Learner drivers will be allowed on motorways from today – what you need to know

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Author: | Updated: 04 Jun 2018 09:43

Learner drivers in England, Wales and Scotland will be allowed to have lessons on the motorway from today (Monday 4 June).

Learners will need to be accompanied by an approved driving instructor and driving a car fitted with dual controls. Motorway lessons will be voluntary and it will be up to the driving instructor to decide when the learner driver is competent enough for them.

RED learner driver

A consultation was launched at the end of 2016, and the plans drawn up in August 2017 to implement the new module.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the lessons would make UK roads safer, commenting that: "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."

It is hoped the changes will help increase road safety and better prepare learners for independent driving when they pass their test.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “It makes no sense that new drivers learn by trial and, sometimes fatal, error how to use our fastest and most important roads.

“Allowing learners on motorways with an approved instructor is a sensible and measured solution that should deliver confident new drivers.

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From 4 December 2017, learner drivers have been required to pass a modern test that includes new manoeuvres and a longer independent driving section to make sure drivers have the skills, knowledge and confidence to drive on their own.

The changes also include a section where drivers use satellite navigation to find their way.

Altogether there were four major changes to the driving test:

  • an increase of the ‘independent driving’ part of the test from 10 to 20 minutes;
  • asking candidates to follow directions on a satnav as an alternative to following road signs;
  • replacing current manoeuvres such as ‘reverse around a corner’ and ‘turn-in-the-road’ with real-life scenarios such as  driving into and reversing out of a parking bay;
  • asking one of the two vehicle safety questions while the candidate is driving, for example asking candidates to use the rear heated screen.

The new test, particularly the use of satnavs, did not go down too well with many driving examiners initially. Those who are members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union picketed test centres across Britain on 4-5 December over the new test, as well as the DVSA’s plans to impose a ‘flexible working’ regime.

“Our members' safety - and that of the public - will not be put at risk by new manoeuvres and the use of satnavs required by the rushed and badly designed new driving test,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka wrote to transport secretary Chris Grayling at the end of November.

Commenting on the announcement, transport minister Andrew Jones said: “We have some of the safest roads in the world but we are always looking to make them safer.

“These changes 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.

“Ensuring the driving test is relevant in the 21st century – for example, the introduction of satnavs, will go a long way towards doing this.”

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Around half of all car drivers now have a satnav, with a further majority using a smartphone in lieu of an in-built unit, and to reflect the changing behaviours of drivers the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) want new drivers to be trained on how to use them safely. This was supported by 70% of respondents from last year’s consultation.

Using satnavs will encourage more practice of independent driving and teach new drivers the skills they need to manage distractions.

Currently candidates spend a large amount of their test on low risk roads, such as housing estates so they can carry out the current manoeuvres. The new-style manoeuvres will allow DVSA to assess the same skill set as the changes are more representative of what a new driver will experience in their everyday driving.

Reducing the focus on slow speed manoeuvres in quiet low risk roads and increasing independent driving will allow DVSA examiners to better assess the learner’s ability to drive safely on higher-risk roads, where statistically, new drivers have the most crashes.

Industry support

Representatives from the driver training industry were supportive of the changes, with driving instructor associations such as the RAC, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), AA and the driving training National Associations Strategic Partnership (NASP) all offering their support.

RAC foundation director, Steve Gooding, said: “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 […] 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.”

Jasmine Halstead, head of learning and development for British School of Motoring, said: “Per mile travelled motorways are our safest roads.

“If learners aren’t allowed to practise 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.”

National Associations Strategic Partnership (NASP) chair Lynne Barrie said: “Improving the driving test will give new drivers the skills needed for everyday driving. This will help to prepare new drivers for a safer driving career and hopefully help to reduce road casualties.”

DVSA and the Transport Research Laboratory also trialled the changes with over 4,300 learner drivers and over 860 driving instructors. Feedback from the trial was also positive.

UK’s highest risk roads

The DVSA says the changes will particularly help prepare new drivers for using higher risk roads where most fatalities and serious accidents occur. The lack of this type of road being included in the current test has been criticised in the past.

Figures from the road safety charity Brake show that a quarter of all newly qualified 18-24 year olds crash within two years of passing the test, while new drivers are also a third more likely to be involved in a fatal car crash than more experienced road users.

This table from the European Road Assessment Programme shows the UK's 10 higest risk roads

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