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How lockdown affected new and learner drivers

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January 28, 2021
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So many aspects of life have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. From the direct effects of infection to furlough, redundancies and the restrictions of lockdown.

UK’s lockdowns have emptied the roads from inner city commutes to long-distance journeys.

You might think that reduced traffic – especially in city centres – would be a boon for young, new and learner drivers as they build their confidence on our roads. But the spectre of a global pandemic, government guidelines and subsequent disruption to practice, lessons and tests may have dulled that silver lining. 

We wanted to find out:

  • How do new and learner drivers feel about their driving? 
  • Have they missed it? 
  • Are they keen to resume their lessons? 
  • How has disruption affected their confidence? 

And so, at the end of 2020, we asked 1,000 learners and recently passed drivers how they felt about various aspects of their driving.

Here’s what we found.

Key findings

  • A third of drivers have lost confidence
    • 32.1% of new/learner drivers lost some of their confidence due to the lockdowns
  • Half of drivers miss being behind the wheel
    • 53.1% said they missed or seriously missed driving during the lockdowns
  • Women are more eager to resume lessons
    • Female learners were more keen than male learners to start taking lessons again immediately after lockdown (36.3% v 29.7%)
  • Nearly half made ‘unnecessary’ trips
    • 45.7% made at least one unnecessary journey during the lockdowns.

Driving confidence takes a knock

There’s lots to learn when starting to drive – road conditions, signs, other drivers, the car, the Highway Code – but building confidence is just as important. Experience is key. It builds confidence, which in turn helps us to make better decisions, more efficiently.

On average, learner drivers need 22 hours of practice in addition to formal lessons before they are ready for their test – these practice hours are a powerful influence on whether they pass or fail. To achieve these hours pre-pandemic, many learners will have been driving around as a means to an end. However, government restrictions on all but essential travel will have sadly curtailed practice for learners in 2020. 

  • Our survey revealed that 32.1% of new and learner drivers lost some of their confidence due to lockdowns
  • The figure is higher (37.3%) for those learning when the first lockdown was enforced – suggesting a bigger negative impact than the second lockdown later in the year
  • 42% of women were less confident, compared to only 21.6% of men, but in both cases around half felt their confidence was unaffected

Men and women driving confidence during lockdown

  • Loss of confidence was most pronounced among the 55-64 age group (48.6%), while 23.2% of the youngest group (18-24) actually gained confidence. Older drivers may include those who are re-learning after a ban or who have put off learning for decades – which may impact confidence more than young adults who are learning for the first time. This difference may be compounded by the ‘invincibility’ that young people feel – a stereotype backed by empirical data
  • The largest percentage of drivers who were more confident came from London (26.9%). The least confident came from Wales (42.9%), Yorkshire (42.2%) and Scotland (40%). This might be due to the more pronounced emptying of urban roads than more rural and less densely populated areas. Londoners saw traffic go from its usual bumper-to-bumper gridlock, to clear roads in all directions. Those in rural areas may have noticed a more subtle decline in cars.

For learner drivers heading back onto the roads after lockdown, we suggest a ‘back to basics’ approach. Take your time to build back some of that lost confidence before expecting too much from yourself. Read more advice in our article: Tips for learner drivers getting back on the road after lockdown.

Getting back behind the wheel (learners)

For many, driving represents freedom – especially for those in rural and suburban areas. The events of 2020 will therefore have come as a fly in the ointment for many learners. With all the disruption and blows to confidence, are they keen to resume lessons and take their test?

  • 33% of people learning before each lockdown said they were not ready to take lessons again
  • 23.6% of people learning before the first lockdown were keen to start lessons again immediately. Those learning before the second lockdown were more keen (32.4%)
  • Many learners from the first lockdown showed some trepidation or reluctance, with 42.5% saying they were keen to start lessons only ‘soon’ (35.6% for those learning before the second lockdown) 
  • Women in particular were more reluctant to resume lessons with 40.9% saying they weren’t ready to resume lessons versus 25.5% of men. This significant difference mirrors the confidence findings above (42% of women were ‘far less’ confident versus only 22% of men). However, it is striking that after the second lockdown women were actually more eager to start lessons immediately: 36.3% said they will start lessons immediately versus 29.7% of men
  • During the first lockdown, the older cohort felt less urgency to resume lessons. Maybe they felt that they’ve ‘made it this far without driving’, and so another six months makes little difference. A 17-year-old who lives ‘out in the sticks’ may feel a different sense of urgency to get mobile and gain more independence 
    • First lockdown: 71.9% of those 55-64 not ready to drive v 21.3% of 18-24 year olds
    • Second lockdown: 54.5% of those 55-64 not ready to drive v 28.8% of 18-24 year olds
    • Younger people are more eager to resume lessons ‘soon’ after first lockdown compared to the second (49.4% v 35.6%)

