Learning to drive can be one of the most testing, expensive and exciting experiences in life, but the weeks and months of lessons, tests and retests are soon forgotten once you get out on the open road alone.
Passing your test opens the doors to the world, allowing the freedom to drive where you want, when you want and what you want, without depending on mum and dad or unreliable public transport.
In this guide, we’ve put together loads of tips to help you pass your test, show you what to look for in your first car, and tell you how to take care of your motor.
What are the rules and regulations of learning to drive?
When it comes to driving and owning a car, things are rarely as simple as we would like, and learning to drive is sadly no exception. There is a whole category of laws and regulations that apply solely to learner drivers, and it is best that you know them before you fall foul of them.
Firstly, to be a learner driver, and be legally allowed behind the wheel, you must:
- Be at least 17 years old
- Have a valid provisional driving licence
- Have suitable car insurance
- Be supervised by someone at least 21 years old who has held a valid driving licence for at least three years
- Put L plates (or D plates in Wales) on the front and rear of your car
You will only be allowed to drive without a full licence if an experienced driver accompanies you; someone aged 21 or older who has held a full driving licence for at least three years. As long as a supervising driver is in the front passenger seat, you are allowed to drive with as many passengers as legally can fit in the car.
A supervising driver must:
- Be at least 21 years old
- Have a full driving licence
- Have held their valid licence for a minimum of three years
- Not receive any payment for supervising the learner, unless they are a registered instructor
- Follow normal motoring laws, such as not drink driving or using a mobile phone, even though they are in the passenger seat
Technically, the qualified driver is classed as being in control of the vehicle, and so must follow all the same rules that would apply to them if they were driving – including not drinking or using a mobile phone in the car.
It is worth noting that drivers with provisional licences are not allowed to drive on motorways – although this may soon be changing – so even having a supervisor in the car doesn’t quite give you free reign over all the nation’s roads.
All drivers and supervisors must meet the minimum eyesight standards, meaning drivers must be able to read a vehicle number plate, made after 1 September 2001, from 20 metres away, in good visibility. Read more driving lesson tips for parents in our guide to supervising a learner driver.
Read about the proposed introduction of motorway driving lessons in 2018.
What are the coolest cars for a learner driver?
Learners may often be forgiven for thinking that they inevitably must drive something uninspiring as their first car. At Adrian Flux, we prefer to try to foster a love of driving in learners, helping them to buy a car they can be proud of right from the get go.
Insurance groups can be something of a mystery for many drivers, especially learners – and many could be forgiven for thinking that they will be stuck with a typically terrible first car. Adrian Flux can offer comprehensive learner driver insurance from £1 per day for cars up to insurance group 30, making a wider range of cars available that suit any budget.
To help our customers to think outside the box, here is our list of some of the coolest cars that you can get learner driver insurance on, if you didn’t fancy the practical alternatives. Make sure to look online at insurance group lists; you might be surprised about what you can drive.
Alfa Spider 2.4 JDTM Q-Tronic
It’s an unwritten rule in motoring that you’re not a true petrolhead until you’ve owned an Alfa, and so it will probably surprise many to find out that you can get learner cover on the classic Italian sports car: the Alfa Spider.
True, it’s not as stylish as it once was, and it will probably break down before you pass your test, but the Spider is THE original European sports car. It drives beautifully, as an Alfa should, and is economical thanks to its diesel engine. We’d love to be able to put the stunning new 4C on this list, but we think this is a more than adequate replacement.
Range Rover Evoque 2.2 TD4
Whichever way you look at it, the Evoque is a stylish car by Range Rover standards. The ‘Coupe’ looks both sleek and aggressive, and packs plenty of punch thanks to its 2.2ltr engine.
In reality, it’s a Freelander with new styling and more expensive trim; so don’t expect it to win any handling awards. The comfortable interior and great ride quality will make you the favoured taxi amongst your friends though, and you’re sure to stand out pulling up at the college gates in one post-test.
BMW 320i Sport
It’s been around since 1975, but the 3-series continues to be a great car to drive, and a nice looking car to boot – with expensive looks evolving subtly over the years.
Performance doesn’t disappoint either, with a top speed of 146mph and 0-62mph time of 7.5secs – not that any learners should be aiming for that. Ride quality is good and the handling will make you feel like a pro – making this a fantastic all-round car, though a little expensive.
