Learning to drive is an exciting time, but before you buckle up and get behind the wheel, there's a lot to think about. From applying for a licence and paying for lessons to who can and can't accompany you while driving, getting up to speed with everything before your first lesson is important.

That's why we've put together this guide for all new motorists. If you're thinking of learning to drive, then you'll find answers to the most common queries right here.

What are the legal requirements for driving?

Before you start booking in a block of driving lessons, you'll need to meet the following legal requirements:

  • You must be 17 or over to drive a car in the UK
  • You must hold a valid provisional driving licence. The earliest you can apply for this is three months before your sixteenth birthday
  • If you receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and are getting or have applied for the mobility part of a Personal Independence Payment (PIP), then you can start driving from the age of 16
  • There are also minimum eyesight rules you'll need to look into:
  • You need to be able to read a new-style number plate from a distance of 20 metres (with contact lenses or glasses if needed)
  • You have an adequate field of vision that can be tested by an optician
  • You must inform the DVLA beforehand if you have any problems with your vision.
  • The car you learn to drive in must also meet the following conditions:
  • Be roadworthy and safe to drive
  • Have an up-to-date MOT certificate. You can check your vehicle's MOT history using GOV.UK
  • Be registered, taxed and insured
  • Have a red ‘L’ plate attached to the front and back. In Wales, D plates can be used
young woman driving her car

How do I get a provisional driving licence?

The easiest way to get a provisional driving licence is to apply online through GOV.UK using your Government Gateway ID. Don't worry if you don't have a Government Gateway ID, you'll get one automatically when you begin your application. The whole process will cost £34.

To complete your application, you'll need

  • An identity document (such as a passport or national identity card)
  • Your address for the last three years
  • Your National Insurance number
  • Under normal circumstances, you'll receive your provisional licence within one to two weeks of applying online.

Alternatively, you can apply through the post by filling in the D1 application form, though this takes longer, is more expensive, and you'll need to send over original documents to prove your identity.

Once you have a provisional driving licence, you can drive pretty much anywhere as long you're accompanied. Motorways are the main exception. You'll need to be accompanied by a professional driving instructor on those.

How to find a driving instructor

If you choose to go with a professional for driving lessons, be sure to check that the instructor has a green Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) badge on their windscreen. This shows they're an Approved Driving Instructor (ADI).

A pink badge, on the other hand, shows they're a Trainee Driving Instructor. Only such certified driving instructors are legally allowed to charge a fee for driving lessons.

Additionally, check to see whether the instructor drives a manual or an automatic vehicle before you go with them. Automatic vehicles are less common and differ from manual vehicles, which we've talked about in more detail here.

If you pass your test in an automatic, you won't be allowed to drive a manual vehicle. Getting a manual licence allows you to drive both, however.

young woman driving her car with her mother

Learning to drive with friends and family

Driving your car with a friend or family member alongside you requires the right level of insurance. If you're practising in a car you own, then you’ll need to add your friend or family member to your insurance policy, with you as the named driver.

If you're practising in someone else's car, you need to make sure their insurance policy covers you as a learner driver.

Certain insurance companies insist the person accompanying you is at least 25, so check the fine print of any contract before you sign. This also ensures you understand what is and isn't covered.

We'll take a look at learner driver car insurance in more detail below.

What type of learner driver car insurance is there?

Becoming a named driver on someone else's insurance

It's possible in some cases to be added as a named driver to someone else's insurance policy (like a parent, relative or friend).

However, some insurance providers aren't too keen on a learner driver being added as a named driver, while others may charge a large amount to do so. This is because the insurance provider will take both drivers' information into account, and create a price based on each of you sharing the car.

There may also be an administration charge to make changes to the policy. Be aware that it's illegal to name someone else as the main driver if you drive the car most often. This practice is known as "fronting” and it could invalidate your insurance and lead to prosecution.

young man on driving lesson

Learner or provisional driver insurance

This insurance will cover you to practice in any car, but you must be supervised by a qualified driver aged 21 (or 25+ as we mentioned above) who has had a full licence for at least three years.

Driving without supervision could land you with a £1,000 fine and up to six points on your licence before you even pass your test.

Provisional driver insurance also offers flexibility in the length of time the policy is in place. Some policies will offer an initial fixed period of a month, with renewable short-term periods thereafter. Most learner driver policies will also set limits on the value of the car, and some will also restrict the time of the day when you can drive the vehicle.

Learning to drive FAQs

How long does it take to learn to drive?

There's no minimum requirement when it comes to the number of lessons or hours spent learning to drive. However, the average driver needs around 47 hours of lessons and a further 22 hours of private practice.

Generally, standard lessons are around 90 minutes. If you're taking a lesson a week, it will take you several months before you’re ready for the test.

How much are driving lessons?

The cost of driving lessons varies from instructor to instructor. What's important is that you know how much each lesson costs from the start.

Learning to drive is a big undertaking, and months of lessons will soon mount up, so make sure you can afford the regular weekly or monthly cost. If money is an issue, then many driving schools and instructors offer introductory discounts, and often, you can pre-pay for a block of lessons which are cheaper in the long term.

Make sure you aren't caught out by any hidden terms when paying in advance. Get full receipts for all payments and understand the conditions of any discounts or deals. For instance, do you lose money if you cancel any lessons?

What can I expect from my first driving lesson?

In most cases, your first lesson will be spent on very quiet roads to let you get a feel for things without the worry of being around other motorists. You'll learn how to start the car and get familiar with how the gears, pedals and other important mechanisms work.

That said, if you know the basics, then let your instructor know. They may adjust the lesson so you can start with something more advanced.

Do I have to have official lessons?

Not at all. Official driving lessons aren’t mandatory, and you don’t need to spend a specific amount of time in the driver's seat before you take your test.

Can learner drivers drive at night?

Sure, you can drive at any time of the day. However, driving at night or in adverse weather conditions might be difficult for new or young drivers, so we'd recommend driving when it's clear and bright outside.

That said, there have been talks about introducing a night-time curfew for new and young drivers, to discourage dangerous driving. Though no law has been passed as of yet, it’s something to bear in mind if you’re learning to drive.

What’s more, many insurers would prefer that new drivers don’t drive at night, simply because they know that’s when most accidents happen. So if you plan to buy black-box car insurance, you may be restricted to day-time driving for your first couple of years on the road.

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