Whether you’re just about to turned 17 (the minimum legal age for driving in the UK) or are a little older and looking to become a driver for the first time or return to the road after a long time, the anticipation of being granted that full driver’s license is usually very exciting!
However, the thought of organising the required tuition, studying and practising as a newbie, and doing the required admin and fulfilling all the legal obligations can be quite daunting for many with no prior experience as a learner.
So, we have compiled a little guide breaking down this journey into 5 key steps, explaining what to expect at each stage.
1: Apply for (and obtain) a provisional licence
If you’re even thinking of learning to drive, the first thing you’ll need to do is apply for your provisional license. In the UK the provisional driving license comes as a green ID card (the full license, obtained after you pass, is pink). You’ll need to have obtained this green card before you step into a vehicle.
Obviously a lot of people are keen to start driving as soon as they possibly can. Luckily you are able to apply for your provisional once you are 15 years and 9 months old (though you still are not legally allowed to drive a car until you’ve turned 17). So if you’re organised you could actually start your practical lessons as early as your 17th birthday.
You can apply for the provisional licence online, via the official government website, or request a D1 Form in person from the DVLA from certain branches of the Post Office. The online method cost £34, whereas submitting the form physically will cost you £43.
One important regulation to remember before doing this is that, legally, in order to successfully apply for even a provisional, you must be able to read a car’s number plate from a distance of 20 metres (whether unaided or with the assistance of glasses or contact lenses).
After you have submitted your application it can take up to several weeks for it to be processed before you receive your new provisional license in the post.
2: Look for an instructor
Once you’ve got your provisional in hand you can have a go at driving! Only with supervision from an adult, who must be a full license holder, though.
The best option to start with is to book some lessons with an actual driving instructor. It’s worth taking the time to find the right instructor for you, as different instructors will likely utilise different teaching styles and methods. Don’t simply stick with the same instructor you started out with if it’s not working out. It’s always a good idea asking family and friends about who they learned to drive with, or to search for local well-reviewed instructors online.
Also remember to shop around and compare rates/package prices, which can vary significantly. Obviously you need to ensure you can afford to pay for your lessons (plus who doesn’t like to save money where they can) but it is unwise to choose an unqualified instructor merely because they’re the cheapest. Sometimes you get what you pay for! Make sure whichever instructor you go with is an official ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) and check what vehicle they will be using and that it is suitable for your needs.
As a learner, you’ll need them to have with dual
controls, but you also need to think about what kind of transmission (gear system)
the car has: manual or automatic. The most popular type of car to learn in, and
the one most instructors have, is a manual (though automatic vehicles are gaining
in popularity, and becoming a more common option for learners as instructors
respond to consumer demand). You may be able to choose between studying in
either a manual or automatic if you enquire in advance, or at least know in
advance so that you have the time to switch to another instructor who uses the
type you want if necessary.
The amount of practice you need before you get good and driving varies from person to person. The number of lessons you’ll require before you’re ready to take a test can also vary. All of this depends on how often you’re taking lessons, how much practice (in terms of frequency, duration, variety and degree of challenge) you’re getting in between lessons, in addition to the nature of any previous familiarity with driving you might have and, of course, how fast a learner you turn out to be.
Some instructors or driving schools offer intensive
courses, as these are becoming increasingly popular as people are pressured for
time and/or are impatient to learn (and pass) as quickly as possible. The aim is
to teach you how to drive, in terms of getting you ready to be able to pass, within
a short period of time. Usually the sessions within these courses span a week
or two, involving several hours of lessons/guided practice most days. The final
day culminates with your test. Although these are quick, and efficient at
getting you to a certain level, they aren’t necessarily always the best way to
learn, in terms of becoming the best driver you can be, and don’t suit everyone’s
natural learning style.
An additional, and important, way of learning is to practice what you have been shown in lessons in your spare time as much as you can, with a friend or family member accompanying you. The person must be over 21, and fully qualified to drive a car. They must also have held their licence for over 3 years.
While you are practising, you need to be insured for driving the car you will be using to practice in. You must also always being use ‘L’ plates attached to the car (removable stickers are fine as long as they are secure) while you are practising, to let other road users know you are a learner.
You can use accompanied practice like this to
support your learning in ADDITION to taking lessons with a professional driving
instructor, as long as you always ensure you’re following all road rules at all
times when behind the wheel alongside a non-professional instructor. Safety is
the key concern here, but there can also be severe legal consequences for both
parties if you break any regulations/laws.
4: Study and take your theory test
Something else you’ll need to do, alongside your
practice behind the wheel, is to study towards the driving theory test. You
will need to pass this before taking your practical test and being awarded a
full license. Again, you need to be 17 or older in order to take the theory test.
The test itself consists of two distinct aspects of theory: hazard perception and theory questions based on the UK’s Highway Code. For the hazard perception testing you will be required to view a series of short videos and click on your device whenever you see a potential driving hazard on or around the road. It’s not just about noticing all of the hazards: your response time (how quickly you spot these hazards and click as they occur) is assessed as part of this.
The second part consists of a bank of multiple choice questions, where you’ll be asked to answer a sequence of theoretical questions on the Highway Code and UK driving laws.
The theory test costs £23 to take. Testing takes
place at theory test centres across the UK. Search for your nearest one online.
You can also use that link to book.
Theory can be practiced in advance, meaning you’ll have the opportunity to research the questions, revise for them, see where you are going wrong and understand why the correct answer is what it is (which should help you remember), and gain confidence as you gain familiarity. This should help you pass the test. Consider using an app such as WeDrive to make your preparations as smooth and efficient as possible and ensure you know the correct answer for all of the questions (and video hazards) that might come up.
While you are learning to drive and practicing out
on the roads you will hopefully then begin to understand some of this theory
whilst driving, as you see the issues and concepts at work in real life.
5: Take the practical test
After you’ve successfully passed your theory – and hopefully practiced on the road a lot – it’s time for the practical test!
Remember, different people take different amounts of time to reach this stage, so don’t feel too pressure. If you’ve been learning with an instructor they should be able to tell you when they think you’re ready to book your test. Once you reach this stage, hopefully feeling confident, you can book the practical for any time. As with the theory test, the practical can be booked online (price varies according to when exactly you choose to book it for).
An important thing to remember, however, is that the test centre will not provide you with a car: meaning you will have to access one yourself, and ensure that this will actually be available to you on the day. Most people have an instructor who is happy to let them use their car, and so just use the instructor’s car, but some prefer to take the test in their own vehicle.
If you do this, just make sure that the car definitely meets the requirements the test centre will demand.
The test itself:
Your practical test takes place on public roads, and will last a total duration of roughly 40 minutes, You meet your examiner at the test centre just prior to your test. You also have option of your instructor accompanying you in the car during your practical.
The test itself consists of several important elements, and you will be assessed according to each of these:
- Eyesight check. You will be asked to read a car’s license plate from 20 metres away before you begin driving.
- ‘Show me, tell me’ style vehicle safety questions. The ‘tell me’ questions are sked before you set off, while the ‘show me’ questions will begin once you start driving, to allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and practical application of it. These should all be around things your instructor has fully covered during lessons and is confident you know, so there should be nothing to worry about if you are prepared.
- Assessment of your general driving ability. Your examiner will be monitoring and marking your driving on different road types, and under varying conditions.
- Reversing. The instructor will at some point ask you to complete one of three reversing manoeuvres.
- Independent driving. I order for the examiner to monitor your confidence and assess your ability to drive on public roads independently, you will be expected to spend around 20 minutes driving either by following directions from a satnav (which the examiner will set up for you) or traffic signs on the roads.
When the test finishes, you’ll drive back to the
test centre. After you arrive the instructor will let you know whether or not
you have passed. They’ll also detail any major or minor faults you made during
the test. If you’ve passed the practical you will receive your pass certificate
and your full driving licence can now ordered, If you fail, you must retake the
test at some point in order to be awarded a license, so pay attention to what
major/minor faults the instructor tells you that you made and make a mental
note to learn from these. They might be things you want to specifically practice
on before booking another test slot.
6: Congrats – You’re a fully licensed driver!
Now that you have passed your test – and got your license – you can officially drive independently, with no one else in the car! There are a few things you might want to think about before getting behind the wheel and going out on the roads by yourself though.
In order to become the best drivers they can be, or just to further boost their confidence before driving independently, new driver sometimes choose to continue to learn even after obtaining their license. One popular way of doing this is by taking the Pass Plus course. This gives you additional training and practice in areas not covered by the standard test, such as driving on motorways. As well as the additional skills and experience such courses provide, completing them can also be another way to boost your confidence as a new driver and reassure you about getting out on the roads (or even motorways) by yourself. Pursuing the Pass Plus certificate may even have a financial benefit for you: in many cases lowering the car insurance quotes you receive from different insurers.
If you are interested in taking such a course, we recommend simply searching online for instructors who offer this tuition in your local area.
So now that you’re qualified and ready to get on the road you just need 2 more things: a vehicle and some insurance!
Get yourself a motor
Some people might already own a car before they have even passed their test (maybe you were lucky enough to have got one for your birthday or from Santa)! Many of you though will be looking at buying your first car after passing. If this is the case, just make sure to do a lot of research as to what type of vehicle might be best for you and, off course, shop around to learn about similar models and find the best deals. Ideally you could find instructors who you know have the type or model of car you are interested in and perhaps book a practice session with them to try out how it feels to drive. You could even do this to test and compare different models!
As part of this blog we will be adding a Guide to Buying A Car, in addition to A Guide to Buying Your First Car – so stay tuned for those.
Whether you buy or lease your own car or share someone else’s (such as a family member or someone else in your household), it is vital to make sure you are properly and adequately insured to drive that vehicle BEFORE heading out onto the roads.
If getting your own car, you’ll take out your own car insurance policy.
For first time drivers, a telematics or ‘black box’ policy can be the most effective type of coverage in terms of minimising the cost of insurance whilst ensuring that you are sufficiently covered. As with buying a car, always make sure to shop around and obtain different quotes, perhaps by varying parameters such as coverage type (fully comprehensive vs third party only etc.).
If using a vehicle belonging to someone else, even if it’s just for a short while, make sure you are added to their insurance policy as a Named Driver, so that you are actually covered should an accident happen while you are driving. The costs of driving while not properly insured can far outweigh the cost of getting minimal insurance if you are caught!
Check out our guide to the main types of insurance available and how suitable each may be to new drivers.
We will also be compiling – and regularly updating – a guide to recommended insurance providers you may wish to consider, in addition to posting about good deals and special offers that you might want to take advantage of. So keep an eye out for these too (maybe subscribe to the mailing list to receive our latest Newsletter periodically).