/ Motoring

Learning to drive: would you make changes?

Changes to the law mean learner drivers in England, Scotland and Wales can now take lessons on the motorway. Would you make further changes to the way we learn to drive?

Back in 2015, we asked if the driving test was starting to show its age as it hit its 80th birthday. Many of us queried certain aspects of the one-off test, and just how prepared we were to hit the road solo.

I’d almost forgotten that I’d left a lengthy comment at the time, questioning just how ready I was to drive on my own as a 17 year-old.

Fully comprehensive?

I remember being overjoyed to pass first time back in January 2007 – I hadn’t completely expected to as I knew I had weaknesses. My parallel parking left a lot to be desired and I tried to avoid hill starts where I could.

Fortunately for me I had a very good day – everything I did went well, and parallel parking didn’t even come up. I was delighted to get it out of the way.

It wasn’t until I left later in the evening to go out on my own that I suddenly felt a little underprepared. All my official lessons had taken place during daylight hours, I’d never been on the motorway, and I didn’t realise until halfway up the road that I wasn’t sure where the windscreen washer controls were on the car I was lucky enough to own – and it was filthy!

Whether it’s the weather, traffic conditions or the time of day, there are so many variables. While my lessons had been fantastic in teaching me the basics and how to tackle the intricacies of the test, I couldn’t help but feel like there was so much more to learn. Yet here I was, out on my own.

What would you change?

Allowing learners to have lessons on the motorway seems like a positive step to get younger drivers extra experience, and definitely a better option than leaving them to pick it up as they go along.

These changes to the law are now in place, but do you think they go far enough? Should motorway driving be a part of the test itself?

Perhaps a number of lessons/tests each specialising in certain conditions (rush-hour traffic etc) should also have to be completed/passed first? I know that would be my preference. Let us know what you’d change.


Driving lessons are not necessarily taken with an approved driving instructor. Many will be taken with family or friends who will not have dual control vehicles.

The report mentions many instructors are not keen to give motorway lessons and I can’t say I blame them. Perhaps there should be 2 tests, the first one for driving off the motorway. Then a few months later, a second test after taking motorway driving lessons with a qualified instructor by which time the learner driver should be safer on the road.

There are also some places that are quite far from the nearest motorway, so making everyone do lessons on motorways might not be practical.

That is the problem. However there are often dual carriageways that can be more challenging than motorways and a good place to get experience with a qualified instructor.

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I agree with Malcolm on the advantages of learning to drive on dual carriageways. While they have the same speed limits as motorways they are more difficult in a number of ways: they allow several other classes of vehicles to use them [including mobility scooters and bicycles] so additional observation and driving skills are required; the lanes are often narrower and fewer so there is less space to move in; the slip roads are usually shorter and have more difficult geometry and gradients; there are occasional right-turns involving crossing the contra carriageway; there are fewer multi-level grade-separated interchanges meaning more surface-level roundabouts; direction signs are smaller or closer to the exits; and they also have lay-bys from which vehicles can suddenly emerge. I consider dual-carriageway driving more demanding than motorway driving,

I agree that dual-carriage way driving is more demanding than the motorway. When I first passed I had set my satnav to ‘avoid motorway’ because I had such a fear of driving on them without someone else in the car. Well, I must have miscounted on a roundabout and taken the wrong exit because 2 days after passing, I found myself on the M11 towards Cambridge. After maybe 20 seconds of panic, I realised it was just like the A10 but more lanes. Now, I have no issues with motorways and think it could be good for learners to drive on them.

Living in a rural area with many long miles of single carriageway major roads the part I like least is overtaking slower moving vehicles, like trucks and caravans, especially when they see it as a challenge. Compared with that, driving on a fairly straight and level motorway with long visibility is comfortable.

I do support learners having the opportunity to gain experience of motorways before their driving test, even if it might not be convenient for everyone.

At one time it was common for driving instructors to take drivers for practice on routes that were used by driving examiners. I believe this practice has been phased out or deprecated. I certainly hope so because drivers need to be able to cope with the unknown.

All driving tests now include a section on a 70 mph dual carriageway; this has only become practical recently as test centres have been relocated away from town and city centres to places near by-passes and dual carriageway trunk roads.

