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Learning to drive is a rite of passage, a means of freedom, an opening up of the World’s highways for exploration. Driving offers up a level of convenience hard to achieve with public transport and in rural areas, it can be a life-line giving people in far-flung places the ability to reach essential services.
But driving isn’t a right and you need to demonstrate appropriate knowledge and ability to earn your licence. Learning to drive requires time behind the wheel to develop car control plus time to study and understand the rules of the road.
Taking the two-part test - theory and practical - is just the first step in your independence. A good driver never stops learning and with new technologies, increasing traffic and changing legislation it is important to keep yourself up-to-date.
Before you jump in a car to practice, here is your essential checklist.
- You must be at least 17 years old.
- You need a provisional licence (which you can apply for ahead of your 17th birthday) at https://www.gov.uk/apply-first-provisional-driving-licence
- Your sight must be good enough - with glasses or contact lenses you must be able to read a car number plate at a distance of 20 metres.
- The car you are driving must be road legal, and this also means insured for you as a learner driver.
- Until you have passed your test, you must display the standard red on white ‘L’ plates (or ‘D’ plates in Wales) at both the front and rear of the car.
- You must be accompanied by a qualified driver who is has held a full licence for at least three years - and is at least 21 years old.
- We recommend you take plenty of lessons with a fully qualified driving instructor.
Driving schools, with trained instructors and specially adapted vehicles, offer a safe way for new drivers to take to the road.
Unlike driving in a friend’s car, a driving school vehicle is usually fitted with dual controls, allowing the instructor to brake if necessary and ease the use of the clutch until the learner driver becomes more proficient.
As well helping you understand vehicle control, the instructor will also teach you the motoring laws, road safety and even road etiquette. It isn’t just about passing the test but preparing you to be competent once you are driving on your own.
You might consider a friend of family member to be a good driver but are you sure they are aware of the latest motoring legislation, finer points of the Highway Code or that they will help you learn what you need to pass the test? Many experienced drivers are safe and knowledgeable but remember the Highway Code and driving test has evolved over time and most long-term drivers develop habits which aren’t going to help you.
Choosing an instructor
Like any teacher, driving instructors will have differing personalities and styles so it is important you find someone who works well with you. Apart from the instructor’s teaching style, consider whether you are happy with the basics such as punctuality. Remember, you are the customer.
Instructors’ cars differ too. Some are larger than others - and while a bigger car shouldn’t put you off, some people are more comfortable in a smaller model. Think about comfort and whether you have good outward visibility too.
Ask friends who have had driving lessons about their instructors, don’t be afraid to request just a single lesson to start with and unless you have paid for a specific number, don’t be afraid to change instructor at any point in your course of lessons.
If you don’t have any personal recommendations, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has a list of Approved Driving Instructors and you can search at https://www.gov.uk/find-driving-schools-and-lessons. Not all instructors choose to use this search service but you can contact DVSA Customer Support to confirm that an instructor is qualified.
Preparing for your driving theory test
The driving test is split into two parts: theory and practical. Here we look at the theory part and what you should expect.
There are two elements to the theory test. The first is a set of multiple choice questions to test your knowledge. The second part is a video-based assessment to test you on your ability to spot hazards.
Multiple choice questions
These are to assess your understanding of essential driving skills, the Highway Code and traffic signs. Each question will have more than one answer presented; you have to choose the correct answer before moving on to the next question. Typical questions might ask the meaning of a traffic sign or road marking, what you should do in a certain situation or details of a traffic law.
Hazard perception test
This is a series of video clips showing everyday scenes and you will have to point out ‘developing hazards’ - where possible dangers emerge. Typically, these might be cars pulling out of side roads or parked vehicles obscuring your view. Your score is based on you seeing and clicking on these potential hazards.
There is good support available for the theory test. Specific books provide information to allow you to complete the multiple choice section. These are widely available via the internet or in high street shops. There is also an on-line guide and smartphone app to prepare you for the hazard perception test.
For further information and practice tests, visit the Government web site https://www.gov.uk/theory-test/revision-and-practice.
Preparing for your practical driving test
The theory part of your driving test is essential to ensure you understand the rules of the road but it is the practical test which is designed to cover basic knowledge of your vehicle, show you have proper car control and that you know how to apply those rules in varied situations.
There is no minimum number of lessons needed before you take your test. However, you will certainly need a good few hours at the wheel to learn how to control a vehicle properly and understand the challenges while sharing the road with others. Even if a family member or friend offers to let you practice with them, we would recommend you take some lessons from a professional instructor to be taught about the latest laws and ensure you don’t pick up any bad habits.
There are five main areas you will be tested on. Here are the sorts of things you will be expected to know:
- You will need to consider the roadworthiness of your car and understand basic checks you should perform before driving.
- Think about preparations for a journey including route planning, weather and any passenger ## considerations.
- You must be aware of own ability to drive, including health, medication, alcohol intake and tiredness.
- This is about demonstrating competence behind the wheel.
- You must be able to negotiate various everyday road types and situations.
- You will need to show your ability to manoeuvre and park safely and considerately.
Understanding the highway code.
- This aspect covers aspects like road positioning, negotiating junctions and the rules associated with various road types.
- You will need to observe, understand and obey any signage and road markings.
Safety and responsibility
- This means being aware and dealing with the rights and needs of other road users.
- It is also showing you understand how to drive defensively, minimising risks and identifying hazards.
- You should also know how to drive in an eco-friendly way.
Learn from experience
- Your driving lesson doesn’t stop once you have passed your test; you will continue to learn and improve throughout your years of driving.
- It is essential you understand how to keep up to date with changes in the law and know where to find information.
- You can refer to the highway code, gov.uk, motoring organisations and publications to keep up to date.
Manual or automatic
If you pass your test in an automatic vehicle, i.e. one without a clutch pedal, your licence will limit you to driving automatics only. If you subsequently wish to drive a manual car, you can re-sit the practical test in a manual model (and won’t need to retake the theory part of the test).
Pass Plus advance driving course
The basic driving test aims to bring new drivers up to the minimum standard required to drive safely on our roads but this is no compensation for experience. Pass Plus provides additional training which can be taken at any time once you have your driving licence but makes great sense for new drivers.
There is no formal test but a qualified driving instructor will be assessing you as you drive and a pass is given if you have demonstrated the required knowledge and skills.
Pass Plus training takes at least 6 hours with at least 5.5 hours actually driving. It is geared around the following modules:
- in town
- in all weathers
- on rural roads
- at night
- on dual carriageways
- on motorways
Apart from increasing your awareness and experience, some (but not all) car insurance companies offer discounts to those who have passed the course. If you have passed, you will need to apply for your certificate as proof.
*For further information or to apply, you should contact the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) Pass Plus.