Changes to the UK driving test have led to the introduction of a new law to allow learner drivers under tuition to venture onto motorways for the first time in a dual-control car.
As part of efforts to introduce features that are more representative of modern-day driving in the learning process, learners can be taken onto motorways with an instructor, as long as their car is a dual-control vehicle wearing L-plates.
The new law comes into force today. Although learners still won't be taken onto the motorway during their test, lessons on motorways are intended to better prepare new drivers for a section of road that they were previously not allowed to use — something that several safety experts said was a hindrance to driving standards.
A new online Driving Hub has been launched to help learners prepare themselves for the motorways that Highways England refers to as "high-speed driving roads".
The addition of motorway driving to lessons follows the introduction of a modified and modernised driving test. Tests now challenge candidates with more manoeuvres, such as reverse bay parking, with former test features, such as reversing around a corner, having been removed. Motorway lessons are not compulsory, however; it's down to the discretion of driving instructors as to whether they take their students out on the motorway.
Despite the motorway lessons, driving on the motorway will not become part of the driving test. A study carried out by Citroën and drivers' group IAM Roadsmart found that 61% of IAM members agreed that motorway driving should be mandatory on the test before new drivers are awarded their licences.
A separate study by the AA showed that 8% of drivers avoided the motorway in the first six months after gaining their licence, while just 25% of those questioned felt prepared to venture onto the motorway post-test. More than half would have welcomed the opportunity to experience the motorway as a learner, and a third thought they would have been a safer driver with this tuition. The association has also set up a fund to allow new drivers who missed the chance to have motorway tuition to venture onto the motorway with an instructor.
In the wake of the sat-nav-oriented changes to the driving test, Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) research shows that half of motorists use sat-nav, but around a quarter of accidents involving new drivers are caused by them being distracted. The new test aims to address this by integrating a sat-nav into the test for the first time.
Drivers taking the test are now asked to follow directions to a predetermined destination, enabling examiners to assess a driver's ability to follow instruction while also adhering to road signs.
The independent driving section of the test, when drivers are asked to follow signs to a destination without further instruction from the examiner or sat-nav, will also be extended from 10 to 20 minutes.
Additionally, examiners now ask safety questions while the driver is on the move and can ask them to turn on certain controls, such as the rear heated screen.
Edmund King, president of the AA, welcomed the changes earlier this year, telling Autocar: “We know that new drivers are a higher risk on the roads, therefore we need to better prepare them for real-world driving. These changes will test drivers in a more realistic manner, which is essential to improving their safety once their L-plates are removed. The changes, particularly the extended independent driving and use of a sat-nav, should help to produce better, safer motorists.
“We have already had positive feedback from our driving instructors and their pupils, and therefore fully support these proposed changes.
“In the future, we will need to see further changes to the test when we have more electric, connected and semi-autonomous cars on our roads.”