Can learners drive on the motorway?

Learners can practise driving on a motorway, but only if certain rules are followed When you’re just starting out learning to drive, there are some essential rules you should be aware of. For example, you …

Learners can practise driving on a motorway, but only if certain rules are followed

When you’re just starting out learning to drive, there are some essential rules you should be aware of. For example, you need to have a valid provisional driving licence and you must be supervised by someone who’s qualified to drive the car you’re using. But what about restrictions on where you are able to practise? Can learners drive on the motorway in the UK, or is that prohibited? 

Let’s investigate this important question so you can make sure you start off on the right foot.

What is a motorway?

Motorways are roads specially designed for fast-moving traffic, intended to make long-distance journeys across the UK much quicker and easier. They usually have three lanes with a central reservation separating traffic moving in each direction. Motorways also tend to be straighter compared to the many winding smaller roads you’ll find around the UK, with no sharp turns in sight. This allows for higher speed limits while maintaining road safety. In case you break down on a motorway, there’s also a hard shoulder — this is the area to the left of the inside lane where you can park your car in emergencies.

Are learner drivers allowed on the motorway?

Before 4 June 2018, learner drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales were prohibited from driving on the motorway under any circumstances. It was thought that motorways were too dangerous for anyone who hadn’t passed their driving test and thus it was illegal.

Once a learner had passed their test and received their full licence, they were then able to take special motorway lessons, but this wasn’t compulsory. This meant that lots of new drivers had no experience driving on motorways and were nervous, making accidents more likely.

However, to better prepare new drivers for navigating motorways safely, the law was changed on 4 June 2018. Since then, learner drivers in cars have been allowed to practise driving on motorways, provided certain conditions are met.

Unfortunately, the new law doesn’t apply to motorcycles — it’s still illegal for anyone learning to ride a two-wheel vehicle to drive on the motorway since it’s not possible to be properly supervised.

When can learner drivers drive on the motorway?

Learner drivers in cars are now allowed to drive on the motorway, but there are several conditions that must be met to abide by the law:

  1. You must be with an approved driving instructor — This means that you can’t go out on the motorway with a friend or family member supervising you.
  2. The car must be fitted with dual controls — This is so the approved driving instructor can take control of the vehicle if the learner makes a mistake that could be dangerous.
  3. The car must have L plates — learner driver plates must be clearly visible for other motorists to see.

If you follow these rules when learning to drive, you’ll be able to safely practise driving a car on the motorway.

Do learner drivers have to do motorway lessons?

You might think that motorway lessons would be a requirement when learning to drive, but it’s by no means obligatory. You can take all the necessary lessons, take your theory test, and then pass the practical test, all without ever going on a motorway.

It is advised that you do at least some motorway practice before driving on a motorway, however, as it can be one of the more dangerous places to drive. You can do so before you pass your test or afterwards.

If you decide to do some motorway lessons before taking your driving test, you need to speak to your instructor — it will be up to them to decide whether you’re ready for that yet and will depend on how many driving lessons you have under your belt at that point. They will also advise on how many motorway lessons you need before you’re comfortable, as this can vary from person to person.

It’s recommended that newly-qualified drivers take the Pass Plus course in the first year after getting their licence. This practical training course can be used to improve your skills and help you feel more confident in certain situations, including driving on a motorway. Passing the course could also get you a discount on your car insurance.

Check out Howden’s car insurance options for learners, named young drivers, and new drivers.

What happens if a learner accidentally goes on the motorway?

Whether you go onto the motorway by accident or on purpose as a learner without following the rules correctly, the consequences are the same. You could receive a fine of up to £1,000 and up to 6 penalty points (endorsements) on your provisional licence, which will get carried over to your full licence when you pass your driving test.

(Note: If you do find yourself on the motorway accidentally, it’s important not to panic. Get off the motorway at the next available exit)

Are learner drivers allowed on dual carriageways?

Dual carriageways share some characteristics with motorways, which can be confusing for people learning to drive, so let’s try to clear things up first. 

Like motorways, dual carriageways have a central reservation separating the two directions. It’s often assumed, due to the name, that dual carriageways have two lanes on either side, whereas motorways have three or more. This isn’t the case, however, as many dual carriageways also have more than two lanes and some motorway sections only have two lanes.

Dual carriageways are also designed for high-speed traffic, so the speed limit is often 70mph, but they’re typically used for shorter local journeys. Unlike motorways, dual carriageways can be used by motorcycles under 50cc, bicycles, horses, and agriculture vehicles. Motorways also have numbered junctions and a hard shoulder. The easiest way to know the difference is by the name, as motorways will have an M at the start (e.g. M40). Motorway signs are also blue while dual carriageway signs are green.

While learner drivers are not allowed to drive on the motorway without an approved instructor and a car with dual controls, dual carriageways don’t have the same requirements. You can drive on a dual carriageway as a learner under regular supervision, just like you can on any other A, B, or C road in the UK.

Is motorway driving part of the driving test?

Motorway driving is not currently part of the UK driving test. For this reason, many people seek motorway driving lessons after receiving their full driving licence so they can embark on longer journeys with full confidence.

Can you drive on the motorway after passing your test?

Even if you don’t do any motorway lessons before or after passing your test, you’re still allowed to drive on the motorway as soon as you have your licence. You are advised to proceed with caution and it’s a good idea to have a more experienced road user alongside you when you drive on the motorway for the first time.

Recap: Can learners drive on the motorway?

Let’s sum up what we’ve learned about motorway driving. Before June 2018, it was against the law for learner drivers to go on the motorway. A change to the law means that it’s now possible for learners to use motorways under certain conditions.

If you’re learning to drive with a friend or family member supervising you, you’re not allowed to go on the motorway as the high speeds are deemed unsafe for inexperienced drivers. However, if you’re with an approved driving instructor and you’re driving a dual-control car, you are allowed to practise driving on a motorway. Talk to your driving instructor to ask about special motorway driving lessons and they’ll be able to advise you on how to book.

Once you’ve passed your driving test, you’ll be allowed to drive on any UK road, including motorways. After getting your full driving licence, it’s still recommended that you take some motorway driving lessons so you can feel as safe and comfortable as possible when you first set out on a motorway.

Don’t forget that you’ll need insurance when you’re learning to drive. Whether you’re a learner, a named young driver, or a new driver, Howden has affordable insurance options for you.

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