About two or three years ago [I think] the Driving Standards Agency stopped publishing the test routes on their driving test centre websites and introduced more independent driving [self navigation by following the road signs] as a component of the test. I do not know how this affected the pass rate but it probably caused the driving instructors to rework their tuition methods substantially with less of the “take the third exit” – that is available on satnav nowadays but we still have to be able to drive with confidence and self-assurance without such aids.

Since making a three-point turn is virtually impossible on most roads nowadays – because of increased traffic and the presence of parked vehicles – this forms a much less significant feature of the test. Parallel parking is no longer a test imperative and advances in vehicle technology, even in small and cheap cars, are making it a less essential technique.

@wavechange I agree with you here. I am currently a learner and my driving test is coming up soon. I am terrified to even think about going on a motorway. If a motorway route was incorporated into my lessons then I don’t think I’d have this kind of fear.

Anika, have no fear. Motorways may seem daunting but in fact they’re a great deal easier than the average road in a city to drive. The speed is the one thing that concerns folks, but you can rive in the nearside lane until you become habituated to the speed and, as your confidence increases, you’ll happily want to try overtaking and other sundry manoeuvres.

Anika – If your instructor gives you plenty of experience on dual carriageway trunk roads where the speed limit is 70 mph you will gain all the experience you need to drive confidently on a motorway. The alignments and junctions on motorways are so much better, the signs, markings and indicators are so much clearer, and in general I would say that the other traffic is more disciplined. If you can cope with [and pass your driving test on] a two-lane dual carriageway with no hard shoulder and almost everything going at its maximum permitted speed there’s not much more that a motorway can throw at you. You don’t have to make your first motorway trip in the rush hour on a wet night! I am sure your instructor would be pleased to give you some motorway experience after you have passed your test – if not before if you can fit it in. Best of luck.

Phil says:
5 June 2018

Still amazed by the number of drivers I encounter who don’t even know that the speed limit on dual carriageways is 70 mph.

Hi Anika – The best time to make your first ventures onto motorways are when they are quiet. The signs are much better than on many roads and each junction has a number, so it’s difficult to take the wrong turning, though it’s important to get into the correct lane as soon as possible.

At busy times you are likely to be ‘tailgated’ and being closely followed by a car is quite intimidating. The risk can be minimised is to move to the left and allow other vehicles to overtake.

I hope your test goes well.

Thank you Ian and John. I appreciate the words of advice. Luckily, after years of searching, I have found a driving instructor that is calm and teaches me how to calm my anxiety on going 70mph. I didn’t realise that going on a motorway would be quite similar to a dual carriage way. Ian, I have tried overtaking on a couple of lessons and have overtaken a number of learner drivers too (I’m sure they were as anxious as me)

On every road at the moment I’m tailgated which has actually helped me on my road awareness, Wavechange. I will definitely try to go on a motorway during quiet periods. I’m going to try and avoid it the best I can at first and use John’s suggestion of going on dual carriage ways more first.

Thanks for the advice. Hopefully I pass my test in no time. 🙂

If I do have to travel on a motorway at busy times I sometimes head for the nearside lane, in convoy with the HGVs. As long as you are travelling at the same speed as them you are unlikely to be tailgated. You can then watch those in the other lanes exceed the speed limit and overtake on the left. 🙁

Please be aware that the maximum on a dual carriage way is 70 mph but is not always the speed allowed. we have a dual carriage way between Stafford and Stoke on Trent that is only maximum 60 mph posted for most of its length but with sections of 50 mph And 40 mph as the posted speed.

There are many dual carriageways with speed limits lower than the national maximum speed, usually because they are in urban areas or along residential roads, on the approach to roundabouts, or where there are T-junctions without entry and exit ramps. Gradients and curvature also determine maximum speeds. The most important point to remember is that dual-carriageways cater for all classes of traffic unless any particular type [e.g. bicycles] is specifically prohibited and provided with an alternative route.

