Supervising a learner driver

Who can supervise a learner, when, with what insurance and under what conditions, are important topics to address – for parents, friends and learner drivers alike.

This guide will answer many of the questions people ask about this subject and offers advice for anyone learning to drive as well as their supervisors.

Supervising: what’s the big deal?

Many people may wonder why there is so much coverage of learner driver supervision. ‘You sit in the car and make sure they don’t crash, what more do I need to do?’

Supervision is so much more than this, and to do it involves more effort than simply sitting next to the driver.

An AA survey of 19,000 members revealed that many people did not know the law around supervising learners and that failures to comply with the law and best practice have resulted in road deaths. The study found that supervising drivers were breaking the law by drinking, sending text messages or failing to wear their glasses:

  •        23% of respondents did not know that using a mobile phone was against the law
  •        13% were unaware they needed to wear their glasses if they used them when driving themselves
  •        9% did not know falling asleep in the passenger seat was illegal
  •        4% of respondents admitted to breaking at least one of these laws (22% among supervisors aged 21 to 24).

They also noted that one supervisor was jailed after the learner was involved in a crash that killed two people – having been deemed to be responsible.

The RAC reveal that the average learner driver takes 14 months and 47 lessons to pass the driving test. And with changes to the test introduced by the government on 4 December 2017, it’s important that learners are fully prepared in order to pass.

Formal driving lessons with a professional instructor form the core of a learner’s path to passing, but friends and family can also play an important role. By supervising learners out on the roads, friends and family can help them get more practice – from simple driving to going through specific manoeuvres.

As well as the practice and time behind the wheel, supervision by friends and family is a cheap or free way to improve driving skills. Also, data shows that the more time a person spends being taught to drive, the safer they are once they’ve passed their test. Most learners need about 22 hours of driving practice in addition to lessons.

While the opportunity for extra driving practice is a great one to take advantage of, there are important conditions and rules to consider – from intoxication to insurance.

Important note to learner drivers
It is important not only for the supervisor to check they are able to supervise, but the learner – as the person behind the wheel – shares the responsibility. Learners caught driving without the right supervision may be fined up to £1,000 and get up to six penalty points on their licence.

 

The law: who can accompany a learner?

The legal requirements lets you know who can supervise you as a learner, or whether you can supervise a learner.

The law requires that supervising drivers:

  •        be over 21 years old.
  •        have held a full driving licence for a minimum of three years for the type of vehicle they are supervising in (for example: manual or automatic cars).
  •        ensure the car displays L plates.
  •        ensure that the car is safe and in road legal condition.
  •        meet the minimum eyesight standards.

Ultimately, while you are supervising a learner driver, you are deemed to be in control of the vehicle – even though you sit in the passenger seat.

It is important you have to have the right insurance cover to be a supervisor in a learner’s car or have a learner in a supervisor’s car. Different insurers have different criteria for this. For example, some insurers will state that supervising drivers must have held a full UK driving licence for at least three years and aged between 25 and 75 years old. There are more details on insurance below.

Road traffic laws apply to supervisors the same as they do the driver – supervisors are no longer passengers! (See note on speeding below).

Being a supervisor demands you think, observe and react like a driver

 

Supervisors: are you up to the task?

As a supervisor it is important to consider whether you feel capable of supervising a learner driver – it’s a big responsibility.

Do you feel confident and experienced enough to supervise? Are you confident in taking responsibility for your safety and theirs? If you do not feel comfortable with the idea of supervising a learner, don’t do it.

It may be that you accompany the learner with a different supervisor to observe how they do it. This might sound odd or obvious, but most people are either driving or just sitting in a car – being a supervisor demands you think, observe and react like a driver, only without direct control of the vehicle. So perhaps watch someone else be a supervisor to get an idea of how to do it.

Frequently asked questions

Can a supervisor have points on their licence?

Yes, they can have points on their licence and still supervise a learner (assuming they meet the other legal requirements.)

Can someone drink alcohol then supervise someone?

It surprising how many people Google: ‘Can you drink while supervising a learner driver?’ The short answer is ‘no’, you can’t. So, if you have agreed to supervise someone, make sure you haven’t been drinking and that you remain sober.

It really goes without saying that you cannot take drugs and supervise someone. This includes any prescription medication that prohibits you from driving.

Handy tip
A good guide is: would the supervisor be allowed to drive this vehicle at this moment in time? If the answer is yes, then they are allowed to supervise a learner driver.

Can I use a mobile phone while supervising a learner driver?

No. As the supervisor is deemed to be in control of the vehicle, the rules around mobile phone usage also apply to anyone supervising a learner.

Can a supervisor be paid for supervising?

No. You may not receive any payment for supervising a learner driver unless you are a Driving Standards Agency-approved driving instructor.

How many other people can be in the car?

Learner drivers can carry as many passengers as the vehicle can legally hold.

Can supervision happen at night?

Yes, as long as all of the other criteria detailed on this page are met.

