Are you ready to learn to drive? There may be more than 45 million UK motorists on the road but in order to join them and enjoy the freedom and independence that driving a car can bring, you need to pass your driving test first.
For someone who has never driven a car before, getting your driving licence may be a daunting process, but there’s no need to be worried. After all, about 75% of adults hold a full licence, and that’s just for England, so surely it can’t be that hard to learn to drive? Here’s what you need to do.
1. Get your provisional licence
Before you are legally allowed behind the wheel of a car on a public road, you need to have a provisional driving licence. The easiest way to apply is online via the official government website here. You will need to provide some ID, a photo and your permanent address, be able to read a number plate from 20 metres away and be at least 17 years old to drive a car. The current fee for a provisional licence is £34 and you should get it within a week or so.
No prior driving experience is required to obtain a provisional licence. As a holder of a provisional driving licence, you can drive a car with a driving instructor or someone else who is eligible to supervise a learner driver.
2. Get into the learning zone
Now you’re raring to go, get yourself a copy of the Highway Code and start to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road. You will need this knowledge in order to pass your theory test. During the test you will be given 50 multiple choice questions, of which you need to answer 43 correctly in order to pass – which is not as easy as you may think!
3. Get a driving instructor
Next on the list is to find someone to give you driving lessons. This can be a professional driving instructor or school, or a friend or relative who is aged over 21 and has held a licence for at least 3 years. If you are practising in a private car, you also need to make sure that you have valid motor insurance, either in your own name if it is your car, or under the car owner’s policy.
The advantage of a professional instructor is that you will be learning to drive in a car with dual controls, and with an experienced teacher by your side who knows how to prepare you for the practical test. There are about 40,000 driving instructors in the UK and there’s a handy searchable database of approved instructors here.
Get behind the wheel
The average learner driver needs about 45 hours of driving lessons plus 20 hours of practice before being test ready. Your driving instructor will help you get comfortable being behind the wheel. You will most likely start off on quiet roads before moving onto busier thoroughfares until you both feel the time is right for you to apply to take the practical test.
In addition to formal lessons, additional driving practice is highly recommended. Perhaps you can ask a parent or friend to take you out on a Sunday morning when the roads are quiet? How about signing up for a fun packed young driver experience on a private race track or circuit? You don’t even need to have a provisional licence for one of these. Or, if you are in a hurry to get your licence, you could take an intensive driving course that will give you the best chance of passing your test in the shortest amount of time.
5. Get your theory test
You can take your theory test at any time, but you need to achieve a pass before you can take your practical driving test. Perhaps that’s why most people complete this alongside driving lessons, and while your attention is fully focused on becoming a driver.
The theory driving test consists of a multiple choice test with 50 questions based on the Highway Code, and a hazard perception test consisting of video clips to respond to. It’s advisable to prepare for the test by doing plenty of mock tests. There are several free services to choose from including the government site.
You can book your theory test online; there’s usually a waiting time of 1-2 weeks. You’ll have to visit your local theory test centre to take the test and, once completed, you’ll get the results straight away.
6. Get your practical test
When your driving instructor thinks that you are ready to take your driving test, it’s time to book your slot at the nearest local test centre. There’s usually a 4-week or so waiting list, but this can be substantially longer during busy times.
The practical driving test lasts a total of 40 minutes and consists of 5 parts: Sight Check, Show Me Tell Me Questions, General Driving Ability, Reversing Your Vehicle and Independent Driving. Here’s a video that explains in more detail:
When you’ve returned to the test centre at the end of the test, the examiner will discuss your performance and you’ll be given a pass or fail certificate. One major fault is all it takes to fail your test, while you are allowed to make 15 minor faults and still pass.
If you’ve failed your driving test, you’re by no means alone. In fact, according to DVSA figures, 53.3% of those who took their practical driving test in 2017/2018 failed first time. Don’t put off rebooking your test retake as soon as you can – it has to be at least 10 days after your original test – and perhaps see if you can get a cancellation appointment via the DVSA’s ‘change your driving test appointment’ service.
7. Get used to being a driver
If you’ve passed your practical driving test, Congratulations! You can now officially drive a car unsupervised. In fact, as long as your car is taxed and has the correct insurance, you may drive yourself home from the test centre. That said, many driving instructors prefer to drive you home after a test just in case the excitement of the day is too much of a driving distraction.
