Road safety: young and novice drivers Contents

3Reforms to the learning and testing process

34.Many witnesses advocated for reforms to the learning and testing process as a key policy measure to improve the road safety of young and novice drivers. Some argued that the existing process of learning to drive encouraged people to seek to pass the test in the minimum time possible or merely to pass the test, rather than learn to drive safely.66

The current learning and testing process

35.The current process of becoming a driver in Great Britain consists of undertaking lessons, usually over many months, once the learner has reached the age of 17 and obtained a provisional driving licence. These lessons can be provided by an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI) or with someone over the age of 21 who has held a licence for over three years and is insured on the car being driven (in many cases a parent or guardian).67 Since 2018, learner drivers in Great Britain have been able to take driving lessons on motorways, provided they are with an ADI in a car with dual controls.68

36.To become a fully qualified driver, learners need to pass a theory and practical test administered by the DVSA. The theory test involves 50 multiple-choice questions and a video hazard perception test.69 The hazard perception test involves the playing of video clips made using computer generated imagery to test learner drivers on how they react to scenarios involving vulnerable road users, night-time or adverse weather conditions.70

37.The practical test can only be booked once the theory test is passed and involves the learner having to drive safely in different road and traffic conditions for around 40 minutes.71 Learners must have no more than 15 driving faults in order to pass their test and cannot have any serious or dangerous driving faults. About half of all new drivers pass their driving test on the first attempt.72 Since 2017 the practical test has included an “independent driving section”, where the candidate drives for 20 minutes without guidance from their examiner. This allows the examiner to assess the candidate’s ability to manage the vehicle, route, and traffic simultaneously. The Department told us that this meant that the learner driver spends a large proportion of their test focussing on driving in high risk areas, such as rural or higher speed roads, roundabouts, and junctions to test their observation and judgement in areas where crashes occur. The use of satellite navigation and demonstration of controls (such as windscreen wipers) on the move were also now included in the test and measured the candidates’ ability to manage distractions.73

Possible reforms to the learning process

Driving in different conditions

38.Although the practical driving test includes the ability to drive in different road and traffic conditions, many witnesses said that the learning process still did not give learners an extensive enough range of driving experiences suitable for the real world. Several witnesses said that the learning process should include driving in different weather conditions.74 The AA said:

You could wake up the day after you passed your driving test and it is pouring with rain, but you have never driven in rain before or had to navigate puddles or worry about whether the braking distance is the same.75

39.We also heard that learner drivers would particularly benefit from more experience driving on rural roads. As described in Chapter 2, 73% of fatalities for young car drivers occur on rural roads. The road safety charity IAM RoadSmart recommended that driving on rural roads should be a compulsory part of the practical driving test.76

Minimum learning period

40.There is currently no specified minimum learning period within Great Britain. Learners continue taking lessons, usually until the ADI believes they are ready to pass their test. Alternatively, some learners undertake intensive driving courses, which usually consist of learning over a one or two-week period with each day consisting of up to six hours on the road. Intensive driving courses can be cheaper than conventional lessons because learners are able to pay for them in a lump sum.77 Some of our witness, such as the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the AA, were critical of intensive driving courses. The ABI called for them to be banned stating that intensive driving courses place “little emphasis on accumulating road experience”, meaning that young drivers were unlikely to have “gained sufficient driving experience to be safe road users after completing these courses”.78

41.The Minister, however, told us that there were no plans to ban intensive driving courses. She said these courses may be suitable for certain people who need to pass their test quickly, for example for employment purposes. She questioned whether there was the evidence basis to suggest intensive driving courses were any less safe than the conventional method of learning to drive to justify banning them.79

42.Every individual’s circumstances and natural skill, aptitude and experience and level of competence to drive a car or vehicle is varied. However, we are concerned that intensive driving courses may not provide learner drivers with adequate driving experience prior to passing their test. We recommend that the Department conducts research to investigate whether drivers who pass their test after undertaking intensive driving lessons are at increased risk of being involved in a crash in their first two years of driving.

43.A number of witnesses, including the ABI, the British Insurance Brokers Association, and TRL, believed that learner drivers should be subject to a minimum learning period—for instance, a mandatory 12 months or minimum number of hours.80 A minimum learning period often forms a component of a Graduated Driver Licensing system (see Chapter 4) but could also be considered a standalone intervention.81 Minimum learning periods can improve the likelihood that learners have adequate experience of driving in different traffic and weather conditions and types of road.82 George Atkinson called for a minimum supervisory learning period to be introduced in Great Britain, with two hours of practice with a qualified driver or parent for every hour with an ADI.83


44.Some witnesses called for the Department to make it mandatory for ADIs to use “logbooks”.84 According to the AA, logbooks would show that a learner driver has experience of driving in certain specific situations (such as rural roads, night-driving and different weather conditions) prior to taking their practical test.85 Logbooks are already used by AA-affiliated ADIs. The AA said that logbooks also provided learners with a record that they had covered not only the technical elements of driving (which will be covered in the test) but broader discussions on carrying passengers, drink driving and mobile phone use.86