Lotus Elan S2
If you’ve ever wanted to drive a living legend, the Elan should definitely be high on your list. Built by one of the most successful race teams ever, the hosts of drivers including Senna, Mansell, Hakkinen and Andretti, to name a few, the Elan is definitely up there with the greats.
The Elan has rapid acceleration and fantastic handling, is much more reliable than some other models and has stunning retro looks. The body is fibreglass so there are no issues with rust, but the electrics can be hit and miss.
Simple car maintenance for a learner driver
When you’re learning to drive there’s enough happening on the roads for you to worry about, without concerns about how your car is performing. Learning these few simple lessons will help to keep your car in top condition and working as it should – leaving you free to focus on your driving.
Check Your Oil
Check the oil in your car at least once a month – not doing so could result in some serious engine damage. Wait until the engine is cool to get a safe and accurate reading, and top it up if needed.
Check Brake Fluid
It is important to check that your brake fluid is at the right level. However, if it is too low you shouldn’t attempt to change it yourself. If it is low, take your car to a garage.
Don’t Ignore Dashboard Lights
If a warning light comes on, pay attention to it. Though it might appear to be for a small problem, or even if it seems to make no difference at all, ignoring the warning could make repair bills even higher in the future.
Check The Coolant
It goes without saying that engines get hot, and without proper cooling things can go very wrong. Check this regularly, especially going into the warmer months or before long journeys.
Check Your Tyres
Every car and make of tyre has a recommended pressure, depending on vehicle weight, and this needs checking regularly. The desired pressure will normally be on a panel somewhere on the car, like inside the door opening or the petrol cap. It is also important to check tread depth, as hefty fines, let alone potential crashes, await those who don’t.
Get Regular Services
A lot of the above will be taken care of for you when you get your car serviced professionally. Some modern cars will tell you if a service is due, but if in doubt it is always best to get one done frequently to prevent any future issues.
Obviously you won’t need to worry about this if you only use an instructor’s car, but these tips will still come in handy when it comes to buying your own. If you’re not sure where to find these parts of your car, the owner’s manual should provide some clues.
Our driving test guide – it’s best to be prepared
After months of hard work and preparation, frustrating lessons and hours spent learning your way around the local area – the time will come to take your test.
Your driving test may well be one of the scariest, most high-pressure days of your life so far, and so it is important to be fully prepared.
While you are able to take your test at any time, with no minimum number of lessons required, we can’t stress enough how valuable experience can be in both your practical and theory tests – after all, with the cost of retesting you may well be better off having an extra lesson or two to ensure a first-time pass.
To help you get ready, and to take some of the pre-test worry away, here’s what to expect at your driving theory test and practical driving test.
What is a driving theory test?
Before you take your practical test you first have to pass a theory test, which is split into two sections: multiple choice and hazard perception. The test is fairly cheap to take, only £23 as of April 2016, and should take you about two hours – an hour for the questions and the rest to watch 14 hazard video clips.
The test can be taken at any time and you won’t need a certain number of lessons first, but you do need to have a provisional driving licence to take with you. You will only ever need to take one theory test, unless you want to add different categories of vehicle to your licence, but it is definitely worth learning the Highway Code back to front regardless.
As with all aspects of driving, the key to success is simply practice, practice, practice! The official government website gives some advice on what books to read, and even offers a practice test that you can take – visit https://www.gov.uk/driving-theory-test/preparing-for-the-theory-test for details.
After answering 50 questions on everything from road signs and stopping distances to speed limits and motorway laws, you can start the computerised hazard perception test.
A series of video clips will play, 14 in total, and you will need to click the mouse when you see a ‘developing hazard’ – something on or off the road that may result in you having to take an action like changing direction or speed. Just make sure that you don’t click too many times on each clip or you will fail that question.
You can find programmes online that will help you practice your hazard perception, but one of the best methods is simply trying to spot hazards as you travel around daily. Spotting hazards as a car passenger, on the bus, or even when walking to college is all valuable, and free, practice.
What happens at a practical driving test?
Driving tests tend to follow a standard pattern, to make the test as fair as possible for everyone. There are going to be some changes introduced in December 2017 – but here’s a run-down of what you can expect currently on driving test day.
When you first arrive you will need to provide your provisional driving licence, your theory pass certificate and proof that your car is insured. Cars used on tests must have a second rear-view mirror installed and have the correct insurance – but if you use an instructor’s car this should all be sorted for you.
