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Learner drivers may soon be allowed on motorways

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Proposed changes will give learner drivers access to motorways.

Learner driver with instructor

Plans to allow learner drivers on motorways have been in the pipeline for a number of years. In 2011, former Transport minister Mike Penning announced that he wanted to bring in legislation permitting learner drivers to learn on motorways.

He cited the example of his own daughter learning to drive. He felt it was dangerous that she could pass her test and be allowed to drive on the motorway shortly afterwards.

This would be fine, despite her having never been on one before and without any additional training.

No changes to legislation were made at that time, but the issue is once more under the spotlight. Transport minister Andrew Jones said that proposed changes will see competent learner drivers able to have lessons on motorways.

This is so long as they’re with an approved driving instructor in a dual-controlled car.

But how do learner drivers feel about his?

Some learner drivers welcome this opportunity. Beth Holloway, 17 from St Albans has been learning to drive for six months.

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

“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 and 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.”

Joanne Mallon, author of How to overcome fear of driving, also supports the plans.

“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.”

Busy motorway

Rising concerns

Driver trainer Kathy Higgins of Insight2Drive has mixed feelings about the proposed changes.

“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.” she says.

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

However, Kathy was recently driving on a 50mph dual carriageway and saw a learner driver doing 20mph.

“It was clear that they weren't ready for that environment. I'm concerned that some inexperienced instructors might take students who aren't fully prepared onto the motorway.”

Kathy feels that in making this change the government isn't focusing on the most important issues. She says, “Department of Transport figures show that only 6% of road deaths are on motorways and that they’re our safest roads.

“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.”

What’s the plan?

The plans to introduce changes to improve training for new drivers is still under consultation until 17 February 2017. If approved, learners could be allowed on motorways with a driving instructor in 2018.

This will not be a required part of driver training. However, 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 motorways and other aspects of driving, such as night driving. The government-approved Pass Plus course is one way in which drivers can cover these areas.

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