Where should a supervising driver sit?

While there is no law that states where a supervisor should sit, it is advisable to sit in the front passenger seat, not in the back. This is so that you have ready access to the wheel, gear stick or handbrake. If a supervisor is not capable of taking control of the vehicle in an emergency, they may find themselves liable to prosecution.

Can I have a nap in the car while supervising a learner driver?

No, sleeping while supervising is prohibited.

Do supervising drivers need to wear glasses or contact lenses?

If you need to wear glasses or contact lenses to drive, you also need to wear them while supervising a learner. You must meet the minimum eyesight standard required for driving: able to read an old style number plate from a distance of 20.5 metres and a new style number plate from a distance of 20 metres in good light.

Who is responsible for driving offences?

 Penalties and fines

This is one of the first questions many supervisors ask when considering teaching someone how to drive. As supervisors are considered to be in control of the vehicle, the penalties for breaking the law are the same as if you were driving. So, as is the case with driving offences and penalties, this means you could receive a fine, points on your licence, or even be sent to prison – depending on the severity of the crime.

Power and responsibility

While driving instructors have dual controls, your friend or family member’s car won’t, so the only control over the vehicle you have is verbally, via the driver. There is an expectation that learner drivers will be aware of traffic laws before they start driving, so it is ultimately their responsibility to abide by them.

Speeding

If a learner is caught speeding while under supervision, they will face a fine and points on their licence, not you. If the car they are using belongs to the supervisor, that person will get the letter. In this case, you can respond and nominate the learner as the person driving at the time of the offence.

Accidents

A major part of a supervisor’s role is to watch the road to alert the driver to any potential hazards or other dangers. Ultimately though, it is up to the learner to drive carefully and take evasive action when necessary.

Remember: The person behind the wheel is responsible in the event of an accident – in most circumstances. However, if a supervisor is deemed not to be in control of the vehicle (for example if they are intoxicated) they could also be penalised.

Parking tickets and fines

The issue of who gets a parking ticket can depend on a number of factors including where the vehicle was parked and what type of ticket you get. As parking tickets do not put points on anybody’s licence it may be best to discuss the penalty to decide who pays – or whether you share the fine.

Insurance guidance

Supervisors

  • If you intend to drive the car at anytime you must make sure you are properly insured to do so.
  • Your No Claims Bonus (NCB) will not be affected in the case of an accident if the learner you’re supervising has a separate learner driver insurance policy.
  • Some insurance companies have stipulations about who can be a supervisor, for example:
    • You must be more than 25 years old
    • You must be between 25-75 years old
    • You must have held a full UK driving licence for at least three years
    • If you have been disqualified from driving for a period of time, this time is not counted towards the three years you must have held a licence for, even if you have your licence back.

 Learner drivers

  • You must make sure you’re insured on the vehicle you intend to drive. You are not immediately insured if you are with a supervisor/in a supervisor’s car.
  • As a learner driver you need your own insurance, and on many policies, supervisors are covered, but you need to check your policy to be sure as the penalties for getting it wrong can be harsh.
  • If you’re practising in someone else’s car, you will need to make sure their insurance policy covers you as a learner driver.

Read our guide to learner driver insurance for more information.

Important note to supervisors of learner drivers
You can get an unlimited fine, be banned from driving and get up to eight penalty points for driving without insurance. Learn more about insurance dodging crimes here

Tips for learner drivers being supervised

  • Remember, your supervisor is not a driving instructor. They won’t communicate with you in the same way as your driving instructor speaks to you. This leads directly into the next tip.
  • Be patient. Most drivers aren’t used to being responsible for driving a car without being behind the wheel. Many supervisors can be overly critical as they get used to not being in control. Just communicate calmly and patiently and you’ll both get the most from the experience.
  • They don’t have control. Your supervisor doesn’t have dual controls like your instructor’s car. The car and any passengers are your responsibility.
  • Listen. While your supervisor’s advice, guidance and feedback may not be up to the technical level of your instructor, their experience is valuable, so take it in the way in which it is meant: helpful advice.
  • Problems. If your supervisor tells you to do something that you think is wrong, try to calmly discuss it, pulling over safely if necessary. If you cannot agree, it is a great opportunity to ask your instructor for their guidance.

