A change in the law will see L-plates on the UK’s motorways within months, in a move welcomed by road safety groups. Since the UK’s first motorway opened to traffic almost 60 years ago, the nation’s M-roads have been free of cars displaying the dreaded L-plate.
But learner drivers will finally be allowed to have lessons on motorways in a matter of months after a change in the road rules. The move follows years of pressure from road safety groups over what they argued was a long-running safety omission.
While motorways are the safest type of road to travel on, the bar on learners using them meant they tended to be tackled for the first time by newly qualified drivers, who would often be alone in the car.
Post-test motorway courses are available to teach the specific skills needed for driving on them, but government research found that only a very small percentage of new drivers were taking these.
From next year, a change to the law will allow learners to drive on motorways, but only with a qualified driving instructor in a dual-control car, said the transport secretary, Chris Grayling.
It will apply only to cars, not to motorbikes, and only in England, Wales and Scotland.
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 Grayling said.
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
Government figures show that only about 3% of new drivers take the Pass Plus course, a six-hour post-pass instruction that includes being shown how best to drive on motorways.
Driving instructors often offer motorways lessons for new drivers, but the Department for Transport (DfT) said uptake also seemed very low.
At the end of last year the DfT launched a formal consultation on changing the law, asking whether the change should happen and, if so, how it could be best implemented.
The RAC welcomed Grayling’s decision to push ahead with the change. While motorways are statistically our safest roads, it can be daunting using them for the first time after passing the driving test, said Pete Williams, from the organisation.
Giving learners the option to gain valuable experience on our fastest and busiest roads should further improve safety and enhance the confidence of new drivers.
Jasmine Halstead, head of learning and development at the British School of Motoring, said: 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 it is great news for road safety that learners will be able to drive on motorways under supervision.
New driving test from December 4 – updated 2017 exam includes satnav
Changes to the driving test, designed to reflect the realities of modern motoring, will come into effect this December.
New elements of the assessment include using a satellite navigation system, answering safety questions while driving, and a lengthened “independent driving” demonstration. Manoeuvres such as ‘reverse around a corner’ will be replaced with more modern challenges, such as driving into and reversing out of a parking space.
There will also be a “reduction in focus” on quiet, low-speed, low-risk roads, such as those currently used for test routes, and an increased emphasis on higher-risk roads – where new drivers are most likely to crash.
“These changes announced today will help reduce the number of people killed or injured on our roads, and equip new drivers with the skills they need to use our roads safely,” said Transport Minister Andrew Jones.
“Ensuring the driving test is relevant in the 21st Century – for example, the introduction of sat navs – will go a long way towards doing this.”
With built-in sat navs becoming commonplace in all parts of the new car market, and with around half of all drivers having one, their inclusion in the driving test is almost overdue. A consultation in 2016 found that 70 per cent of respondents supported this change.
Another change designed to tackle “distraction” is the addition of a safety question while the car is in motion. The example given in today’s official announcement is asking the candidate to activate the heated rear windscreen while driving – perhaps not the most demanding of tasks, but certainly a step towards addressing the complexities of real-world driving. Previously, these “show-me-tell-me” questions were asked when the car was parked.
The Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has trialled these changes with more than 860 driving instructors, plus more than 4,300 of their students, with “positive” feedback from the trial.
“We are very supportive of the revisions DVSA is making to the practical driving test, which will mean candidates undergo a far more realistic assessment of their readiness to take to the road unsupervised,” said Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation.
“Much has changed since the first driving test was taken in 1935, and it must be right that the test evolves, just as the cars we drive are themselves changing to incorporate ever more driver assist technology such as inbuilt sat nav systems. Novice drivers need to demonstrate the right skills and driving style to cope with the new environment.”
“Clearly driving examiners and instructors both need time to adjust to the new test, in particular to ensure that candidates are well-prepared, nevertheless it is good to know that the new test will be running by the end of this calendar year.”
The changes come into effect on 4 December, 2017. The pass requirements will remain the same, meaning that you’ll fail the test if you make 16 or more minor faults, or one serious or dangerous one.
The government said the change would allow learner drivers to “get a broader driving experience”, practise at higher speeds and put their theoretical knowledge into practice.
