/ Motoring

Should learners be allowed on the motorway?

L-plate on back of car

From next year learner drivers will be allowed to head up and down the motorway with a qualified instructor. Will this slow-up – and potentially endanger – other drivers, or is it key to helping learners gain experience?

Letting learner drivers loose on our motorways may seem like a recipe for disaster – or at least a multi-vehicle pile-up. However, that’s just what the Department for Transport has announced it is planning to do.

MP Mike Penning revealed plans to enable learner drivers to get some motorway driving training from 2012, provided they are accompanied by a qualified instructor.

This means they can’t speed around the country supervised only by a friend or relative, but that they can get experience of driving at high speeds in a safe way with an instructor. And they’ll hopefully learn vital skills that will keep them safer once they’ve passed their test.

The pros and cons of motorway lessons

I don’t relish the notion of having to dodge slow-moving L-drivers the next time I venture onto the M25. And what if they decide to hog the fast lane? There certainly could be a negative impact on congestion on our already overcrowded motorways.

However, anything that cuts the death and injury toll among young drivers has to be a good thing. In fact, I wonder if the Department for Transport has gone far enough – surely night-time driving should be added to the agenda for learners too.

And perhaps both of these types of driving should be made compulsory for everyone, except those living in remote parts of the country without a motorway network nearby. After all, one of the big plusses of passing the L-test – for parents and young drivers – is the ability it gives them to get home safely late at night.

Do you think our driving test is thorough enough, and if not how would you improve it?

Diana Donald says:
19 December 2011

People should be made to learn on motorways, but not until they are proficient. It should also be part of the test.

The driving test has never been enough – it should be a two phased test – with a retest say every five years. Hopefully this would remove the over 1 million uninsured drivers from the road – and pick up on the idiots that could drive properly once but no longer.

I would like to see teaching of tolerance and courtesy included in driver training . All drivers make mistakes and some make a lot of them. One of the reasons that older drivers are often safer than young drivers is that they make allowances for the deficiencies of others and are ready at all times to take action to avoid an accident. A little courtesy can make using the roads a safer and more pleasant experience.

Older people often regard young drivers as idiots, but maybe they cannot remember their own deficiencies. 🙂

Ideally, driving lessons and the test should cover situations that could prove difficult or stressful, such as using motorways, driving in a busy town centre, and driving on urban and rural roads in the dark (I’m very glad Claire mentions driving in the dark). In redesigning tuition and testing, input from driving instructors and examiners should be used in conjunction with information about accidents and the experiences of recently qualified drivers.

I don’t agree with the suggestion that ‘those living in remote parts of the country without a motorway network nearby’ should be excluded from motorway training. I don’t think it is necessary to explain why.

MissTash007 says:
19 December 2011

Im a driving instructor, I can say it was refreshing to read an artical stating what I’ve been saying for so long.

I agree that it would be dangerous to take learners on the motorway, they are not predictable and people are impatiant and agressive enough on normal roads when they see a learner. Regarding the night test, this is fantastic, however the summer causes a massive issue here.


saying all that something has to be done. There should be a compulsary 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 camara’s. That way those who need it will use it and those with no motorway network are not effected unless they move to a city when they can do the course and get their motorway licence.

All driving lessons should include a minimum of 2 night lessons, i make a point of taking as many people as i can down a very dark curvey country road. however this is not compulsary and it should be.

I also think that everyone who has to go through a test should have to have had at least 5 hrs signed off by a professional instructor to say that they are happy they can drive consistantly for a minimum of 5 hrs which would reduce the number of ‘fluke tests’ there are.

I also agree that there should be a test every 5 years, if you fail you have to retrain and retake the test.

There is also a concern that there are loads of learner bikes out there who have had a 5hr course to learn what it takes car drivers nearly 30 or more hours on average to learn before they can go out on their own.

Learner motorbikes should be put under the same restrictions as cars, they should have to have 30 hrs accompanied by an instructor before they can go alone.

However, all this is great, but so many people cause accidents by simply driving too close to learners or other drivers, going too fast approaching a roundabout, not looking at a junction. if people just did this and as someone else said treat others with respect, only use our horns as they are intended and not to harrass others then that would help reduce accidents.

sorry for the rant, im a little pationate about road safety and get frustraited that no one ever thinks to ask driving instructors what they think should happen, we see all the stupid things.