2. Sight test
Before the test begins you will be asked to read a number plate of a nearby car, to test whether you have good enough eyesight to be safe on the road. You get two attempts, then a third, tape-measured attempt, if you fail those. Fail this and you won’t be allowed on the road – so make sure you remember your glasses if you need them.
3. Show me, tell me
Once you’ve passed the sight test you will have to answer two questions for the examiner; either ‘show me’ or ‘tell me’ questions. These questions make sure that you know about the basic functions of the car, so how to find out the recommended tyre pressures, for example, or how to check the oil level.
After all the questions comes the time to get behind the wheel and show what you can do. You’ll be on the road for around 40 minutes, and the standard test will involve following various instructions, including stop/starts, manoeuvres and independent driving.
5. Independent drive
You will have to perform 10 minutes of independent driving to show that you can drive without constant instruction. The instructor will explain to you clearly where you need to drive to and how to get there or what signs to follow. You will be able to ask for the instructions again en route, but getting flustered or lost will count as faults.
Your test will end once you have driven back to the test centre, where you will be told whether you’ve passed or failed. Passing depends solely on your performance and the number of faults you have tallied up over the 40 minutes, and any faults you have received will be explained to you.
If you fail, the next steps will be explained to you and you will be given a form explaining exactly why you failed. When you pass you will need to apply for a new, pink, driving licence, which will be posted to you, but you are allowed to drive before this arrives provided you have an insured car.
What kind of driving test manoeuvres will I have to do?
During the driving section of your practical test, you will be asked to perform a single manoeuvre, in addition to potentially having to make an emergency stop. There are several different manoeuvres for your examiner to choose from, so you’re best to learn them all just in case – the emergency stop, for example, is only asked for in a third of tests, but it is still important to learn how to do one.
You’ll be given plenty of notice before you have to make your stop, and it won’t be in an actual dangerous situation or near traffic, but you should still check for any hazards once you know it’s coming. The aim is simply to stop the car as quickly, and safely, as possible by breaking hard (anti-lock braking should help), holding the steering wheel tightly and pushing the clutch down at the last second to avoid stalling. Do that, then apply the handbrake and wait for the instructor to give you your next task.
Probably the most useful manoeuvre to master for real-world driving – being able to park in a standard car park space is surprisingly easy. This will probably take place at the start or end of your test, probably either in a fairly empty car park or in the test centre’s car park. You’ll usually be allowed to choose whether to approach the space from the left or the right, and then it is simply a case of taking your time, lining up and being as observant as possible while reversing in.
Reverse Around A Corner
Fraught with potential pitfalls, reversing around a corner is fairly self-explanatory. You will usually be asked to reverse to the left (as that’s the side of the road you will hopefully be on) and to navigate around a 90degree corner without going over any lines or touching the kerb. The main thing to remember is to keep an eye out for other motorists and pedestrians and to stop and let them pass if they do turn up.
Turn In The Road
Usually called a three-point turn, the aim is to do a 180degree turn in the road without hitting the kerb or getting in anyone’s way. Your examiner will find a good road to turn in, and then ask you to perform the manoeuvre – so it will be up to you to find a good hazard-free spot. Your instructor should teach you the basics of the turn, with most faults coming from either bumping the kerb or not being aware of other people on the road.
Maybe the toughest manoeuvre, and the one that even experienced drivers often struggle with – the key to parallel parking is simply taking it slow. The examiner will pick a space between two parked cars that is big enough for your car to comfortably fit into, then ask you to reverse in. Your instructor should be able to help you with hints on when and where to turn, but remember that the examiner won’t be looking for perfection, just that you get in the space and stop close enough to the kerb.
What happens when I pass my driving test?
All those dreary hours pouring over a Highway Code book, all those driving lessons spent stalling your way around the local roads – they’ve all led to the day that you pass your practical test.
First things first, when that day does come, congratulations! Passing your driving test can be one of the most stressful and difficult things that people go through, or at least one of the most expensive.
With your licence in hand, or on order at least, there are just a couple more things to consider before taking your first solo ride on the nation’s roads:
Choose A Car
Most people learn to drive in an instructor or parents’ car, but at some point you’re going to want to buy your own. We’ve already looked at the cheapest cars to insure for young drivers, but there are also a few other key things to bear in mind.
Firstly, the age-old saying ‘you get what you pay for’ definitely applies with cars; what may look like a big saving now, could end up costing you more in garage fees in the future. Not only that, but you should consider too what insurance group and road tax band your new car would fall into, to try to save as much money as possible over time without skimping on quality.
