Last summer saw the news that motorway lessons would become available for learner drivers, and, from next week, learner drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales are allowed onto the motorway, 60 years after the first UK motorway opened.

The new rule is part of a broader transformation in UK motoring including the changes made to the driving test in December 2017, the new MOT, and a tax hike on newly registered diesel cars. With many people embracing the new law for learner drivers, will everybody be so pleased?

Why change the law?

Figures from the Department for Transport show that inexperienced and young drivers are most at risk from road traffic incidents. Those under the age of 25 are up to seven times more likely to get serious or fatal injuries from a crash than drivers aged over 25. Despite motorway crashes only making up 4% of all road crashes and 5% of all fatalities, collisions on the motorway are often more serious due to high speeds.

Although the new law will improve driver education, a study carried out by car servicing company Servicing Stop found that 56% of respondents said they thought it was “dangerous” to allow learner drivers onto motorways, on the other hand, a RAC survey showed overwhelming support for the move.

Under current rules, learner drivers can only have motorway lessons after they’ve passed their driving tests. This is often done by taking the Pass Plus training, which covers motorway driving as one of its six modules. At present, only around 3% of new drivers take this extra training, even though it can reduce your insurance with some companies.

Until the law changes on June 4th, it will still be illegal for learners drivers to use motorways. Even when the law comes into place, motorway lessons will be voluntary and left to the driving instructor’s discretion to decide when their pupil is ready to move onto motorway lessons. Saying this, driving on the motorway won’t become part of the driving test, but it was decided to add it into lessons to increase confidence in learner drivers and prevent accidents.

The National Associations Strategic Partnership has produced best practice guidance for Approved Driving Instructors, but The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) won’t be providing any more training to driving instructors wishing to offer motorway lessons. Trainee driving instructors cannot take pupils on motorways; it is only the fully qualified who can, so parents teaching their children won’t be able to either.

Motorways are a weak point for drivers

Head of PR & External Affairs at the RAC, Pete Williams, feels that driving on motorways for the first time can be ”daunting” for many new drivers.

He added: “Giving learners the option to gain valuable experience on our fastest and busiest roads should further improve safety and enhance the confidence of new drivers.”

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says allowing learners to experience motorways under professional guidance will help them gain practical knowledge of how to use them in a safe environment before passing their test.

The new law will expose learner drivers to a wider range of new driving skills:

– how to join and leave the motorway, overtake and correct use of lanes
– practise driving at higher speeds
– recognition of motorway-specific traffic signs
– the procedure for a vehicle breakdown on a motorway
– dealing with high-sided vehicles

Gareth Llewellyn, DVSA Chief Executive, said: “By allowing learners to have lessons on motorways, we are making sure learners get the skills and experience they need to drive on fast, busy roads.”

President of The AA, Edmund King, described a lack of experience of motorways as the “Achilles heel” of the learner driver’s tuition and said introducing smart motorways without hard shoulders has only increased the fears of motorway-shy drivers.

Not everyone has been as supportive of the changes, including former Director of Campaigns Jason Wakeford from road safety charity, Brake.

After the announcement last year he said: “Rather than allowing learner drivers on the motorway, there should instead be a requirement for all newly-qualified drivers to receive mandatory lessons, including on the motorway, once they’ve passed their test.”

He added: “There needs to be much wider reform to the learning-to-drive system, including a minimum learning period and restrictions for newly-qualified drivers, such as a late night curfew.”

Motorways still the safest roads

Even if you’re not a new driver, motorways can prove to be a nerve-wracking place. With fast-moving traffic, multiple lanes and slip roads, it’s possible to get caught off-guard. Without pedestrians or cyclists, statistics show motorways are still the safest roads on which to drive.

With so many motorists concerned with learner drivers on the motorway, how can we stay safe? First things first, be patient with them. Everybody had to learn to drive once, and it’s easy to forget that being well prepared and fast to react to events comes with the experience that learner drivers still need. As you should with any vehicle, keep a safe distance from the learner driver and increase the gap on wet, icy, or foggy roads. While it can be frustrating being behind a learner driver, remember you were once that driver whom everyone was getting annoyed at and pull back a bit.

What’s your opinion of allowing learners to drive on motorways? Will it help make motorways safer or lead to more accidents? Do you avoid motorways because you’ve never felt confident enough to use them? Tell us your views in the comments.

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