Mr Jones said: “We have some of the safest roads in the world and we want to make them even safer.
“These changes will equip learners with a wider range of experience and greater skill set which will improve safety levels on our roads.
It will be up to driving instructors to decide if their students are capable enough to go on to the motorway
For car drivers, the changes would mean that competent learners would be able to have lessons on motorways with an approved driving instructor in a dual controlled vehicle.
For those on motorcycles, the Compulsory Basic Training course – which allows them to ride unaccompanied on roads – would also be updated.
Motorcycle training would also require more online courses, with novice riders having to take a theory test.
The plans have the backing of RAC director Steve Gooding.
“The casualty statistics tell us that motorways are our safest roads, but they can feel anything but safe to a newly qualified driver heading down the slip road for the first time to join a fast-moving, often heavy, flow of traffic,” he said.
“Many are so intimidated by the motorway environment that they choose instead to use statistically more dangerous roads, so we welcome this move which will help new drivers get the training they need to use motorways safely.”
New driver Cesca Astley, who passed her test earlier this year, told BBC Radio 5 live the first time she drove on the motorway was “really daunting”.
But Ms Astley does not think these new proposals would have helped.
“I felt like passing my driving test was the confirmation I could do this. I don’t think I would have been confident [driving on the motorway] before I passed my test.”
Tim Shallcross, from road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, argues that with a little “tuition” and “supervision” learners will find the confidence to use the roads properly.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “They’re our most inexperienced drivers, therefore we should put them on the safest roads we have.”
But Mr Shallcross said he didn’t want to see “cost obstacles” put in the way of learners and that “logged experience” could be used over “mandatory” training hours.
The Times reported on Friday that the government was also considering plans to introduce a mandatory minimum learning period for learner drivers, which could see them being made to spend up to 120 hours behind the wheel before taking their test.
A spokesman for the DfT said it was looking into a range of measures to improve safety for new drivers, including a trial of targets for the number of hours spent learning, but there were no current plans to introduce a minimum figure.
The department is also still asking for feedback from the public on the current training and testing for driving instructors.
Young learner drivers are concerned with the current driving test and support the government in bringing in proposed changes – that’s according to new research from Marmalade, a leading provider of cars and insurance for young drivers.
The research, conducted this week, questioned learner drivers aged between 17 and 24 about their thoughts on proposed changes by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA*). This week it pushed for a series of proposed changes to the current driving test.
The majority of respondents (62%) believed that manoeuvres such ‘reverse around a corner’ and ‘turn in the road’ should be replaced with real-life scenarios, such as driving into and reversing to a parking bay.
Over half (54%) of the learner drivers surveyed thought that candidates in driving tests should be asked to follow directions from a sat nav, and believed that the test needed to reflect more real life scenarios, including pulling over for emergency vehicles.
Crispin Moger, CEO of Marmalade, said: “This latest research of our learner drivers is very telling and I would support the overwhelming majority of our learner drivers who believe that changes need to be made to update the
test, to bring the process in-line with day-to-day driving. Encouraging more focus on real-life scenarios in the test will only help young driver safety and ensure the UK’s novice drivers are well-equipped to deal with modern day driving and distractions.”
Bobby Hopkinson, a 17 year-old Learner driver said: “I think having sat nav as part of the driving test is a really good idea. It’s a distraction to follow the directions and look at the screen as well as drive safely! To have it as part of my lessons would mean I would be more experienced at using it, hopefully making me safer.”
The easiest place to pass your practical driving test is Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria, with areas of London considered the hardest, according to a new report by Privilege Car Insurance.
The cover provider analysed Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) data from 2011 to 2015 to reveal that just one in three learners fails in Barrow – much better than the national failure rate of 53 per cent.
Other hotspots for drivers successfully ditching the L-plates are Whitby, North Yorks and Llandrindod Wells in Powys. In general, rural areas are much easier locations to pass a test.
In contrast, cities are much tougher and London accounts for four out of the top five areas where you’re most likely to fail the test. Wanstead is statistically the trickiest test centre, with the route including four major roundabouts. One of those is the Redbridge roundabout which has multiple lanes and heavy traffic.