Hardly fair. I agree that learning motorway driving is essential but I also think that it’s ridiculous to make young drivers pay for the privilege of using one by making it an “add-on” course. That’s just a way to drain a young driver’s budget further… with the price of fuel, MOT, tax and other motoring costs do you really think this is feasible? I don’t.

Misstash007- a Driving Instructor! perhaps you should check up about the motorcyle test? It is far stricter thanm the car test, with various age restrictions, and enbgine size. A real pity that learner & newly qualified car drivers are not subject to same restrictions- good if they were limited to a 1 litre vehicle for first three years! It also seems that a lot ofr driving instructors are very inexperienced and don’t observe the highway Code- especially when in the learner car on their own. As for a retest every 5 years (vested interest?)- who would carry these our- they can hardly cope with normal tests! The best way to improve behaviour on the roads is the use of dedicated Trafiic Police, withy the power to give on the spot fines; and a compulsory re-test for all transgressions other than parking.

All driving test centres now have to be within easy reach of a good length of dual two-lane trunk road with grade-separated junctions so that driving at that level is part of the tuition and included in the test. Notwithstanding that [unlike motorways] such roads can carry tractors and pedal cycles, it still does not equate to motorway experience where there is usually a minimum of three lanes, more complex junctions where motorways divide and merge, more joining traffic and longer acceleration lanes. I would not be worried that a learner driving under tuition from a fully qualified instructor would be allowed to go on to a motorway prematurely or dawdle in the inside lane or misbehave in the outside lane; the chances are they will be in a dual-control vehicle and already have considerable experience of driving on a major dual-carriageway. It could even be built into a revamp of the progressive tuition syllabus that they do not enter a motorway until they have reached level five of trunk dual-carriageway driving. Of course all the “motorway regulations” signs at the entrances to motorways from all-purpose roads will have to have the “No L-Drivers” bit obliterated [or have those signs already been replaced by the bridge pictogram signs? – Just shows how rusty I am on this myself].

Lets get the motorways policed properly first, before letting learners lose on them. Middle lane hogs are all too common and 99% of the time for no good reason. Only then will be be wise to make motorway driving part of the driving test, or maybe a separate test to allow motorway driving if passed.

Learners need to cope with real life problems, and poor behaviour on motorways is one of them. The middle lane hogs are unlikely to disappear even if you and I wish they would.

So today, I am a slow-moving L-driver, potentially hogging the fast lane and causing congestion, even with the benefit of an experienced instructor sat beside me?

Tomorrow, I pass my test and, miracle of miracles, I suddenly become a competent motorway driver, no longer a source of frustration or danger to other motorists? How does that happen???

We either need to accept we have a one-stage test in the UK and allow L-drivers to get some supervised training under motorway conditions or, better still, have a two-stage test where the second part of the training includes motorway, night and bad weather driving.

Small point Em: there’s no ‘fast’ lane on a motorway. Perhaps you are another of those experienced rivers who could use a bit of top up training?!

@Phil – Your comment really needs to be addressed to the Deputy Motoring Editor of Which? I’m only using her expert words, viz: “I don’t relish the notion of having to dodge slow-moving L-drivers the next time I venture onto the M25. And what if they decide to hog the fast lane?”

FYI – I passed my IAM exam some 40 years ago and still have top up training from Class 1 police instructors from time to time.

‘Fast lane’ is a commonly used description, so why should Em or Claire be blamed for using it? Lane discipline on motorways is unlikely to be improved if we all use the approved terminology.

Fair enough, add an extra stage to the existing theory and practical tests, and re-test drivers every few years. The theory is good but it might be worth running a pilot scheme to prove that these measures actually do improve road safety.

Fair point Em, although lots of people still insist on using the terminology.
wavechange-the term is wrong and misleading as you should always be in the furthest lane available to the left. You don’t cruise as such in any one lane. If you do, you’re one of those £$%^s who made my trip on the M25 yesterday take at least half as long again as it could have!
I can also add, although didn’t originally want to, that I am an IAM member since 1975 and still take an active interest in maintaining my driving skills! I do wish the test were compulsory then we wouldn’t need this sort of article.

As I am sure you know, Rule 261 states: “You MUST NOT exceed 70mph …”. If your journey time is taking at least half as long again as it could have, due to “those £$%^s “ in the middle and outside lanes, they cannot be travelling at more than 47 mph.

In those circumstances, you should remain in the inside lane and apply Rule 268: “In congested conditions, where adjacent lanes of traffic are moving at similar speeds, traffic in left-hand lanes may sometimes be moving faster than traffic to the right. In these conditions you may keep up with the traffic in your lane even if this means passing traffic in the lane to your right.”

