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Learner drivers allowed onto motorways for the first time

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The government has made changes to the laws which govern learner drivers and where they can drive, allowing them onto the motorway network for the first time.

Under Regulation 2 of the Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018/222, learner drivers will now be permitted to take driving lessons on the motorway, providing that they are supervised by an approved driving instructor and in a vehicle with dual controls.

“Regulation 2 inserts a new exception to the general prohibition on learner drivers driving cars on the motorways, subject to two conditions, firstly that the learner driver is driving a dual control car, and secondly that the learner driver is supervised in the vehicle by an approved driving instructor, who is not suspended.”

The change has widely been received positively. The Road Safety Minister, Jesse Norman, explained that whilst the roads in Britain are some of the safest in the world, road collisions are the second biggest killer of young people. She asserts that the change in the law would allow for learner and new drivers to gain the necessary skills and experience they need to drive safely on motorways.

Support for the change in the law appears to be widespread among new drivers themselves. Eight per cent of new drivers avoided motorways for up to six months after passing their test, whilst more than a quarter of motorists said they felt scared when driving on the motorway for the first time, according to a poll by The AA.

The director of The AA Charitable Trust, Edmund King endorsed the changes, stating that it is perverse to think a new driver would be able to venture onto the motorway mere minutes after passing their test.

The road safety charity, Brake, argues that whilst this is a step in the right direction it is not enough, and they propose a graduated licence and an overhaul to the way in which people learn to drive. Furthermore, most instructors do no offer ‘post-pass’ motorway lessons to new drivers due to the perception of them being dangerous.

However, some have argued that consideration must be given to the potential negative effect of motorway driving on unprepared and inexperienced learner drivers – both mentally and in the potential dangers they might be exposed to. The National Associations Strategic Partnership has issued guidance suggesting that students should be “test ready” before being taken on the motorway.

Should a learner driver become scared or panic when taking part in a lesson on the motorway, they may be vulnerable to inadvertently committing an offence and it would be the driver who would be liable - not the instructor - though the conduct of the instructor could be taken into account.

Under these circumstances, the law would hold the learner driver to the same standards as a qualified driver, namely: a ‘reasonable and competent driver’. Therefore, learner drivers can – and do - receive penalties for driving offences, despite only holding a provisional licence. This includes the rules under the new driver provisions.

The Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 provides that new drivers who acquire six penalty points, or more, in the first two years after passing their first full UK test will have their licence revoked until they pass a further test (including theory test). This is to effectively ensure a standard of driving for new drivers and to protect the public.

This principal also applies to those with a provisional licence, as points can be carried over onto the probationary licence. Revocation of this type only applies where the offence causing the points to be taken into account is committed during the driver’s two year probationary period.

By way of example, if we were to imagine a series of offences taking place across a period of time while a driver is taking lessons and – later – receiving their full license:

14/02/2018      -           Fixed penalty for driving without insurance – 6 penalty points

14/03/2018      -           Passes theory

14/05/2018      -           Passes full test – full licence issued with 6 penalty points on

31/05/2018      -           Fixed penalty for speeding – licence revoked – triggers the new driver provisions

In such circumstances, the driver would need to re-take both the practical and theory test.

The court can be asked to use their discretion to award a short term ban in lieu of the penalty points. This – in effect - circumvents the new driver provisions and taking away the need for a re-test. The driver would still be penalised, but perhaps in a way that is more proportionate by imposing a ban that would not necessitate the need for a full re-test to be taken. This may be more appropriate where the driver is coming to the end of the probationary period but the points are imposed after that period.

Notwithstanding the complications of the points system for new drivers and the potential for exposure to more dangerous environments early in their driving experience, this change in the law could be extremely beneficial as learner drivers and thereafter newly qualified drivers would be more widely aware of the ‘rules of the road’ and could lessen the chances of either committing an offence or having their licence revoked should they obtain six penalty points within the first two years of passing their first UK driving test.

Sourced by Elizabeth Groom, graduate paralegal – regulatory department