Learning to Drive

Sam Bisby

By: Sam Bisby

Learning to drive can open up a whole world of opportunity in terms of career and social prospects, and when I make that statement I am of course talking from my own personal experience. No longer will you have to rely on the often unpredictable minefield that is public transport. Of course, the process of learning to drive can be far from simple and can itself be referred to as a minefield, unless you’re keyed up on what’s involved.

Knowing how to plan driving lessons, finding a reputable driving instructor and preparing for the theory and practical tests are just a few of the obstacles that you, like I and many others will have to overcome. Provided you prepare yourself for the road ahead and commit sufficient time and effort, learning to drive can be an incredibly enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

Getting Started

You’re probably dying to jump in the driving seat for the first time, this is where the old saying ‘hold your horses’ comes in to play. You’ll need to have applied for and received your provisional driving license before you can begin. The ‘green license’, so called for its light green colour, is issued by the DVLA at a cost of £50 and can take up to 6 weeks to arrive. Frustrating I know, but a legal requirement that should not be overlooked no matter how tempting it is to jump behind the wheel in your local supermarket car park after hours. As a provisional license holder you’ll be able to drive a car, provided you are accompanied by a full UK license holder who is over the age of 23 and has clocked up at least three years post test driving.

You may apply for a provisional driving license no earlier than three months before your 17th birthday,and although you won’t be able to use it until you turn 17, it will enable you to begin your lessons as soon as you’re legally able to. If you receive the higher rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) you can begin learning to drive from the age of 16. To apply for a provisional driving license you’ll need to be a resident of great Britain, meet the minimum age requirements, have a valid UK Passport or other proof of identity, a national insurance number and be able to provide proof of your addres(s) for the previous three years. To find out more about the requirements and to make an application, visit www.gov.co.uk.

Choosing a driving instructor

Your next step is to find a driving instructor and I’m not talking about your mum, dad, uncle, aunt or best friend. A full-time, experienced and reputable driving instructor will be able to do far more for you. They will not only conduct your driving lessons, a qualified professional will also be able to share a wealth of knowledge and experience gained on the road and through advanced driving courses. Ultimately leaving you better prepared for your practical driving test. If, however, you do decide to learn from a family member, friend or other unqualified individual you’ll need to purchase a set of L plates and position them in a prominent place at both the front and rear of the car. It’s also important to ensure you have been added to the car’s insurance policy, something which can all too easily be forgotten or overlooked.

When choosing a driving instructor it’s important to make sure you opt for a DSA (Driving Standards Agency) approved individual and in fact they could be breaking the law if they haven’t been DSA registered and are taking payment in exchange for tuition. You can find an approved instructor online by checking the official DSA website www.gov.uk/find-driving-schools-and-lessons.

The cost of learning to drive will vary depending on whether you choose an independent instructor or a national driving school. If you intend to purchase a car you may qualify for free driving lessons under Stoneacre’s new driving school programme, which, based on the average cost of £24 per driving lesson, could save you a heap of cash. You can find out more about the scheme at http:www.stoneacre.co.uk/stoneacre-driving-school.

Setting a realistic goal

In order to maintain motivation it can be useful to set yourself a goal for reaching test ready competence. Bare in mind the average individual requires around 47 hours worth of tuition time, according to the AA while the DSA recommends that students undertake a minimum of 50 hours driving in preparation for the practical driving test. I’d suggest setting yourself a target of 47 hours, aim to have at least one, two hour lesson a week and you could be ready for your driving test in little over 23 weeks.

Personally, I passed after around 45 hours driving, although everyone is different. Some will already have driving experience which should enable them to reach test ready competence a lot sooner than others while those who struggle to multi task under pressure will inevitably find it harder and require more lessons.

Here are some more interesting statistics on learning to drive

  • On average it takes 47 driving lessons to pass first time
  • The pass rate for UK driving tests is 47.2%
  • The UK theory test pass rate is 52.3%
  • Campbelltown and Ballater have a 72.5% pass rate, the highest in the UK
  • Over 100,000 people fail their practical test every year
  • 107 is the record number of driving test attempts
  • The average cost of a driving lesson is £24

MoneySupermarket.com have created a stunning infographic which lists the ten areas of the UK with the best driving test pass rates along with the ten worst. You can find it at www.moneysupermarket.com.

Preparing for your theory test

When it comes to your theory test, preparation is key to achieving a first time pass and at a cost of £31 per attempt, you don’t want to be among the 47.7% of people who end up having to do a resit. You can prepare for your theory test by studying online resources such as the comprehensive guide to road signs and lane markings compiled by www.driving-test-success.com/uk-road-signs.htm. A quick Google search for ‘learning to drive’ will also return a whole host of useful videos, articles and online guides. The most reliable, and useful, source of up-to-date and accurate information on the theory test is the official DSA book which can be purchased from www.whsmith.co.uk. The book features questions, answers and explanations from the theory test along with information on topics such as car safety, handling, hazard awareness, motorway rules, rules on the road, road and traffic signals and vehicle loading to name just a few.

Booking your driving test

So, you’ve passed your theory test first time, congratulations, you’re among the 52.3% who do, and even if you didn’t pass on your first attempt, don’t worry, it took me three attempts before I passed. The practical driving test costs £62 on weekdays and £75 on evening and weekends. Starting with an eyesight check in which you will be expected to read out numberplate’s from cars in the distance, the eyesight check is followed by a series of practical questions. The main part of the test is conducted out on the road, usually lasts for 40 minutes and will include multiple manoeuvres such as a three point turn and a parallel park and comes to an end upon returning to the test centre. Once passed you will be able to exchange your ‘green license’ for a ‘pink license’ (full UK driving license).

Common reasons for test failure

There are many reasons for test failure and if I were to compile a complete list, I’d be here all day. So, here are the top seven scenarios that contribute to the 52.8% who fail their test first time round. Most can be put down to a lack of attention or nerves on the day.

  • Observation at junctions – ineffective observation at junctions
  • Reverse parking – lack of accuracy or failure to check mirrors
  •  Use of mirrors – infrequent use of or failure to use mirrors
  • Use of signals – failure to use, not cancelled or misleading signals
  • Lack of steering control – reacting too early or too late
  • Turn around in the road – lack of observation or accuracy
  • Inappropriate speed – travelling to fast or too slow

Pass Plus

Pass plus is a practical driving course lasting for at least six hours and although not a legal requirement, it can help better prepare you for the road and focuses on driver safety and skill. The course can cost anything from £120 to £200 depending on your instructors hourly rate. The Theory Test is split in to six modules – in town, in all weathers, on rural roads, at night, on dual carriageways and on motorways. You may be glad to hear there’s no actual test at the end of the course. Instead, your instructor will asses your performance throughout and if judged to be satisfactory you will be issued with a certificate.

The course can be taken at any time through a Pass Plus registered ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) although you’re likely to find it most useful if taken within the first year of passing the practical driving test. You may also be able to secure a discount on your first years insurance premium, upon presenting a Pass Plus certificate, the amount of discount will vary depending on the insurer.

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