
As big a problem is the sharp way people come straight off a slip road and career across to the middle or offside lane, often without there being a vehicle in the nearside lane – Lane Hogging Double Plus? People leave motrways badly. Some don’t seem to understand the necessity for moving to Lane 1 in advance of exiting, who then brake in lane two and then push through a gap. God help some of the drivers who have to cope with this, not always commercials by any means. Some drive at 70plus from the outside lane to the exit slip.
I now travel around 50k miles a year and have all these behaviours logged by a dashboard camera.
What about using simulators?

Sounds like a lot of “experienced” drivers could do with a motorway test, as well as new ones.

Angie says:
23 October 2015

Simulators would solve an 80 mile trip to a nearest motorway for drivers in the East of England and the far south west, otherwise financially penalising the young drivers in those areas, living nowhere near a motorway.

Donna says:
6 February 2014

Definitely, I have been driving for just over 3 years and wouldn’t dare go near motorway. Wish I had experience of this.

I believe the driving test now includes a section of multi-lane dual-carriageway trunk road with grade-separated junctions and no right-hand turnouts because every county now has such a highway. In fact test centres have been relocated in order to facilitate this. Such a road gives all the driving conditions found on motorways, except some of the signage, and certainly incorporates all the driving techniques required [including a few more as cyclists, mobility scooters and tractors are permitted to use them]. Indeed, motorway driving is probably easier overall because, on all-purpose roads, the entry/exit acceleration/deceleration lanes are often less generous and the geometry of motorways is generally more forgiving. Maximum speed limits are the same but there is probably more over-speeding on motorways [not recommended on the driving test!].

Bob Cormack says:
10 February 2014

I agree with this comment, living in the Scottish highlands where we have a limited number of dual carrigeways, but no motorways, would make it almost impossible to be a practical part of the national driving test for all drivers

Paul says:
7 February 2014

Driving instructor MissTash007 says that “through licence plate tracking it’s easy to police with so many cameras”.
This is not true. Licence plate tracking can tell who owns the car, but not who is driving it.

What are we trying to achieve?
1. We want to save lives, and especially young lives, that are lost in car crashes.
2. We want to improve the safe flow of traffic on motorways and “motorway-like” roads.

So how are we going to do it?
A is for attitude – teach young people that it is an investment in a skill for life – a responsibility – not a right.
B is for basics – dedicated “closed-circuit” training centres and simulators. Develop 1-day introduction courses small groups. Theory – first drive – simple driving – pre-journey checks – how to change a tyre.
C is for crashing – yes, seriously. Put every new driver in a multi-point harness, “crash” them into a solid object and turn them over through a 360! “Best avoid doing that in real life then!”
D is for development – professional training leading to a first test for a “Probationary” licence. “P” plates, not between midnight and 5am, limit on young passengers, limit on speed, no motorways.
E is for enhanced skills – professional training on motorways or motorway-like roads, driving at night, and back to the closed-circuit training centre for driving in the wet and on a skid-pan, leading to test for a full licence.
It won’t be cheap – but nor is a wasted or seriously damaged life!

I passed my test in 1985, when the examiner gave me my pass he said now you learn to drive.I understood what he meant after being cosseted by my instructor for 18 lessons,I had intended to book some motorway lessons but decided instead to go out every Sunday for a month whilst it was quiet, I soon got my confidence, but I still dread busy times on the M62 dodging Idiots whose driving leaves a lot to be desired.

It have always been considerate when there are learners around but I have to admit that my tolerance levels are declining rapidly. The problem is not the learners, they have to learn somehow, but rather with the way that driving schools operate. Perhaps I should explain that there is a driving test centre about 300 yards from where I live. Those taking the test are no real problem, most of them have gained enough competence to fit in with all the normal traffic.

Where it all goes wrong for all of us living round here is the way that driving schools carry out the majority of their training on the roads that the learners will be using when they eventually take the test. The result is that the local roads are full of learners, many of them in very early stages of the learning process. There are three possible routes I can use when approaching my house from one direction. On one occasion all three were blocked by learners. One was, I suspect, on a very early lesson because every time he came to a halt it took six or more attempts to get moving again, another route was blocked by a learner practising three point turns and the third by one practising parallel parking. On each route, one of which is also a bus route, there were queues of traffic in both directions being held up.

I’m not blaming the learners for this problem, as I mentioned previously they have to learn somehow. In fact I feel very sorry for them because it is obvious that they are aware of the problems that they are causing and this is flustering them thus making the situation worse. I suspect that for many of them they wind up in quite a state of tension, which cannot be beneficial for the learning process and probably leaves many of them as nervous drivers when they do eventually pass the test.

The solution, in my opinion, is to split the learning process into two parts. The first part would be on a training ground away from traffic so that the learners could concentrate on the simple mechanics of driving, including such things as three point turns, parallel parking, hill starts and so on. Only when they have achieved proficiency in this area could they be exposed to traffic on normal roads. In addition, I would ban all learners, other than those taking the test, from the area round the test centre. This would have two benefits: firstly, the load would be spread over a larger area and secondly, the test itself would be more searching because the learners would not have ‘learned the roads’.

I too live near a driving test centre and know exactly what you mean. Driving instructors, in order to get a pass, take learners over the same routes every time to get the candidate familiar with the test route.

From my own experience, this is the wrong way! I took my first test, many years ago in London, virtually passing my front door. As a result, I knew the route like the back of my hand and knew local traffic. As a result, I failed the test as I went across a “minor crossroad” without checking both ways. Because I knew that one road only had a synagogue, and it wasn’t Saturday, and the opposite road came from a crescent with the Jewish residents at the other end, I knew that any traffic always followed certain routes. The other “minor crossroad” was similar. On my second test, the route was over the other side of town which was unfamiliar to me. As a result, I passed!

I don’t know where the spurious ‘t’ came from in my previous post! It should have started ‘I have always been …’

The driving test routes used to be published on the DSA website but that was stopped a few years ago because learners were becoming too practiced and it was was causing problems for local residents. The driving school tutors still know all the right places to take their pupils for parallel parking and three point-turns so there has been little relief. Most test centres had around twenty routes but, for obvious reasons, the first and last sections of all the routes were more or less the same and this remains the case, so people living in the vicinity are still inconvenienced by a constant stream of learners. Roundabouts on the test routes have to be approached with caution -there’s usually a learner doing a crash course on it, and the double roundabouts in Bury St Edmunds seem to be the most hazardous places on the roads.

When my father taught me to drive, many years ago, we learned about routes by following driving school cars, keeping well back out of respect and in case an emergency stop was on the agenda.

I live in a quiet cul-de-sac that links to a road that is used by driving instructors to teach absolute novices. Often there are two or three learners’ cars on this road and I once counted five. I presume this road is popular because there is little traffic and residents rarely park their cars on this road. There is no longer a local driving test centre but I have not seen a decrease in the number of learners using the road during daylight hours. Fortunately, drivers are generally very patient.

Novices can be a hazard on busy urban roads and dual carriageways, so I welcome progression from quiet estate roads with good visibility to busier and faster roads.

Motorway driving can be very different from driving on dual carriageways, since there is the need to remain alert at all times, despite travelling for long distances without much happening to command attention.

Arnie S says:
21 December 2015

This came up again on Radio 4 evening news. Living where it’s at least 70 miles to the nearest motorway what are learner drivers to do? There will be many people in the same situation. For it to be necessary would add to the cost of what is already an expensive process!