Training on private land prior to obtaining a provisional licence

45.Some organisations offer extensive training on private land to children and young adults often before they have obtained a provisional licence. For example, the Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust (U17CC) offers pre-licence training whereby a student from the age of 11 onwards is taught to drive by volunteers (many of whom are former students of the club). The student learns alongside their parent or guardian. Teaching takes place over an extended period on private land using different vehicles and in different simulated driving conditions (including the use of a skidpan87 and night-time driving). The U17CC also offers the “Pathfinder Initiative”, a condensed five-day version of the teaching offered by full membership, available to 15 and 16 year olds.88

46.The U17CC estimated that a nationwide rollout of programmes similar to its own could reduce young and novice driver involvement in crashes by as much as 75%.89 Nicole Parker, a former U17CC student, said that the scheme had provided her with “invaluable” confidence before driving on the road on her own.90

47.Other witnesses, however, were less persuaded by such schemes. Ian Greenwood, a road safety campaigner who lost a family member in a crash involving a young driver, did not feel that “off-road simulation” such as that offered by the U17CC was sufficient to improve young and novice driver safety or could match the benefits of a minimum learning period held on public roads.91 TRL questioned the effectiveness of current measures to improve young and novice driver safety. In its written evidence, TRL stated: “driver education and training is not effective at reducing young and novice driver collisions. It is not just that there is an absence of evidence; there is evidence of an absence of effectiveness at the public health level.” On off-road pre-licence training specifically, TRL said there was “no evidence” that it reduced young and novice driver risk and that some cases studies had found that where pre-licence off-road training was present, collisions among new drivers increased.92

The Department’s approach

48.We asked the Minister what steps the Department was taking to reform the learner process, particularly to ensure that learners experienced driving in an extensive range of situations. She told us that the Department had provided £100,000 to the Driving Instructors Association, a professional membership body for driver and rider trainers in the UK, to develop a “modular learning project”. Under the project, learners will be taught a series of modules including driving in adverse conditions, driving in the dark, driving at high speed, and driving while distracted. The pilot aims to provide “a very organised and well-evidenced way of going through the entire undertaking of learning to drive [that will] focus on those areas that people find the most difficult.”93 Giving evidence in October 2020, the Minister told us the pilot would begin in January 2021. This has been subsequently delayed due to the restrictions put in place for the coronavirus pandemic. The pilot is now expected to start later in 2021.

49.In written evidence, the Department told us that the DVSA are currently developing a “behavioural change campaign” with the objective of increasing the amount of practice learners have on rural roads, driving independently and driving in the dark before they take their test. In addition, in 2019 the DVSA published an updated version of its “Learning to Drive” publication which was accompanied by a digital “driver’s record”. The record is similar to a logbook and is intended to allow the learner and their ADI (or other supervising driver) to prepare lessons and monitor progress against national standards and their readiness to drive unsupervised on a range of roads and in different circumstances.94

50.The Minister also told us that three of the technological and educational policy interventions being explored in the Department’s Driver 2020 research programme specifically focussed on the learning period:

51.We questioned the Minister about the case for a minimum learning period. She did not think that there should be a mandated minimum learning period, because “some people will take a much shorter period [while] some people take a very long time to be able to pass their test” and that the key factor was “whether the person is going to be a safe and competent driver” rather than the length of their learning period.96

66 Q12, Q125, Q152

68 Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, ‘Learner drivers on motorways from 4 June 2018‘, accessed 22 November 2020

69 Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, ‘Theory test changes: 28 September 2020’, accessed 4 October 2020

70 Department for Transport (YND0003) para 40

71, ‘Driving test: cars, accessed 11 January 2021

72 Department for Transport, Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: 2017 Annual Report, RAS41001, Line 2.3.1

73 Department for Transport (YND0003) para 39

74 Q11, Q160

75 Q160

76 IAM RoadSmart (RSY0029) para 3

77 Admiral, ‘Intensive driving course – are they worth it?’, accessed August 2020; Q160

78 Association of British Insurers (YND0004) para 20; Q160

79 Q266–Q268

80 Q122 [Laura Hughes], Q129, Q160, Q50, Q67

81 For a summary of GDL restrictions around the world see the following document: Department for Transport, The Road Safety Statement 2019: a lifetime of road safety, July 2019, p 59

82 Association of British Insurers (YND0004) para 20; RAC Motoring Services (RSY0014) para 20; Q130

83 Q12

84 Q160; Q12

85 The AA charitable Trust (RSY0062) para 23

86 Q160

87 A paved surface on which vehicles can be made to skid so that drivers can practice controlling them.

88 Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust (RSY0027) para 7–10; Q144

89 Under 17 Car Club Charitable Trust (RSY0027) para 12

90 Q156

91 Q13

92 TRL (RSY0049) para 10 and 16

93 Q239

94 Department for Transport (YND0003) paras 38 and 41

95 Q242; Department for Transport (YND0003) para 19–26

96 Q252

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