Getting a good deal on your insurance is vital to reducing the overall cost of your motoring. You have control over a great deal of the price of your insurance, from completing advanced driving qualifications to earn discounts through to buying a lower grouped car, or even just reducing the cover you receive.
Adrian Flux has a wide range of policies on offer that are tailored to suit younger drivers, from standard car insurance policies through to telematics (or black box) insurance, and our latest FluxScore policy.
FluxScore is the UK’s only insurance policy that gives young drivers daily updates on their renewal premium via a smartphone app. Using a black box to score your driving, the app gives young drivers daily updates on how much their good driving has saved them on their upcoming renewal premium, and gives helpful maps and alerts to drivers who make mistakes – which could help you not only to save money but become a better driver at the same time.
Visit www.adrianflux.co.uk/fluxscore for more information.
Keeping Your Licence
It’s probably taken several months, endless lessons and a huge chunk of your bank balance to finally get that little pink card – so when it arrives you need to keep hold of it.
The biggest threat to your licence is the penalty point system, whereby you gain a certain number of points on your licence for various offences and lose your licence once you have too many. For new drivers, you will lose your licence and have to retake both driving tests if you receive six or more points within two years of passing your practical test.
Six points may sound a lot, but you could theoretically lose your licence simply for having two worn tyres, three points for each tyre, or two speeding offences – so you don’t have much room for error.
Perhaps the most important consideration after passing your test is just being careful on the road. Up until now, all of your driving has taken place with someone sitting beside you, guiding you through tricky spots and maybe even using dual-controls to save you.
Especially if driving a car that you aren’t used to, you should take things slow and steady on your first trips out alone – and don’t expect to be driving like a pro straight away.
You will soon learn that other motorists rarely drive perfectly, and some people seem to have completely forgotten everything they were taught, however long ago that was. The important thing is to be safe, don’t panic and to make sure you enjoy your newfound freedom.
Are there any further tests that I can take?
There are several different advanced driving qualifications available to young drivers, each offering plenty of benefits. On top of advanced driving skills, greater confidence on the road and a better understanding of safe driving, holding one of these qualifications can lower your car insurance premium by as much as 20%.
Designed by the Driving Standards Agency with the help of the insurance industry, the Pass Plus test gives drivers additional skills and confidence, while teaching you how to anticipate and deal with all sorts of on-road hazards.
Drivers can take the Pass Plus course as soon as they like after passing their test, and most insurers will offer good discounts for drivers who have completed it.
Offered by a large number of driving instructors, the BTEC is taken at the same time as you learn to drive by completing assessments as you practice. The course offers better knowledge of techniques for safety and motorway driving, as well as tips on car maintenance and fuel efficiency.
Providing an official Edexcel qualification upon completion, which even confers UCAS points (handy for university applications), holding a BTEC can get you up to a 25% discount from Adrian Flux.
Institute of Advanced Motorists
The IAM Skills for Life course aims to improve driving standards by encouraging motorists to be confident and safe on the roads. Consisting of assessments, on-road drives and an advanced driving test – the course will also provide membership of the IAM, which in turn can lead to substantial insurance savings.
Am I too old to learn how to drive?
It’s never too late too late to learn how to drive – and here’s a few helpful tips for older learners.
Consider driving an automatic car
This removes the need to learn the tricky arts of clutch control, hill-starts and gear changes – and it’s impossible to stall. You can take your test in an automatic car, but your licence will prevent you from driving a manual.
The number of lessons you need may be more than average
Be prepared to have more lessons than the average 17-year-old, but if you can get plenty of practice alongside a partner or friend, you can reduce the amount of lessons that need paying for.
Don’t expect to be brilliant straight away
Learning to drive takes patience and practice. Many older learners tend to be more nervous than teenagers, who have the bravado of youth on their side, so it’s important to go at a pace of learning you feel comfortable with.
Finding the right driving instructor
There are no specific courses for older learners, but you may benefit from finding a more experienced instructor.
Take regular lessons
Infrequent lessons can reduce motivation and you may spend too long at the start of each lesson recapping what you’ve already learned. Aim for two lessons per week if time and budget allow.
What are the most common bad driving habits?
Studies show that up to 90% of us think that we are among the best drivers on our roads. Given the number of mistakes we spot every day on the road, it’s hard to believe that so few of us are actually bad drivers.
To help learners become a safe and responsible generation of drivers, here are common bad driving habits that you should avoid.