I agree with the need for complex duel-carriageway/ and /or motorway driving element. Could another way of extending the experience of the learner driver be to have a log book of different aspects of driving which needs to be completed before the learner can apply for the test?
situations could include
lesson at night
lesson in rush hour traffic
lesson in poor weather conditions, e.g. rain inc heavy, sleet or snow, fog and low sun, (although this might need to be simulator type lesson at a center as we can’t direct weather!
actually checking oil, water, tyre pressure, etc

Another thought-
I had been a confident car driver for about 12 years when I decided to learn to ride a motorcycle.
The first stage of this was to pass the CBT (Compulsory Basic Training). This is taken on a 125 bike and on passing it the rider can ride a 125 with learner plates on their own.
What surprised me was how much I learned about other traffic on the road and the vulnerability, due to their small profile shape, of motorcyclists and bicycle users in particular.
The “life saver” check way of looking out for traffic has at times been the reason I’ve not been involved in accidents in my car when some other vehicle is just in the blind spot as I’ve checked the mirrors before altering course, e.g. to over-take.
In the past many car drivers progressed from the moped/bike/scooter to car route. I think this must have given those learners an additional valuable insight into driving which learning in a car cannot replicate.
I’ve begun to wonder whether there should be an element, either an actual CBT or simulated, which would give learner car drivers this practical awareness.

A good instructor will ensure that the pupil has a range of experiences as you suggest, although if the tuition takes place in the summer time it is unlikely to include any night driving.

I agree with your points, Fran. The more experience you can gain the better prepared you will be, both for the test and when you venture onto the roads alone. I have often wondered if having ridden a bike or motorcycle does make you a safer car driver but I’m sure it helped me.

As John says, it would be difficult to get experience of night driving in the dark during summer, but once you have had some tuition from an instructor it’s worth getting some driving practice with someone who has been driving for a few years. It’s also a way of gaining experience driving other cars. To supervise a Learner, a driver has to be over 21 and anyone planning to do this should check their insurance cover since the ‘excess’ is likely to be greater.

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I had been driving for a few years before buying a motorbike but riding the bike made me much more aware of the need to look out for those on two wheels.

It was the other way round for me, Duncan. I failed my first car test at the age of 17 because neither me nor my father* was aware of new rules for roundabouts, which were not covered in my copy of the Highway Code. After failing me, the examiner pointed out a notice pinned up in the waiting room. The motorbike test went well and the examiner was complimentary.

*In the late 60s it was not necessary to have lessons from a driving instructor and like many people at the time I was taught by a member of my family.

Another biker here. I took my motorbike tests almost 20 years after obtaining my car licence and it gave me a whole new perspective on being on the road. I would thoroughly support any proposal to make the CBT part of the Driving Test.

My instructor was an ex-Police motorcycle instructor and he gave me a book called ‘Motorcycle Roadcraft – The Police Riders Handbook’, which I would recommend to anyone looking to enhance their technique. I believe there is a version for car drivers too.

I was very lucky when I was learning to drive at the age of seventeen many moons ago, my instructor who had his own driving school was also a road rally driver who drove for the local driving club with a cabinet full of trophies as well as doing some test driving for Ford Motor Cars.

My lessons included driving at night, on snow covered roads, in heavy rain as well as in bright sunshine, we used dual carriageways on a regular basis to give me the confidence of driving at higher speeds to help prepare me for when I passed my test and would be able to go on the motorway.

After my test I felt reasonably comfortable and confident driving on normal roads but the first time I went on the motorway I was on my own and for the first couple of miles it was quite daunting but fortunately I very quickly settled and the nerves disappeared.

Twelve months after taking my test I did the advanced driving test and in my mid twenties got my HGV class 1.

I feel learners should drive in as many different weather and road conditions as possible and the details recorded for the examiner and once they are really ready for their driving test and only then they should be taken onto the motorway with a qualified instructor (not a relative) and given some experience of high speed (up to 70mph) driving as well as being part of the driving test so at least they will know what to expect when driving alone.

Derek says:
13 June 2018

I learned to drive a tractor while I was working on a farm at weekends and in school holidays when I was twelve (in 1958) and I carried on driving it until I was over eighteen. I took car driving lessons from one of my brothers for over a year and then I had several lessons from a professional driving instructor. I took my driving test when I was seventeen and I passed first time. My instructor had taken me on dual carriageways and I felt well prepared for driving on motorways. The only thing I had felt daunting was driving on my own without anyone sitting beside me: it just felt wrong. I overcame this feeling after a week or so. Motorways were no problem for me because of my having driven on dual carriageways. I didn’t have a car of my own at the time and had to borrow one from one of my brothers. When I did eventually have enough money to buy my own car I felt extremely proud. I had spent time saving for it; maybe that was why I had no accidents. I had to sell my car when I moved to London. I bought a motorbike and after riding around with L-plates for a while I took my motorcycle test and passed first time again. I learned the life-saver look over my shoulder when riding a motorbike and I transferred that to car driving later. Passing the driving test qualified me for controlling a car but experience gave me road craft, which is a major part of driving.

