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Mixed reaction to allowing learner drivers onto motorways during lessons

All drivers remember the first time. That excited, nervous feeling as you head down the slip road, speeding up to 50... 60... 70mph, indicator on, a final check the coast is clear.

And as you join the left-hand lane you enter a whole new world: motorway driving.

It soon feels like second nature but that first trip is memorably daunting, not least because motorway driving isn’t something you’re taught while a learner.

At the moment it is illegal to get behind the wheel on motorways in the UK until after passing your driving test.

This means inexperienced drivers are confronted with traffic driving at speeds of 70 mph or above without any preparation; an anomaly Roads Minister Mike Penning hopes to change.

The MP recently unveiled plans for learner drivers to undergo training on a motorway, if they are in a dual-controlled car and accompanied by a qualified driving instructor.

The changes will not be obligatory and will not form part of the test.

But, where relevant, learner drivers will soon be able to experience motorway travel and it is hoped the legislation, which is due to come into force this summer, will make the country’s roads safer.

David Hamilton, chairman of Carlisle and District Driving Instructors’ Association, welcomes the idea. He already takes new drivers onto the M6 through Pass Plus.

The scheme offers post-test tuition to 17 to 20-year-olds in the form of six practical modules on a range of subjects which are not currently included when learning to drive, including motorway driving.

Participants not only learn to be safer drivers, they can potentially receive a reduction on their insurance premium.

“I agree with this proposal; it is something that’s been advised by instructors for quite a long time,” David says of Mr Penning’s plans. “When young learners pass their test they have the option of Pass Plus but they are not obliged to take it and quite a few decide not to.

“Motorway driving should be part of learning to be a good driver and it seems cockeyed that you can go onto a dual carriageway as a learner but not the motorway.

“After all, on a dual carriageway you can go up to 70 mph and there are all kinds of factors to take into consideration.

“But pupils should only go on the motorway when they are properly ready for their driving test, and only with a driving instructor, not with parents or a friend. In our view that would not be acceptable.

“And it has to be at the right time – close to the test date and not just a few lessons in – but the instructor will know when the pupil is ready.”

David believes pre-test lessons on the M6 would be especially beneficial for learners in rural Cumbria, who have the option of mostly minor or A-roads while learning.

“Around Carlisle the only stretch of dual carriageway is near Scotby, for about half a mile, so for that kind of practice we have to go further afield,” he adds.

Kirsty Dewhurst from Warwick Bridge has been learning to drive since last December and is due to sit her test in the next few weeks. She believes motorway lessons could be beneficial.

“I think it would be a good idea, it’s quite a scary thought but would be less scary with a driving instructor and as part of the lesson. It would give you the confidence to go on the motorway once you’d passed.”

The 18-year-old is planning to leave Cumbria and go to university in September, so being able to drive back home will be essential.

“I hope to save up for a car when I go to uni and it will be helpful to have the practice on the motorway then I can bomb backwards and forwards. I’m going to do the Pass Plus but it’s expensive and I’ve already spent a lot of money on driving lessons.”

Katie Taylor from Carlisle passed her test recently.

The 17-year-old thinks she would probably have been too fearful to drive on the motorway while still a learner, and that passing her driving test gave her the confidence to face her fear.

“I did my Pass Plus and I now drive on the motorway all the time, I drive up and down the M6 to visit friends in Scotland,” says Katie, a sixth former at Austin Friar’s.

“The first time I did it I was terrified, it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, just how fast I was going.

“It was the first time up to 70 miles per hour and with all the other lorries and cars around it was scary.

“I’ve got used to it now and it’s fine, but if I’d had to do it before I’d passed my test I’d have hated it because I wasn’t a very confident learner.”

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) is not thrilled at the idea of motorways suddenly being awash with red L-plates.

“Motorways are not a safe environment for either the learner driver or other road users,” says RHA Chief Executive Geoff Dunning. “While we are not in favour of learners drivers using the motorway prior to their test, we would welcome the introduction of formal motorway training by a qualified instructor before new drivers venture out unsupervised.

“We would also welcome the mandatory use of green P-Plates for newly qualified drivers and consider that their use should be included in the New Drivers Act.

“P-Plates provide a simple, safe and cost effective method of showing others that there’s a new driver on the road who should be given due consideration.”

Mr Penning’s plans will not be compulsory because some people who live in rural areas would have a long way to travel for the training. This is good news for David Murray, a driving instructor who teaches people in west Cumbria, from Workington to Maryport, Whitehaven to Cockermouth.

“I think it’s a good thing in theory. It would be very useful, bear in mind that someone can pass their test on the Monday and be on the motorway on the Tuesday, and it’s a lot different driving on the motorway,” he asserts.

“But being out west it would take a long time to get onto the motorway and would be too expensive for pupils. You’d be looking at lessons of around two-and-a-half to three hours. There is already Pass Plus where we do a couple of hours on the motorway, but not many people take the Pass Plus now.”

David has been a driving instructor for five years. Before that he was a long-distance lorry driver.

He adds: “As a lorry driver I’ve seen both sides and I can definitely see the benefits of motorway lessons.

“There are a lot of bad drivers out there; not just young ones who have just passed their tests but people of all ages.”

Have your say

Very well put Linda.

Some very impractical stuff being mentioned.

John o groats to Perth (nearest motorway) 244 miles, 6 hours 6 mins via shortest route A9, very expensive for a motorway lesson in driving.

Posted by edd on 23 February 2012 at 18:18

If action is not taken until after the main driving test how is it to be checked whether new drivers are using the motorway? Clearly any additional tuition must be completed and documented before the driving test.

Posted by V on 23 February 2012 at 16:51

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