Learner drivers on motorways: what you need to know

Learner driver with instructor

Now, motorway driving could 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 vehicle with dual controls. You can only drive unaccompanied on a motorway if you've passed your driving test.

An amendment in the law took place in 2018. Now, newly qualified drivers can take additional lessons through the voluntary Pass Plus scheme in England, Wales and Scotland.

This change is just for learner drivers and is designed to increase safety.

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Can learner drivers drive on the motorway?

Driving on the motorway can be stressful for any new driver. But the expertise of a driving instructor can help you understand the rules of the motorway and to build your experience. Helping you to 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 law change?

In fact, 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 to drive on a motorway as a learner 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 a driving instructor.


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 motorways and other aspects of driving, such as night driving.

The government-approved Pass Plus course is one way drivers can cover these areas.

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

“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.”


Can a learner driver drive on dual carriageway?

While learner drivers are prevented from practicing on the motorway they can drive on dual carriageways. Here, the maximum speed limit is 70 mph.

When taking a driving test, your examiner will be expecting 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.


New drivers and motorway driving

Driver trainer Kathy Higgins of Insight2Drive applauds providing more expertise to novice drivers. And would like the government to move towards changing motorists’ behaviour as road statistics show motorways as the safest roads.

Latest figures from the Department of Transport show that fatalities have fallen on major roads 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.

“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.”

Kathy would like the government to shift focus and says: “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.”