Most of the traffic in the inside lane (although there shouldn’t be any, according to your scenario) will consist of Goods vehicles above 7.5 tonnes maximum laden weight, travelling at 60mph, so there is no way your journey time can increase by at least half, if you apply correct lane discipline yourself.

Unless, of course, all lanes are slow moving and congested, in which case you have no right to expect drivers in the overtaking lanes to move over just so that you can pass them. As wavechange is fond of pointing out, tolerence and courtesy towards other motorists is the skill that most of us are lacking.

Sorry – make that “tolerance” – and spelling, in my case!

Phil – I do understand the rules and it was not me who introduced the offending term. I suspect that most motorists understand it too, like they know that the maximum speed on our roads is 70 mph. There cannot be many drivers who obey all the rules all the time, unfortunately.

I don’t think you or I are going to influence the driving standards of others, so the best solution is tolerance and patience.

Of course I was using hyperbole. But nevertheless there was a huge number of drivers sitting semi-permanently in lane 3 out of 4 at 55-60 mph. Needless to say I only groan inwardly and never act in an intimidating or illegal way.
Merry Xmas to one and all, including those who sat in lane 3 at 55mph! Let’s hope for a better New Year…but I have my doubts.

Ellie G says:
2 January 2012

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.

Steve says:
20 July 2012

As I am a Driving Instructor of 25+ years, I would never take “Slow moving -L- Pupils” as its put, on a motorway, spare me some intelligence. Of course we would have to make sure that the pupil has reached the standard required to train on motorways, pre or post test, and that would be down to our own Professional judgement.

All to often once a pupil has passed the test, that would be the last we would see of them, a parent would then like to take over and go on the motorway with their son or daughter, giving them all their knowledge of motorway driving, probably hogging the middle lane, overtaking on the left, late signals, etc. all in my opinion to save a couple of bob, “you dont need the instructor now, I will teach you this” rings in my ears.

Until this is stopped and its made that you have to go and do a couple of hours on the motorway will we still have novice drivers causing major problems.
Ok maybe not all novice drivers will cause problems, a lot are aware of what they are doing, but it only takes one, and one too many in my opinion.

So leave the tuition down to the pro`s who know what they are doing.

PS: a pupil of mine has recently bought themselves a dog and so decided to try and cancel some lessons no doubt to pay for it, they are due to take a test in a month or so so I refused to cancel the tuition and the dad wasn`t very happy about it.
So if the pupil fails the test, guess who will get the blame for that, got it in one !
Wake up parents, we are not bloody miracle workers.

John Brinks says:
25 July 2013

In response to some posted answers, i have just passed my test so here is some feedback…

1. I only learnt to drive because my job requires it and in all honesty it was a complete nightmare, hard to get tuition after work, i had to pay more for the privilege, struggled to get time off for my theory and the same for my driving test, nearly impossible to negotiate with work due to date restrictions from DVLA. As to the poster who said we should be restricted to a 1 litre car? Well no company has pool cars which are 1 litre or less so that option would never work.

2. Motorway learning should definitely be compulsory. it was only last week I had to use the M1 and I felt unprepared and nervous for the duration, it went fine but I wished i had some experience from an instructor.

3. The amount of idiot…young drivers I had to deal with whilst learning was unbelievable, same can be said for elderly drivers. Some of you older drivers think your skills are excellent, my mum thought the same until I pointed out some of her serious mistakes. The rules on using advanced junctions has changed significantly in 10 years and im afraid a lot of road users are now unqualified.

4. In reply to the poster who spoke about night time lessons? I did actually have night time lessons due to only being able to learn after work. Good experience but lets face it.. when you are learning to pass a test that is exactly what you are doing… preparing for the test, this does not include night time driving so learners will never take this option out of choice. It is wrong of coarse but to change it you need to change the test times so it may be possible you will drive at night.

What idiot has proposed that learners should be allowed to endanger their lives and that of others by learning on live motorways when in this day and age simulation and simulators are part of every day gaming — perhaps we should allow jumbo jet pilots to practice in the sky above us as well I hope not.
In the absence of sanity prevailing ,Please please someone with some thought and standing should start a petition against such stupidity AND COUNT ME IN.