driving lessons during lockdown by age group

  • In Scotland, 55.6% weren’t ready to resume lessons after the first lockdown, but this fell by half (to 22.7%) for the second lockdown – possibly as people became more impatient and less prepared to postpone their goals. In fact, Scotland has more people than any other region ready who were keen to start lessons again after the second lockdown. Similarly, the North West went from having the least drivers ‘ready to return to lessons’ after the first lockdown (22.8%) to having the most for the second lockdown (50%). Does this suggest that we were shocked and worried by the inaugural lockdown, but had normalised it by the time later lockdowns were implemented? The first lockdown was an unknown – frightening for many – but by the time the second one rolled around, we knew life would go on. 

While the UK is in lockdown, learner drivers are only able to practice driving with members of their household or support bubble. Those who are in the car with learner drivers must be over 21, have had their full driving licence for over three years and be qualified to drive the vehicle. Learners should only be driving for essential travel, such as to work or education.

However, the rules were different when the UK was in tiers, with different regulations depending on the tier. Find out: Can you learn to drive in tiers 2 and 3

Missing the driver’s seat

Driving inspires a wide range of emotions from love and hate to pragmatism and ambivalence. 

More than half of our cohort (53.1%) said they missed or seriously missed driving during the pandemic. Those learning to drive at the time of the first lockdown said that they missed or seriously missed driving more than those learning during the November lockdown (56% versus 45.5%). Is this because people took the second lockdown less seriously (and continued to drive) or because restrictions were less tight – especially regionally?

  • Men only missed driving slightly more than women (55.8% versus 51.3%) though women were more likely to say they didn’t miss it (38% versus 31.4% of men)
  • The youngest drivers missed driving the most and the older drivers got the less they missed it: 55.2% of 35-44-year-olds didn’t miss it; 94.1% of the over 65s didn’t miss it
  • Yorkshire and Wales were the only regions whose majority did not miss driving (51.9% and 53.3%). It may be relevant that these are the regions whose drivers also suffered the biggest blow to their confidence.

driving lessons missed by learners during lockdown

For learners who started lessons again and are ready for their test have had to face further bad news. Due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, driving test spaces were limited in 2020, causing delays for many eager provisional drivers. If you’re stuck in this position, use the time to get in more practice and increase your chance of success. Read more here: Save money and get practice while waiting for your driving test.

Breaking the rules

Many of the rules around lockdowns were confusing and unclear – often appearing counterintuitive and contradictory. The guidelines for travel were ‘all but essential travel must stop’. But even this bold statement failed to define what was ‘essential’. Certainly, driving is essential if you want to pass your test…

It must have been hard for those drivers who had just passed or were about to take their test to fight the urge to ‘have a cheeky drive’ to maintain the skills and confidence they’d built in preparation.

  • 45.7% of new drivers made at least one ‘unnecessary’ journey during lockdown, with men more likely (50.5%) than women (41.5%) to do so. 

new drivers unnecessary journeys during lockdown

  • 46.3% of 18-24-year-olds and 58.3% of 25-34-year-olds made unnecessary trips – the numbers falling for drivers 35+. Could it be that the youngest cohort were better behaved than their elders? Or perhaps the younger generation simply felt more able to own up to their misdeeds. 

Depending on the restrictions in your area, non-essential trips in the car could see you handed a hefty fine. If you do need to drive, take extra care to stay safe and legal. Check out our guide:obscure offences drivers don’t know they are committing


This survey reveals the extent to which new and learner drivers have been impacted by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.

The confidence of many has been knocked, some are reluctant to return to lessons while many miss the road. Women are more eager to resume their lessons while men made more unnecessary trips – though the total remains high across the board. The young are more eager to get back in the saddle than the old, and region impacts confidence.

Periodic lockdowns are predicted into 2021, so we might expect more disruption to lessons, tests and that all-important practice. 

If you’re a learner driver looking for a policy, why not get a quote for learner driver insurance from Adrian Flux? With cover starting from as little as 65p per day, we’re here to help you take to the road with care and confidence. 

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