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Learner drivers allowed on the motorway

Published 04 June 2018

Learner drivers can legally drive on the motorway from today (4 June) as part of a shake-up intended to help motorists gain experience before they're handed a licence.

Only learners driving a vehicle fitted with dual-controls and taught by an approved driving instructor may use the motorway. All motorway driving lessons are voluntary and it’s up to the instructor to decide whether a learner is experienced enough to cope with motorway speeds.

Until now, learner drivers have been banned from driving on motorways - only gaining experience of driving at high speeds on dual carriageways. They’ve only been able to drive on motorways once they’ve passed their test, something campaigners have long deemed illogical.

“I don’t know why it’s taken so long, but I’m really glad that it’s coming in because I think the more experience and help that we can give people before they go out on the motorway the better,” said IAM Roadsmart’s head of driver behaviour, Rebecca Ashton.

03_learner

“The fact that you can go for a motorway lesson with your instructor to get that confidence can only be a positive for road safety.”

The training will focus on forward planning and observation, safe lane changing, reacting to road signs and understanding motorway gantry signs and marker posts. It will also teach drivers about smart motorways, and what to do during a breakdown.

Although learner drivers can now legally drive on the motorway during their lessons, there are no plans to introduce the motorway as part of the UK driving test. That’s despite 61 per cent of drivers thinking it would be a good idea, according to a recent survey by Citroen and IAM Roadsmart.

Ashton added: “It’s not part of the driving test and it can’t be part of the driving test because, at the moment, the driving test has to be roughly the same for everybody who takes it. If you live in an area where you can’t get to a motorway, then it’s not going to be fair.”

We test the new motorway driving lessons

04_learner

It’s nearly 10 years since I took my driving test, yet I still remember the first time I used a ‘proper’ motorway vividly. I grew up in Shropshire, miles away from the nearest motorway (and even that only had two lanes). The fact that I could learn to drive on quiet, rural roads and then drive on a fast three- or four-lane motorway without any supervision (other than my 17-year-old mates egging me on) strikes me as bonkers.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve gained quite a bit of experience of driving on motorways. But before I’ve even joined the A1(M), Rebecca, my instructor for the day, is teaching me new things. As we drive over a bridge before joining the motorway, she points out that traffic is flowing fast so I’ll have to gain speed rapidly on the slip road.

Once I’ve joined, I find a comfortable cruising speed following a van in the inside lane. “What distance should you give between other vehicles?” asks Rebecca. Although I don’t know the distance off the top of my head, somewhere at the back of my mind I remember being taught the two-second rule.

“While the two-second rule is fine at lower speeds,” Rebecca explains, “three-seconds is better above 50mph.”

01_learner (2)

Before the drive, Rebecca asked if there were any parts of motorway driving I had concerns about. I admitted that, while I’m fairly confident, speed can be an issue. Like many drivers, I have a tendency to treat the 70mph national speed limit as a rough guide rather than a legal limit.

With an instructor next to me, I make a conscious effort not to exceed 70mph. And it feels slow. Most of the time I’m in the inside lane, with cars barrelling past me. But it gives Rebecca chance to point out things I wouldn’t usually give much consideration… how do you know when a car’s a safe distance away to change lanes, for example, and when is it OK to ‘hog’ the middle lane?

Like most drivers on the motorway, years of experience gets me by day-to-day, but how much of the theory can I remember? Until now, new drivers on the motorway are relying on information they’ve learnt by studying the Highway Code, but putting it into practice can be difficult - especially if, like me, your first drive on the motorway is in a car full of friends giving conflicting advice.

It seems crazy that learner drivers are only now being allowed on motorways. While the next logical move would be to make motorway training compulsory, that's logistically difficult in some parts of the country. With these new motorway lessons, we're at least heading in the right direction.

Comments

Gremlin Buster    on 4 June 2018

The standard of driving on the motorways is abysmal now. HGVs tailgating and attempting intimidation of timid drivers an everyday event.

The addition of L drivers will cause even more problems to drivers coping with speeds up to 80/90/100 mph, in some cases can only lead to increase in RTCs and fatalities.

Yes motorway driving is a must for new drivers, but only after they have taken the statutory driving test as part 3 driver examination.

The mind boggles at the civil servants sat in isolation making decisions about outing untried drivers in peril inspite having DTI instructors with them.

The failure rate of the present 2 part driving test obviously wasn't taken into consideration. Putting learner drivers who can't cope with the simple rudimentaries of driving into the maelstrom of motorway traffic

Michael Tobin-Hill    on 4 June 2018

A disaster waiting to happen. It can be a frightening experience for seasoned drivers when we have so many drivers who have probably never read the Highway Code and drive vehicles as if they are fighter pilots with no regard for anyone else on the road. We have occasions when learner drivers are caught driving without the appropriate passenger and it is certain that some learner driver will chance it without the properly licenced accompaniment person.

allenegrant    on 4 June 2018

Hi all.