This can cause particular issue for learners getting in the right lane and make it easy to rack up a number of minors. That’s why just a third of people pass when taking the test from the Wanstead centre.
The number one reason for someone to fail a driving test is lack of observation at junctions followed by failure to check mirrors, steering control and turning right at junctions.
Neil Beeson, Privilege driving consultant and driving test expert, explained: “The data reveals that it is easier to pass in a rural setting than in a city one and this can be put down to a number of factors including; heavier congestion, higher volume of vehicles, both parked and moving, and an increased number of roundabouts in city areas.
“The downside to learning to drive in quieter areas is that it can put you at a disadvantage when you have to drive in heavy traffic, or in complicated multi-lane situations.”
Proving the maxim “if at first you don’t succeed then try, try again”, the 63-year-old is among the top-20 people who have failed the practical test the most times since records began.
Responding to a Freedom of Information request, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has published details of the most number of times people have failed their practical and theory tests.
Fourteenth on the practical test list is the unnamed woman, who took her numerous driving tests at the Blackburn with Darwen centre in Commercial Road.
But her persistence finally paid off as the woman was able to rip her “L” plates up within the past year, after being given the thumbs-down on 30 previous occasions.
The current cost of a driving practical test is £62, meaning the Blackburn woman will have racked up fees of £1,922 on the examinations alone, without taking into account the cost of any driving lessons.
The current method of recording data by the DVSA was introduced in 2004.
Top of the list of driving test failures is a 38-year-old man from Garston, Liverpool, who also passed his test this year at the 39th time of trying.
Remarkably, the record for the most number of theory test failures is 113, held by a 30-year-old woman from the Ilford area who has still not attained a pass.
DVSA chief driving examiner, Lesley Young said: “It’s essential that all drivers demonstrate they have the right skills, knowledge and attitude to drive safely.
“The driver testing and training regime tests candidates’ ability to drive safely and responsibly as well as making sure they know the theory behind safe driving.
“All candidates are assessed to the same level and the result of their test is entirely dependent on their performance on the day.”
Are you the woman who passed her test at the 31st attempt or do any of our readers know her?
UKIP Transport spokesman Jill Seymour has called for an urgent review of staffing levels at Britain’s driving test centres after it emerged that waiting times for tests were continuing to grow.
And Mrs Seymour claimed the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) was making things even worse by pressing ahead with plans to close yet more test centres.
She said: “The average waiting time for a driving test has now risen to nearly two months. But that is just the tip of the iceberg – at many centres, the waiting time is as much as 12 to 16 weeks.
“In Telford, the nearest base to my constituency office, the earliest date is already towards mid-August. It’s totally unacceptable, and shows that, quite clearly, many driving test centres are no longer sufficiently staffed to cope with the current levels of demand.
“Delays such as this are particularly damaging to young people who often rely on a driving licence to secure a job.
“The situation is forcing young people to book tests several months in advance when they might not be ready, just so they can get a test date on the calendar.”
She added: “I am also hearing of instances where people’s theory examination results have expired as a direct result of the delay in getting a driving test.
“This is all adding unnecessary extra stress to learner drivers, during what can already be a very stressful experience.”
Mrs Seymour said she believed the average wait for a driving test date should be brought down to little more than a month.
“The DVSA claims there is an increase in waiting times for tests, because more people are taking driving lessons now the economy has recovered.
“Why is this upturn not being matched by a rise in staff numbers at test centres to keep pace with demand?
“It is frustrating, and frankly unfair to expect learner drivers to have to wait up to a quarter of a year for a test date, putting their lives and job opportunities on hold simply because of Government cash cuts.”
Updates and advice to motorists on abolition of the counterpart to the photocard driving licence.
From 8 June 2015, the paper counterpart to the photocard driving licence will not be valid and will no longer be issued by DVLA. The counterpart was introduced to display driving licence details that could not be included on the photocard. These details include some vehicle categories you are entitled to drive and any endorsement/penalty points. View our infographic for information about the driving licence changes.
Please note, this does not affect photocard licences issued by DVA in Northern Ireland.
