Five gears in and still learning: anniversary of learners on motorways finds 57% of drivers unaware of law change

Highway/motorway traffic reflected in a vehicle wing mirror.

Five years after a law was introduced permitting learner drivers on motorways, more than half of drivers say they did not know it was allowed.

An AA Driving School survey found four in five drivers (83%) admitted they have never seen a learner having a motorway driving lesson2 and 57% said they were unaware that learner drivers could practise on motorways at all.

Learner drivers have been able to practise motorway driving since 4 June 2018 with an approved instructor, so long as the vehicle has dual controls which allows the instructor to take over and control the wheel and pedals if necessary.

Further research by the AA Driving School found bizarre driving behaviours on motorways witnessed by thousands of UK drivers. Nearly half of 13,000 drivers surveyed said they had seen another driver crossing the chevrons back to the motorway after taking the wrong exit (49%) and driving down the hard shoulder when it was not permitted (49%).

Shockingly, one quarter also witnessed someone stop for a wee on the hard shoulder (26%).

According to the latest road crash statistics, driving errors where someone failed to look properly or judge another person’s path or speed correctly have been the most common contributory factor in motorway crashes in the last 10 years. Tailgating is the 4th most common contributory factor in accidents on motorways, compared to 9th most common on all road types.

Motorway driving has developed rapidly in recent years with the introduction of smart motorways, with changes including variable speed limits and all-lane-running schemes. Drivers have reported feeling less relaxed using smart motorways with no hard shoulder.

Poor lane discipline remains many drivers’ top pet hate for motorway driving, but driver education with motorway lessons can prevent these bad habits from forming.

Mark Born, Head of Instructor Training at AA Driving School said: “Although it’s been five years since learners could take driving lessons on motorways with fully-qualified instructors, many drivers have not seen any on motorways first-hand and it indicates that some learners may not be making full use of the law change.

“Statistically, motorways are our safest roads, but we know many people find driving at speed intimidating and therefore may be a hazard on a motorway or are choosing to drive on roads not suitable for longer commutes. We were really pleased when the law changed because it gives more opportunities for novice drivers to build their experience before they take their driving test.

“It’s important all drivers realise learners are allowed on motorways and treat tuition cars with patience if they do come across them.

“We hope that more learners will take up motorway driving lessons to give them a head-start in building confidence and experience around motorway etiquette. It may well quash the next generation of middle-lane-hoggers, tailgaters and those inclined to take a cheeky toilet break on a hard shoulder.”

Finbar King, aged 22, was the very first learner to have a lesson on a motorway five years ago when he went out on the M25 with an AA instructor* just after midnight. Finbar said: “The motorway lessons helped to give me the confidence to drive on motorways after I passed my test. I now use motorways a lot either going to play or watch football and the tuition certainly helped me to drive safely although I’m no big fan of ‘smart’ motorways.”

Drivers’ view

The AA Driving School asked drivers on the AA Passenger Seat forum for their opinions on motorway driving, experiences with seeing learners on motorways and whether they had taken any lessons themselves.

One driver commented: “Motorway driving was totally different when I passed my test to what it is today”, while another added: “It’s a different type of driving.”

One driver said: “I did not know that learners took lessons on motorways. I have not seen any, if I had I would be mildly surprised. It’s probably a good idea. I didn’t have any problem driving on a motorway for the first time, but I know others who avoid driving on them.”

Another driver commented: “It’s the most daunting thing for a lot of new drivers but if the rules of the motorway are understood and obeyed it’s the best way to travel long distances. These lessons weren’t available when I learnt to drive otherwise, I would have taken them.”

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