I am a retired driving instructor. I believe the current driving test is about right but after passing it all learners should be classified as Probationary – and not allowed on motorways – until they have completed a course of lessons with a qualified instructor to give them experience of conditions they will not not have previously experienced. From mid-Cheshire, if they were willing, I would take my newly-passed learners on to the M6, into Manchester city centre (including encounters with trams), out at night along dark country lanes, into the Peak District up steep hills and single-track roads with cattle grids and sheep. We’d go up to the Cat & Fiddle Inn from Macclesfield – officially Britain’s most dangerous road (but not if you drive sensibly). If it was pouring, foggy or icy, so much the better.

Tonyp says:
2 July 2018

The problem with making motorway driving conditional on an extra test is that it would disadvantage those living a significant distance from a motorway, or even a good standard dual carriageway.

Besides all the pros and cons for lessons on duel carriageways and motorways (with which I personally agree) I fully agree with all those who pass their test having to show, front and rear, P plates for 12 months, for their own safety and for warning/show consideration information to other road users.
I also think that a P plate should involve a logbook system, showing the degree of various experiences ….. duel carriageway/motorway/town/city/night-time … needing a certain level of each to be achieved before a ‘full’ licence is granted; like a pilot has to put-in a certain number of flying hours before obtaining their licence.
Night driving experience/lessons is to my thinking just as important as duel carriageway/motorway experience /lessons.
Due to the high death rate in the male 17 – 25 year age group, the highest, I would limit the number of passengers an L plate would allow to 1, a qualified driver and also that the limit a P plate would allow to be carried to 1 ……. discouraging the (often seen) temptation to “show off to their mates”.
As an aside and nothing to do with the driving test – I would like to see it compulsory that all purchases of 4 wheel-drive vehicles included lessons in how to use them in adverse conditions – in my (affluent) village when it snows the roads are full of such vehicles with the drivers having no idea how to use them.

I would raise the driving age to 18, too many immature teenagers on the road trying to prove their virility especialy let loose on motorways.

…never mind 18, how about 21 or 25?

Most learners do not need driving instructor teaching but miles and miles of driving on every type or road .My grand-daughter drove over 3000 miles with me and passed the test with just two very minor faults.

The only lessons I had were with my father but most people seem to agree that it’s a good idea to have some lessons with a driving instructor.

Welcome back Bishbut.

Tonyp says:
2 July 2018

Most of the comments relate to motorway driving but I feel there are some other ways that training could be improved. I live near to a driving test centre so get to see a lot of learners at different levels of competence. The problem is with those in the early stages of learning. Quite often the local roads are blocked by these early stage learners carrying out various manoeuvres. I’m not getting at the learners, we all had to go though this phase, but rather at the instructors who put them in this position. It cannot help the learners if they become conscious that they are causing inconvenience to other road users, I imagine that they become more and more flustered and embarrassed.

The problem is that instructors concentrate their activities on the roads adjacent to the test centre on the basis that these will be the roads used for the test. All very well for those close to being sufficiently competent to take the test but not so good, both for the locals and the learners, when they are still in the stage of finding out what the controls do. When I was a learner on motorcycles back in the 1950s, I took a course organised by the RAC and ACU. This was off road and concentrated on basic riding skills so that when I eventually took to the road I could concentrate on learning road craft without having to think about basic bike control. Perhaps there is scope for a similar arrangement for cars.

There is round here. I bought as presents to both children of our ex neighbours exactly what you describer – familiarisation lessons off road (and on simulated road).

I don’t drive a car but being riding motorbikes for forty years plus, and just wanted to say the standard of driving in this country is appalling, no one indicates anymore and if they do it at the last minute, so if anyone had an accident, is your insurance company going to pay out if it was your fault, no they want!
I was behind a driving instructor the other day and he was the same, already turning before he let me know which way he was going.
Road positioning is another one, no one has a clue where they should be on the road, when sitting at traffic lights, turning at a junction, Sorry but the lessions and testing is just not hard enought they need to get thousands of bad drivers off the road