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What are the rules and laws for new drivers?

You’ve passed your test and it’s time to hit the road on your own. But are there rules for new drivers that you need to obey?

Nothing beats the excitement of passing your driving test. You can finally drive without supervision and are no longer reliant on people giving you lifts.

However, there is a serious potential downside.

One in five new drivers crash within 12 months of passing their test and 1,500 are killed or seriously injured every year on UK roads, according to statistics

Here we take a look at the regulations for younger drivers – and how they can be safer on the roads.

Can a new driver have passengers?

The Highway Code states:

"If you are driving with passengers, you are responsible for their safety. Don’t let them distract you or encourage you to take risks.

"Tell your passengers that you need to concentrate if you are to get to your destination safely."

So, yes, new drivers can have passengers as long as they don't cause a distraction. The only limit is the number of people the car can legally carry.  

Are there any restrictions or laws for new drivers?

Not at the moment. Campaign groups have called for Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) to be introduced that would place restrictions on new drivers. 

This could have included driving curfews at night or limits on the age of passengers being carried for 12 months after passing a test.

However, there are no plans to introduce such a scheme at the moment, although the authorities are still considering GDL in Northern Ireland.

In a report from the House of Commons Transport Committee which investigated the issue, Huw Merriman MP, the committee’s chair, said GDL wasn’t being recommended.

“Committee balanced the current work of the Department with the lack of evidence demonstrating the impact of GDL on the economic and social prospects of young people at this time, particularly in rural areas,” he stated.

What are the penalties for new drivers?

Under the New Drivers Act, your licence might be revoked if you get six penalty points on your licence within two years of passing your test. You then need to pass both the theory test  and practical driving test again. 

And having points on your licence could impact how much you pay for your car insurance policy, which for new drivers could already be quite high.


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Do new drivers have to have P plates?

When you're still learning, you must display L plates at all times when you're driving. Once you've passed your test, tearing up those L plates is a common rite of passage. But using P plates is much less commonplace.

In England, Wales and Scotland, there's no legal obligation to put P plates on your car.

The green plates - called 'probationary' plates - let other drivers know that you've just passed your test, and that they should give you more time and room. Whether they actually will is another matter.

You can keep these P plates on your car for as long as you like.

Drivers in Northern Ireland must display an amber R 'restricted' plate for one year after passing their test. Any car that has an R plate is limited to a top speed of 45 mph.

How many passengers can a new driver have?

There can be as many passengers in the vehicle as it can legally hold.

Can you drive on a provisional licence with passengers?

Yes, you can have passengers on a provisional licence. 

Are younger drivers involved in more crashes?

Earlier this year, a report published by the House of Commons Transport Committee found young drivers were “Over-represented” in statistics for fatal and serious crashes. 

“In 2019 young drivers made up 7% of all licence holders but were involved in 16% of fatal and serious crashes,” it read.

The figures revealed 88 drivers aged 17 to 24-years-old were killed and a further 1,234 behind the wheel were seriously injured.

“In total, 287 people—including passengers and pedestrians—were killed in crashes involving a young car driver,” it added.

However, the longer-term trends are more encouraging. In 2005, there were 2,727 young drivers killed and seriously injured. The numbers have been around their current levels since 2012.

What are the risks for new drivers?

The high level of risk associated with first time drivers is due to youth and inexperience, according to Brake, the road safety charity.

“Their inexperience means they have less ability to spot hazards, and their youth means they are particularly likely to take risks like dangerous overtaking or speeding,” it states.

The key problem areas include:

  • Carrying passengers. Peer pressure can encourage bad driving and showing off – especially if the passengers are of similar age.

  • Driving at night. Poorer visibility, the potential to speed on quieter roads, and low concentration due to tiredness can all be factors.

  • Speeding. Driving too fast due to underestimating the risks is an obvious problem. “The younger the driver, the more likely they are to be involved in a crash caused by speed,” notes Brake.

What is Driver2020? 

Driver2020 is a research project that’s looking at different ways to make young drivers safer, more confident, and more skillful in their first year behind the wheel.

A progress update and preliminary findings of its research into telematic technology to improve road safety was originally due by July 2021. But due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is now delayed.

Advice for new drivers

While there are no restrictions placed on new drivers, there is a safety code that can be found in Annex 8 of the Highway Code

Consider taking a Pass Plus course. This course helps hone your skills in specific circumstances, such as night driving and driving on the motorway. The aim is to make you a safer driver that can adapt to adverse conditions and unfamiliar road types.. 

Avoid driving at night. Many of the worst collisions happen between midnight and 6am. If you have to, consider adding a named driver to share the load. 

Don’t let passengers distract you. You are responsible for their safety so warn them that you need to concentrate. If you cause an accident due to being distracted, you can't pass the blame onto your passengers.

Never show off. Don’t try to compete with other drivers on the road, and don't let your passengers egg you on. It's likely you have much less road experience than those around you so there's little to be gained by showing off.

Never drive after alcohol or drugs. Anything in your system could impair your abilities behind the wheel. This includes over-the-counter medicines. If you're driving, don't drink. And if you're drinking, don't drive.

Ensure everyone is wearing a seat belt. Remember, their safety is your responsibility. If they refuse to wear a seatbelt, you can refuse to drive.

Don’t speed. Many serious crashes happen because drivers lose control, especially around bends when they’ve misjudged the speed and handling.

Avoid powerful cars. Don’t get behind the wheel of a high-performance car until you’ve had plenty of driving experience. Not only are these cars potentially more dangerous for new drivers, the could cost a lot more to run than a simple runaround. For more information, check out our best cars for new drivers.