1. Not Using Your Indicators
Indicators are really quite important – used for simply letting other drivers know what you’re about to do – yet so many accidents could be avoided each year if people would just use them properly.
No doubt your instructor will be quick to shout if you don’t use your indicators – but it is important to remember to keep using them, and using them properly, once you have passed.
2. Using Phones On The Move
Everyone should know by now that using your phone while driving is illegal in the UK. Hugely distracting to drivers, but easily spotted by police, the number of accidents on our roads has decreased significantly since the ban was introduced – showing just how important it is.
Even aside from the massive risk of an accident that stems from using a phone while driving, you could face points on your licence, a hefty fine, the loss of your licence and even jail time if you are caught, or have an accident because of your phone.
3. Littering From Your Car
Less of a driving hazard than some other bad habits, but no less annoying, is littering from your car. From cigarettes tossed from a moving car, through to full-blown mattress-in-a-layby fly tipping, littering has big environmental impacts – not to mention probably being pretty distracting for other motorists.
The only advice we can offer to help solve this problem is simply not to litter. Most cars will have ashtrays built in for ash and small bits of food waste (though be careful combining the two) and local councils and businesses provide plenty of waste management sites for bigger items.
4. Driving Too Slowly
Few things annoy drivers more than someone going too slowly. No one wants to see other people speeding and driving dangerously, but apparently even more annoying is over-cautious crawling. Dip just 10mph below the speed limit and you are sure to earn the ire of pretty much everyone else on the road.
Unfortunately, being a learner won’t save you from the barrage of abuse from impatient drivers, but at least in your own mind you can be content with having an excuse for holding up traffic. If you have recently passed your test but still don’t feel all that confident, attaching P-plates to your car will let other drivers know to give you a break.
5. Driving Without The Lights On
It seems obvious, but if it’s dark, foggy, heavily raining or any situation that means your visibility isn’t what it should be – turn your lights on. Driving without lights is very dangerous, and while we’re not advocating going the other way and dazzling us all with full-beam lights every day of the year, undoubtedly many avoidable accidents are caused each year by poor visibility.
Most learners will have limited experience driving in the dark, so are bound to forget their lights a couple of times, but it is illegal to not use them. Not using lights can land you with hefty fines – so best remember, even if it means leaving a note in the car to remind you.
Being aware of the dangers of drink driving
Each year hundreds of people are killed and thousands injured in crashes resulting from drink driving. Although numbers have been steadily dropping over the years, around half a million breath tests are still carried out each year and thousands of drivers fail.
Young drivers between 17 and 29 are most likely to both have a crash and to fail breath tests, and a lot of recent campaigns and publicity has been aimed at drivers in that age bracket. Learner drivers should, hopefully, have no experience of drink driving – but young drivers face the most pressure to start drinking once they pass.
While some drivers blame peer pressure, the inconvenience of not driving to and from a night out, or even just believe they were under the limit – the costs of drink driving are severe.
Penalties for drink driving extend from a three-month imprisonment and £2,500 fines through to an unlimited fine and a 14-year prison sentence. You can be prosecuted for a range of offences, from refusing a breath test or just attempting to drive your car, right through to causing death by careless driving.
In January 2016, the government changed its recommended alcohol consumption guidelines for men and women to 14 units per week – but what is a unit? A unit is 10ml of pure alcohol and takes the average adult around 1 hour to process. In real terms this equates to:
- A 25ml (single measure) of spirit equals 1 unit.
- A large wine glass (250ml or a third of a bottle) contains around 3 units.
- A pint of beer contains between 2 and 3 units.
Depending on the time taken by your body to process alcohol, it can affect you for hours after you stop drinking. Many hours after you’ve been drinking and even after you’ve been to sleep you could still fail an alcohol test – so you’re safest not drinking for some time before any car journey.
The reason that alcohol limits are so hard to judge is that they vary from person to person. Tests measure micrograms and milligrams of alcohol in 100ml of breath, blood or urine – but this is affected by a person’s weight, age, sex, metabolism and a whole range of other variables. Units of alcohol also don’t match up with legal driving limits, so sticking within your recommended allowance is no guarantee of being safe.
The safest way to stay above the law and keep your freedom and your licence is simply never to drink and drive. Small quantities of alcohol are legal, but you will have a hard time judging the exact amount, and even the smallest of drinks can still impact your ability to drive safely.
For more information on drink driving, visit: