Driving lessons on the motorway from 2012

Posted on December 12th, 2011 by David Williams MBE

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Photo by Michael Summers

How the case of the Road Safety Minister’s daughter’s driving test illustrates the limitations of driving lessons

The sight of L-Plates on motorways could become a common one from next year – it has been reported that learner drivers are to be allowed to hone their skills on Britain’s fastest roads.

Road Safety Minister Mike Penning announced the move to the Institute of Advanced Motorists on Thursday (8th December 2011) and confirmed that learner drivers will only be able to drive on a motorway if they are accompanied by a qualified driving instructor.

The minister believes that allowing driving lessons to be conducted on motorways will improve the skills of new drivers and reduce the number of crashes. This aim is shared by road safety associations such as GEM Motoring Assist; an organisation which is keen to protect the safety of the members they provide breakdown cover to.

Driving instructors will be able to take their pupils on the motorway from next year but it will not be compulsory for novice drivers to gain motorway experience before sitting their driving test. Mr Penning believes that such a stipulation would be impractical to enforce at driving test centres located far away from a motorway network.

Mr Penning’s daughter

Mr Penning told an Institute of Advanced Motorists conference that the circumstances surrounding his daughter passing her driving test illustrated how the driving test does not prepare newly-qualified drivers for life on the road.

The minister’s daughter recently passed her test in St Albans but lives in Hemel Hempstead “on the other side of the M1”.

Mr Penning pointed out that she could have driven back home on the motorway and taken her first high-speed drive “less than five minutes” after discarding her L-Plates.

David Williams, MBE, CEO of GEM Motoring Assist shares Mr Penning’s concern. He said: “It seems a nonsense that a learner driver can pass their test having had no experience of driving on motorways and then be able to drive 600 miles on a motorway the very next day.”

Mr Williams added: “I think it is a good idea that learner drivers should be able to clock up some valuable miles of experience on the motorway. But this will only be safe if they are accompanied by a qualified instructor rather than just a friend or a relative who has passed the test.”

Motorways and the fear factor

Many road safety experts believe that there is a fear factor which makes some novice drivers and older drivers ‘freeze’ and drive dangerously on motorways.

A 2006 survey by the European Road Assessment Programme illustrated that much of this fear is irrational – the research found that 21 per cent of Brits mistakenly believe that motorways are the most dangerous road type.

In fact single carriageways are the most dangerous road type. According to road casualty figures collected by the police between 1999 and 2011, motorways are statistically among the safest roads on which to drive.

This is because, in contrast to many other roads, traffic travels in the same direction on the same side of the road. The difference in speed between vehicles is also less marked than on other types of roads.

Police records show that the death rate on motorways was typically:

  • One per mile for the period 1999 to 2011.

The average fatality rate on A-roads (which include major trunk roads and dual carriageways) is higher. For instance, there were:

  • 23 deaths on Britain’s most crash-prone A-road, the ten-mile A215 road, between 1999 and 2011.

Reasons why A-Roads are so dangerous

A-roads, unlike motorways, sometimes travel through traffic-dense urban areas where car drivers must share road space with cyclists and pedestrians.

However, drivers are still sensible to take extreme care on motorways – when there are collisions the consequences can be severe.

As well as letting driving instructors take to the motorways, Mike Penning also has other plans regarding motoring tuition; he intends to stop the practice of trainee instructors giving lessons.

Again citing personal experience as a reason for his concern, he said: “I was shocked when I discovered my daughter could be taught by someone that wasn’t qualified. I assumed they would be.”

He added: “I’m going to put a stop to that.”