What this means for you
Customers with existing paper counterparts
If you already hold a paper counterpart, after 8 June 2015 it will no longer have any legal status. You should destroy your paper counterpart after this date but you still need to keep your current photocard driving licence.
Customers with paper driving licences
Paper driving licences issued before the photocard was introduced in 1998 will remain valid and should not be destroyed.
If you need to update your name, address or renew your licence, you will be issued with a photocard only.
Penalty points (endorsements)
From 8 June 2015 new penalty points (endorsements) will only be recorded electronically, and will not be printed or written on either photocard licences or paper driving licences. From this date, if you commit an offence you will still have to pay any applicable fine and submit your licence to the court but the way the court deals with the paperwork will change.
For photocard licences, the court will retain the paper counterpart and only return the photocard to you.
For paper licences, the court will return it to you but they won’t have written or printed the offence details on it.
This means that from 8 June 2015 neither the photocard driving licence nor the paper licence will provide an accurate account of any driving endorsements you may have. Instead, this information will be held on DVLA’s driver record, and can be viewed online, by phone or post.
The courts are unable to respond to queries about the destruction of your paper counterpart. Any concerns about this process should be directed to DVLA.
How to view your driving licence details
Our free View Driving Licence service lets you see what details are on your licence, including what vehicles you can drive and any penalty points you may have.
Taking your theory or driving test
From 8 June 2015, you won’t need to take your paper counterpart with you when you go for your theory or driving test. You must still take your photocard, or your old-style paper licence – your test will be cancelled and you’ll have to pay again if you don’t.
Confirming your driving record to an employer
If you drive for a living and you’re asked to provide evidence of your driving record (entitlements and/or penalty points), you can do this online for free by accessing our Share Driving Licence service. The service should be used by both paper and photocard driving licence holders. You can generate a ‘check code’ to pass to the person or organisation that needs to view your driving licence details.
If you cannot generate a code online then you can call 0300 083 0013 and DVLA will provide you with a code.
Alternatively you can call DVLA on 0300 790 6801 and leave permission for your driving record to be checked verbally by a nominated person/organisation.
We’ve designed a step-by-step guide to help you share your driving licence information.Check Driving Licence
If your organisation regularly checks the counterpart for entitlements or endorsements, you can use the Check driving Licence service to check the licence using the code provided by the driver. With the driver’s consent you can view the details on a driving licence, eg the vehicle categories they’re entitled to drive and any endorsements or penalty points. This service also gives you the option to print or save a copy of the information.
To help companies or employers who use the new service we’ve created a step by step guide.
You can make a check by phone if you don’t have a check code to use with the online service. You’ll need to ask the driver you’re doing the check on to call DVLA on 0300 790 6801 and leave permission for the check.
You can then call DVLA on 0906 139 3837 (calls cost 51p per minute) to check the driver’s details after they’ve given their permission.
Hiring a vehicle: how to prove your driving record after 8 June 2015
From 8 June 2015, you may wish to check with the hire company what they need to see when you hire a vehicle. If you’re asked for evidence of what vehicles you can drive or confirmation of any penalty points, you can request a unique code from GOV.UK which allows you to share your driving licence details or you can download a summary of your driving licence record. The code lasts for up to 72 hours and will allow the hire companies to make any necessary checks.
If you cannot generate a code online then you can call 0300 083 0013 and DVLA will provide you with a code.
Alternatively, you can call DVLA on 0300 790 6801 and leave permission for your driving record to be checked verbally by a nominated hire company. This also applies if you have a paper licence that was issued before 1998.
Not all vehicle hire companies will ask for this information and we advise that you check with your hire company.
View our infographic on information about hiring a vehicle.
EU lorry and bus drivers registered with DVLA
If you’re a lorry or a bus driver with a licence issued by an EU member state and registered with DVLA, from 8 June you’ll no longer get a counterpart. Instead you’ll get a confirmation of registration document (D91). The D91 form can be used to tell us you’ve moved address by sending it to DVLA, Swansea SA99 1BH.
Why is the counterpart being abolished?
The decision to abolish the counterpart was as a result of the government’s Red Tape Challenge consultation on road transportation. It also aligns to DVLA’s Strategic Plan which includes commitment to simplifying our services.