The final step is to send off your provisional licence to the DVLA and wait for your full driving licence to arrive in the post. While this can take up to 3 weeks, you can of course drive a car in the meantime.
In 2017, the head of the Contextual Robotics Institute in San Diego predicted that in the next 10 to 15 years, autonomous, driverless cars will become the norm. If that turns out to be true, children born today might never learn to drive – as they wouldn’t reach the legal driving age before the change from manual to autonomous kicks in.
But how realistic is this claim? One of the key concerns holding back a tide of autonomous vehicles is that of safety. So far accidents involving driverless vehicles have been the fault of human drivers elsewhere on the road, like the Google car that was hit by a van running a red light. However, there are many situations we find ourselves in while driving that people don’t yet trust a robot to navigate.
Everyday cars now come with all kinds of safety features; ones that help you stay perfectly in lane, ones that judge distance and tell you when to stop accelerating or reversing, as well as many others. But when we think of things like pulling out into a queue of traffic, or reading road signs that are covered in graffiti or stickers, there remains a certain amount of human understanding needed.
Drivers in decline
Already it has been suggested that there are fewer teenagers learning to drive now than there were ten years ago, with statistics from the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency showing an 18% drop in 17 to 25-year-olds getting behind the wheel since 2007. The rising cost of university tuition fees has been blamed, with many young people waiting until after their education to start paying for lessons. Another factor is the cost of getting insured as a new driver.
However, driving schools dispute the statistic, pointing out that penny-counting after the 2008 recession has skewed data – and that figures published earlier this year actually show a year-on-year rise in the number of people taking their driving tests.
While it can cost more to insure new drivers, and particularly young new drivers, more and more insurers now offer specially designed learner driver policies to help young people get on the road. Whether you think of it as a rite of passage or not, it’s hard to ignore the fact that for many, learning to drive is a hugely important part of gaining independence. The question is, will autonomous cars be accessible enough, quickly enough, to provide a suitable alternative?
The expense of going driverless
This kind of cutting-edge technology doesn’t come cheap, so touting it as a viable alternative to buying a second-hand car and taking lessons with your parents doesn’t seem realistic at first.
In ongoing discussions around driverless vehicles, the assumption has always been that one major benefit of these cars will be that they are a shared resource. Passengers will need to avoid paying for something which is parked all night in your driveway and parked all day at your office by being part of a sharing program.
While car ownership is already set to fall thanks to the increasing popularity of car sharing and carpooling schemes, the systems currently in place still require a user to do the driving themselves at some point.
Overcoming the fear of autonomy
Human drivers make plenty of mistakes, and so far it’s already been proven that robots make less. But no system is perfect, and you only have to look at the headlines about driverless car crashes and flaws in technology to see that failures by robots will be harder to accept.
One issue is the lack of standardised testing for these types of vehicles. For a human driver to get on the road, we must take the time to go through lesson after lesson, before being marked on a series of details and manoeuvres and failing if we make too many mistakes. Driverless testing is still a very new concept, and for now there is no industry-wide test. In order to allow for research and development, the rules are pretty forgiving, with the onus on manufacturers to decide when driverless cars are safe to be launched.
Now that technological advances are making it safer and easier for human beings to learn to drive than ever before, it seems unlikely that we will feel the need to overcome our phobia of autonomous vehicles as quickly as their developers might think.
The future of driving
Self-driving cars will certainly become a part of everyday life in the not-so-distant future, but most people agree that it will take more than a decade for them to be accepted as the norm.
This technology will be ready to take over long before we are, as we habitually hold on to our trusted and familiar vehicles. There are also issues that need to be tackled, like the efficiency of sensors in fog, heavy rain or snow. And while it is not unrealistic to predict that driverless cars will reduce traffic accident figures, it may be unrealistic to think this is the last generation who will be suspicious of trusting a vehicle to drive itself.
From Monday 4 June 2018, learner drivers will be able to take driving lessons on motorways in England, Scotland and Wales.
This will help to make sure more drivers know how to use motorways safely.
Learner drivers will need to be:
It will be up to the driving instructor to decide when the learner driver is competent enough for them.
Until the law changes, it’s still illegal for a learner driver to drive on a motorway.
Find out how the rules will work in the full announcement.
The change only applies to learner drivers of cars. Learner motorcyclists won’t be allowed on motorways.