Forget voluntary motorway lessons, it should be a MANDATORY part of the driving test
Learner drivers in England, Scotland and Wales are finally to receive lessons on how to drive on the motorway. Not before time, new drivers will be trained on how to use the fastest roads in the network from 4 June 2018.
Previously, no driver with a provisional licence can be at the wheel on the motorway, even when accompanied by a qualified instructor. Some manage to gain a little experience of multi-lane roads with a 70mph limit by driving on dual carriageway, while others have no knowledge at all as they live in areas where the motorway network doesn’t reach.
Currently, only 3% of newly qualified drivers choose to take further tuition to gain confidence when using the motorway. Most simply start driving on the 2,270 miles of the network with only theoretical knowledge gleaned from the Highway Code.
That is a scary statistic which comes from the Department for Transport’s own consultation on including motorway driving as part of the learning process. Motorways may be the safest roads out of all types in the UK, but incidents tend to be more serious when they occur due to the higher speeds involved.
The word ‘voluntary’ means this move is simply not enough to make new drivers safer and more confident when driving on the motorway after they pass their test.
For starters, motorway driving should be a compulsory part of the learning process. While some might argue they don’t live near a motorway, that’s not a good enough reason to miss out this vital part of the driving regime. Will those who don’t include it in their learning also choose not to drive on these roads after passing their test?
No, of course they won’t. Instead, we’ll end up with the same situation we have now. There may be some inconvenience attached to learners from more remote parts of the country having to travel to undertake motorway training, but the advantages far outweigh any hassle or small cost incurred.
Every new driver should take to the road on their own fully equipped to deal with every road type and situation. Yes, a lot of the learning process happens after passing the test and comes with experience, which is what makes young drivers so especially vulnerable. This is precisely why the government needs to stop pussy-footing around the edges of this element of driving and tackle it head-on by making the motorway an essential part of learning to drive.
Following on from that, it also needs to include motorway driving as an integral part of the driving test. After all, what’s the point in taking a learner onto the motorway if you’re not then going to assess what they have learned and their aptitude in that situation?
To make all of this ‘voluntary’ is to render it a nonsense and a political fudge that’s not worth the money spent on the consultation or implementing the plan in the first place.
Most crucially of all, this hedging around the sides of the issue ultimately will cost lives. When new drivers are allowed on to the motorway after passing the test yet have no experience of these multi-lane, fast flowing roads, the consequences are all too easy to predict and often very obvious in the outcome.
Novice drivers report they find motorway driving among the most intimidating of any driving practice, so why would we want them on these roads? Well, motorways are the quickest, easiest way to cover long distances. They’re practical and necessary, even if they don’t always function as smoothly as we’d like.
That point raises another serious reason why learners must be taught how to drive and respond on a motorway. In the event of a collision or delay, many drivers switch off from the task of driving safely and responsibly because they have not been schooled in how to behave. This stems from a lack of training.
The government’s consultation states that ‘only 4%’ of young drivers killed on the UK’s roads in 2015 happened on motorways. Only – try telling that to the parents and families of those who died. Also, better training may well have saved one or more of those five lives that make up this 4 percent. Not just training for those young drivers, but for everyone who uses the motorway.
The government has said it’s determined to reduce road deaths and serious injuries, particularly when the figures have levelled out in the past few years after decades of consistent drops. Yes, the UK’s roads are among the safest in the world, but that doesn’t excuse this bottoming out of the figures. We should find new and effective ways to maintain that lowering of fatalities and injuries.
Vehicle safety has contributed greatly to this, along with improved road layouts, safer roadside furniture and more targeted policing. And, yes, the driving test has been adapting over the years to cope, but we need to go much further and do it quickly if we are to have a driving exam that properly equips new drivers for the environment they will be entering.
The only way to do this is through compulsory training and consistent, coherent education. By creating a new generation of better drivers, our roads will be safer, insurance will be lower for young drivers and, as time goes on, more and more drivers will be fully prepared for driving in every condition.
This can only come about when the government seizes the opportunity fully and makes motorway driving an essential aspect of learning to drive and the driving test.