Top tips for supervisors

  • Remind yourself of the Highway Code. Regardless of how long you’ve been driving for, you’ve probably picked up some bad habits. Refresh the rules of the road in your own mind first so you can be sure your learner is getting it right.
  • Explain how the car works. We’re not talking a detailed explanation of the internal combustion engine, but knowing how to turn on the lights and wipers and what all the switches and dials do is a good idea before the drive.
  • Set a good example. Chances are the learner will have been driven by you in your car and may also have an opinion of your driving. Many driving instructors are asked by students, ‘My dad does this though, is that OK?’ or ‘But my mum says that this is OK if XYZ happens’. Many of us fall into bad habits and laziness, but it is important to set a good example because the learner will be much more likely to take your advice and guidance if you practise what you preach.
  • Keep calm. It is important to remain as calm as possible. No one responds well to shouting, panic, passive aggression, sighing, sarcasm, threats etc. If you show that you’re calm, you will be more likely to instil a sense of confidence in the learner, which in turn can reduce the chances of an accident. Having a relaxed environment in the car will help the learner to feel more comfortable, make quicker progress and want to take more lessons. Positive, supportive language is key.
  • Stay alert. In emergencies, it might be necessary to do things quickly and assertively. Sometimes there isn’t much time to react, so keep distracting conversation and radio noise to a minimum.
  • Stop if you need to. If something happens that gets the heart pumping – for either of you – don’t carry on. Ask your learner to safely pull over and take a minute to calmly reflect on what happened and how it could be avoided in future. This also gives both of you a moment to calm down – it’s not safe to drive when adrenalised.
  • Be specific. If you want to offer advice or even need to react quickly to something, try to be specific with your instructions. ‘Watch out!’ or ‘Look out!’ isn’t as useful to the learner as ‘brake now’ or ‘steer left’. Similarly, saying things like ‘go ahead and stop’ or ‘drive slowly’ will only confuse a learner. Phrases like ‘stop at this junction’ or ‘drive at 20mph’ are much clearer and less likely to lead to a panicked argument mid-roundabout.
  • Practise empathy. To help you achieve the advice above, try to remember what it was like to learn to drive. Not only will this help you offer good advice but it may make the way in which you impart it more effective.
  • Master the basics first:
    • An important thing to be aware of is where the learner is in their learning journey. For example: is this the first time they’ve ever been in a car? Is it the day before their test? If it’s the former, then it’s preferable for the learner to have at least a few professional lessons with a driving instructor before you take them out for a drive.
    • Driving instructors will cover key areas: the rules of the road, car controls (steering wheel, indicators, gears etc.) and some best practice advice, such as ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ as well as safety advice and what to do in case of emergency. In addition to this, that instructor will have dual controls, which is not only safer, but gives the new learner the confidence that the instructor can take control of the vehicle if need be.
    • Many supervisors find that while their advice from experience is invaluable, they are often reminded of the basic rules of the road by younger counterparts who have these lessons fresh in their mind.
  • Talk to the learner’s instructor. Not everyone learns at the same speed and it can be a good idea to ask the learner’s instructor when it’s best to go out supervised. Often supervisors will sit in the back seat of a lesson to observe and get a feel for what the instructor says and does, but also to acclimatise the driver to having more people in the car.
  • Get an extra mirror. It’s a good idea to buy one of the small suction cup mirrors like the ones instructors use. Costing around £10, this will be your rear view mirror. It will save you from jerking your head around, potentially panicking the driver or even injuring yourself!
  • Check the car. The supervisor should make sure the car is in a safe and legal condition. This includes ensuring it is taxed, has a valid MOT and that there are L plates correctly shown (as detailed below.)
  • Look ahead. Get used to looking much further ahead. Learners are told to always be thinking of the next hazard – such as ‘What’s round the next corner?’ or ‘What could pull out in front of me?’ – but they are often just processing what’s directly in front of them. So it’s important for you to be thinking ahead and prepare for any unseen hazards yourself. This may relate to your own experiences of the roads, or about reading the road – the ways in which traffic are behaving up ahead and what that means for the vehicle you’re in. If you spot them early enough, you should point out the problem and offer advice on what to do when the moment comes.
  • Plan your route:
    • To an experienced driver, it may feel like this would have little impact on the safety of the drive, but if something happens, a learner driver doesn’t have the ‘autopilot’ you have and may not be able to continue safely. For example, if you haven’t agreed which way you’re turning at a T-junction, the learner may panic if you take time to decide – especially if there are people immediately behind.
    • Ask the learner where they feel most comfortable driving. Discussing a route is a great start to supervising. Both parties often find it useful to chat about the experience ahead of time: expectations, preferences, what to do in an emergency.
  • Do a mock test. Find out what your learner driver needs to demonstrate to pass their driving – our guide is a good place to start.  This way, you can both get a good idea of what the real test will involve. Practising independent driving in the local area will also improve the confidence and real-world driving skills of your learner.

Vehicle safety

It’s a good idea to check the vehicle over before you start your journey. Supervisors are advised to ask the learner to check the tyres, lights, mirrors, windows and fluids while you watch. This can help to create good habits and be good practice for the ‘show me, tell me’ part of the driving test.

Displaying L plates

These are the rules that apply to L plates on the car:

  • L plates must be clearly on display at any time the learner is in control
  • They must be clearly visible to other vehicles from the front and back (i.e. two plates)
  • They must not restrict vision (not affixed to windows.)

Important note: Failure to display L plates appropriately could result in six penalty points on the learner’s licence.

If you are a learner driver or supervising a learner driver and need car insurance, then give us a call today.