Many “qualified” drivers should not be allowed on a motorway they are just a danger to other drivers driving along a motorway Retests are needed for all drivers NOW seeing the many “drivers” who have no idea of how to drive at all I travel a lot by bus although I still drive many miles I see more idiots when riding on a bus The standard of diving is getting worse day by day

Just driven down a motorway and realised slow moving vehicles of all kinds can be a problem How about a minimum speed limit on motorways ??

That might need to be weather dependent, at least for those of us who do not either have a death wish, or an XZY Series N fitted with traffic penetrating radar.

However, I agree that driving excessively slowly on a motorway can be dangerous.

I thought that dual carriageways were similar to motorways in that lane changes are necessary, speeds are generally higher and one is dealing with one way traffic, constantly looking at what is coming up behind and the behaviour of those in front. Motorways have different signs, are usually longer and some have more lanes than others, but the general principle is the same, even if some of the junctions need to be worked out in lane changes and overhead directions. The proposal gives the instructor semi-control over the car, though in an automatic, there is no clutch to de-couple the engine, just a brake to slow it while the learner has the accelerator down. The instructor then, additionally needs to move the gear selector to neutral and perhaps correct the steering at the same time. Hopefully the sight of an L plate will alert other drivers to be cautious when approaching the vehicle, but there is enough to do in keeping oneself safe from other hazards, without adding this to them. I am probably against this idea, but someone, in authority has weighed up the risks and thought otherwise, so maybe the extra tuition would make for safer drivers in the future.

I see why this Conversation has been resumed after a four year gap: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40905632

I have no concerns over learner drivers using motorways to make them proficient . By the time their qualified instructor allows them onto a motorway they will have driven at 70 mph on dual-carriageway trunk roads, have learnt lane discipline and how to join and leave at slip roads, will be up-to-date on the highway code and driving technique, and will be under competent supervision. As I mentioned at the beginning of the Conversation in 2011, all-purpose trunk roads are more of a challenge than motorways because they already carry learners and routinely have slow-moving agricultural vehicles on them as well as bicycles.Motorway signs are bigger and easier to assimilate because there are no roundabouts on motorways. So personally I don’t see what the fuss is about.

Since my county [Norfolk] has no motorways I suppose learners will have additional expense and inconvenience if this is made compulsory.

I take your points, John, but motorways can be rather intimidating at busy times, which is why many older people avoid motorways long before giving up driving. Overtaking on the left and tailgating are far more common on motorways than dual carriageways.

I support learners gaining experience on motorways once they are confident on other roads. It seems a better alternative to letting newly qualified drivers drive on motorways with no previous experience.

Learners have to get experience of other driving behaviour somewhere and doing it under controlled conditions should be safer. Many new drivers might never have been on a motorway before so their instructor should probably take the wheel on the first occasion and judge when to let the pupil take control subject to traffic conditions. The independent driving part of the driving test is probably more nerve-racking than motorway driving under direction.

Motorway driving cannot form part of the driving test because many driving test centres are a long way away from a motorway but all are now within easy reach of a 70 mph dual carriageway.

What half – baked idiot thought that allowing learner drivers to practice on live motorways was a good idea — in an age where simulation and simulators are a part of every day gaming . It must be safer for learners, driving instructors and all concerned to gain experience in a more controlled environment of a suitably equipped test centre . Let sanity prevail — as a simulator could provide all weather conditions and situations to be experienced each and every minute of every day at a more local and convenient venue.

I suppose that we could replace all or some driving instruction on the roads with simulators. I have never used simulators and am open-minded.

I’m not too concerned about letting learners loose on motorways under supervision once they have reached the required standard to drive on other roads. What worries me more is those with licences, but drive aggressively, ignore speed limits, tailgate, undertake and goodness knows what else. I don’t know how conventional tuition or simulators will ever tackle the problem of rotten driving.

I’d think there were enough off-road open spaces around where driving instructors could teach the basics of car handling before pupils venture on to the roads. A group I belong to has 4 wheel drive vehicles, and a single deck bus, that 14 year olds and upwards drive on a field, and very competently. Once they have the control skills then they need experience of “real” roads and traffic, and should be given instruction on fast roads and motorways before being let loose. Many will not have access to motorways, though, so it can only have limited application.

We all have access to motorways, but it is less convenient for some than others. When applying for a job many travel long distances for interviews, irrespective on convenience and cost. I don’t know if giving learners experience of motorway driving will make them safer drivers but if this can be demonstrated then perhaps it should be made mandatory. That’s my view.