Im a 74 year old and I have driven a number of different vehicles since passing my test at the age of seventeen.

In my previous employment i was required to take a six weeks advanced driving course.

For the past three years I've been riding motorcycles. My first one was a trike which i drove using my full driving license. It was capable of motor way speeds and I could ride it anywhere without L plates.

My current bike is a Honda CB 125 and I ride it with L plates. I have my CBT but I don't intend taking a test. At my age I might have left it a little late.

I am not allowed to ride it on a motorway. I feel as I might be discriminated against. Or is it that the legislators forgot, regarding motorcycles.

Regards. Allen.

DrTeeth    on 4 June 2018

"at the moment, the driving test has to be roughly the same for everybody who takes it"

I did read about a UK island that has only about 10 miles of empty road. You can take a test on that island and then get a full UK driving licence.

Andrew Greening    on 4 June 2018

Allelujah !! As long as a learner is with a qualified instructor who understands how to integrate with the traffic flow properly,

As a HGV driver I get fed up to the back teeth with those complete m****s who come down the on ramps of a Motorway and are matching my speed as they do so instead of accelerating to get in front of me OR think about braking to come in behind me.

The expectation of these gormless fools is that I will move over from Lane 1 ( to them the slow lane ) into Lane 2 ( to them the cruising lane)

It does not happen as I always have traffic overtaking me in Lane 2 preventing me from doing this manouvre with the result they are along side me with available road onto the motorway fast running out.

Instead of braking they then accelerate at the last moment with another close call collision.
I had one complete idiot carry on on the hard shoulder for the best part of a mile keeping pace with me before accelerating and moving out to lane 1 didn't occur to him that braking WAS another option. I am sure other HGV drivers have this happen on a regular basis and can comment as to that fact
The other MOST dangerous idiots who come into a dual carriageway on lane whereby there is NO escape route and fail to filter but continue to pull out when I am alongside or pull out right in front of me at a slower speed than I am at with the consequence I am treading on my brakes to stop my truck rolling right over them or just as bad pass me by just as the exit is coming up and then THEY brake to get over and giving sod all concern that 40 tonnes of truck trailer and load but most of all ME are put at risk by their dumb stupid driving.
I hope this does have a positive effect because the instructors could do with getting hold of these clowns who have no idea of entering or exiting but have been driving badly for years.

paul jenkins    on 4 June 2018

i disagree with this ..accident rates will rise as soon as a person has passed their ordinary test they should then have at least 5 motorway lessons to get a motorway licence or motorway added to their license

   on 4 June 2018

As an instructor I feel this can only be good overall , though the real benefits will take a long time to filter through. In the meantime, if new drivers can keep themselves and others around them a bit safer , who is complaining? But if there are three things I teach my learners, on dual carriageways or now motorways - , it's plan well ahead, keep space, and communicate to others what you want to do, i.e signal. If a few more people just did that the motorways would be a lot safer

allenegrant    on 5 June 2018

Hi all.

Had a word with a rider instructor friend. Motorcycles with L plates/learners need to have passed their test before being allowed on a motorway.

Apparently the key word is duel control. So it seems that thereafter a motorcyclist having passed their test and probably having gained some experience on a duel carriage way can venture onto a motorway.

If your'e lucky to be a motorist as well as a learner motorcyclist, in all probability you will have gained some motorway experience. Maybe thats what the legislators looked at.

It could have been done maybe when and only when being followed by a riding instructor and being in radio contact throughout.

Its not sour grapes but I find it strange that motorcycle learners have not been given the opportunity to gain a bit of motorway driving experience on their way to a full license holder.

Regards. Allen.

Bicycle_Repair_Man    on 6 June 2018

If drivers are bombing up a motorway at speeds of 100mph then learner drivers are the least of our concerns.

It's always boggled my mind why such a critical part of our roads was never included in driving lessons or the test. Sure, nobody is going on a motorway on their first day, but once they've had a few goes on a dual carriageway, a motorway shouldn't be asking much. Driving on a motorway is easier than driving through a town or city, where drivers have to contend with pedestrians, roundabouts, cyclists and traffic lights.

Between motorway driving with a trained instructor in a dual-controlled car and letting new drivers with no motorway experience fend for themselves, I'll take the former, thanks.

Edited by Bicycle_Repair_Man on 06/06/2018 at 15:56

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