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Learner drivers on motorways: what you need to know

Motorway driving should now be less daunting for newly qualified drivers as it's included in driving lessons.

It’s illegal for learner drivers to drive on the motorway unless they’re accompanied by an approved driving instructor in a car with dual controls.

Once you've passed your driving test, you can drive unaccompanied on a motorway.

A learner driver with their instructor

 

Can learners drive on the motorway?

Yes. From June 2018 it's legal for learner drivers to drive on the motorway. But only when they're with an approved driving instructor in a car with dual controls.

Driving on the motorway can be stressful for any new or young driver.

The expertise of a driving instructor can help you understand the rules of the motorway. They also help to build your experience so you feel more comfortable and secure.

It’s an opportunity some learner drivers like Beth Holloway from St Albans welcome:

“I think it's a good idea for learner drivers to be allowed to go the motorway accompanied by their driving instructor.

“I remember the first time I went on a dual carriageway I found it really scary. Everyone was going so fast and it was like nothing I'd experienced before.

"I'm confident on dual carriageways now. Although I know that motorways are similar, I'm aware that there are differences. It would be good to learn about them with someone experienced.”

 

Why did the learner motorway driving law change?

A key motivation behind the change was improving road safety.

Back in 2017, the-then Road Safety Minister, Andrew Jones, spoke about allowing learner drivers on the motorway. He said:

“More and varied practice helps drivers to be safer on the roads and encouraging more people to learn how to use motorways properly will benefit all drivers.”

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling said about the new rules:

“Younger drivers are up to seven times more likely to be killed or seriously injured compared with drivers over 25, and lack of experience is an important factor.

“Allowing learners to drive on motorways in a supportive environment will help them develop a practical understanding of how to use motorways safely before driving independently."

Joanne Mallon, author of How to Overcome Fear of Driving, who is supportive of the rule, says:

“When I was re-learning to drive, I got the instructor to take me out on the motorway. I would never have been able to cope otherwise.

“I discovered that fear of motorways was one of the most common difficulties people experienced. They would often plan journeys to avoid them, even choosing rural roads that are statistically more dangerous.

“I believe that having the opportunity to practice on motorways before taking the test will help build confidence for many drivers.”

 

What are the rules for learner drivers on a motorway?

There are specific rules for the motorways under the Highway Code. Rule 253 specifically prohibits holders of provisional motorcycle or car licences on the motorway.

The only exception as described is:

“From 4 June 2018 provisional licence holders may drive on the motorway if they are accompanied by an approved driving instructor and are driving a car displaying red L plates (D plates in Wales), that’s fitted with dual controls.”

This means you’re not allowed on a motorway as a learner driver even with an experienced driver. Unless, of course, they’re an approved driving instructor.

Learner drivers can get a motorway-like experience by driving on dual carriageways with an experienced driver or driving instructor.

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Top tips for learner drivers on the motorway 

  • Keep calm - Remember, you'll always have your driving instructor alongside you to correct any mistakes.
  • Don't hesitate - Hesitating when joining the motorway, or switching lanes, can be dangerous. Once you've started a move, and are indicating accordingly, follow through with it confidently. 
  • Match your speed - Make sure that you're travelling at the same speed as other motorists when joining a motorway from a slip road and follow the usual 'mirror, signal, manoeuvre' procedure.
  • Keep an eye on the speed limits - Most motorways will have a 70mph speed limit. It can sometimes drop down to 50mph, so make sure you're not breaking the law. 
 

Can a learner driver drive on dual carriageway?

Learner drivers can drive on dual carriageways. Here, the maximum speed limit is 70 mph.

When taking a driving test, your examiner expects you to drive at the speed limit if it’s safe and reasonable to do so.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) allow learner drivers on a dual carriageway roads because of the speed limit.

They also, according to the DVSA, “share some of the same characteristics as motorways”.

Under the Highway Code 137 drivers should stay in the left hand lane, using the right hand lane to overtake or turn right. Once you overtake you should move back to the left-hand lane when safe to do so.

 

Will the changes apply to learner motorcyclists? 

No, the changes do not apply to learner motorcyclists. 

It will still be illegal for learner motorcyclists to drive on the motorway. 

 

Can a new driver drive on the motorway?

Yes, but many newly qualified drivers may lack the confidence and skills to get on the motorway.

Most driving experts strongly suggest that new drivers don't venture onto the motorway for the first time without a qualified instructor.

It's advised that they take additional post-test training to cover motorway driving and other aspects of being behind the wheel, such as night driving.

The government-approved Pass Plus course, or an advanced driving courseis one way drivers can cover these areas.

Taking a Pass Plus course can sometimes reduce the cost of buying car insurance for the first time, but this can vary by insurer. 

Driving school, how2drive, supports the move and recommends new drivers to take the voluntary course:

“They will be nervous, and they probably won’t know all of the motorway rules. Their lack of experience could lead to them making a fatal mistake.

"This is a serious safety concern and something that campaigners have been fighting to change for years.

“Some people even avoid driving on motorways altogether. Their lack of experience means they don’t have the confidence to tackle what is statistically Britain’s safest class of road.”

 

New drivers and motorway driving

Driver trainer Kathy Higgins of Insight2Drive applauds providing more expertise to novice drivers. Road statistics show motorways are the safest roads.

Latest figures from the Department of Transport show that fatalities on major roads fell by 24% in 2020 compared to 2019.

Although a mitigating factor is the significant decrease in volume of traffic as a result of the pandemic.

Kathy says: “On one hand, it's a good idea in the sense that it will give learners experience on the motorway and allow driving instructors impart better skills. 

“Hopefully instructors won't take them onto a motorway until the learner is confident with speed and changing lanes."

Kathy would like the government to shift focus and adds: “Rather than changing learner driver training, the government should put more emphasis on improving driver behaviour in the long term. For example, encouraging motorists to take a refresher test at five or 10-year intervals.”